§ "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £100, 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, 1939, for expenditure beyond the sum already provided in the grants for Navy Services for the year."
|—||Sums not exceeding|
|Supply Grants.||Appropriations in Aid.|
|1. Wages, etc., of officers and men of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, etc.||465,000||—|
|2. Victualling and clothing for the Navy.||390,000||—|
|3. Medical establishments and services.||63,100||—|
|4. Fleet air arm||Cr. 517,000||—|
|—||Sums not Exceeding|
|Supply Grants.||Appropriation in Aid.|
|8. Shipbuilding, repairs, maintenance, etc—|
|Section III— Contract Work.||Cr. 400,000||1,350,000|
|9. Naval armaments.||Cr. 521,000||—|
|10. Work, buildings and repairs at home and abroad.||20,000||400,000|
|11. Miscellaneous effective services.||200,000||—|
|Total, Navy (Supplementary), 1938 £||100||1,750,000|
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
Since the Debate in Committee on the Navy Estimates there have been developments in the international situation, and while it would be wrong on this occasion to attempt to discuss the general situation, there are one or two things which need to be said in relation to the position of the Fleet. In the first place, may I say that I, personally, welcome the firm pronouncements of the Government in the last few days. I sincerely welcome the pronouncement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon, as being a confirmation of previous pronouncements, but I do beg those responsible for naval policy in this matter to make this clear to His Majesty's Government. While all parts of the House were very satisfied with the report of the Admiralty last week as to the general progress which has been made and, if I may so call it, the "good heart" of the Royal Navy at the present; moment, yet we have a feeling that the task which the Royal Navy has to face might have been less, if there had been firmer pronouncements and if there had been a difference in our approach to other Powers at the right time. Those in all parts of the House 930 who have been watching developments, not alone in the last few days but over a longer period, will probably agree that it is essential, in the present circumstances, in the event of any opening of belligerency —which all of us wish to see avoided—to see that the Royal Navy is not handicapped in its important mission in a European conflict by the addition to the strength of the enemy of resources which they ought not to have. Therefore, I am anxious that in the present circumstances, Government action should be as rapid, as effective and as widely spread with other Powers as possible, in order that we may not drift into a weaker situation. Beyond that, I will not make any further reference to the situation. It is only on the naval aspect of it that I have spoken, because I am confident that the Royal Navy will be of immense value to this country, not only with regard to the wider sea policing and defence of British interests, but in finally playing its part in home waters in bringing any European enemy to a proper condition.
Having said that, may I refer to one or two of the telegrams, advices, and reports which have appeared in the Press this morning in regard to the situation? I have seen it suggested that, partly in reply to the statement of the Prime Minister at Birmingham on Friday last, Germany is considering giving notice of denunciation of the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935. It would be, of course, for the Government to make whatever comments it might wish to make upon that, if and when the notice of denunciation was received, but I think it would not be out of place for us, on this side of the House, to say that we have never appreciated the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935. We have never understood what was the greatness of its value to this country, and when we consider two specific naval matters in connection with it, I am not at all sure that many people would be very much downhearted by a denunciation of the Treaty.
I refer to two matters specifically. In the first place, I refer to the question which was raised by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) on Thursday last in relation to the announcement by the Parliamentary Secretary that in order—and this was the important point —to deal properly with the provisions of 931 the Anglo-German Naval Treaty, there would be a proposal to scrap one or two of the "Royal Sovereign" class of capital ships, commencing in two or three years' time. I refrained from any comment on that, because I could see that if the Anglo-German Naval Treaty remained in existence, it would be prudent and wise for the time being to have such an arrangement for their forward programme, including scrapping arrangements, so that they would be able to meet the situation and development in Germany, not with a number of old ships in relation to new, but with a properly balanced capital ship fleet in relation to those of other Powers. But in view of the suggestions made in the Press this morning that the Treaty may be denounced, I would say that it would surely be for the Government at once, on receipt of such notice of denunciation, entirely to reconsider their proposals for the scrapping of the "Royal Sovereign" class, because it would be advisable to keep every serviceable ship, and especially ships of that size, for duty in the event of an outbreak of belligerency.
In the second place, I refer to the submarine menace. The position cannot be made substantially worse by a denunciation of the Treaty than it would be without any such denunciation, for the Germans have already exercised what they regard as their right under the Treaty to build up to 100 per cent. of British submarine tonnage, and that means, as I said the other day, that you would have probably anything up to 150 submarine ship units which would be available to Germany within a comparatively short time. Of course, I think we are entitled to doubt the proposal of the Germans to build up to that tonnage in the light of our consideration of other promises made by Germany. I have never heard, for example, that the building of additional submarines by Germany was an effective naval answer to the building of submarines by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. That seems to be about the only reason put forward by the Germans for their actual decision, but the only point I want to make is that if the Treaty is subsequently cancelled, it makes no real difference.
The telegrams in the "News-Chronicle" this morning indicated that something which the right hon. Member 932 for Epping also said last week is justified, and that is that they have probably been preparing, by the assembly of parts of submarines in different parts of the country, for a speed-up in the actual building of submarines. If that is so, it means that we also must be prepared to speed up in regard to any answer that we may make, from the naval point of view, to the submarine menace. In that connection may I say that I am not entirely satisfied with the Admiralty's answer last week with regard to our measures from an anti-submarine point of view. We all welcome the interest displayed by the Admiralty in this problem, as evidenced by the inclusion in their building programme of 22 new escort ships of a fast type, particularly able to deal with submarines, but I must say that I should have preferred the Admiralty greatly to enlarge their destroyer programme, and in order to be able to do that without undue stress upon the financial resources of the country, that we should have a sufficient number of destroyer flotillas for anti-submarine work, not necessarily of a large type, but fast and effective, able to work from a commodore ship or a depot ship, with proper cover, and yet be able to do all that is really necessary in hunting submarines, especially of the kind that may be used in any outbreak of the kind that we have feared.
I beg the Admiralty, in the light of what I have said, to reconsider their destroyer programme. I would not mind at all, from my point of view, if you kept the new escort ships and used them as escorts, but I think you want more fast and small destroyers for anti-submarine work. I have never complained about the Admiralty building the larger type of destroyers in previous programmes for work with the Fleet, and those ships will certainly, in their class and of their size, be required as an answer to the type of destroyer which has been built by Italy and Japan, but I beg the Admiralty, in the light of developments, to make proper and rapid provision for destroyers from the anti-submarine point of view.
Further, I am not satisfied with the answer of the Admiralty with regard to the necessity for changing partly our strategy and dock arrangements for light flotillas to deal with the submarine. We had the usual long answer last week about Pembroke and the possibility of using 933 other mercantile docking facilities on the West Coast, but I am not satisfied with that. The Civil Lord will forgive me if I say that while I have never been in the past an ardent advocate of the Pembroke position, in the light of the circumstances as they exist, facing the situation that we face to-day, surely all of us who are interested in naval matters must admit that, quite apart from the increased submarine menace to our Western approaches, we should have very great difficulty, in the light of the modern warfare method that we expect to be adopted, in keeping ships of any number or size under repair at our East Coast dockyards. I think that really is a very important point, remembering the kind of answer that was made to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) last week.
I believe that you will have to find other accommodation in dockyards, during any intensified outbreak of attack from the Continent, for ships that you would ordinarily send to Sheerness and Chatham. We may as well say what we mean. You have not much space at Pembroke, but you have a dock which ought to be cleared to be ready for the reception of ships, and it ought to be fitted with the necessary machinery to deal with ships there. I know it was said by the Civil Lord last week that you could use some of the civil docks, but will he forgive me for saying that you will require the civil docks on the West Coast for many ordinary mercantile ships that would in the ordinary way dock on the East Coast? That is, you will have to divert many of the food and raw material ships in the ordinary way from East Coast to West Coast ports during war, and you will have to be able, especially if there is any strain on the numbers of the Mercantile Marine, to get them into dock and fitted and refitted at the earliest possible moment, and away again. I think the Admiralty should give due and further attention to what has been said from more than one part of the House with regard to the development of some place for light flotillas on the West Coast.
The only other point I need mention about the situation as I have been thinking of it in the last 48 hours is a point which I do not think any of us mentioned last week. That is as to whether the 934 Admiralty are satisfied with the antiaircraft defences now actually fixed in the docks. I suppose that, strictly speaking, the anti-aircraft gunnery defences of the naval dockyards are a matter for the War Office, but it is very important, from the point of view of the maintenance of the Admiralty's work in the dockyards, to know whether they regard the antiaircraft defences at these dockyards as adequate in the light of the new situation and new menace. I hope very much that we shall have some statement on that subject, and if the Admiralty are not completely satisfied, I beg them to consult with the War Office and see that these anti-aircraft defences are speeded up until the Admiralty are perfectly satisfied.
I do not want to go again over the ground that I covered last week, when I said a few words about the naval strategic position, especially in relation to the Far East, but, looking back over my notes and through the report of the general Debate last week, I see that owing to lack of time I made no reference to the position of the Dominions in regard to naval matters. I think it would be ungrateful of the House if someone did not raise specifically the question of the naval action taken by His Majesty's Dominions. Take the case of Australia. I do feel that in the last two or three years the Australians have made very big efforts indeed, in relation to their population, to assist in the naval defence of that part of the Commonwealth, and I think one ought to acknowledge that publicly in the House. I think, too, that the increased expenditure which has been undertaken by the Dominion of New Zealand is important to note. But I should like to say this to the Admiralty: It seems to me, considering the Far Eastern position and the sort of changes that may arise, that it would be a wise precaution if, while recognising all that the Government of Australia has done in the past, it could be so arranged that there are docking facilities for the largest types of naval vessels in Australia.
It might also be worth while to approach the Government of South Africa for a possible use of docks, say, at Durban and Cape Town for the same purpose, in the event of emergencies. I am not at all sure, from such inquiries as I have made, whether the large docks at Durban can now take a capital ship; but I am thinking of the possibilities in the 935 event of an outbreak of belligerency in which Far Eastern Powers may be involved, and in those circumstances it may be necessary to keep a part of our Fleet in very wide formation, and we may want to dock ships at some place other than Singapore. I do not know whether, south of the Equator there is at present a dockyard which in its present condition could take a British capital ship. That is really why I am putting the point to the Admiralty to-day, and I trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will bring it to the notice of the First Lord and have it considered. It may mean, perhaps, a little more strain on the Government of Australia, but I believe that after the wonderful spirit they have shown in the last two or three years, to which we pay tribute, they would be willing to assist in whatever way is possible in that direction. I think also of the great Dominion of Canada. It is true that in the last three or four years we have had the advantage of seeing Canada take over three or four large-type destroyers, but I should feel easier about the general Commonwealth contribution to the naval defence of the Commonwealth if Canada could see its way to be a little nearer, in its naval contributions, to what Australia has done.
Now I turn to a subject which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) would have raised. I am very sorry that because of illness he cannot be present to-day. I raise the subject during this Debate so that it might perhaps be referred to later when we come to deal with Vote 10. It is on the subject of oil fuel. I cannot hope to address the House with that knowledge of the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare possesses, but I ask the Admiralty whether they are now taking any active steps, in view of the situation, to have a speed-up in the production of oil for the Navy from coal. Since the last Debate on this matter, in connection with the Navy Estimates, the Admiralty has, I hope, seen this document, a copy of which I hold in my hand. It is a document published by, shall I say, the wicked Labour party, and is the report of a research committee presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare. That committee examined very exhaustively the whole question of the pro- 936 duction of oil from coal and the different processes that may be followed.
I would stress the point that, whilst we do not wish to see the Royal Navy handicapped in any way by a departure from the use of oil, with all its possibilities for reduced manning in the engine-rooms, and the efficiency and speed with which that fuel can be used, yet it seems to me that we ought to have as much as possible of our reserve fuel of that character within our own country, I beg the Admiralty to note that I am not attacking them from the point of saying that they have not been sufficiently prudent in getting reserves of imported oils into the country. From my reading of the Estimates of the last two years I should say that probably the Admiralty have made very good provision within those Estimates for reserves of fuel, and I am satisfied that within, say, a few months, they will be fairly right. But I cannot help remembering what happened during the last War. I remember the enormous price to which imported fuel went finally, as soon as there was a world shortage. I am convinced that both from the point of view of safety in defence and of economy in the national interest, added to which we would be helping employment in the coal industry, this is a matter to which special attention should be given. I shall not attempt a technical examination of the various processes of oil extraction, but in its report the labour research committee deals with a synthetic process sometimes referred to as the Fischer system. It seems to me that with the possibility of the system being worked in small plants at the head of separate pits, it would be of great assistance if some of these processes could be started at once at four or five different points, and especially in South Wales, for setting up a new reserve of fuel and having it in safe places.
I will say a few words about one subject to which the Civil Lord did not give a reply last week. His speech was full of detail and he was courteous as always in his replies during the Committee stage, but I was exceedingly disappointed that he did not find time to reply to myself or to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) with regard to the status and conditions of promotion of men from the lower deck.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty(Colonel Llewellin)
I had intended to reply when I got up, but towards the end of my speech I thought I had been rather long and that I was wearying the Committee, and I cut my remarks short. The Parliamentary Secretary will reply to that point later.
§ Mr. Alexander
I was careful to indicate that I did not think it was through any lack of courtesy that the hon. and gallant Member did not deal with the point, but I want now to impress on him that we think this matter is one of great importance. We think, for example, that the method of promotion from non-commissioned rank is far less adequate in the Navy than in either of the other Services. We now see the Service expanding very rapidly. Within the next two or three years we shall have a total personnel of officers and men of not less than 160,000, and may be more. Therefore we think it is quite inadequate to suggest that the Admiralty can provide only 17 promotions from the lower deck in a year. Last week my hon. Friend the Member for Romford pointed out that in answer to a question which he put on 1st March the Admiralty stated that there were 179 seamen ratings who had been reported upon as being capable of being considered for promotion from the lower deck, in addition to the 43 ratings who were actually undergoing training for that purpose.
We have no hesitation in saying that if the Admiralty want to see a continuance and expansion of that national spirit of service in this greatest of all our Services, they must bring the Navy, I shall not say into line with the other Services, but in advance of the other Services, by providing channels of promotion from the lower deck. I hope, therefore, that in the reply to-day we shall get far more detailed and adequate information. I cannot believe that there is any lack of material on the lower deck for promotion to the commissioned ranks. I hold that with proper training every seaman who enlists in the Navy should have the right to promotion by efficiency and duty and service, until he may become an Admiral promoted from the ranks. That is the basis on which our Service ought to be conducted. There is no lack of material and I hope there is no lack of will on the part of the Admiralty to make that possible.
938 Finally, I want to say a word or two about the accountancy of the Admiralty, the costing system and the like, in so far as they are effective or ineffective as a check upon profiteering. I did not make any comment last week on the kind of matter raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher), but I was disturbed at the revelations he made upon the report of the Public Accounts Committee in the case of the "Caledonia." I shall leave him to say anything further about that particular incident, but I am anxious that the Navy Department should not find itself in the position of being shot at to the extent to which the Air Ministry has been shot at in the last two or three years for failure to check gross profiteering. How far the Admiralty itself can be held responsible for profiteering in respect of aircraft supplied to the Fleet Air Arm I do not know, because I do not know the arrangements for ordering between the Admiralty and the Air Force. We know that the orders are placed through the Air Ministry for the Fleet Air Arm, and if the charge has to be borne on the Navy Estimates, it is incumbent on the Financial Secretary to see that, with the huge burden that is being heaped up and the huge annual charge which the Admiralty will have to meet in years to come, every possible step is taken to see that the Admiralty are getting value for money when ordering their aircraft.
I cannot say that I am altogether satisfied with the check on profiteering in other directions. Take, for example, the figures of some of the leading firms which are engaged on naval contracts. The profits, to say the least of it, are hardly to be described as small. The iron and steel profits have been going up very remarkably, as have the profits of the companies engaged in naval shipbuilding. I have so many of them here, 15 or 16, that it is hardly worth while for me to go through and quote them all, but it is evident from the figures that in regard both to the iron and steel firms, which make a good deal of the armament equipment for the Navy, and the naval shipbuilding firms, their profits are going up enormously.
There is always a tendency when there is a large and expanding programme of the type which the Navy has now to contemplate, to be a little loose in the checking of expenditure. It is true that we had 939 testimony in the House which I welcomed very much, that contractors experience a little more difficult time with the people who check matters at the Admiralty than with those in any other Department. I hope that that is still true, but I beg the Admiralty to consider it from this angle: that however efficient their costing system may be, it cannot be a final safeguard, in the interests of the public or of the Admiralty, of value for money. The profits now being made are so enormous that the only way to deal with the matter is to adopt the suggestion that I made some weeks ago. That is to have a stringent audit of the accounts of the firms engaged in the armament industry and to arrange that, after allowing a reasonable return on the capital employed in the business, the profits which inure from Government contracts should automatically go back to the Treasury in relief of the taxpayer. I hope that that point will be looked into.
The Prime Minister and the Government are asking now for an unexampled measure of voluntary service from the nation at large in face of a growing national menace. The people whom they are asking to make that voluntary service are asked to do it without profit, and, I think, rightly if we axe to have a voluntary system. The Government ought not in the light of these circumstances to be countenancing for a moment the enormous profits upon capital which are made in supplying what, after all, are the essential things if the Services are to be equipped adequately to defend themselves and the nation. We believe the Fleet to be in good condition and in good heart. The matters that I have mentioned are all worthy of attention, and if our friendly criticisms are used in a way to help the Fleet, I believe that, if and when it is called upon, it will, as always, give an exceedingly good account of itself.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Ross
It is always a pleasure to listen to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A: V. Alexander), whether in one of his more virile manifestations on an Import Order, or on any other subject. We enjoy hearing him on the Navy more than on any other subject, because we know that his interest in the Fleet is second to that of no other Member in the House, whether or not we agree with what he says. It 940 happens that I am in the fortunate position of agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman in nearly all that he has said to-day. I agree, in particular, on the question of destroyers, because I was gravely Concerned last year when the customary flotilla was omitted from the Estimates. This year we have two flotillas, but that provision only brings us back to the average of one per year. I should have thought that at the present time we should have been laying down destroyers in greater numbers than that. In the Press only to-day there was a letter from a distinguished admiral saying that from his great experience he had always found that the shortage of destroyers was perhaps one of the most serious points in the last naval War. It may be that in fast escort vessels, about which we have heard, the point which the right hon. Gentleman has raised as to having destroyers of two categories, fleet destroyers and fast escort destroyers, is being met; and that when we see what the escort vessel really is, it may be in a sense a smaller type of destroyer capable of fulfilling the functions of a destroyer on escort duty.
I am in the fortunate position of finding myself in agreement also with the spokesman for the Liberal party. I allude to the well-informed speech which the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) made on the Estimates in which he referred to the necessity of western bases. It would be natural for him to support the claims of that area which he so admirably represents, but he did not do it on those grounds. He did it on other grounds which we must all admit. There has been, since the last Estimates, a vital change in our position in the Western seas and in the possibilities of protecting the Western approaches. I allude to the loss of the two Irish bases, Queenstown and Bantry, which were handed back to the Government of Mr. De Valera. I said at the time, and I repeat now, that I do not think that the Government of Eire are likely to allow the Admiralty the use of those bases in time of war except on impossible terms which we could not accept. Therefore it is essential that the Admiralty should make provision for bases of equal capacity to those which are no longer under Admiralty control. I do not think the case of Lough Swilly is so important, because the Scottish bases, 941 the harbours of Northern Ireland, and the docking accommodation of Belfast, which I do not think the Civil Lord mentioned last time, would be available, but the question of bases for protecting the Western approaches is urgent. It is known to all of us that the establishments of Pembroke Dock are not of the highest degree of efficiency, but I suggest that it would be possible to make one immediate reinforcement to these resources by putting a floating dock there. Anyone who goes to Southampton has seen a large floating dock there. I do not know to whom it belongs, but since the opening of the Southern Railway's graving dock I do not think it has been used. Would it not be possible to follow the precedent which the Admiralty made when they towed a floating dock to Singapore, and to move this one to the Western coast, and so provide docking accommodation for ships up to a considerable size there?
The question of the value of the "Royal Sovereigns" has also been raised in the Debate on the Estimates. I hope that unless we are pledged to a limitation as to quantity, the policy of the Admiralty will be new building and not new big reconstruction, because the big reconstruction of ships which the Admiralty have been obliged to adopt during the period when they were limited as to numbers of capital ships and the building of new ships is very expensive. It comes to £3,000,000 a ship, and the modern implements of war have to be fitted to a hull built many years before instead of having a hull built to suit modern ideas. The hull of a warship is about the last part of the vessel to become worn out, and that eventually is, of course, worn out too. I agree that, despite the high cost of maintenance of capital ships, the "Royal Sovereigns" could no doubt fulfil useful functions, but as regards the functions which my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) suggested as a check on 8-inch cruisers in connection with the protection of trade, the only precedent which I can think of for using an old battleship for that purpose was when His Majesty's Ship "Canopus" was sent to South America to keep in check the 8-inch German cruisers "Scharnhorst"and "Gneisenau," and that was not a very fortunate precedent.
This brings me to the Naval Treaty with Germany, and here I emphatically 942 part company with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough, because he has said he never understood its value. I will try in a few phrases to enable him to do what he has said he has never been able to do. He complained that we made a great mistake in tying ourselves down in the Anglo-German Treaty. The great point of that Treaty, however, is that it did not tie us. The only contingent action which we may be obliged to take is in two years' time to scrap a ship already half a century old. Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything which we could have wished to do as regards naval shipbuilding which we cannot do because. of that Treaty? I can think of nothing. It is a unique Treaty in many ways. It is the only instance of the German Government voluntarily entering into a treaty for the limitation of their armaments. It is the only instance of a Naval Treaty which did not demand of this country the immediate sacrifice of tonnage, and I think it is a Treaty which was fair to both sides. Of course, if the German Government care to denounce it, that is their affair. I think the loss will be as much theirs as ours, but I suggest that the advantages of knowing where you are in naval affairs is of great importance, because there is always a lag of three or four years between the time when the decision is taken to build a ship and when that ship becomes an effective part of the fleet. Therefore, you have so many years' warning as to what the situation may be.
§ Mr. Alan Herbert
Is it possible for us to say that we know where we are with regard to any German agreement at the present time?
§ Sir R. Ross
I will not tell my hon. Friend that we know where we are with regard to every German agreement, but we must give even Mr. Hitler his due, and as regards this one I would appeal to my hon. Friend who represents the Admiralty to say whether that agreement has been kept in spirit and in practice up to now, because I know of no breach, or supposed breach, of that agreement up to the present time, and it has run ever since 1935 to the present day. However, that is a point which can be more adequately dealt with by those who represent the Admiralty upon this occasion. I think the chief objection to the Anglo-German Naval Agreement rests very largely upon 943 false assumptions, because my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper) who, I regret to see, is not for the moment in his place, when speaking upon it last week, said:I would remind my hon. Friend, what a great many people have forgotten, that since 1914 a war has been fought, in which Germany was defeated, and that at the end of that War she had no navy at all. Our allowing her to have a navy, contrary to the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, was an act of generosity on our part of which she has gradually taken advantage." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1939; col. 699, Vol. 345.]It seems to me that in making that statement my right hon. Friend had for once rather lost sight of the position. He suggested there that this treaty is not one to limit the German Fleet, but that without it Germany would have had no fleet at all. There has been no treaty limiting their air force, and what has happened to that air force? There has been no treaty limiting their army, and how much greater is their army? I think that it is possible—I do not say it is certain, far from it, but I think it is possible—that had the other countries met the Germans in 1935 in the same spirit in which my right hon. Friend Lord Monsell, then First Lord of the Admiralty, met them in the naval sphere, we might not be faced with the appalling European situation in which we find ourselves to-day.
One matter of particular importance and of great moment to which the right hon. Member for Hillsborough alluded is the question of submarines. As far back as 1935 the Germans had put in a saving clause that they might ask for equality with this country as regards submarines. At first that might appear to suggest that they wanted a quite abnormal number of submarines, but, as we all know, we are weaker relatively to other Powers in submarines than in any other class of ship, and if the Germans had equality with us in submarines they would still be infinitely inferior to France. We have 44 under-age submarines and France has 76. Of course it is true that Germany has a very large number of very small submarines, but I should have supposed that it would have been more dangerous if they had started building submarines which did not appear to be so much designed for service in the Baltic as for service on the high seas, if they had built big submarines with a wide 944 radius of action, because the comparatively few larger boats which they have are not much larger than our Swordfish type.
§ Mr. Alexander
Has the hon. and gallant Member considered what I said last week, that the changed situation in Spain makes it a very reasonable thing, from the German point of view, to build small submarines which can be based close to our ocean routes?
§ Sir R. Ross
I quite see the danger which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, but I think he is wrong in attributing the motive for building small submarines to the war in Spain. The policy of building small submarines was initiated in 1935, before the war in Spain had broken out. A large number of the small submarines were under construction before the war had started in Spain. One point which I do not think has been mentioned by any one in connection with the German Naval Treaty, is its relation to general naval treaties. In 1935 this country was contemplating a general naval treaty which eventually became operative in the Naval Treaty of 1936, and the whole basis of that treaty was that it should be on a qualitative basis. Through no fault of ours it was not possible to get it on to a quantitative basis, because some countries, I think Japan in particular, refused to be limited, but there was the valuable point that ships were put into certain defined classes. That is very greatly to our interest, because if that is not done there may be a new type of ship which may render all those of an old type obsolescent.
I can give the House what I think is an instance of the alarm, although I think it was an exaggerated alarm, in such a case. It was the building of what were called the "pocket battleships," the "Deutschland" and her two sisters, before Germany was a party to any naval treaty. Those ships cut right across the qualitative system of naval disarmament, and appeared to create the rather difficult position that there would be no ship that could deal with them. As a matter of fact, I think it will be found that those pocket battleships were not by any means as good an investment as was supposed at the time, because I do not think they are fit to lie in the line through protection having been scrapped to a great extent in favour of speed and gun power. As a 945 long-term policy I do not feel they will be a very good investment. That is the difficulty we are faced with if there is no qualitative limitation.
In connection with attack from the air, the Financial Secretary gave us much interesting information in presenting the Estimates, but there is the very significant fact that despite the presence of large and powerful air forces on both sides in Spain there is no instance, I think, of any warship of any considerable size being put out of action from the air, a thing which I must say astonishes me, I thought it would have happened, and I thought it had happened. I thought that the old battleship "Jaime Primero," which was on the Government side, had been put out of action, but recently it sailed out of harbour and was able to get to some French port, so it was apparently in a position to go to sea.
§ Sir R. Ross
I never can understand what the hon. Member says, so I am afraid I cannot answer his question, otherwise I should be very glad to do so. We must not lose sight of this point, that although war in the air is very much in everyone's mind at present and it is a great danger which may vitally affect large numbers of people in this country, yet loss of the command of the sea would affect everyone, without a single exception. I think that this country, or any country, would probably stand up to air attack much more resolutely and with less initial shock and less damage than is often popularly supposed, but if we once lost command of the sea I do not know what would happen. Therefore, it is indeed heartening to have the good account we have heard of the Navy, and to see a building programme which, except perhaps in the one respect of destroyers, is, I think, adequate to the situation.
§ 4.41 p.m.
Major Lloyd George
I have one or two observations to make upon points which were raised last week and to-day. The first subject is the shortage of light craft for escorting and convoy purposes. I should have liked to have had some assurance from the Civil Lord's reply that some of the leeway was going to be made up at a more rapid rate. If I recollect aright, 946 the Parliamentary Secretary, in introducing the Estimates last year, said the reason why there was no provision for destroyers then was that about 40 were on the stocks. I can only say in answer to that—it has been said often before, but it is obvious that it needs to be said again—that compared with our position at the beginning of the last war we are nothing like as well off as we were in the matter of light craft for escorting purposes, and that the submarine situation, whatever may be the effect of anti-submarine devices, is very much more serious than in 1914. I believe Italy has boasted that she will shortly have, if she has not already got, one of the largest submarine fleets in the world. In addition to the shortage of destroyers and escorting craft, our cruiser strength is far below what it was in 1914. If I read the Estimates aright, of four cruisers in the Estimates last year one has been ordered but is not laid down and three have not been ordered at all.
Our position as regards our Mercantile Marine is very much more serious now than in 1914. We have far more people in this country to provide for, and are in a very different strategic position from what we were in at the beginning of the last war, and we have a shrinkage in our Mercantile Marine. Whether we like it or whether we do not we have to face the fact that there are likely to be far more bases for operations against our Mercantile Marine than there were in the last war. The bases to be found on the Spanish coast to-day would be ideally suitable for boats of a short range; and it is no use saying that we could use the Cape route, because on that route there are many potential bases which would make it possible to cut right across any one of those routes.
The Civil Lord said that we must not assume that Spain was going to be hostile to us. It is also true to say that it is equally foolish to assume that Spain was going to be friendly. When we are preparing for the defence of this country we have to be ready for every possibility. British merchant ships have been sunk within the last 12 months by this possibly friendly Power. I ask the Government to consider the eventuality of this coast being used against our Fleet and against our Mercantile Marine by this Power, which is one of the axis Powers to-day. Taking the analogy of the last War, I 947 would point out that we did not in the pre-war period say that Germany was the enemy; we simply prepared against the Power that was building ships which could attack this country in certain eventualities. We prepared against all possibilities. It would be foolish to assume to-day that all that coast of Spain and the coast of North-West Africa will be perfectly free for our ships to come and go without let or hindrance.
As a matter of fact, it is agreed on every hand in this House that we have not these escort craft at the present time. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen have seen the letter in the "Times "this morning from an Admiral who had, so he says, at one time command of 120 destroyers in the last War. He says:There were never enough and that too when we were never far from our own base. Double the distance from the base and you double what is technically known as the' turn round,' that is, time required for a flotilla to return to base, re-fuel, give the minimum of rest to her commanding officers, and return to the point of contact.In other words, if your base is far from the scene of operations you obviously need more escorting craft. The position is made very much more serious by the addition to our troubles in the last War of the air menace, which has added considerably to our problems. In addition to being fitted with every known antisubmarine device, ships have now to be very heavily armed against air attack. This fact will preclude the use of ships which were very successfully used in the last War. If you are to meet the menace of the air and the submarine you have to have very heavily-armed vessels and that means a specially designed vessel. I would repeat that the Parliamentary Secretary said last week, that we are safe only as long as we can keep our trade routes open. That applies particularly to-day, when oil is our main fuel. I would ask the Government to consider these points, which are a very urgent necessity to the safety of the country.
The Minister also told us that we should have to face the possibility of defeat by direct action. Possibly you might put that out of account at the moment, as we did in the last War. When defeat by direct action was more remote than it ever had been, that year and the subsequent year were those in which this 948 country was nearly defeated. When we were entirely free from direct action we were nearly brought to defeat by action which could be controlled only by swarms of the small vessels.
On the subject of bases on the West Coast, the Civil Lord of the Admiralty told us that ample provision was being made, and he instanced docks that were in existence in Newport, Cardiff and Barry and other places on the Bristol Channel. I suggest that those docks are not excessive for our present requirements; indeed, I think I am right in saying that representations have been made to the Government by the authorities responsible for those docks asking them to increase the existing facilities. If those authorities want the Government to extend the docking in peace time it seems that it would not be very easy in war time for the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine to use the existing accommodation, although I know that the Royal Navy can do what it likes in a time of emergency and that if it wants to use those docks for the purpose of docking war vessels it can do so. It is not suggested that both the Mercantile Marine and the Royal Navy can use those docks at the present time. The circumstances of the next war may be very different from those of the last. The only conclusion to be drawn from the attitude of the Admiralty on this point is that, whereas we had Queenstown, Berehaven and Pembroke Docks in the last War, now none of them is considered necessary. Not one of the three is available at the present time.
The Admiralty say: "We have all the facilities we want." That attitude will not bear examination. A study of the situation in the last War shows that even with those three bases in existence—I stress this point again—the docking facilities in the Bristol Channel were hardly sufficient for the Mercantile Marine which uses the Channel. Nevertheless the Admiralty say that they could have the full advantage of those places if any emergency arose. They say that on the basis of the experience of the last War, but what about the future possibilities? It is quite on the cards, as we have heard from the Front Bench, that the east coast ports may be very difficult to use, and if that be true with respect to naval vessels it must be even more true respecting the 949 Mercantile Marine. We may find ourselves transferring our ships for the safety of the country to west coast ports, and the strain on those ports will be far beyond what it is at the present time. That is without taking into consideration the additional naval vessels. The Civil Lord told us that all necessary steps were being taken to prepare suitable bases, but that is certainly not so in regard to the docks I have mentioned, where you have very good anchorage but no facilities for repair, for instance.
§ Colonel Llewellin
No, I did not say that there were facilities for repair but that there was a harbour there which ships could use.
Major Lloyd George
None of those harbours is available or suitable. It seems to me that, having lost Queens-towns, Berehaven and Pembroke Docks, it would not be safe to rely upon an anchorage with no facilities for repair at all. I ask the Admiralty to bear in mind that it is all very well for them to say that they can keep these docks for use in time of war; it is not the slightest use having an anchorage unless you have also facilities for repair. Whatever the expense, if the safety of this country is involved, the money has to be found. The only test should be the safety and security of this country. In view of the lessons of the last War I cannot understand the attitude of the Admiralty in saying that they have all the facilities that they need when those three bases are not in use, and I ask them to look into this matter. If we are to spend all this money on the Navy for the safety of the country let us see, when we have spent it, that the weapons which we have made can be used with the greatest efficiency.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes
There is no need for me to say very much to-day because many of the things which I have been saying for the last five years have been said from the opposite benches. I fully agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) as to the urgent need for developing bases on the West coast. I should like also to express my appreciation of the speeches made on the Navy Estimates by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander). They have been most helpful. I entirely 950 agree with him as to the need for a smaller type of destroyer. I think that that was referred to the other day in the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary. The displacement of destroyers of smaller type must depend of course on seagoing qualities and the range of action which will be needed. Having spent five of the happiest years of my life in command of destroyers of 300 tons I cannot help thinking that a very efficient vessel of 800 tons could be designed to do some of the work now being done by vessels of a bigger displacement. I have not discussed this matter with anyone at the Admiralty but I believe that that is also the Admiralty's view.
The vessels which the Admiralty have been sending into service of late are magnificent, and they were needed. A letter in the "Times" to-day from Admiral Sir Hugh Tweedie has been referred to by two hon. Members; I entirely agree with what he says. In the last year of the War I do not suppose anyone suffered greater anxiety than I did owing to lack of destroyers. Every night I had about 100 fishing craft, within easy striking distance of German bases, advertising themselves in a glare of light over a deep mine-field and protected by a few destroyers. One night they were raided by the enemy, who sank several fishing craft and killed about 70 fishermen. That was in February, 1918, but the patrol was maintained to the end of the War under conditions of hideous anxiety, not only for the fishermen on the patrol, who showed the greatest fortitude, but for those who were responsible for protecting them.
I remember a Debate about a month ago on the need for encouraging fishing fleets, fishermen being urgently needed by the Navy in time of war, both in men-of-war and in carrying out anti-submarine work. I do not agree with the Admiralty in the statement that was made, and I do not believe that it represents the Admiralty's view, that they do not need drifters. Of course they will need drifters. Drifters are the fishing craft which worked the anti-submarine nets. I think there was some misunderstanding about that matter. It was suggested that because they did not need drifters they did not need fishermen; of course they want fishermen, who are of the greatest value in the men-of-war and in their own vessels. I 951 remember the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) saying that the men did not like serving in the Navy because they did not like brass stripes and Admirals. I am sorry to say that a naval officer on this side of the House said much the same thing. I would like them to come to one of the great rallies of the British Legion on the East Coast when they would see how those men turn out to salute their Admirals. I am sure that the hon. Member for North Aberdeen misrepresented the fishing population of his constituency.
I do not think there is anything else I want to say. I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) on the amount he learned while he was acting as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty. I do not agree with everything he said but he put up a good case for the Anglo-German Naval Treaty. Personally, I would shed no tears if that Treaty is denounced. I do not think it is worth the paper it is written on, although if it is left to them the German naval officers would, I believe, have adhered to it, as my hon. Friend said they have.
§ 5.0 p.m.
I have been in this House for nearly 20 years, and these Debates on the Navy Estimates are a very strange experience to me, for I have never seen such harmony and peace and such rallying to the support of the Navy. I pray that it will last. I do not believe there is anyone in the country to-day who would grudge one penny of the money we are spending on the Navy, and who does not thank God that we have got it. I wish that that had always been so. If it had, perhaps the situation in the world to-day would have been different. But I am not going to say that any one side is to blame for that; we are all to blame. This is not the time to accuse one another of shortcomings, and we do not want to become acrimonious, but, looking back, we can see that Members representing naval constituencies and trying to fight for the Navy in the last 20 years have had a very difficult time. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) and the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), when they were at the Admiralty, themselves had a very difficult time. They made a brave fight, and no one knows 952 it better than we do. They are now able to say that they did their bit to keep their party straight, and we are glad that they did.
For many years we have been pleading for the Navy as a police force. To-day we know that it may not be a police force, but may be the one thing that will keep this country from starvation. These are difficult times for us all, including those gallant men at the Admiralty to whom reference has already been made. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) has said, it is not the case that sailors and fishermen do not like admirals. It depends on the admirals. They are like other people. Not all sailors are popular, and not all admirals are popular, but when you get a good admiral, there is no one in the world that loves him more than a sailor. Therefore, I do not think that sweeping assertions ought to be made about sailors or fishermen not liking admirals. It is a pity that a wild, loose kind of statement should be made, perhaps because one constituent writes and says he does not like an admiral, that sailors generally do not lake admirals. Some of the best people in the whole of the Navy are admirals., and that has always been so.
I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he would consider the question, which has already been raised, of a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve depot at Plymouth. Surely, of all places in the country, there should be one at Plymouth, and I hope he will give that matter his deep consideration. I would also suggest that there should be an airport dock. I do not know whether it is possible, but, if it is, Plymouth is an ideal place for it, and I hope that that matter also will be considered.
When I look back and compare the conditions of the lower deck before and after the War with what they are now, it is almost like a dream come true. Nobody who has watched the Navy and the lives of the men of the lower deck could fail to appreciate what an enormous difference the increase in their pay has made in the position of their families and their general life. Many of us regret that there are not more promotions from the lower deck, but, again, that is not the fault of the Admiralty. It is not every man on the lower deck who wants to become 953 an officer. The real difficulty is in getting some of them to come forward for promotion. I have been interested in this matter on the educational side, and I know how difficult it is. The Navy is so full of tradition that it is difficult to get anyone to move; they get in, and they stay put, and it is very difficult to get them to move up, but I hope that eventually they will become more ambitious on the lower deck.
I should like to say a word about marriage allowances, for which we have pleaded so hard. The last Prime Minister knew all about these, because he had a. daughter who was married to a sailor, and she recognised how very difficult it was being married to a sailor without a marriage allowance. I hope the Admiralty will keep on at the Treasury, because we know it is the Treasury, and not the Admiralty, who stand in the way, although at one time there was a tradition in the Admiralty that they did not want married officers at all. We all know that; it came down from Nelson. But that belongs to the past. I remember, in one of the first speeches I made in this House, referring to the statement, so often made, that a sailor has a wife in every port, and saying that, so far from that being the case, the Admiralty did not give him very much encouragement to keep one wife in any port. That is not the case now, but I feel sure that, if the Admiralty could only see the hardships that are suffered by these young wives, they would be moved to make their allowances greater.
I do not quite agree with the criticisms which have been made of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. I think we were right to make that agreement. I believe that Germany offered to France a somewhat similar agreement with regard to aeroplanes about five years ago, and I believe that, if such an agreement had been made, it might have had beneficial effects now. We are suffering to-day from the gross mistakes that have been made in the past, and I hope there will be no more mistakes. As long as dictators are in power in any country, no country can be trusted, although I think we were right to enter into the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. After all, it has been the whole policy of the Socialists to try to get agreement with other countries, no matter what their form of Government might be. 954 I am glad that we made that agreement, which, so far, has been kept by the Germans, though they may not keep it now. I pray that the time will come when we can get agreements with free peoples who will keep them, but, until that time comes, our Navy cannot be strong enough, and we cannot be vigilant enough. In the meantime, we must say to the German people, who, we hope and pray, will come to see reason, "Never again can we trust you as long as you are ruled by a dictator."
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
I agree with the Noble Lady that it is very pleasing to see the unanimous support that there is in the House for the British Navy, but I hope the Noble Lady will understand that, if there has not been that unanimous support in the past, it is largely because some of us have been suspicious of the British Navy. I think there has been a great deal too much pro-German sentiment in the British Navy—too much co-operation, too much interchange of social amenities—and I hope that that will come to an end with the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. The last 48 hours have changed the minds of a great many people in this country. We have discovered, not only a real danger for us, but a real unity which I hope will endure—a unity to resist any further advance by Herr Hitler in any part of the world.
I am sure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree that it is not necessary to condemn the whole German people, though we may condemn Herr Hitler and his policy?
§ Colonel Wedgwood
I am delighted to hear the Noble Lady condemn Hen-Hitler. I agree that our objection on this side of the House is entirely to the German Government at the present time. We shall never get peace until we have separated that German Government from the German people.
The Navy Estimates, in spite of the unanimous support that is being given to them at the present time, still need a certain amount of criticism, more particularly because, as has been pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) so much has changed, even since the Debate on Thursday last, that 955 it has become necessary to look at the British Navy in rather a new light. It is not only the denunciation of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, with which we all heartily agree. It is more than that. I believe, and I think the House of Commons understands, that, if we are to say "Halt," and to mean "Halt," to the German Reich, it is necessary that we should get into close touch with all the other countries that are in like danger to ourselves. It is absolutely necessary that the whole question of defence should change, not in its essentials, but in its strategy. If we act in union with other countries who wish for law and order and peace, and if with them we are to come to a united decision to resist further aggression, obviously the British Fleet will have to fit into a large number of new problems. My chief charge against the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of three or four years ago is that it tacitly accepted the position that the British Navy was excluded from the Baltic, that the Baltic, so far as the British Navy was concerned, was to be a mare clausum.
Perhaps I had better preface my remarks on this question by explaining that I have some right to speak on naval questions. It is true that I do not represent a dockyard constituency, but I have twice held a commission in the Navy; I was a member of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors; I am still a member of the Institute of Naval Architects, and my profession, if I have one, is the designing and building of warships. I may add that I received my promotion to the rank of commander from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter); I never knew why. This must be my justification for saying something on this question of naval strategy.
All the naval people of my generation were influenced in their views on strategy by reading Mahan's "Sea Power," "Ironclads in Action" and various other books which came out with great effect in the nineties of last century, and the whole of British naval policy since that day has been based on the views of the great American, Admiral Mahan, who laid down as the principle of sea power that a fleet in being was the key to success—that, if your fleet was more powerful than that of the enemy, you would win. It was all right to take that gospel as the basis of strategy in the past, but I think 956 that those people of my standing and age who recently controlled the strategy at the Admiralty got so wedded to that policy that they cannot see that the changes which have come about through the development of the submarine and the aeroplane, and, above all, the change in strategy which must follow our different conception of the purpose of the British Fleet, must make the whole of Mahan's policy obsolete, and force us to study these questions afresh and discover the new sphere of sea power, and particularly of the British Fleet.
For instance, the question is much simplified if you know who exactly is the enemy you have to fight. Up to the present time, the Admiralty have been more or less basing their estimates and plans on fighting everybody. For the last three or four years they have been considering Japan and the Far East as the most probable sphere of conflict, and that it was against a war on our commerce coming from the Far East that the British Navy must be adequate to protect us. In past years, of course, they have considered wars with France, and even, I believe, with the United States of America; but latterly it has been either Japan or Italy that has bulked largest in the plans of the British Admiralty. As long as we waste our time thinking about Japan and Italy, we lose the necessary power to deal with the immediate, the dangerous, enemy.
During the War, when we were anxious to get troops from all over the Empire to fight the one important battle in France we tried to get division after division from India. We were met with a certain amount of reluctance on the part of the Indian Government. Finally, Lord Hardinge, then the Viceroy, telegraphed that if he sent more troops from India, English women and children would be endangered. Lord Kitchener, who, with all his failings, could put his finger on the spot, wired back, "It would be better to lose India than to lose the war; send the troops." That lesson wants rubbing in now by or to the new Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. He is an ex-Admiral. He comes from the Board of Admiralty. Naturally, all the schemes that are now fructifying have been his schemes. It is he who has to perceive that there is this change in the objective of the British Navy, and to make new schemes. Unfortunately, it is always 957 difficult to get a man to change plans just when the plans that he has been working on throughout his life have come to fruition under his fingers.
The main difficulty is this idea that has grown up in the Admiralty that, whatever happens, the British Fleet will not be employed in the Baltic. Obviously, it cannot be employed in the Baltic if we are fighting Germany alone. We could not get through the Cattegat or find bases, and if we got into the Baltic we should be at the mercy of their submarines and aeroplanes. But if we are to get into the Baltic with the co-operation of the Russian Government, the Danish Government and the Swedish Government, there are all the possibilities of useful work in the Baltic, and, above all, the possibility of giving that one needed form of security to the Scandinavian States if they are coming into this new alliance for peace. If this league is not to be formed, if we are to continue for ever the policy of scuttle and retreat, it will be the end of the British Navy and Empire in any case. But now, when as we hope a new leaf has been turned, we are entitled to ask the British Navy to change its plans and adapt its policy to the new necessities of the situation, so as to provide that security for the Scandinavian States without which they cannot co-operate with us, and to provide the necessary protection for our merchant ships in the Baltic which will be even more important than protection for our merchant ships in the Mediterranean and the Western Ocean. If there is to be co-operation, if there is to be a binding together in any league for peace, to stop war, it depends on the cement of the British Navy to bind those allied nations together.
There is another point. Increasingly, the function of the British Navy has been that of defence; if it is to be of any use in the new circumstances of the world it has also to be capable of offence. When you are dealing with the narrow waters, such as the Baltic or the Mediterranean, offence is possible, believe me, if the Fleet Air Arm is capable of being used. Too often the Admiralty have regarded the Fleet Air Arm as a useful auxiliary to the Grand Fleet, in dealing with a Fleet action or in protecting our trade routes, by using the aeroplanes as scouts. If we got into the mind of the Admiralty we should see that these aircraft carriers have 958 been designed largely for Eastern waters, and that it has been with a view to the protection of commerce and action against the Japanese Fleet that they have been built. I regard them as being very dangerous structures owing to their extraordinary liability to being bombed from the air. I do not know whether they can be used for the Mediterranean and the Baltic. It is up to the Government to find out from the Admiralty whether, in view of these changed circumstances, they are useful in enclosed waters, and whether they could be used in the Baltic or the Mediterranean, or whether we ought to try to look forward to using aeroplanes from the Fleet in those narrow waters in different ways.
There is the question of developing the use of the catapult. The objection to the catapult hitherto has been that it is impossible for an aeroplane to get back to a small ship; once it has been flicked off, it has to sink or swim. But if you are operating in narrow waters, where you have large areas of land in the hands of friendly, allied Powers, it is a different thing. You could attack the Kiel Canal or Stettin or Danzig from the sea by air much more safely than bombarding them from ships, because there is the possibility of the aeroplanes getting back to friendly territory, where they will not be interned. That is a question which I do not believe has ever been considered by the Admiralty hitherto, and which is really the key to any successful Fleet action in the narrow seas under the new conditions of alliance.
There is one other point which I think is cognate. All these gigantic £8,000,,000 battleships have been designed for use against Japan in the Far East or against Italy. But they are not the right unit to use in enclosed waters. I remember that during the War the "Queen Elizabeth" was then our latest and best battleship. She was sent out to help us in Gallipoli. It was felt, directly the first German submarine got into the Mediterranean, that they could not possibly risk having the "Queen Elizabeth," which had cost £3,000,000, torpedoed and sunk. She was recalled immediately, and taken back to more protected stations. We remember how at the Battle of Jutland our main Fleet, consisting of ships as expensive as, if not more expensive than, the "Queen Elizabeth," was withdrawn from action 959 for the same reason. As you make your ships bigger and more expensive, it is inevitable that the Admiralty will be more reluctant to risk their loss, and, therefore, they are withdrawn from danger. In the last War they were put into Scapa Flow. I suppose that in the next war they will be put further away. Are they not becoming a liability rather than an asset? The Fleet is in being, it is true; but it requires another Fleet to protect it, at enormous expense, while the real naval actions of the future will be taking place, as they were in the last War, with the lighter vessels, such as destroyers, converted merchantmen and Q-boats, all doing the fighting work while the Fleet remained supreme, powerful and safe in Scapa Flow.
If it is going to be now a question of the enclosed waters of the Baltic, the English Channel or the Mediterranean, it is essential that we should realise that the smaller the battleship, the more effective it will be. The smaller it is, the more possibility there is of using it for risky purposes; getting back to the Nelson touch, and the old use of the Navy 130 years ago, of laying your ship alongside and not minding whether that ship goes to the bottom or not, as long as it does its duty while it is on top. So there is an additional argument, greater than all the arguments which have been put forward, for reconsidering this question of the big battleships and the aircraft carriers, and going back to that smaller type of craft—the 800-ton destroyer is about the best—which is capable of being lost, and also of moving swiftly in all circumstances and dodging in shallow waters.
Then we come to the supreme question, of the ship versus the aeroplane. That, too, we have to consider afresh. We have to consider it in the light of all that has happened in Spain, where there has been plenty of experience in that matter. I notice that the Secretary of State the other day placed his chief reliance, for the security of the ship, on the enormous strength of the anti-aircraft equipment at present. That, so far as it goes, is correct. The warship that is built to bring an overwhelming weight of anti-aircraft guns an any aircraft coming below 10,000 feet is safe as long as it can manoeuvre, dodge, and, above all, as long as it has 960 ammunition for those guns. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that no battleship can carry enough ammunition for anti-aircraft guns if the attacks are persistent and are renewed. The number and the weight of shell that these guns can fire in two minutes is such that no ship can keep reserves sufficient for the purpose. For the first attack or so you may have enough, but after that it becomes almost impossible to base the safety of the ship on the anti-aircraft fire.
I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman would put his faith, or even did put his faith mostly in anti-aircraft fire. Antiaircraft fire from the land is an entirely different matter from the anti-aircraft fire from the ship. In the first place you have a fixed platform, and therefore firing is much more likely to be accurate, and in the second place you can have unlimited supplies of ammunition on land instead of the very limited supplies which the design of the ship makes possible for you to carry afloat. I believe he puts his faith particularly on the fact that ships are now adequately protected from the air and from plunging fire, and that particularly the bigger battleships are unsinkable by bombing. Of course, that does not apply if you drop a bomb down the funnel, or on the steering gear, but in his speech he really carried the thing a bit too far when he alleged that plunging fire was more dangerous and had greater kinetic power than bombs dropped from the air. He must remember that a shell dropped vertically on to a ship has the same kinetic power as a bomb of the same weight dropped vertically on to a ship, which has no speed left from the initial explosion. The whole of the speed is due to gravity in both cases, so that the plunging fire is exactly the same from bombs as from shells—with this difference; the shell for its weight carries a much smaller explosive charge than a bomb. A bomb of 200 lbs. has 200 lbs. of dynamite, and a shell of 200 lbs. has 40 lbs. of high explosives. The plunging fire of a bomb is dangerous; it has not great penetration and does not do very great harm, but its explosion will be much more terrible and shattering to the ship and crew.
That is not all. Everybody seems to think that it is the life of the ship that matters and that if a ship is bombed or torpedoed and does not sink, it is all right. That ship has lived all its life for 961 that one action, and that ship, which is put out of action in a battle, might as well, from the point of view of the efficiency of the Fleet at that moment, be out of action for ever, and be sunk. If you can, by a bomb or submarine stop a ship from being used, as the "Lion" was stopped and countless others, as we remember, in the last war—it is not sunk, it is true, and the man power is not lost, and the ship can be repaired at less cost than making a new one, but for that battle, and that is all that counts—that ship is finished. Do not let us be carried away by the satisfaction that it cannot be sunk. If a big ship is put out of action, or the steering gear is put out of action, it might as well be lost. We have to take that into consideration when we consider the size of ships to be used in the Grand Fleet and when are discussing the doubtful problem of the ship versus the aeroplane.
Apart from fighting ships under air fire we have to consider the Mercantile Marine. I see that the right hon. Gentleman considers that the convoying of merchantmen, which was a great and beneficent discovery of the last War—will be equally efficient against aeroplane bombing, and as efficient against aeroplane bombing, as against submarines. I wish I could think so. In the first place, the merchant ships will not be protected themselves by antiaircraft guns. You are relying upon the convoying cruisers to protect the merchant-men. I do not think that it will be an efficient protection. It is true that it will be difficult to persuade any aeroplane to come down within 1,000 feet of a battleship fully armed with anti-aircraft guns, but when it comes to attacking a merchant ship, if you see an area of sea covered by these convoys, the enormous distance apart at which the convoying ships go, and the fact that the aeroplanes might drop from invisibility in a very few seconds, I do not think there will be quite the same security for the merchant ships as there is for battleships.
Take the case of harbours of refuge. In the last War we used Dover Harbour as a harbour of refuge where the merchant ships could collect and stop the night before they proceeded under convoy up the Thames or further North. A place like that will simply be a death-trap. There will be perhaps a hundred ships crowded into that harbour. It might be attacked by night or by day on very 962 inadequate notice being given to the people who were to be attacked. I wonder whether the House has ever thought what it is to be in charge of anti-aircraft guns in a place like Dover Harbour, constantly on the alert. You get five seconds warning of an attack which may not take place; you have to keep the people sleeping and living beside the guns; alert every minute. For the first day, week or month they may be able to keep it up, but they will not be able to keep it up after that. If they go on for a month without being attacked, they will get slack, and the attack when it comes will be all over before the gun is uncovered or the gun is laid. You may be able to fire at them after they have gone, but it will be poor consolation, if all your merchant ships are at the bottom of Dover Harbour, if a solitary aeroplane or two gets blown to bits by anti-aircraft guns, and the rest get away. By all means have anti-aircraft guns, but for goodness sake consider whether they are an adequate protection for merchant-men at night. If I were in charge of a fleet of merchantmen and had command of the sea, I would see that they sailed at night and kept up smoke screens during the day. I would not put them into a harbour of refuge. I would prefer the open sea, which is a far better refuge than a located harbour.
What I have said about the necessity of being always on the look-out on antiaircraft guns applies even more to the Fleet at sea than it does to the land defences of this country. It is extraordinarily easy to have people on the gun for a long time, but it is an impossible strain to ask them to be constantly looking out for that speck appearing only when it gets down to 20,000 feet, and only fully distinguishable as an aeroplane at 10,000 feet, but which can drop from 20,000 feet right down into the field of action, in 20, 25, or 30 seconds, and before you could possibly loose anything off unless you were looking for it. It is lack of notice of that sort of attack which is infinitely more dangerous than the tactical power of the aeroplane to bomb. In the case of all fleet actions you see the ship, or if you do not, you see the smoke of a funnel above the horizon and you know that they are going to shoot at you. You can call people to their stations and get cleared for action with plenty of notice. The German Fleet fleeing from the 963 Falkland Islands had ample notice to get five or six miles away before our Fleet got at them. But in the case of the air it is a very different matter. Therefore, provided aeroplanes can fly high enough, provided they can keep invisible, it is going to be very difficult. The best detectors in the world will not enable you to prevent the appearance of these machines being the first intimation you have that they are going to make an attack upon you.
I do not think we should be so confident, as the right hon. Gentleman appeared to be in his speech, in the contest between ship and aeroplane, that the ship is so infinitely stronger and more powerful than the new arm. I am confident that whichever country, whether it be the enemy or whether it be our new alliance, secures command of the air, they will have secured the victory in the war. If your aeroplanes dare not go up for fear of being shot down, as was the case in the Spanish war all is over. As soon as you got an overwhelming superiority on Franco's side in the Spanish war, the Government could not send an aeroplane into the air to fight against such odds. No one cares to go up to certain death. The same would apply in any European war. Directly command of the air has come to such a point that one side can smash anything on the ground or in the air, you will find that not only your merchant ships cannot move, that your armies cannot move by day, not only that your whole civil life will be put out of joint by the destruction of every nodal point and every power station, but that even your glorious Fleet itself, granted it has the power to save itself from being sunk by aeroplanes, will yet be unable to give any effective support to this country, although it will still be invincible from the air and invincible on the sea.
One lesson that I have learned from practical experience of the Spanish war is that no army, air force or navy can stand up, either morally or physically, against an overwhelming air force. Therefore, I beg of the Government and of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence to forget that the Navy has always been in the past the main prop of England's greatness, and to remember wisely that that prop may not be sufficient in future, and that every penny grudged to the Air Force and spent on any other form 964 of defence may mean the destruction of this Empire, and above all, the destruction of that liberty which we are now at last united to defend.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) asked why he was decorated in the War. I can tell him. He got his D.S.O. for very great gallantry. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has raised many important subjects in his speech, but I want, first of all, to congratulate the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty for the able survey that he made when he introduced the Estimates. He did it with the same skill this year as he did last year, when his chief was ill. There are one or two points in his speech which I should like to take up. The hon. and gallant Member has referred to battleships. The Financial Secretary in his speech said, "Imagine this Chamber multiplied 200 times, and you get the volume of gunfire that would be on an aeroplane attacking a ship." He did not tell us that an aeroplane can drop a phosphorus bomb, and after the spattering of a battleship with a phosphorus bomb—and I have a picture here of the American experiments—I do not think the anti-aircraft guns would function very well. We have an example in the bombing of the ''Deutschland." The "Deutschland" was bombed by two Spanish Government machines. The gunners of the "Deutschland" had the sun in their eyes, and the German admiral tells us that they did not fire on the two machines, because, as the sun was in their eyes, they could not do much damage. The two machines attacked the "Deutschland" and scored one or two hits, and the "Deutschland" went into Gibraltar with 30 of her crew killed and 60 wounded. I was told by someone who was at Gibraltar at the time that the morale of the crew of the "Deutschland" was destroyed and broken up just like a regiment which had been badly mauled in battle. The "Deutschland" was a modem pocket battleship, and that was the effect of the bombing of it.
If you drop a bomb on one of our large displacement battleships and it drops anywhere in the vicinity of the three turrets, one turret is sure to be 965 put out of action, and the battleship loses 30 per cent. of her effective gun power. Also, as the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said, if a bomb drops near the rudder, that is if it is a near miss, and it throws up a water projectile which may hit the rudder or propeller and might cause the main shaft to be out of the true, that battleship becomes a lame duck. The "Marlborough" was hit by one torpedo and had one of her main compartments flooded, and she was turned into a lame duck. We are building seven battleships, which will cost between 60 and 70 million pounds. The upkeep of each battleship will be nearly £500,000 a year. When one looks at the condition of the world to-day and one thinks of any war that we may be likely to be in, I very much doubt whether it is wise to put all this money into battleships. I agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend in advocating the building of the smaller battleships. To put £70,000,000 into these seven battleships is a waste of money when we are not getting the right weapon. I would ask the Financial Secretary whether there is any justification for raising the tonnage of the battleships to 40,000 tons. Can he tell us whether Japan is doing that? The gallant Admiral the Member for Paddington, South (Vice-Admiral Taylor) raised the question of these monster battleships last year. I would rather see some of the money put into smaller vessels like the smaller destroyers and other smaller type of ship for hunting submarines.
Now I come to the question of submarines. The Financial Secretary said that the menace of the submarine in any future war will not be as serious as it was in the last war. I saw in a daily newspaper after his speech the heading, "The submarine is mastered." I would ask the Financial Secretary how he can justify that statement. He told us that he had been in a warship at Malta, hunting submarines. When I read that in the Press I was very pleased, because it showed that he takes great interest in his work. He has given his experience in this respect, and I will put up my experience. I fired the first torpedo in the history of the world that was ever fired from a submarine when running submerged. I have been a student of submarine warfare for 37 years. The Financial Secretary informs the House that the 966 submarine menace is not likely to be what it was before. I would ask whether the submarine has stood still. The submarine has made good progress. The hon. and gallant Member, who was a naval architect, knows that the hulls have been stiffened since the last war, the motors have been made more silent, and the range of fire is far greater than in the last war. Therefore, I beg to differ from the Financial Secretary when he says that the submarine has been mastered.
What is the submarine strength of other Powers? Germany at the present time has 71 submarines, and she can build up to another 41,000 tons. She may then have 150 submarines. Japan has 100 submarines and Italy probably 70. That is an enormous number of submarines against this country. The Financial Secretary gave numbers to show how the submarine menace decreased in the late War. Why did it decrease? Because of the vigilance of our surface craft and our aircraft, which were always hunting the submarine. The submarine captains got tired, but if war started now, they would not be tired but would be as fresh as paint, and we should lose a tremendous number of our ships. In the last War we lost 11.000,000 tons of shipping, and out of that number we lost 6,750,000 tons on account of submarine action. The whole question of protection against submarines needs to be looked into.
That brings me to another point, and that is the use of the destroyer. The destroyer was of great use, and we certainly need a far greater number of destroyers than the two flotillas laid down in these Estimates. What was the other weapon used in the war against the submarines which was so succesful? It was the little airship. We built 200 of these airships at the Admiralty and supplied 24 to our Allies, some to Italy, some to France, some to the United States. These little airships patrolled 2,250,000 miles and had only one fatality due to enemy action for every 50,000 miles patrolled. Some of these airships made very long patrols. Whenever we used these small airships patrolling we never lost a single food ship or a single ship carrying raw materials for our factories. At the end of the War all the merchant shipping captains always asked for the airship patrol, because the aeroplane and the seaplane went over rather too quickly when 967 they were looking for the submarines, whereas the little airship could hover, go to windward, and drift back. I should like to know whether the Admiralty are doing anything or whether they have been in consultation with the Air Ministry in regard to the question of introducing airships again. This question should certainly be looked into very carefully, because they were of such great value in the last War. [An HON. MEMBER: "The paravane."] Yes, the paravane, which was invented by Commander Burney, did great work, but I am speaking of airships and asking the Financial Secretary whether the question of the small airship is being looked into again.
The Financial Secretary also spoke of the Fleet Air Arm. I was interested very much in what he said on that subject. At one point he said that the Fleet Air Arm is now a better colour and is putting on weight, and he also said he hoped that he had justified his claim that the tiny child had started to put on weight. When the Financial Secretary makes a statement of that sort he ought to qualify it a little. I had the honour of creating the Royal Naval Air Service, and I had many gallant officers who lost their lives in it and many gallant officers who are now left in this country. We handed over to the Admiralty one of the most efficient services. What did they do with it? They strangled the young child and then threw it overboard. That is why we had a single service. Now, they have started a small Fleet Air Arm, and the Financial Secretary refers to it as a tiny child. It is a tiny child because of faulty Admiralty administration. He ought to have qualified his statement by saying that it is tiny child through the maladministration of the Admiralty. I want to see a very strong naval air arm. I want to see it as efficient as the Naval Air Service was in the Great War. I would warn the House against any duplication between the Naval Air Arm and the Royal Air Force, otherwise we may have great and unnecessary expenditure. I have heard some people discuss the question of creating another military air arm. In that case we should get the old competition between the military, the naval and the Royal Air Force services that we had before. We should do everything we can to avoid that state of things.
968 The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) mentioned the question of Pembroke Dockyard. I am certain that our eastern and southern ports will not be able to be used in a modern war. The teaching of the Spanish war was that when aircraft came to seaward they did not know that they were being attacked until they had dropped their bombs. In the case of Chatham, Sheerness, Portsmouth, and Devonport, we might not get any warning. Therefore, I think dockyards ought to be developed further away. My knowledge of Pembroke Dockyard extends over many years, and the question of bringing it up to date should receive the attention of the Admiralty. Unnecessary expenditure should not be put into our eastern and southern ports, but any money available ought to be used to develop ports further away. It may be said that modern aircraft can attack any port in the United Kingdom. That is true, but the hostile aircraft would be longer over our territory in attacking the ports further away, and our aircraft could attack them and, we hope, bring them down. We certainly ought to look into the whole question of having our principal port somewhere on the West Coast.
The Financial Secretary said not long ago, when talking about the Langstone air base, that Portsmouth was the principal naval port. I would ask whether it is the view of the Committee of Imperial Defence and the new co-ordinating Minister that our principal naval port should be Portsmouth. I submit that we ought to build a port with docks capable of taking any of our battleships at some other place a little further away from possible enemy attack than Portsmouth.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Herbert
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) had no need to justify his interesting intervention in the Debate. The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) also sought to justify his intervention, if I understood him correctly, by mentioning that he was a constructor of battleships, though I do not think he need have based himself on that narrow ground, considering the very wide field of tactics and strategy in almost every 969 element that he covered. One of my constituents, I am told, a Dean of the Church of England, made the indignant, inaccurate, and, I think, unchristian complaint, that the University of Oxford was now represented by a buffoon and a boat builder. I have always assumed that I was the boat builder. May I claim another small justification for taking part in this Debate? For the last year of the War I had the honour to serve in the convoy section of the Admiralty, a remarkable section. It was headed by a paymaster and composed almost entirely of paymasters and people like myself, invalided infantry officers. But, overriding all was, among others, that great man Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson, who did so much for the inception of the convoy system. I was delighted to hear the noble and well-deserved tribute which was paid to Sir Reginald Henderson by the Parliamentary Secretary in his speech last Thursday.
We boast now, and, rightly, of the effectiveness of the convoy system, but I agree with those hon. Members who say that we ought not to assume too much that the conditions in the next war are going to be the same as they were in the last war. We assumed then that we had command of the seas up to two days' steaming from these shores. A convoy going through the Mediterranean was escorted by destroyers for two days and then accompanied for the rest of the voyage by an armed merchant cruiser. Convoys coming across from America were in the last year of the War escorted by an American cruiser till, I think, two days out from England. We must remember that in those days we had a strong and important force of American destroyers at Queenstown, but I remember Admiral Henderson being many times very worried about the problem of "making two destroyers meet," so to speak. I went out in a convoy myself in the last year of the War with the Commodore from Liverpool to Port Said. We were escorted by the destroyers two days out; and then they left us.
Even then there were great alarms and anxieties about submarines off Lisbon. As has been said, it may be that the conditions off the Spanish coast: will be very different in what is euphemistically called the next emergency. That is the 970 somewhat small amateur message that I have to deliver. I do not know what the figures are in regard to building, but I most heartily support, from my small experience, anyone who says that we ought to have more destroyers rather than fewer. I add my humble compliments to the representatives of the Admiralty on the Front Bench for the way in which they have represented their Service and for the way in which they are discharging their difficult and most important duties.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Some reference has been made in the Debate to the fact that the sailors do not like the Admiralty. I am not going to discuss that other than to say that if the Admirals in this House are a fair sample of the Admirals in the Navy there is every excuse for the seamen's antipathy to the Admiralty. We have also had a reference to the fact that the tradition of the Navy has prevented men from the lower deck rising to commissioned rank. The tradition of the Navy is that the sons of the working class shall occupy the lower deck and the "old school tie" brigade occupy the position of officers. That is the tradition, and there is the greatest difficulty in breaking it down. I am certain that if the Admiralty consider the future expansion of the Navy and the work that will have to be done, they will break down this tradition, and open up every avenue to the men of the lower deck to occupy positions which they are capable of occupying.
There is another matter which has not so far been discussed. If war should come, there will be the greatest possible need for a very large number of engineers to carry out all kinds of repairs. Today the situation is very serious from the Admiralty point of view. During the last War the most profuse promises were made to the engineers as to what would happen when the war was over if only they would give up their trade union rights and accept whatever was imposed upon them by the Government. They were to get an entirely new status in industry. When the War was over every promise made to the engineers was either broken or forgotten. Hon. Members opposite need not chide Hitler with breaking promises; they are as good as Hitler at breaking promises. The promises they made were broken. What was the result? The engineers were left to the mercy of the most 971 rapacious profit mongers in industry in this country. Their wages were cut down or kept down, and the result was that they went from the industry into other industries, and to-day engineers are earning better wages driving tramcars and buses than they could get as engineers. That is the situation which the Admiralty have to face. There are large groups of engineers who would not go into an engineering shop because they would have to goat lower wages than they have in their present jobs. Yet if war came upon us, one of the greatest and most urgent needs of the Admiralty would be a supply of skilled engineers, and I should like the Minister when he replies to say something on this matter.
The right hon. Member for Hills-borough (Mr. Alexander) drew attention to the submarine menace, and an hon. Member opposite argued that Germany had been building short-range submarines. When the right hon. Member for Hills-borough drew attention to the fact that Spain provided splendid opportunities for bases for the small-range submarines, the hon. Member hazarded the opinion that Germany could have had no knowledge of what was going to take place in Spain when she set out to build short-range submarines. It was in 1935 that Germany decided on a policy of short-range submarines. When did the trouble start in Spain? The hon. Member opposite thinks it was in 1936. That is not the time when the German started in Spain. The Nazis were as active in Spain in 1935 as they have been recently in Czecho-Slovakia. Does any hon. Member doubt the menace which this constitutes to the British Navy? Does any hon. Member doubt that the Germans will use these Spanish bases? I think it was the "Evening Standard" around Easter 1937, which gave an interview showing that the preparation for revolt was being actively pursued and financed early in 1935, and it is clear that Germany has had in view all the time these bases for her short-range submarines.
When I listened to the Parliamentary Secretary discussing the Navy and the proud and optimistic picture he gave us of the strength of the Navy, I was reminded of the Secretary of State for War. He gave us a speech of a similar character about the Army. What I said 972 about the Army I say about the Navy. The Secretary of State for War claimed that the Army is stronger to-day than it was 12 months ago. I assert that the position of the Army is worse than it was a year ago; and the same is true of the Navy. The Parliamentary Secretary can argue that the Navy is stronger in certain kinds of ships and in new methods, but from the strategic point of view I assert that the Navy is in a far worse position to-day than it was 12 months ago. No man of any sense who understands the position will dispute that point of view. We have representatives of the Admiralty coming to this House as representatives of the Admiralty and saying, "We have strengthened your Navy," but they do not tell us that as members of the Cabinet they have worsened the strategic position and that the Navy cannot possibly serve the country as it could have done 12 months ago.
What is the position in the Mediterranean with Italy controlling the Eastern part and Germany the Western part; with their heavy guns and their aeroplane depots at various points as well as on the North Coast of Africa? The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in one Debate asserted that the heavy guns which Germany had on each side of the Mediterranean made it impossible for British ships to sail in the Mediterranean, and the Admiral on the other side, the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) interjected a remark that it was still possible for British ships to get through the Straits of Gibraltar in the night time under a heavy smoke screen. That is the position. And what does it mean from the point of view of naval strategy. If Germany gets into Rumania and gets supplies of oil and a route through to the Black Sea, how is that going to affect naval strategy? The whole circumstances, so far as the British Navy is concerned, are of a most menacing character. It is impossible to discuss the British Navy as something in itself, as some sort of an ornament which you keep for showing to visitors who come to this country. The British Navy can only be discussed in relation to the general strategic situation which has developed in Europe and throughout the world. It has been pointed out that, with the submarines and aeroplanes which the Axis Powers 973 have now, the British Navy is in a very vulnerable position.
The only possible hope for the Navy carrying out its work of defending the food supplies which must come to this country and of protecting this country from attack is that it should have bases and support in different parts of Europe and the world. The Navy must have those bases and that support, and, therefore, we cannot discuss the Navy without taking into account the all-important factor of the allies that can be obtained and the arrangements that can be made with them, for providing bases and all kinds of support for the Navy. I consider this to be of the most vital importance to the people of this country. If the Admiralty are concerned with the Navy and with the Navy playing the part it could and should play, then they should be anxious to see that those who are responsible for bringing about the new relations that would provide the Navy with the bases and support it would require are those who believe in the policy which that work represents. While the Admiralty are supporting those who do not believe in such a policy, those who have destroyed the strategic position in Europe as far as the Navy is concerned —while the Admiralty are supporting the present Prime Minister and those associated with him—the Navy of this country is being betrayed.
§ 6.17 p.m.
The only reply that I would make to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) is that Italy does not control the Eastern part of the Mediterranean and Germany does not control the Western part of the Mediterranean. We are still the dominant Naval Power in the world, and we control the Mediterranean.
Most of the points that I intended to raise have been raised by other hon. Members, but I would like to endorse everything that has been said about the absolute necessity for having an abundance of small craft, and more than it is proposed to have at the present time. These small craft are absolutely essential. I also want most strongly to reinforce the remarks of several hon. Members concerning the necessity for a base at Milford Haven on the west coast. With regard to the ports in Southern Ireland, from which such excellent work was done 974 during the War—the American destroyers, under Admiral Bailey, working from Queenstown, did admirable work in safeguarding our trade routes—it is very problematical whether those ports will be available to this country in any future war. We have given over those ports to the Irish Free State. I understand that the Irish Free State have promised to keep the ports in a proper state of repair and ready for use, if they should be required by us, in any future war. I wonder whether that is being done. I rather doubt it. In any case, I do not think we can rely upon our obtaining the use of the ports in Southern Ireland. That would be a most difficult position for us to be in; it would immensely increase the difficulty of protecting the trade routes and covering the Mercantile Marine coming up the Channel; it would increase the voyage out and the return of craft taking part in that work, and necessitate increased numbers. It is absolutely essential, therefore, that we should have a base at Milford Haven.
Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter), I have always been most strongly opposed to the building of 40,000-ton battleships. They are an anachronism, and they are not required. They are far too big. To say that because Japan might build 40,000-ton battleships, we must start building them, is a very poor argument. In my opinion, it would be far better to spend the money on building a smaller type of battleship and the smaller craft which would be so urgently required. If that were done, I believe the efficiency of the Navy would be increased. I do not know whether it is too late for the Admiralty to reverse their policy of building those monstrous battleships. I wish they would do so, and revert to a smaller type. We could have more of the smaller craft, and more guns mounted in them, and in my opinion, the Navy would gain by the change.
No. If the size of the battleship were reduced, it could not carry 16-inch guns. These large ships carry nine 16-inch guns, three in a turret, and three turrets all close together; and as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford has pointed out, if one turret were put out 975 of action, one-third of the arms would be lost straight away. That is a most serious position. With a smaller ship the guns would be mounted two to a turret, there would be more of them, and they would be spaced further apart. I know the answer is that, given the weight of armaments to protect them, it would be necessary to sacrifice something else; but I would prefer to do that, for there would be smaller guns, more of them, and greater rapidity of fire. I would much rather have a fleet of ships of that sort than these 40,000-ton battleships.
I am rather concerned about the Fleet Air Arm and the turn-over from the Royal Air Force to the Admiralty, especially from the point of view of bases. That has not yet been done. It is essential that the Navy should have complete control over the bases from which their own craft will work. I cannot see what is the difficulty. I hope that the Admiralty will take every step to overcome any difficulty that there may be in turning over the Fleet Air Arm from the Royal Air Force to the Navy.
Another point that I wish to bring to the notice of the Parliamentary Secretary concerns Malta. Malta is extremely vulnerable to air attack owing to its small size and its very congested conditions. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that the dockyard and all the other works are clustered together within a small compass. Aircraft will play a very important part in the defence of the dockyard, in defending trade in the Mediterranean, and also in active operations against enemy aircraft attacking Malta. I understand that all the accommodation for aircraft, whether aeroplanes or flying boats, is either in aerodromes on the ground or simply in hangars by the shore or attached to buoys. I want to ask whether anything is being done to provide underground accommodation for these aircraft; by that, I mean accommodation which would enable the water-borne aircraft to go straight in from the sea through an entrance that could be blasted out of the rocks at Malta. Malta is composed of very soft rock, and it would be quite a practicable proposition to provide underground accommodation for these essential aircraft. The vulnerability of these aircraft is a very important matter. It would not be an easy or a quick operation to replace the aircraft if they were 976 destroyed at Malta. The underground shelters would provide infinitely greater protection from damage by air attack, and one could be certain that the aircraft would be available when needed. I hope that something is being done in this direction.
In conclusion, I would like to add my congratulations to the Parliamentary Secretary upon the way in which he presented the Estimates. I am quite sure that everything that he can do will be done in the interests of the efficiency of the Navy.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I want to do what is common form in this Debate, and support the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) about Pembroke Dockyard. I have this personal interest in the matter, that during the War I was, for a short time, stationed in the Bristol Channel in connection with the arming of merchantmen, and I came into contact with the ship-repairing yards in the Bristol Channel, and was able to gather a great deal of knowledge about the docking and ship-repairing facilities in the West of England. From what I heard then, and from the study that I have since made, I am sure that the facilities in the West quoted by the Civil Lord in his speech would not be adequate for the docking and repairing both of Naval ships and merchantmen in time of war. As the pressure of events becomes greater, the Admiralty will have to reconsider their decision.
There are one or two points that I wish to raise in the hope that the Parliamentary Secretary may be able to refer to them in his speech. First of all, I wish to ask a question about the Royal Yacht. I am sure that everybody was glad to hear, in reply to a question the other day, that the new Royal Yacht is to be so designed that she will be capable of performing some useful work in time of war; but I would like to ask whether it is not possible also so to design her that she can perform some useful work in time of peace. I cannot help feeling that it is not a good thing for the officers and men employed in the Royal Yacht to have no duties to perform from one year's end to another which give them training under actual service conditions. I should like also to ask what the draught of the new Royal 977 Yacht will be, as I believe that the old Royal Yacht was unable to visit certain French ports on account of her draught. Lastly, can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us what are now the conditions concerning what is known as promotion from the Royal Yacht? Is it indeed the case that officers who are promoted from the Royal Yacht are promoted by virtue of their service in the yacht, or, are matters so arranged that they happen to be serving in the Royal Yacht at the time when they become due for promotion? In these days the struggle for promotion is so keen, officers work so hard for promotion, and it is such a disaster for many of them if they fail to get it, that I feel with great respect to what is involved in service in the Royal Yacht, that there should be no more privileged promotions of this sort. Knowing how much promotion means to the individual nowadays, I think that anything in the nature of privileged promotions should come to an end.
I hope we may be informed of the position in regard to the proposed transfer of Keyham College. I understand that a site has been acquired and that a change is contemplated. Perhaps we may hear when it is to be carried out. I would also like to bring to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary a small matter in regard to mobilisation. A copy of the "Cape Argus" has been sent to me, from which I find that in the Union Parliament, a member askedwhether it had been at the request of the Union Defence Department that a paragraph was included in the Simonstown mobilisation order of 28th September, addressed to reservists of the Royal Navy, to the effect that Union citizens would not be compelled to obey the order until called up by proclamation of the Union Government, and also why such a paragraph had been included.The reply was that the Minister "did not consider it in the public policy to give details about the mobilisation." The member went on to askwhether the attitude of the Union Government in regard to the mobilisation of reservists was intended to be helpful or hostile.I do not know whether this matter has been brought to the attention of the Admiralty. I quite understand that we have no jurisdiction over a Dominion Government, but it would be interesting to know what the position is in regard to these reservists.
I would also ask that we should be told something more about the excess expendi- 978 ture on the "Research" which I mentioned last Thursday. Incidentally, on Friday morning I received from an official of this House a communication pointing out that I had filled in a railway voucher for Birmingham, instead of Coventry as I am entitled to do, and asking for my observations on the subject. The amount involved is 3s. 9d., and I could not help marvelling at an accounting system which so speedily runs to earth an item of 3s. 9d., while apparently the Admiralty can run an estimate of £70,000 up to £206,000, without going through the formality of consulting the Treasury. Comparing the two incidents and setting my 3s. 9d. against the trebling of an estimate of £70,000, I thought it a classic example of "penny wise, pound foolish" in Government accounting.
Then I wish to call attention to the reply of the Civil Lord on the points which I raised about the representation of grievances in the Navy. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) is not, unfortunately, in his place, but I think I can say that his outburst against me on Thursday and the harsh and intemperate language which he used about me, gave some point to the remarks which I made about the necessity for adequate powers to represent grievances. I acknowledge the very courteous reply of the Civil Lord, but I think it was erroneous in certain respects. He said that the right of a junior officer to report the misconduct of a senior officer had not been exercised except in what is known as the "Royal Oak" case. That is not so, because I quoted several instances in which that right had been exercised, and if the matter is in any doubt I can quote another case of a first lieutenant who put his captain under arrest for drunkenness and abuse of subordinates. He could not do that under the new regulations. To the best of my knowledge and information, the Civil Lord was also mistaken in saying that the new naval regulations in this respect are in line with the Army regulations. I must point out that Section 43 of the Army Act—and I speak with great deference to an officer of the other Service—specifically authorises complaints on any subject, and states that no one is to be treated with harshness or suspicion for making such complaints.
The Civil Lord also said that the misconduct of an officer should be observed 979 by his senior officer, and that it should not be the function of a junior officer to report the misconduct of a senior because that misconduct would be observed by a still more senior officer. I must be allowed to inform the Civil Lord that the conditions of service in the Navy are such that no one with experience of the Service would say that it was possible for a senior officer to be certain of observing the misconduct of other senior officers serving under him. In any case I would put to the Civil Lord the case of a ship on detached service. In such cases occasionally commanding officers develop a very autocratic frame of mind and in those circumstances who is to observe possible misconduct on the part of the captain of the ship? I believe that the new regulations issued by the Admiralty conflict with the Naval Discipline Act, but however that may be, it cannot be denied that they specifically take away the right of a junior officer to report the misconduct of a senior officer. It is not those who are indifferent to the state of discipline in the Navy who believe that harm is being done to that discipline by taking away that right.
Another point is the design of warships. I shall not go into details but there is no question about the fact that the design of our warships causes a great deal of uneasiness and anxiety to those who study the matter. Ships of extremely bad design have, over and over again, been inflicted on the Service. The May Committee dealt with this among other matters, and said thatit is common knowledge that various opinions arc held in the Navy itself as to the wisdom of the policy embodied in certain designs of ships of war. We recommend that the Government should appoint a representative Committee to inquire into the whole subject of Navy design.May I ask whether anything has been done to give effect to that recommendation, and also whether it is the case that the Naval Constructors alone are consulted in regard to the design of warships or whether the services of the Institute of Naval Architects are utilised? That Institute commands a great fund of valuaable professional opinion. Would it not be wise to make some use of their advice and knowledge in regard to the design of warships?
§ Mr. Boothby
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman say which ships of recent design he has particularly in mind?
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I have given the details in previous speeches. Obviously the battle cruisers during the War were of faulty design, and submarines have been built since which have been found completely unsatisfactory. In fact, in one case the Naval Staff has never been able to assign any role to a submarine because of her design. I assure the hon. Member there are many instances. I wish to add a few words on the subject of destroyers. The destroyer nowadays seems to be a very expensive compromise. What is the main function of the destroyer? Is it to attack the enemy battleships by day? If so, the destroyer is rather slow to deal with the enemy's screening ships. In fact, I would ask, Does the modern battle fleet fear destroyer attack, and will a modern battleship sink if hit by a torpedo? In any case, are not aircraft a more efficient means of launching torpedoes at an enemy ship than destroyers? Aircraft can press home an attack against battle shipslying in a defended harbour which destroyers cannot. Aircraft are more difficult to hit, have greater powers of surprise and attack, and are cheaper than destroyers. Again, battleships depend upon destroyers for anti-submarine and mine-sweeping work without which a battle fleet cannot go to sea. The battle fleet also want destroyers for night searching, shadowing, and screening.
All this raises the question of the function of the destroyer. Is she for attack on the enemy battle fleet, or is she a maid-of-all-work? I notice that the gap between cruisers and destroyers is diminishing. Since 1935 destroyers have grown from 1,400 tons to just under 2,000 tons. The French destroyer "Mogador" is of 2,884 tons and carries eight 5.5-inch guns and has a speed of 38 knots, and you have to set her against our cruiser "Achilles," which carries only eight 6-inch guns. The largest destroyer extant is 2,600 tons, and the smallest light cruiser is 3,500 tons, so that cruiser and destroyer have now approached to within 600 tons of each other. I suggest that it is time the Naval Staff set up a committee to frame a questionnaire on those points, and to pick the brains of the destroyer officers in order to decide what is 981 the function of the destroyer and what is the best type of destroyer to fulfil that function. I bear in mind the fact that it is necessary for us to have destroyers capable of dealing with foreign destroyers now in commission, but I believe that a committee of that sort would serve a very useful purpose at this moment, although I am not prone to encourage the creation of committees.
Finally, I wish to raise briefly a matter which I raised last year concerning the contracts between the Admiralty and the British Power Boat Company. I am glad to see that since I raised that matter the building of these boats has been thrown open to firms other than the British Power Boat Company, and I am sure that the competition will be a benefit to the Navy and also to the firms concerned. I asked the Admiralty for an inquiry of a nature which would give immunity to the witnesses, many of whom, obviously, would be serving officers. The Admiralty have not held an inquiry of that nature. They conducted an inquiry into their own conduct. They sent for all the papers on which approval had been given for what had been done; they looked at the papers and said everything had been approved and therefore everything was all right. But I understand that no officers conversant with the matter were sent for, and obviously the inquiry was of a very limited nature.
A statement was made in circumstances which precluded any reply on my part, and I have had no opportunity of making any reply until to-day. I gratefully acknowledge the references which the then First Lord, the right hon. Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper) made as to my motives in raising the matter. Of course, I was naturally and inevitably wrong on small matters of detail, but I have nothing to withdraw about the main statements that I made, which even the Admiralty statement confirmed in certain particulars. The boats were not the best obtainable, the price paid was extravagant, the Admiralty had virtually given a monopoly to the British Power Boat Company in this matter, and there were very grave questions indeed arising out of the engines installed in those boats. As regards this inquiry, we were told that these boats had to be got in a hurry because of the Abyssinian crisis. As a matter of fact, none of them went 982 out to the Mediterranean until nearly two years after the Abyssinian crisis.
Here are particular questions which I should like to ask in regard to the inquiry held by the Admiralty themselves: Were the engine numbers of the engines supplied to the first flotilla of these boats ever checked? Were the Napier factory records of these engines, showing when they were built and to whom they were delivered, ever checked? Did the Admiralty engineer overseer witness the delivery and installation of the engines? Did he witness bench tests? Did he see the engines stripped after test? All that is perfectly normal Admiralty procedure, and I should like to know whether it was set aside in the case of these boats. If it had not been set aside, the Admiralty engineer overseer would certainly have noticed the reboring of these engines, which had undoubtedly taken place. I should like to know whether the engineer-in-chief at the Admiralty ever wrote any minutes to the controller reporting against these engines, and did the engineer-in-chief of the Mediterranean ever report that several engines were found to have been rebored, or did other serving officers so report? Was the reboring of these engines reported on to the Admiralty by serving officers? The answers to these questions obviously could not be given by serving officers at an Admiralty inquiry. It would be quite impossible for them to do that. The answers would have to be given at an inquiry of a very different nature.
Since that statement was made by the Admiralty I have received considerable correspondence on the subject, and a flag officer expressed himself about these particular boats in terms which I should certainly not venture to employ in this House. I have a letter from another flag officer, in which he said:I did not expect all the allegations to turn out correctly, but in this statement"—that is, the First Lord's statement—there is altogether too much whitewash. However, you have applied the ginger and it will have a good effect.I must also quote from another letter, because it contains the whole gist of the matter. It comes from a most reputable correspondent, whose bona fides I have taken the trouble to check:I am not happy that the true facts of the case have been brought to light, and that the 983 answers given are in any way in accordance with the real state of affairs. The other day I was on board one of the motor torpedo boats and an engineer-officer told me quite openly that not only were some of them found to have been rebored prior to being opened up for overhaul, but that owing to the fact that the engines had been used previously the water-jackets had rusted through to the cylinder liners from the outside. On more than one occasion water was discovered to have got into the cylinders, due to the piston having worn its way through the liner. As all this apparently occurred within 18 months of delivery date of the motors it is impossible to believe that they were in a new condition at the start. These facts and others can only be elicited by calling evidence from such officers as young engineers, who could not possibly be called without a guarantee of immunity. Also, close examination of engine numbers, test sheets, works notes/log books, etc., will establish exactly where the second-hand engines have gone to, or alternatively, when the new ones were built. I have no connection whatsoever with the boat-building trade but have many friends who are serving naval officers and who have expressed themselves as being extremely dissatisfied with the present position. I also know personnel in the Admiralty who are perfectly well aware that the replies given in the House do not in any way give a true picture of the facts.I think that letter is a very strong condemnation indeed of the statement issued by the First Lord. I would also refer to another document which I have with me. It is a receipt given last year for two engines at a ridiculously low price, which it is stated are similar to those supplied to the British Power Boat Company.
I say this in conclusion: I had two objects in raising the question of these boats. The first was to try to make sure that the officers and men who serve in them and who, if war comes, will have to perform some of the most hazardous tasks which will be allotted to any officer or man in the Navy, shall have the very best boats for their work that this country can give them. My second object was to do what I could to ensure that the taxpayer should get full value for his money. The Admiralty may think that they got round an awkward corner by the form of inquiry they held and by the statement which was made in this House, but serving officers and personnel know the value of that statement. They have no illusions about it; and Admiralty personnel concerned also know that awkward questions have been avoided. Boat-builders know quite well that the Admiralty have let the British Power Boat 984 Company get away with it. For myself, if I may say this, I have endeavoured, for what it is worth, to try to support the Admiralty in their colossal task of rebuilding the Fleet, but I confess that the failure of the Admiralty to face up to this matter is a disillusionment to me and raises certain anxieties in my mind as to how far all is well in other matters of naval construction.
§ Sir Robert Tasker
May I ask the Minister when he replies to reassure the House on a point raised by a gallant Admiral who led us to suppose that the small gun was equal to the big gun? That was not a lesson which was learned when Admiral Craddock lost his squadron, and his gallant opponent on that occasion in turn lost his ships to Admiral Sturdee. I should like the Minister to reassure the House that it is an undoubted fact that the big gun must of necessity be a superior weapon to the small gun.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Shakespeare)
If my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn (Sir R. Tasker) will allow me, I will deal with his point in the appropriate place, and if by any chance I should overlook it, perhaps he will remind me of it. We have had a very interesting Debate on this Report stage. It was opened in a speech of studied moderation by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hills-borough (Mr. A. V. Alexander). It shows that in times of tension the things that unite us are far more apparent and close to us than the things which divide us. I have no complaint whatever as to the reception of these Navy Estimates. Indeed, I think that hon. Members in all quarters of the House have been most gracious in their reception of the main purpose of the Estimates. I have a lot of questions to answer and I will reply to them as briefly as possible, but, frankly, one or two are of such a technical nature that I would rather not embark upon a reply, and for greater accuracy I shall probably confine myself to sending letters to the hon. Members in the course of the next few days.
First of all the right hon. Member for Hillsborough raised a question of foreign policy, but had not so much complaint against the Navy. I think he will agree 985 with me that however many enemies may come against this country, whether it be one, two or three, the vital thing is that this country should be fighting in a just cause, which will not be wanting in such an emergency. He raised the important question of the German Naval Treaty and here I should like to endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) said. The Anglo-German Naval Treaty, the only one of its kind in the world, has been a stabilising factor in naval rearmament, and I think has been of mutual advantage to Germany and ourselves; and, moreover, I should like to say quite fairly, as one must, that it has been scrupulously kept, not only on our side, but on. the German side. In all fairness that must be said. My right hon. Friend asked what would be the position as regards the'' Royal Sovereigns '' in the event, of which I have no more knowledge than he has, of Germany denouncing that Treaty. Of course, if that should happen, we should be released from any obligations arising out of our notification of scrapping.
Quite a number of speakers, including the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George), the Senior Member for Oxford University (Mr. Alan Herbert) — who made an unaccustomed intrusion into our water, not that I resent it at all—raised the question of destroyers and smaller vessels. Of course the House will appreciate that the Admiralty never minds being pressed to build more ships, and I can only say that, as I did last year, I shall report to my noble Friend what the feeling on the subject is in many quarters of the House; but hon. Members will appreciate that the 20 new escort vessels which we are building are in numbers something more than two flotillas of destroyers, so that in point of fact we are making provision in these Estimates for the equivalent of four flotillas of destroyers. As to the rate of building and production, we are making considerable efforts in view of the fact that when these two flotillas are ordered we shall have over 43 destroyers on the stocks, quite apart from the 20 new escort vessels. The right hon. Gentleman also raised the question of small German submarines which might use Spanish ports. My colleague the Civil Lord dealt with that point, but I would point out that if the conditions obtaining in the next emergency are the same as they were in the last war it is 986 doubtful whether a submarine with such low endurance could ever get to Spain.
The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke raised again the question of Pembroke Dockyard. I do not want to be forced into the position of turning down the consideration of any problem, and what I say is subject to that reservation, because we constantly survey and re-survey naval needs, and it may well be that in the near future and in the light of changing circumstances we shall re-survey the whole dockyard position—we are always doing it. But I can only give our views as they are at present. The position is, as the hon. and gallant Member knows, because I had the pleasure of inspecting that dockyard in his company, that the Royal Air Force have taken over for specific purposes nine-tenths of that dockyard, and have erected very substantial buildings.
My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the loss of Queenstown and Berehaven. If one talks about liabilities, one must always remember the assets and the dockyards which have come into being since the War. At least three new docks have come into existence at Falmouth. Critics seem to imagine that we should open Pembroke Dockyard in order that ships damaged by submarines might go there in time of war. In point of fact no such merchant ships in the last War went to Pembroke Dock for repair. There is a good deal of misconception about what Pembroke Dock was used for at all. Pembroke Dock was not a very good repair depot. In the main it was used for small ship construction. We never built anything more than a C-class cruiser. We have repairing facilities at Falmouth and in the existing dock at Milford Haven, which will take a cruiser of the Southampton class. This question is always interesting, but one must realise that we cannot consider it in relation to any emergency because I am advised that it will take two or three years before anything can be done. It has taken 10 years to get Singapore Dock into a state of readiness.
Is it not a fact that, of the 19 dry docks that exist at present in the ports that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, only about three will be available for repairs for any decent sized ship, as they have not been modernised?
§ Mr. Shakespeare
The hon. Member probably knows South Wales better than I do, but, speaking from memory, I should have thought that at least seven of those docks would take a ship with a beam of more than 55 feet.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of the anti-aircraft defence of our dockyards. That is a matter for the War Office, but we are naturally in close touch with them. In so far as the question of defence of isolated naval stations is concerned, we propose to form units in civilian employment to man the defence weapons with which they will shortly be provided. He went on to deal with the question whether the Admiralty are getting value for money and are taking such steps as they can to prevent profiteering. He has had considerable experience of the procedure at the Admiralty and I am glad he paid us the compliment of saying that we did all we could. We have roughly two methods. First of all, we rely on competition where there is genuine competition, and we take the lowest tender. If there is not genuine competition in the case of some naval requirements—guns, gun mountings, much armament work, torpedoes, shells, fuses, and indeed a large number of other cases where either there is no competition or there is evidence of an association or a ring, we rely on one or other of two methods, or sometimes a combination of both. We have always had at the Admiralty the use of the technical costing accountants who were in the old Ministry of Munitions, and their help has been invaluable in assessing the exact cost of labour and material. In addition to the advice of these technical costing accountants, we have, of course, the advice of a number of skilled professional accountants in the Admiralty who spend their whole time in going into costings as regards overhead costs and, when we have a combination of examination by the technical costings accountants and the professional accountants, we have a pretty good idea of the cost of producing a particular requirement. Then the Director of Contracts, who has been at the Admiralty for 25 years, a very devoted civil servant of great experience, negotiates a price with a particular firm and I think he gets value for money. He takes into account the capital employed in the company and the turnover. Moreover the question of sub-contracts is given the same careful 988 attention by the Department. We always insist that the main contractor will, where possible, put out to open tender certain requirements, such as capstans, steering gear and so forth.
Moreover, we have something that is of vital importance in considering whether we get value for money. We have the check of the Royal Dockyards. I have here a comparison as regards ships built in a Royal Dockyard and by private contract. In one case the dockyard wins, and in the other private contract. In the case of the "Manchester," a 1935 programme cruiser, that cost at private contract £2,190,000. In the case of the "Gloucester," a cruiser of a similar type in the same programme built in a Royal Dockyard, it cost £2,230,000—slightly in excess of the contract price. On the other hand, in the case of the "Aurora" the dockyard came out slightly cheaper. It was in the 1934 programme and it came out at £1,341,000. In the case of the "Penelope," of the same class, in the 1933 programme, the contract price was £1,385,000. The House may be assured that every step is taken to set: that we get value for money. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) made a very interesting incursion into the Debate, but he covered so many questions raising matters of policy that, if I made him an adequate reply, I should have to give away the whole disposition of our Fleet and our strategy in time of war. I think my best course would be to have a private conversation with him.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) raised the question of the big battleships. He wanted smaller battleships of 20,000 tons. I am only a lay strategist, but up the present the size of battleships has been governed by the various treaties of limitation. You have to get into one battleship, let us say of 35,000 tons up to recently, three main factors—speed, protection and armament. Clearly, if you have a20,000-ton battleship you cannot get anything like the gun power or the speed, or indeed the protection, that you can get in the larger ship, and when it comes to the cost of a capital ship of 20,000 tons and another of 35,000 tons, if you take a long period, not only the capital costs but the maintenance charges, there is not all that difference in it as regards costs. That answers the 989 point raised by my hon. Friend that, if you are going to build a smaller ship with smaller guns, you are not in a position to take on one of these monsters with 16-inch guns.
§ Sir M. Sueter
Can the hon. Gentleman give us any information about Japan building 40,000-ton ships?
§ Mr. Shakespeare
All I can say on that is that clearly it is always difficult to get information in respect of a country which does not give us information. We have no official information as to what Japan is doing, because she is outside the arena of the Naval Treaty, but my hon. and gallant Friend will note that the signatories to the Naval Agreement have recently decided to increase the dimensions of their capital ships up to 45,000 tons, although we have said that we shall not go beyond 40,000 for the moment.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member, for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) rather challenged my statement as regards the preparedness of our ships against air attack and our greater preparedness to deal with submarines, and he quoted the case of the "Deutschland." His information does not square with mine. I would rather take the word of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who said that in his view they never intended to hit the "Deutschland" but were aiming at the Island of Majorca and hit the "Deutschland" instead.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
Be that as it may, I do not think it affects my argument. I am sure that the "Deutschland" is not as heavily defended against anti-aircraft attack as our modern battleships, and I was talking about modern battleships. [Interruption.] She is not modern as compared with our modern batleships. I understood that the gun crews were sleeping at the time. They were all in light kit.
§ Sir R. Ross
Is it not a fact that the gun crews were not closed in and that she was hit by two bombs but the one that did the damage hit the mess deck while the other hit the top of the turret and did no harm?
§ Mr. Shakespeare
If the crew had been at their gun stations there would not have been the same casualties. We cannot, however, continue that argument. I read a carefully considered statement, which naturally had the approval of the naval staff, and I do not retract from what I have said. I thought it necessary to give as much assurance to the country as possible and throughout my speech I was careful to make understatements rather than over-statements. I might have added more than I did if it had not been against public policy.
When my hon. and gallant Friend says that I over-stated our preparedness against the submarine, I do not think he should quote at me an interpretation of my speech from the headlines in a newspaper. I never said we had got the mastery of the submarine. All I said— and here, I think, I made an under-state-ment—was that we are in a much better position to deal with the submarine menace in future owing to the great experience we had in the War. My second point was that since my hon. and gallant Friend's day, when he was a gallant commander of a submarine, we have greatly improved and perfected the method of detecting submarines. I said that these two things enabled us to deal much more successfully with the submarine menace than we were able to in the late war.
The hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) fired at me with the persistence of a Vickers' gun a number of close-range bullets. I noted the suggestion he made as to the use of the Royal yacht in peace time, but I should think that there was no better use than that she should be available for the purposes for which she was built, namely, as a Royal yacht for Their Majesties. I think the head of a great Empire is entitled to have a yacht. He asked whether the officers appointed to the Royal yacht would be treated for promotion as though they were in the Navy arm. The answer is, yes. He asked me about Keyham College. The transfer has been approved in principle, but I am not in a position to say when a start will be made.
Rather surprisingly the hon. and gallant Member got back to his old favourite the question of the Scott Payne motor-boats. I had no notice that it was going to be raised and I cannot 991 charge my memory of all the details. It is a very long and complicated question. I was chairman of the committee which inquired into it. We had a full and exhaustive inquiry. We asked for evidence and for any witnesses to come forward with evidence. A naval officer does not want immunity to appear before such a committee. I was hoping that the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself would have provided us with evidence, but no evidence was forthcoming. Indeed, we had to search for evidence. The report of that committee gave chapter and verse in great detail and we found all the allegations made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman not to be true. I do not think he put them forward as gospel truth. If I remember rightly, he put them forward as charges that were current here, there and everywhere, and which should be answered. We did answer them. Not only that, but when I visited the Fleet in the Mediterranean shortly after he raised this point, I took particular care to examine the flotilla there in order to find out whether there was anything we had overlooked in the Admiralty inquiry and any point that might bear on this issue. I can only say that I found the officers in charge of that flotilla enthusiastic about the performance of these particular boats. The flotilla had just come 700 miles under their own steam at a good average speed, and they had no more trouble than was common to engines of that type. They had their teething troubles, but at a critical time when we very much wanted this particular boat there was only one type available, and that was the type we got. Some credit is due to the designer who was the pioneer in this matter.
I did not resent the hon. and gallant Gentleman raising these things because I thought then, and I think now, that he did a service; because, if these rumours were going about, it was far better that they should be put in the House where Ministers were given a chance of answering them. I think, however, that when a thing is settled it should be allowed to be settled. That inquiry was a year ago, and no questions have been put from those benches, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough never referred to the matter again. Nor did the hon. and gallant Gentleman raise it again. We went into all those questions 992 about old engines being bored. We traced the number of every engine and where the engine was. We explained the circumstances in which particular engines had to be rebored. They referred exclusively to the original two or three engines which were sent to Portsmouth for experimental purposes. The water got into one of them and it had to be rebored. We absolutely satisfied ourselves that these charges were without any foundation whatever. Further than that one cannot go. That being so, one should not keep harping like a dog at its old bone.
I think I have answered the main questions put to me. I will read the OFFICIAL REPORT again, and if I have neglected any I will follow them up. Let me end on the note on which I started. The Civil Lord and I are very grateful for the co-operation we have had from all parts of the House and the tributes we have had, not to ourselves, but to the efficiency of the Navy. If the Civil Lord and I are at the Admiralty much longer we shall gain a reputation for efficiency, which I, at least, do not deserve, but I shall take great pleasure in passing to my colleague the First Lord, and the Sea Lords, to whom the real credit is due, the high opinion in which the Navy is held in the House of Commons. There is a general feeling in all parties that in a time of unparalleled rearmament we have done our best to make the Navy strong, for that is the first condition of this country's survival.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Ammon
The Debates last week and to-day have been conducted in a manner that accords with the gravity of the world situation. The criticisms have not been of a party character but have been directed solely to the purpose of getting the utmost efficiency in the Navy in a time of great difficulty. There are one or two things that still want a little further attention and that I raise in no spirit of carping criticism, but simply because all of us feel that the world situation is so acute that no weaknesses can be allowed to show anywhere. When we discussed the Vote last week, I ventured to say that had we been wise in our day and generation and sought and found, as we could have done at any time, the co-operation and friendship of Russia, we might have been in a much stronger position than we are at the present time and things that have been 993 done in South-East Europe might never have happened. Judging by the pictures that have appeared in the week-end Press, we are evidently far along the road to get over that difficulty and in a much closer personal contact in a real sense with Russia than we were some time ago. It is indicative perhaps that we are beginning to get back to the collective system of security, although it seems that we shall have it to a much looser degree than we might have had it some time ago. I hope that, having made a start, we shall not lose an opportunity to make such agreements and get such understandings as we can as quickly as possible with these other nations, which would have been only too ready to join up with us earlier.
Many Members have again raised the question of the provision of better docking facilities at Pembroke. That is bound up with those questions which I raised last week, and which have been raised again this afternoon, about the whole system of providing a convoy system and places of refuge for our merchant vessels in time of trouble. It has to be remembered that in the last War—and this is an under-state-ment—we had no fewer than 300 destroyers, and, in addition, we were assisted by the United States and Japan. Even then our losses, as we were told by the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter), of merchant shipping amounted to 6,750,000 tons, and we were brought into great difficulties at one period. The situation at present, assuming we are again plunged into war, is worse than it was then. There are fewer merchant vessels than there were at any time in the War, and we cannot afford to lose so many. Also, we have not the possible assistance of the United States and Japan. Therefore, there is the need, which has been emphasised again and again to make up as quickly as possible a larger number of destroyers and small craft to act as convoys. My right hon. Friend raised the need for a smaller destroyer than those that are being laid down, and he was supported by no less an authority than the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes). These are disturbing matters for those who are giving consideration to them because in the last War we were nearly brought to a condition of food shortage in this country with a much larger Mercantile Marine 994 than we have now and a larger strength of convoy than now seems to present itself. It seems that we ought to do a good deal more in supplying the smaller craft than appears to be necessary in the opinion of the Admiralty.
My right hon. Friend also raised the question, to which the Parliamentary Secretary has referred, of the need for something in the nature of a Committee of Supply. It is only fair to my right hon. Friend to say that it was not he who raised any question about the Power Boat Company in the Debate last year. The only reference made to it from the Front Bench was by myself, when I said that such charges could not be allowed to go unchallenged and must be sifted to see what accuracy there was in them. We have to face the fact that we are in a position somewhat analogous to a state of war, and therefore it may be worth while to consider whether or not we should set up a Committee of Supply to examine and check contracts. It does not do any good to have repeated charges of the possibilities of excessive profiteering.
There is a new factor in the position now, as the Fleet Air Arm is coming under the control of the Navy. We have had some pretty damaging criticism of contracts relating to the Air Ministry, and, as far as I know, contracts for the Fleet Air Arm will have to go through the Air Ministry. That seems to me another reason why there should be some further check on prices and profits. The Parliamentary Secretary gave us examples of checks and estimates made by the Royal Dockyards as against the private builder, and in one case he showed that the Royal Dockyard was about £40,000 cheaper. But it should be more than that. A private builder has not the same overheads as the Royal Dockyard, and to a large extent he spreads them over other shipbuilding.
§ Colonel Llewellin
We spread them over all the repair work in the dockyards throughout the whole year.
§ Mr. Ammon
Even so, it is still for the one employer. Although we welcome the check, and the fact that the Royal Dockyards can compete so successfully, that does not tell the whole story and may point to the necessity for further consideration being given to the matter.
995 Another point raised by my right hon. Friend, to which no answer has yet been given, was about the slow promotion from the lower deck to the officer class. It was no answer that was given last week to the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker), who pointed out that of 368 persons who became officers, only 17 came from the lower deck. It has to be remembered that by virtue of their service they are bound to reach that promotion at a later age than others, and therefore their chance of further promotion is reduced. Now, when an attempt is being made to popularise the Navy, I hope that further avenues of promotion will be open for suitable men from the lower deck. Nobody has suggested that every man on the lower deck is capable of becoming an officer. All that we have said is that there is a great reservoir which has not yet been fully tapped.
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) made some criticism of my right hon. Friend's comment on the Anglo-German Naval Treaty. That Treaty was brought in to mask a breach of the Versailles Treaty. Its provisions relating to 35 per cent. of global tonnage meant that we must go on building at a much higher figure of post-War construction, and the 45-100 for submarines meant that of necessity we must build a larger number of destroyers. The hon. Member rather dismissed the pocket battleship as of not much importance. But it is armed with 11-inch guns, and there is nothing that can overtake it except our battle cruisers, so it cannot be dismissed so easily. This only strengthens the point made by a number of other speakers of the need for a larger number of small craft in order to give better protection to our ships.
The other question that I want to raise is the production of oil fuel from coal. This will become of increasing importance should we become engaged in a major war, and though it seems at first flush to be expensive, it may in the long run prove economical, and it is surely worth while to carry forward as fast and as far as we can all the necessary experiment and research. It is the more important because we have largely lost the strategic position which we had when coal was the principal fuel for the Navy. I do not join with those who say that our insular 996 position has been sacrificed. Even in these days we can be grateful for the fact that we are not on the Continent of Europe. In these days of the development of air power we gain something from our insular position. Allowing for the maximum of damage that could be done from the air, we still have to rely on the Navy to see that our supplies of food and war material reach these shores, and therefore it is still of first importance that the Navy should be maintained at its maximum efficiency. We on this side do not give way one iota in our opinion in that connection. We reserve our right to point out weaknesses and defects, but all for the one intention and purpose of seeing that the country is protected by its first arm to the maximum. To that end there will be no division on the Votes that come before the House to-night, because we feel that in times of emergency such as these the things on which we disagree are of much less importance than the things on which we agree.
§ 7.40 p.m.
Mr. David Adams
The House will be grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary and the technicians who have spoken in the Debate, but there are some things which the Parliamentary Secretary slurred over in his reply to which attention should be given. There is no surplus of private dry docks available in the event of hostilities. The action of Shipbuilding Securities, Limited, was no doubt useful for preserving the profit motive with regard to shipbuilding in peace time—it sometimes surprises me that that concern did not carry its operations further insetting up a unified shipbuilding scheme for the whole country—but to-day that policy is a mistake. Recently on the Tees another shipyard which would be invaluable in the event of hostilities has been closed. What action are the Government taking in this matter? During the last War I had a good deal to do with merchant ships, and while it may be alleged that we got through our difficulties with relative ease, the fact is that there were great waste and loss through the detention of vessels unable to secure prompt repairs.
We are told that we have learned much about the value of the convoy system, and that the protection of our vessels will be superior to what it was in the last War. Certainly things then left much 997 to be desired. I have seen a vessel leave the Tyne at four o'clock, after receiving full advice and permission from the authorities, and within three hours the crew were back again, the vessel having being torpedoed and sunk while setting forth to join the convoy. The protective measures that prevailed during the last War for the defence of the Mercantile Marine will need to be multiplied several times. There is an additional menace to the Mercantile Marine in the bombing aeroplane, and while we may ridicule its offensive capacity on the high seas, it will certainly have to be reckoned with in the narrow waters and in the ports. The importance of the naval air arm will be equal to, if not greater than, that of any other side of naval activity. The bombing aeroplane of the enemy will be 'the greatest menace to be dealt with.
The question of oil from coal has been touched upon but has had no response from the Government Benches. I feel it very deeply that that question should still apparently be held at arm's length by the Government. We have learned from the commissions that have been sitting on the subject that the cost of the adoption of oil from fuel, while now in excess of oil which is imported, in time of war would certainly not be so. We saw how the price of petrol rose during the War to 4s. 6d. and 5s. a gallon. In addition to that was the cost of protecting the transport of oil in the tanker fleet which brought it to this country. From a careful study of the reports of the commissions, I have no doubt that oil produced from coal would be very much cheaper during a period of warfare than oil brought overseas.
The question of prices is always very entertaining to all sides of the House. The Minister has certainly shown that whatever system has been adopted has failed substantially to achieve its aim. No one denies that very large profits are being made at the present and that a check is not being placed on those productive agencies which will become very masterful during a period of war. As we have observed from the public Press, the United States Government, are indicating that they have under close consideration the question of deliberately restricting profits from armaments to 10 per cent. I am not satisfied that that might be a reasonable figure and might not be too low in 998 the case of a concern required to set up additional plant which would rapidly become obsolete at the end of hostilities. Therefore, protection would have to be accorded to them. Audited accounts should certainly be introduced and a better check made than merely that of rival contracts between the Admiralty and private yards.
I would like to refer to the question of dilution, a larger question as it has to be faced to-day than as it was faced in the last War. Are there regulations offering guarantees to the engineering industry in return for their assent to the abrogation of trade union rules, regulations, and conditions, and possibly, although I hope not, to the dilution of certain aspects of technical skill? Such a scheme was very successfully carried out during the War, upon specious pledges which were not honoured after the War. As an engineering person, I well remember the deep and abiding resentment which was felt in engineering circles at the failure of the Government to implement pledges which had been solemnly given to that industry. Have regulations been drawn up capable of giving the necessary protection and of restoring the industry to its pristine strength and power with regard to hours, wages, and conditions? If so, perhaps a satisfactory adjustment may be made. It is the duty of the Government not to delay this matter until hostilities are upon us, but to act forthwith in this direction.
The engineer is a technician who has paid very dearly for his experience and knowledge. I served nearly six years as a bound apprentice, receiving a very small remuneration for very long hours— 54 per week. As a working engineer, I should hesitate very greatly to submit to a request that I should abandon my technical skill and be prepared to introduce others who have not served their apprenticeship and who are relative strangers to the industry, with all the menace of the danger that might ensue to the industry, and leaders of Labour opinion in the engineering world would not for an instant entertain any suggestion of dilution leading to the abandonment of the structure which has been built up in the industry with such labour and toil. We are entitled to some response to the points which I have put, relating to oil from coal, dilution, and the admitted shortage 999 in the mercantile world of private yards and docks which would be imperatively required in the event of hostilities.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
I should not have taken part in this Debate had it not been for a statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary in regard to dry docks. I did not have the opportunity of hearing the whole of his speech but the statement to which I refer did not convey an accurate impression of the conditions which exist in some of those docks. He stated that there were 20 dry docks between Plymouth and Newport; there are, as a matter of fact, 19 dry docks and one pontoon. The impression given was that each of those dry docks was capable of carrying out substantial repairs, but the fact is that they are, in the main, in the condition in which they were in prewar days when they were as a rule dealing with small boats. That was the type of boat that was carrying coal, such as the small collier with a narrow beam as compared with the modern boat. The result is that a large number of those docks are now incapable of dealing with a modern vessel. Of the 19 dry docks in those ports at the present time only seven are capable of taking such a vessel and five of the seven are in tidal waters. Some are in the rivers where it is difficult to bring the bigger type of ship. Owners resent taking their boats into docks in tidal waters.
In fact, there are only two dry docks in the whole of the South Wales ports capable of taking a modern vessel. That is an entirely different impression from that which was given to the House by the Parliamentary Secretary. He will know perfectly well that his attention was called to this matter as far back as 15th November last year, when I asked him in the course of a statement which I made to the House for an inquiry so that the whole position could be examined. I pointed out in the course of that Debate that the most vulnerable ports in this country had undergone substantial modernisation of their docks in post-war years while there had been little or no modernisation in the ports on the Welsh side of the Bristol Channel. These, I believe, are considered some of the least vulnerable of our ports. Substantial 1000 modernisation has been earned out in London in the post-war period and a substantial increase of shipping has come to London, but there has been a diminution of shipping in ports on the Bristol Channel. I made my demand for modernisation on that occasion in order to improve employment in the area of the docks concerned, and although things were difficult at that time they have become still more difficult.
One remembers the pressure there was upon those docks in the period 1914–18. If we had a similar situation to-day as existed then, with the bigger type of tramp steamer, it would mean that South Wales would be much less able to carry out repairs than in the period referred to. It is therefore of considerable importance that this matter should be dealt with. I do not know what the Admiralty have done about it, but local people are very much concerned and, through the local authorities, they have set up a committee to go into the matter. It may be that the Admiralty have made some inquiries, and, if so, I should like to have some of the particulars because this is a matter of vital importance which should be given careful consideration.
On 15th November I quoted a statement from the "Daily Telegraph" written by their shipping correspondent, who said:The point is that unless adequate dry docking facilities are provided beforehand, the plans for diverting traffic from the cast to the west in time of war may prove impossible to carry out on the scale intended.He went on to make a further statement with regard to the matter, calling attention to the seriousness of leaving those docks in their present condition. I do not know whether we shall get a statement from the Government, but I think that the Parliamentary Secretary unintentionally left the House with an entirely wrong impression as to the docking facilities in those parts. I hope that we may get a clearer explanation with regard to this matter.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Colonel Llewellin
Perhaps the House will allow me to speak again in order to clear up one or two matters which have been raised during the Debate, and then we may be able to get our Votes without further discussion. I listened very attentively to the hon. Member who has just 1001 spoken; certainly the information which he gave the House does not correspond with that which the Parliamentary Secretary gave this afternoon, or which I gave on Thursday of last week. If the hon. Member has some spare time and can come to the Admiralty and discuss the matter with me I should very much like to go into it with him. I think we could examine more conveniently in that way what is an issue of fact which might be quite simply cleared up.
§ Colonel Llewellin
On the subject of promotion from the lower deck, unfortunately my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary forgot the promise which I made on his behalf the other night. I did not intend that the statement should not be made and I intend to give a reply now. The facts are that, if we get the right kind of young man from the lower deck, we are anxious to have him as an officer. In the last two years we have greatly improved the scheme under which these young men can undertake their training. In the old scheme, which obtained when the hon. Gentleman opposite was at the Admiralty, and when only four candidates qualified from the lower deck in one year, the men selected had to train for the examinations in their own time. Now we have taken, them into separate training battleships. East batch—there are two going through at the present moment—has a commander and a schoolmaster officer. They are treated as cadets, and they are given their whole time. One batch was in the boys' training ship, and these young ratings were learning by giving a certain amount of instruction to seamen boys. They have, therefore, ample facilities for qualifying for the examinations. Last year 17 passed out, and 42 are going through the course this year. We hope to be able to take more next year. Apart from that, as the hon. Gentleman will have realised, we have this year instituted the new scheme of promotion for young warrant officers, who will come in, not through the old mate scheme, but pari passu with the boys who have come from Dartmouth or from special entry schools. We have thus made a considerable advance, and certainly I am not in any way afraid of dealing with the matter.
The next point with which I should like to deal is with regard to oil from coal. Of course, if the Royal Navy could get 1002 its supplies from this country, nobody would be more wiling to do so, because it is quite clear that we have to provide our tankers to bring oil from overseas, and, in the event of emergency, we shall have to convoy those tankers, at any rate when they get within dangerous waters. Therefore, we would willingly do it if we could. The position is that there are three known processes; the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) did not suggest, and I know he would not suggest, that we should go back to coal burning ships; it is a question of getting oil from the coal and burning it as oil. There are three methods of doing that. One is by low temperature carbonisation. We tried some oil produced in that way a few years ago, and it was not satisfactory as regards the quantity we could get. Most of that oil now goes on to Billingham for hydrogenation into petrol. The hydrogenation process at Billingham produces the finer oils rather than oil fuel. It produces aviation spirit and motor spirit, and not really oil fuel. It is an expensive process for the production of cheaper oils, such as oil fuel. Nevertheless, we have tried some of the latter, and it did not, as oil fuel, come up to the Admiralty's requirements. The third process is the Fischer process, which is a German invention. It has not been tried in any extensive degree in this country, and patent rights would have to be obtained for any firm starting it here. We have, however, as I have said, tried oil from both the processes which are at present being worked in this country. We are willing to try oil from any other process, and, if it meets the requirements of the Navy, we are certainly willing to buy as much as we can from internal sources. With regard to our motor spirit, we do buy a considerable proportion from the Scottish shale industry, which makes it into benzene or something of that sort.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Did I gather that the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that from the low temperature carbonisation and hydrogenation processes so far no satisfactory motor spirit for Admiralty purposes has been obtained?
§ Colonel Llewellin
I am not talking about motor spirit; I am talking about the oil fuel for running the ships—the heavy oil. I should be the last person to say that they do not make good motor spirit. Indeed, they make aviation spirit. 1003 But they do not produce the heavy oil which we need, and, when one is speaking about the oil requirements of the Royal Navy, that is the oil that we all have in mind. Those are the two main points to which I rose to reply, but I cannot refrain from saying one word about the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher), who is not here at the moment. He quoted Section 43 of the Army Act at me. I do not know whether he thought I should not have brought it with me, but I did, and I find that it does not quite bear out the interpretation that he put upon it. It is a personal grievance that the soldier can raise, as I said in the Debate the other day.
§ Colonel Llewellin
That, of course, is so in the Army as well. The only time when a junior officer can put a senior officer under arrest, according to the Army Act, is when that officer is engaged in a quarrel, fray, or disorder. At any rate, I think I was right in what I said during the Committee stage. The other point, raised by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams), with regard to dilution, is one which, when we wish for it, I shall have to raise. Naturally, I shall raise it first in the Admiralty Industrial Council, over which I preside, and of course, if we ask for any such thing, the first people I shall take into consultation will be my trade union colleagues on that body. We will meet that difficulty when it arises. It does not arise at the moment, so I think we can leave the matter there.
Mr. David Adams
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman deal with the point regarding the admitted shortage of private yards and of proper dry docks for mercantile purposes in the event of hostilities?
§ Colonel Llewellin
That was the point that I promised to go into with the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Jenkins). We seem to have different facts with regard to it, and I understood the hon. Member to accept my invitation to come over and discuss it with me. As there are other matters to be considered, perhaps the House will now give us the Vote.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
It is not my intention to delay the House for very long, but I would like to draw attention to that portion of the White Paper which deals with boom defence vessels—small vessels built in small yards along the coasts of the country. I need not remind the Government that we on this side have, in season and out of season, put forward a claim for the location of industry. We have been unsuccessful, though it is true that we have trading estates. These small vessels that have been built for the Admiralty in small yards around the coast have been a godsend from the point of view of employment. I notice that the White Paper mentions that the last one or two of these vessels that are being built in my own town of Blyth are expected to be completed between May and October. I understand that more vessels of this class are to be built in the coming year, and I should be very grateful if the Minister, at some time convenient to him, not necessarily to-night, could give us some assurance, or let me know when we are likely to have some more of this work in the future. It has met a need in many of these small places, which have suffered owing to the decline of shipbuilding for the Mercantile Marine, to which reference has been made to-night.
These yards played an invaluable part during the last War. In Blyth, I understand, they built the first aircraft carrier for this country, so that it is not a question of efficiency. It has been largely due, as I have said, to the decline in shipbuilding for the Mercantile Marine, which is one of the consequences of having so many of our merchant ships built in Germany, Holland and other continental countries. The yard was rapidly falling into disuse; the fine machinery it contained, which was used extensively during the War, was rusting and rapidly deteriorating. Before the first of these vessels was built, no launch had taken place there for many years. Since then the unemployment figures have fallen, not altogether, but largely, on account of this building, from 25 per cent. to 16 or 17 per cent.
We look to the future with some perturbation, in view of the statement that some time between May and October will see the completion of the vessels now on order. I believe that the last of these vessels is now on the stocks. Apparently 1005 the Government cannot see their way clear to determine where industry shall have its factories in this country, but at least the Admiralty can say where these vessels shall be built. I have pointed out the great benefit they have been in reducing unemployment and providing our people with work and wages, and what is probably just as important, keeping our men in active employment—highly skilled men who have served years of apprenticeship. Before we got these vessels, places on the South Coast, in the Isle of Wight and so on, were taking our skilled men. Very soon yards like these that were invaluable during the last War would have gone out of use, and the skilled men who were unable to get employment in some of these other yards would have had to go to some less skilled occupation, and the country would have lost the benefit of the skill, and I may say the sacrifice, resulting from the time that these men served at their apprenticeship. Threfore, I trust that when the contracts are given for the new vessels, if there are none of this class we may get some of the other classes that we are quite capable of building. I hope the Minister will, in due season, let me know that we have been favourably considered in connection with these contracts.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I would like to support what has been said by my hon. Friend, and to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to be good enough also to consider the claims of my constituency, which I am sure, like those of my hon. Friend's constituency, are worthy of such consideration. I hope that the silent compliment which is being paid to the Navy by the absence of so many hon. Members from the Debate to-night will not be unnoticed by the Admiralty. It may seem to those who do not understand the feelings of this House rather strange, when so much depends on this mighty force, that so few hon. Members should be here for this Debate, but I think the explanation is simple.
I rise not to bring forward any grave matters of policy, but because I am concerned about the question of the invaliding-out of men from the Navy. The matter came to my notice owing to a complaint concerning the case of a man named Young, who was invalided out after a course of severe training for the Royal Tournament. The hon. Member 1006 may remember a lengthy correspondence that I had with him about it. The man was invalided out on account of disabilities which came to him as a result of his service in that capacity. That claim was rejected by the hon. Gentleman in terms which I do not say were discourteous, but which were certainly inadequate as an answer to a complaint by a Member of this House in regard to a constituent. It was an extremely unsatisfactory reply, and I had to follow it up with a series of further interrogatories for further and better particulars, of a nature that one does not expect to have to make after informing a Minister of such a complaint. This caused me to investigate the matter further. I put certain questions to the Admiralty and the various Departments, and I ascertained certain illuminating facts. I am going to give comparative figures which indicate a state of affairs that requires the urgent attention of the Admiralty, especially at a time like this.
In the two years 1937 and 1938 there were 597 men invalided out of the Royal Air Force, and disability was attributed to service in 88 cases—that is, 'only 15 per cent. In the case of the Navy, in the same two years, 2,499 men were invalided out, and the number of cases in which disability was attributed to service was 160 in each year, the proportion for the two years combined being 12½ per cent. When we come to the Army, in which, presumably, very similar considerations apply, we find that in the same two years 2,734 were invalided out, and 1,819 of these were awarded pensions and gratuities on account of the fact that the disabilities were attributed to service —that is, 66 per cent. In the Army the percentage was 66 per cent. in the Air Force 15 per cent., and in the Navy only 12½ per cent. Surely that is a prima facie case for consideration. I was not at all struck by the answer the hon. Gentleman gave to me as to the sympathy shown by the Admiralty in considering appeals when I read that in 1937 and in 1938 precisely the same number of cases were awarded grants on account of their injuries being attributed' to service in each year. The suspicion was naturally aroused that the Admiralty had set a limit, and that after 160 grants had been made in a year no more were to be allowed. On going further into the matter, I found that there had been a considerable Press campaign and long 1007 criticism of the Admiralty for failing to attribute to service cases of injury or disease which undoubtedly were attributable to service. I want an assurance that the hon. Member will give his personal and detailed consideration to this matter. If he will give me that assurance, I shall not press any further points on his notice to-night. Could I have that assurance from the Minister?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The Parliamentary Secretary has already spoken in the Debate.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
I am not entitled to speak again. I have spoken once. [An HON. MEMBER: "You may speak with the leave of the House."] I cannot speak except with the leave of the House. If I have that leave, I will certainly look into this matter again. Of course, there is no limit to the number of awards, but I will look into the matter to see the reason for this disparity.
Ordered, That the Resolutions which upon the 14th day of March were reported from the Committee of Supply, and which were then agreed to by the House, be now read:—
That a number of land Forces, not exceeding 185,700, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom at Home and abroad, exclusive of India and Burma, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1940.
That a number of Air Forces, not exceeding 118,000, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom at Home and abroad, excluding those on the Indian Establishment, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1940.
§ Ordered, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide, during twelve months, for the discipline and regulation of the Army and the Air Force; and that Mr. Hore-Belisha, Sir Kingsley Wood, Mr. Shakespeare, Sir Victor Warrender and Captain Balfour do prepare and bring it in.