HL Deb 23 July 1912 vol 12 cc642-68

*THE EARL OF SELBORNE rose to call attention to the declarations of His Majesty's Government on the subject of the naval position in the Mediterranean; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, we had a discussion in this House about a fortnight ago on the position in the Mediterranean, and that discussion was preliminary to the further discussion which it was understood would take place when the First Lord of the Admiralty had made his statement in the House of Commons. Yesterday that statement was made, and I think none of your Lordships who has read that statement but will agree with me that it was a very remarkable statement. I think I might summarise it thus. Mr. Churchill came to grips in his speech with the naval policy of certain foreign countries; but he did not come to grips with the naval policy of this country. He indicated in general and eloquent terms the kind of policy which he thought was essential for the safety of our Empire, but he did not—and that was the most significant part of his speech—he did not tell us in what manner His Majesty's Government propose to give effect to those principles.

I make no apology for quoting to your Lordships some of the statements made in the House of Commons last night, particularly those in which the position of navies in Europe to-day was summarised, because I do not think a statement of equal gravity has been made in either House of Parliament in recent years. Mr. Churchill said in respect of Germany—I quote from The Times report— A Third Battle Squadron of eight battleships will be created and maintained in full commission as a part of the Active Battle Fleet, Whereas, according to the unamended law, the Active Battle Fleet consisted of 17 battleships, four battle or large armoured cruisers, and 12 small cruisers, in the near future that Active Fleet will consist of 25 battleships, eight battle or large armoured cruisers, and 18 small cruisers, and whereas at present, owing to the system of recruitment which prevails in Germany, the German Fleet is less fully mobile during the winter than during the summer months, it will, through the operation of this law, not only be increased in strength, but rendered much mere readily available. Ninety-nine torpedo-boat destroyers, or torpedo-boats as they are called in Germany, instead of lid, will be maintained in full commission out of the total of 144. Three-quarters of a million has already been taken under the general Estimate for the year for the building of submarines. The Navy Law adds a quarter of a million to this, and that is a provision which, so far as we can judge from a study of the finance, would appear to be repeated in subsequent years. Seventy-two new submarines will be built within the currency of the law, and of these it is apparently proposed to maintain fifty-four with full permanent crews. Taking a general view of the effect of the law, nearly four-fifths of the entire German Navy will be maintained in full permanent commission—that is to say, instantly and constantly ready for war. Such a proportion is remarkable, and, so far as I am aware, finds no example in the previous practice of any modern Naval Power. Truly a startling and remarkable statement: The First Lord then went on to explain that there was provision in the German Bill for increasing the personnel by 5,700 men a year, and that the German Naval Estimates had risen in a very short period from £11,000,000 to £23,000,000. These again, were his words— We are shortly to be confronted with twenty-five German battleships in full commission in the Actual Battle Fleet, the whole of which will often be concentrated within a few hours of our shores. Turning from northern waters to the Mediterranean, Mr. Churchill said— The naval position in the Mediterranean is about to undergo a series of very important changes. At present neither Austria nor Italy have any Dreadnought vessels actually commissioned. Within a few weeks and possibly sooner the first Italian Dreadnought will be ready, and thereafter both Powers at short intervals will be reinforced by powerful modern units until towards the end of 1915 Austria may be able to dispose of four and Italy of five, perhaps six, Dreadnought vessels. And in respect to the Mediterranean Mr. Churchill said further—and I draw your Lordships' attention particularly to these words— I am bound to add, however, that the information which has reached the Admiralty seems to indicate that one of the Mediterranean Powers t have mentioned is contemplating another considerable naval programme. We do not need in these neuters to act on surmise or by anticipation. It will be sufficient for me to say that if this information should prove to he correct, it would constitute a new fact requiring prompt attention and not included in any of the forecasts I have given of future naval construction. Let me summarise this. I am sure your Lordships would agree that all Parties must look the facts in the face, without menace to any foreign country but without endeavouring to minimise the gravity of the situation to our own fellow-countrymen. This means that almost immediately Germany will have in the North Sea a more powerful Fleet than was the whole British Navy twelve years ago when I had the honour of first going to the Board of Admiralty, and that that Fleet will be practically in a position for immediate war—such as no other Fleet has yet been. Mr. Churchill laid great stress, and quite rightly, on that fact, because it is the key to the whole situation, and it makes the formality of a declaration of war a mere politeness, because with the Fleet in that condition a blow could be delivered simultaneously with the notice. Therefore I think Mr. Churchill did great service when he laid special stress on these peculiar conditions in the North Sea.

Then, my Lords, look at the position in the Mediterranean. In the Mediterranean there will be in the immediate future a fleet of battleships belonging to the allies of Germany more powerful than either the British Fleet in the Mediterranean or the British Fleet in the Channel and North Sea was at the epoch to which I have alluded—twelve years ago when I first went to the Admiralty. The First Lord was careful to warn us that he has reason to suppose that the progress of the power of the navies of these countries is not going to stop short there in the Mediterranean. He clearly warns us of a distinct further increase on the part of one of these Powers. The picture is alarming in the sense that it does and must entail on the people of this country an ever increasing sacrifice for the simple and mere purpose of maintaining the integrity of our shores and the peace of the world. Therefore I think I was justified when I said that the First Lord of the Admiralty came to full grips with the situation as it affects those foreign Powers. He concealed nothing from the country. He laid stress on the really salient points, and without drawing his picture in alarmist or sensational colours he drew it with strict and literal accuracy.

When I turn to the declaration of policy with which Mr. Churchill followed this explanation the character of his remarks changes. Again I must trouble your Lordships with some quotations. The first is of a general character, and I cannot too whole heartily subscribe to every word of it. Mr. Churchill said— We ought to learn from our German neighbours, whose policy marches unswervingly towards its goal across the lifetime of a whole generation. The two general principles that I would deduce from these observations, and which will guide my remarks this afternoon, are, first, that we must have an ample margin of strength instantly ready; and, secondly, that there must he a steady and systematic development of our naval forces untiringly pursued over a number of years. And the Prime Minister endorsed the spirit of that utterance. For Mr. Asquith said— The House may feel assured that when we produce our Estimates next year, with the added knowledge and fresh light acquired in the interval, and with the prospective requirements of the situation, we shall not fall short of anything our advisers think necessary to fully and adequately safeguard British interests in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Those are two purely general though most commendable utterances. It is when we come to the embodiment of the principles contained in those utterances in a specific policy that disappointment and anxiety supervene. The only allusions to a definite statement of the measures considered necessary by His Majesty's Government are to be found in the quotations I am now going to give your Lordships. Mr. Churchill states that it will be necessary to add four battleships to the building programme in the next five years. He states that by a re-shuffling of the Fleet and the withdrawal of battleships from the Mediterranean he has raised the number of fully-commissioned battleships available in home waters from sixteen to twenty-four. He tells us that at the end of 1914—and I want to draw your Lordships' particular attention to these figures—we shall have a minimum of thirty-three and a maximum of forty-one fully manned and in full commission, against which the corresponding German figure is twenty-nine. Now thirty-three to twenty-nine does not sound a very satisfactory proportion. I certainly do not think it satisfactory, and the First Lord obviously did not expect the House of Commons to think it satisfactory either. But his re-adjustment of the Fleet will bring us at the end of 1914 to that position.

Now I turn to the proposals about the men. In asking for 5,000 men this year Mr. Churchill says—and I should very much like the noble Marquess the Leader of the House to give me some explanation of this extraordinary statement—that "we started with 2,000 men short." Why? How came it that the Board of Admiralty allowed the numbers voted by the House of Commons last year to fall 2,000 short? Especially as the First Lord repeated what everyone who has had the honour of being at the Board of Admiralty knows—that there is no difficulty in getting men and boys for the Navy. Either this statement in the report of the Fir, t Lord's speech is a misprint, which I hope it is, or an explanation of what is to me perfectly unintelligible is required. The First Lord warns us that for several years to come a large annual addition of men will be necessary. Before I pass from the matter of personnel I should like to say that I noticed with great pleasure the First Lord's statement that he was going to inquire how far and in what way it was necessary or advisable to improve the pay of the lower-deck ratings. I am quite sure such an inquiry has not been undertaken one moment too soon, and although any inquiry of that, nature of course entails a serious obligation on the taxpayers of the country owing to the number of men involved, still, considering the rise in the general cost of living, the increase in rates of wages, and the great increase in the intelligence of the men of the Fleet and the highly skilled work they have to do and their splendid physique, I am quite sure the time has come for the inquiry promised by the First Lord.

Then Mr. Churchill went on to tell us what is the re-adjustment proposed in the Mediterranean. He said— We have therefore determined to withdraw the six older battleships from Malta and to replace them with four battle cruisers of the Invincible type. These vessels will go out in the winter, and in the interval there will be a powerful battle squadrons available which will lie able to cruise in the Mediterranean, tilling in the gap before these vessels can he fitted for service there. We intend further to strengthen the quality of the armoured cruiser squadron based on Malta. And, finally— It will also be necessary for us to add to the submarine and destroyer flotillas at Malta and to establish a new torpedo station at Alexandria. Mr. Balfour also made a remarkable speech in the debate in the other House yesterday from which I will only trouble your Lordships with two quotations which bear on the point of the First Lord's speech we are now considering— MR. BALFOUR: I think I gathered from something that fell from him in his speech that the right hon. gentleman quite admits that he cannot look beyond the next two or two and a half years, and that there may be developments which will require a great change even in the Mediterranean arrangements. MR. CHURCHILL: About three years from now. MR. BALFOUR: And I gather also that the right hon. gentleman thinks he is safe in not making up his mind as to what new construction he will make until next year. Is not lie running it rather fine? I hope the noble Marquess who leads this House will reassure us on that latter point. I hope to show presently that in my opinion we are running it rather fine. Then Mr. Balfour added— The speech just delivered must cause grave thought and anxiety in the country.… The First Lord told us of our dangers, and yet I think he will admit he has told us very little of how he intends to meet those dangers. It is on that aspect of the case that I should like to say a word or two in your Lordships' House.

In the first place, let us deal with the Mediterranean. I frankly confess that I belong to the school which attaches great importance to the Mediterranean. I have no intellectual agreement with those who think that the Mediterranean can be safely abandoned by us either in peace or in war, and I believe it to be a perfect heresy to suppose that our position in the Mediterranean could be in any sense whatever secured in war simply by adding to the garrison in Egypt and establishing a large flotilla of torpedo boat destroyers and submarines at Gibraltar. The only result of that policy would be that the more troops there were stationed in Egypt the more prisoners there would be for an enemy to take, and the fate of those troops would be the same as that of the French troops after the Battle of the Nile. I admit that in war the Suez Canal may be blocked. That is a contingency which has always been foreseen. I deny that it could be blocked for the whole of a war, and I deny that the whole importance of the Mediterranean is derived from the Suez Canal. Putting aside the naval question altogether, it seems to me to be politically necessary that this country should maintain the position in the Mediterranean in peace which she has held during the last 200 years. Therefore I am not prepared to scrutinise too closely what does appear to me to be a change of opinion on the part of His Majesty's Government. I certainly did understand some weeks ago that the policy then announced was a policy of virtual abandonment of the Mediterranean. The noble Marquess opposite will doubtless dispute that that would have been the effect of the policy. I will not argue that with him, because it must remain a matter of opinion; but I submit that the whole of the people of the Mediterranean would have taken my view of it and not his. Therefore I welcome with thankfulness the second thoughts which have led to a powerful cruiser squadron being based on Malta.

I accept that, however, only as a makeshift. Battle cruisers are better than cruisers, but they are not battleships. The only possible permanent basis for our naval strength and political prestige in the Mediterranean must be a squadron of battleships. Indeed, if I wanted to be critical I might point out that battle cruisers, valuable as they are, were never designed, so far as I know, to act in isolated detachments. They have their exact place in naval tactics but always as part of a Fleet containing battleships. Therefore I fasten on to the admissions in the First Lord's speech which point to the fact that this arrangement is only temporary. After all, the responsibility for the distribution of such ships as this country possesses at the moment must rest on the Board of Admiralty, and if the Board of Admiralty say that, with the ships we have and given the impossibility of abandoning the Mediterranean, the best advice they can offer is to send there for the next two years this composite squadron of armoured cruisers and cruiser battleships then I say the responsibility rests upon the Admiralty. But this admittedly temporary arrangement must not be allowed to obscure the fact that these ships are to be taken away from the Atlantic to be put into the Mediterranean. That proves conclusively the assertion which I ventured to make in this House a fortnight ago, that we are demonstrably a whole squadron of modern battleships short. If we had eight more modern battleships there would be no need to think of a temporary policy in the Mediterranean. Assuming for the moment that the country, on the advice of the Board of Admiralty, accepts this makeshift provision in the Mediterranean, how can we regard without alarm the margin which will exist a short time hence in the North Sea—a margin stated by Mr. Churchill to be four ships. Thirty-three to twenty-nine is a wholly insufficient proportion.

Apart from the difficulty in the Mediterranean, it is quite clear that we still have arrears of both ships and men to make up in the Atlantic and the North Sea. I wish to lay very great stress on the fact that ships are nothing if you have not really trained and competent seamen, stokers, and marines to put into them. If I knew that the Government were really going to stick to this programme of adding 5,000 men or thereabouts to the Navy for the next five or six years, that would go far to reassure me; but I confess that the uncertainty and want of definite promises in the statement of the First Lord has failed to remove the anxiety which I feel. What really is the origin of all our difficulty? It is that the advice which the First Lord of the Admiralty gives us now has not been followed. These words used by Mr. Churchill ought to be written up in letters of gold in this House, in the House of Commons, and in every constituency throughout the country— We ought to learn from our German neighbours, whose policy marches unswervingly towards its goal across the lifetime of a whole generation. The two general principles that I would deduce from these observations, and which will guide my remarks this afternoon, are, first, that we must have an ample margin of strength instantly ready; and, secondly, that there must be a steady and systematic development of our naval forces untiringly pursued over a amber of years.

Why do we find ourselves in this position at all? It arises from the dropping of the Cawdor programme five years ago. I do not think there ever was a more unfortunate and deplorable blunder made by any Government in their responsibility for national defence than the dropping of the Cawdor programme five years ago. The whole political position of this country in Europe and the peace of the world would rest upon a surer and sounder foundation to-day had that policy never been interrupted. Definite promises have now been given by the First Lord and by the Prime Minister. I admit that those promises are distinct, and we shall not forget them. Let me again remind you what the Prime Minister said— The House may feel assured that when we produce our Estimates next year, with the added knowledge and fresh light acquired in the interval, and with the prospective requirements of the situation, we shall not fall short of anything our advisers think necessary to fully and adequately safeguard British interests in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Why, then, do we feel anxiety? Why are we not wholly reassured? It is because we remember what happened to the Cawdor programme, and because we are told in the Government Press day by day, and told by the familiars of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that there is division in the Cabinet in regard to this matter. If we knew that the Cabinet were united then we should know that the nation was united, and we should have no fear that this policy would not be carried out. But it is not unreasonable that we should be alarmed when we read what is written by the friends of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—the gentlemen who take their early cup of coffee, their midday meal, and their afternoon tea with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and cull from his lips when be puts on his pyjamas in the evening the last instructions for the morning issue. These gentlemen tell us every day that there is no union in the Cabinet, and that the party which is opposed to a steady, systematic, unswerving naval policy is in the ascendency. Therefore is it unnatural that we should feel anxious Mr. Asquith tells us that the Government will "not fall short of anything our advisers think necessary." A very great responsibility rests on all the members of the Board of Admiralty. I have never been able to understand, and I do not now understand, how the Board of Admiralty could have agreed to the dropping of the Cawdor programme. Of course, the position of Sea Lords is in our Constitution a very delicate one. They would make themselves ridiculous and the system impossible if they always insisted upon their own particular opinion in minor matters. The only possible spokesman for the Board of Admiralty is the First Lord. But they have a definite position, and the country does regard their counter signature as assuring it that in the opinion of the Board of Admiralty as a whole, and not merely of the First Lord and of His Majesty's Government, the naval provision year by year is sufficient for the safety of the country and of the Empire. For that reason I lay stress upon the Prime Minister's words—that the Government will not fall short of anything their advisers think necessary.

I cannot help agreeing with Mr. Balfour that the Government are running their policy fine. You have left yourselves little time owing to the dropping of the Cawdor programme. On you rests, I think, the most tremendous responsibility that can possibly rest upon a Government, and that is to see that run do not run the time too fine. If next year and in the years ensuing you act up to the spirit of the utterances of the Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Admiralty you will be doing your duty; if you fail, you will incur the greatest responsibility that could fall upon any Government and with consequences which are absolutely incalculable. As Mr. Balfour pointed out—and the Prime Minister endorsed his words—the British Navy is not only the only guarantee for the integrity of these shores and the existence of the Empire, but it is the foundation stone on which the peace of the world is built. There is no other so great a security for the peace of the world as the adequate strength of the British Navy. Mr. Balfour analysed, with his own peculiar subtlety and skill, the effect of alliances and ententes in Europe, and his conclusion was that on the whole they made war less probable. He summarised his view thus— The result will be that any single Power indulging in reckless and offensive acts of aggression will find itself isolated from its friends, but in conflict with au overwhelming enemy, in conflict, I mean, with the other organisations which, by hypothesis, are the subject of this gratuitous attack. But does that quite exhaust the matter? I agree that no Power would like to be so obviously and hopelessly in the wrong as to make it difficult for its allies and friends to help it. But is there not another side of the case? May not allies and friends say to themselves, "We cannot afford to let this Fiver be crushed," no matter whether it was right or wrong in making war? Is not the balance, in fact, so fine that the disappearance of one Power from the equation would upset all calculations so that nations and Governments will be afraid ever to face that contingency? Therefore I fear that the headstrong wilfulness, and unjustifiable conduct of one Power might not necessarily work out its own remedy so exactly as Mr. Balfour hopes that it may. I have already said that we have to wait until next year for the final announcement of the whole details of the Government policy, but I do not think I should be doing my duty if I did not state now quite clearly that, in my opinion, in addition to the ships of which notice has been given by Mr. Churchill and in addition to the continuous increase of men and stores, we require and should have at the earliest possible moment a complete new squadron of battleships at least eight in number. That is what I reckon to be our chief deficiency at this moment, and I had hoped that the Government would have had recourse at the earliest moment to some such measure as Lord George Hamilton resorted to in 1889, providing for the addition to the Fleet of a definite battle unit in the shape of a squadron by means of borrowed money repayable in a short period. That is what I believe to be required at this moment. I say again that the men are even more important, than the ships, and I hope that no influences that may be brought to bear on the Government will induce them to swerve from the steady systematic increase of the personnel of the Navy, which is essential to make any ships, old or new, of value.

Before sitting down I must allude to what Mr. Churchill and Mr. Asquith said about the Dominions. These were Mr. Churchill's words— Apart altogether from the material aid, the moral effect of the arrival upon blue water of these new nations of the British Empire cannot be measured. The unity of the British Empire carries with it the safety of its component parts, and the safety of the British Empire probably carries with it the peace of the world. If we are told that the beginnings of co-operation in defence must carry with them the beginnings of association in policy, then I say that both in measures of defence and in the direction of policy the co-operation of the Dominions with the United kingdom will be of inestimable benefit to the strength of the Empire and to the general cause of peace. And the Prime Minister said— But, without committing ourselves in any degree to particular forms in the matter, we share with our great Dominions the feeling which has become more and more conscious and articulate as years have gone on throughout the Empire, that we have a common heritage and interest, and that in the enjoyment of that heritage, and in the discharge of the duties which those interests involve, we ought more and more to be conscious partners with one another. I have no hesitation in saying that the utterance of those words by leaders of the Party opposite in the House of Commons is a landmark in the history of the world. They mark an evolution in the history of this country and of the whole Empire. We do not for a moment grudge that it has fallen to the lot of our political opponents to be in office when the time came to say those words, because they are sentiments which we on this side share and endorse to the full, and there is nothing at which we would more rejoice than that the whole question of Imperial unity should be removed from Party politics, as we hope the question of the Navy may be. In the womb of the evolution foreshadowed by these words lies, I believe, not only the possibility of the liberty and existence uninterfered with by the foreigner of this country and the other nations of the Empire, but also the only hope for the permanent peace of the world. I beg to move.

Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the naval position in the Mediterranean.—(The Earl of Selborne.)


Perhaps the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, before he replies, will allow me to say a few words on this subject which is closely allied with the Eastern trade of this country with which I may claim to have had some acquaintance for a good many years. Although it has been made perfectly clear from the statements in another place last night by the Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Admiralty that there is no intention to abandon the Mediterranean, still although I am not pessimistic I cannot say that feel altogether satisfied. Unless we continue to hold undisputed supremacy in that part of the world our trade position will be seriously endangered, and our ability to hold Egypt, our Eastern possessions, our Far Eastern possessions, and our Southern possessions will undoubtedly be jeopardised, and our ability to protect our Eastern trade, our trade with the Black Sea, and our trade with the Mediterranean itself will be seriously endangered.

The First Lord of the Admiralty said last night in the House of Commons that to maintain a naval force in the Mediterranean superior to the combined Fleets of Austria and Italy would impose extravagant burdens on our people, and he demurred to the suggestion. He further said that the force he proposed to keep there would, in conjunction with the Navy of France, make our combined forces superior to all possible combinations. He foreshadowed, however, that within the next few years our squadron in the Mediterranean would require very considerable reinforcement. If I read his speech correctly, we are now relying, and must continue to rely for some time to come, on the help which we receive from the Navy of France. I confess I do not like it. Of the 4,969 vessels that passed through the Suez Canal last year, with a total tonnage of 18,000,000, no fewer than 3,089 were British, with a tonnage of 12,000,000. It is difficult to say how many British vessels enter and leave the Mediterranean every year by the Straits of Gibraltar, but on July 18 of this year—that is, five days ago—there were 404 British vessels, with a net tonnage of 841,000, in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, none of which would be secure if we lost command of the Mediterranean. Then the Suez Canal itself, half of which is owned by the British Government and brings into the Treasury £1,200,000 per annum, would, as the noble Earl has said, be liable to be blocked and held up.

Figures in Blue-books are useful, but they are unconvincing. Probably a conviction of this kind led the First Lord of the Admiralty to invite the members of both Houses of Parliament the other day to Spithead to visit no Fleet in being. Many noble Lords now in the House have been to the East. I would ask them to recall the satisfaction and the pardonable pride which they felt on approaching Port Said, on passing through the Suez Canal, on making Aden, Bombay Harbour, Colombo, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong, even Shanghai and the Yangtse River, when, as the shipping in those places appeared above the horizon and the bunting could be distinguished, practically the only flag to be seen was the Red Ensign. No more penny-wise and pound-foolish policy could be conceived for this country than to abandon our undisputed control in the Middle Sea. No matter what expenditure is involved, no matter what sacrifices we have to endure in maintaining our individual supremacy, that expenditure and those sacrifices must be courageously faced. If our supremacy goes even temporarily, apart from the loss of our prestige which is bound to follow, and apart from the decadence of our shipping which must ensue, a great portion of the trade of these islands will be absolutely ruined and we shall sink to the category of a second-class Power. The expenditure should be regarded as another national insurance premium against unemployment and all classes should be made to contribute. While we desire to live on terms of peace and friendliness with all nations, we want no entanglements. We do not want isolation, but we desire to preserve our individual freedom; we believe that any understanding by which another nation would come under an obligation to us would be as bad for that nation as it would be for us.


My Lords, the debate so far this evening has extended over a somewhat wider range than did that which was a preliminary to it the other day, and I confess that I had supposed that on this occasion the noble Earl opposite would have confined himself to an examination of the specific proposals in relation to the Mediterranean with which his Motion alone deals—that he would not have embarked upon a full examination of the entire naval situation as described by the First Lord of the Admiralty in another place yesterday, but would have deferred to some other day the wider consideration which is necessarily involved in dealing with the whole subject. I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl will pardon me if I am not able to deal fully with some of the questions which he has raised, because I did not anticipate that such questions as, for instance, the necessary margin of strength in the North Sea would have formed part of our discussion this evening.

I do not dispute for a moment, and nobody who read the First Lord's speech delivered in another place yesterday would dispute, that in one sense the position is one of no little gravity. That was evident from the tone of all the speeches which were delivered in the House of Commons yesterday. But while admitting that the position is one of gravity, it is important, I venture to think, to face it in as cool a manner as possible. I do not for a moment say that the noble Earl did anything else, but some of those in the country who discuss this question approach it in anything but a cool way. I am certain that we have to guard against the alarmist feelings of extreme partisans at either end of the scale—either those wh4 are apparently alarmed at any ship being built, or the opposite kind of alarmists who desire a programme of almost unlimited building. The conclusions of both of those extreme partisans have, in my opinion, to be most carefully guarded against. I took occasion yesterday to utter a warning against undue credulity in regard to newspaper paragraphs, and I may venture to assure the noble Earl, in spite of all the paragraphs he has read, that the gravity of the situation is not increased or its complications added to by any difference of opinion in His Majesty's Government on this matter. It is, of course, perfectly true that as trustees of public money we do not take any pleasure in spending it either on shipbuilding or upon anything else of the sort. We do not belong to that school which appears to regard it apparently as a positively satisfactory position to be obliged either to borrow large sums of money which posterity will have to pay, or to add to the burdens of the country if we pay our way as we go. I can say quite positively that His Majesty's Government do not regard such a prospect as that with anything like satisfaction, although I hope equally there is not a single member of His Majesty's Government who is not prepared to face what can be regarded as necessary expenditure.

As regards one point mentioned by the noble Earl outside the Mediterranean ques- tion pure and simple, I will say one word. I allude to the quotation which he read from Mr. Churchill's speech in relation to the question of manning, in which, if I remember right, the word "shortage" was used. Mr. Churchill spoke of the Admiralty as having been 2,000 men short. I take it that the use of that expression arose in this way. The Manning Vote was, if I remember right, for 136,000 odd men, thus giving an increase of 3,000 men which had been arranged for last year. That figure was subject, and was bound to remain subject, to what might be the added manning strength of the German Navy under their new law, and when the German addition was made—as to whether it was going to be made it was, of course, impossible for our Admiralty to express a definite opinion, still less to act upon that opinion—when the German addition was made it was found necessary to increase our strength by a further 2,000, making 5,000 additional men in all. Mr. Churchill is proceeding, as I understand, to get those men. He was, therefore, in that sense 2,000 short, but he had only arranged for an addition of 3,000, and it was not until the German programme was announced that it was known that it had to be met by the additional 2,000 men. There was no question of shortage, as the noble Earl seemed to think, owing to any default on the part of the Admiralty. It was merely a colloquial way in which my right hon. friend put the fact that he had to wait to know whether the increase would have to be 3,000 or 5,000.

I come to the particular question of the Mediterranean. The House may remember that when it was discussed on the last occasion I mentioned the various schools of opinion and of policy on which action might be founded, and I ventured to point out that logically taken each of them could be shown to end in a reductio ad absurdum. That is to say, whether you were going to engage in a universal naval competition with the world, or whether you were going to pin yourselves down by formal alliances, or whether you were simply going to hope for the best and trust that in any critical moment something favourable would turn up—that whichever of those courses you choose to adopt you would lay yourselves open to very simple and easy criticism. The course which we have taken and the actual proposals which we are making for the Fleet in the Mediterranean are, I think, as little open to criticism of the kind I then indicated as any which could be made. I need not describe those proposals at length. Noble Lords know quite well what battle cruisers are. They are enormously powerful vessels varying in size and ranging from 17,000 up to 30,000 tons in some of the newest, type. They carry, as a rule, eight of the biggest and most powerful guns, and they also have a most powerful secondary armament of quick-firing guns. Their speed is greater than that of any battleship; if I remember right, it can be stated as a minimum of twenty-five knots, and in some of the larger and later ships it reaches to a considerably higher figure than that. Four of those ships, as was pointed out by Mr. Churchill, are to form the backbone of our present Mediterranean squadron, and in addition to them there will be a squadron, a very powerful squadron, of armoured cruisers, not, of course, of the tremendous type of those that are now called battle cruisers, but some of the most powerful armoured cruisers afloat. In addition to this exceedingly powerful squadron there is to be a defensive force of torpedo boats at Alexandria, and also a flotilla of destroyers and submarines based on Malta. It may be taken, I suppose, as practically agreed by the noble Earl that so far as regards the immediate future that is a force competent to represent our interests in the Mediterranean, and it is not until we come to the year 1915 and the following years that the question arises as to the value which a force of that particular character will have to represent us there.

I may say at once that my noble friend who spoke last did not lay, in my judgment, at all too much stress upon the paramount importance of the Mediterranean as one of our great highways of commerce. The mass that pours through that neck of the bottle is, as we know, enormously large. I suppose I am accurate in saying that the great volume of the Antipodean trade generally comes either by one Cape or the other in the mass—either by Cape Horn or by the Cape of Good Hope; but as regards the Far Eastern and Indian trade, to say nothing of our trade with the Mediterranean countries themselves, the volume and value are enormously large, and it includes, it is important to remember, not merely trade in conveniences or luxuries, but a distinct and substantial part of our grain trade, on which, of course, we depend for our existence. It includes also a substantial portion of our cotton trade. Neither need I repeat what I said on the last occasion on the importance of maintaining a position in the Mediterranean such as will make it clear both to those who are our friends and to those who may from time to time regard us with suspicion that we are not descending from our position in the world and not placing complete reliance upon the possible friendly offices of other Powers when the time of danger comes. In view of the growth of the navies of other Powers such as we shall presumably find in existence after 1915, there remains no doubt room for a difference of opinion as to what will be necessary to protect our trade and to maintain our position. The noble Earl has stated with great candour that he would at once add a squadron of eight ships of the Dreadnought, type by means of a loan, and I do not think it is an unfair conclusion to draw that he would regard that, not as an isolated act, but as representing the measure of the preponderance which we ought to maintain, and that consequent he would be prepared for more loans and more Dreadnoughts when in his opinion further occasion arose.

To leave for one moment the question of the Mediterranean, we are entitled, I think, to ask, although we shall certainly not get a reply, where and at what point is this demand for absolute preponderance to stop. It is quite conceivable that the time might come when eight Dreadnoughts in the Mediterranean—altogether apart from the North Sea Fleet, or our Fleet in Home waters, which is, perhaps, a better way to describe it, which it appears to be argued must be regarded as a quite separate line of defence—may give us no great preponderance over a potential combination against us there. Again, in the year 1915 there will be, if I remember right, seven Dreadnoughts belonging to various South American States. Are we to be told that it is necessary for us if we are not to abrogate our position in the world to maintain a maritime preponderance on the South American coast? It would not be difficult, if you desired to draw a picture, to put a case together in which those South American Dreadnoughts or some of them might inflict serious damage upon British possessions in some part of the world. If you are prepared, as some people seem to be prepared, to consider every country as our potential enemy and scarcely one as our probable friend, I confess it seems to me impossible to argue on that basis. That is why I welcome the illuminating observations made in another place yesterday by Mr. Balfour, to which reference has been made by the noble Earl opposite, on what I will venture to call the human probabilities as distinct from the paper probabilities of the case—human probabilities which a number of people sternly refuse to take into consideration at all.

As I say, the general effect of some of the criticisms has been to regard all countries as probable foes and scarcely any as possible friends. Dealing with figures in that way you can produce the most blood-curdling combinations which can possibly be conceived. For instance, in the most lighthearted way a combination of Austria-Hungary and Italy against us in the Mediterranean is talked of as though it were not merely possible but ought to be regarded as a contingency against which full provision must be made. As it happens, there are no two countries in Europe for whom we have entertained in the past, and I venture to say still entertain, greater feelings of sympathy than for Austria-Hungary and Italy, and yet in order to make out a particular case it is necessary to assume, not only that they are united against us, but that at the same time we are either at war or also in danger of war with Germany, and that the remaining great Mediterranean Power, France, is either totally unconcerned or intentionally hostile. I repeat once more that dealing with the figures in that way it is possible to prove almost anything that is alarming. But Mr. Balfour in his speech yesterday, which I gather did not entirely satisfy the noble Earl opposite, pointed out that the worst conceivable combination against us was one which, working on the ordinary lines with which practical men contemplate the chances of life, ought not to be seriously taken into account.

But even if you allow to a greater extent than I should be disposed to allow that certain combinations are possible, it is surely reasonable to examine with care the probable individual strength of the various parties of whom each combination is composed. It is not unreasonable or too happy-go-lucky to point out that the programmes—particularly the programmes of Powers who have not had long shipbuilding traditions—are not likely to be precisely realised in point of time, and it is not unfair, therefore, in devising our preparations beforehand to take into view those considerations, though, of course, too great stress ought not to be laid upon them. For that reason I am not prepared to admit the force of the criticism made by Mr. Balfour and repeated by the noble Earl, that in not immediately coming forward with a large new programme we are running things too fine. The noble Earl thinks that we have run it far too fine already, because during the last six or seven years he thinks we ought to have begun building on the Cawdor programme scale, although I suppose he would have desired to add to that scale during the last two or three years.


If you had stuck to the Cawdor programme, you would not have had to build so many ships afterwards.


That is one of those things which I think the noble Earl will admit must remain a matter of opinion, because it involves the consideration not only of what we did but of what various other countries in Europe have or have not done or might have done. But there is an objection surely, and it is not only a financial objection, in being overstrong at a particular time. The financial difficulty is, of course, considerable—at least it is one which cannot be altogether put aside. You are spending money ex hypothesi before it is absolutely necessary to spend it. But, my Lords, there are other objections. If you hurry on your programme to the utmost extent you lose the benefit of the continued improvements possible in design and almost certain in construction and in armaments which are from time to time made in ships even nominally those of the same type. You have only to compare the original Dreadnought, which is now talked of almost with sympathy as quite an old-fashioned ship, with the very latest battleship, and you cannot fail to be impressed by the distinct advantage belonging to delay in completing. There is another consideration. If you come forward with a great splash of a programme you help to bring about the evil which you desire to avoid, because the people to whom you announce that you are building against them are positively spurred on to the acceleration and possibly to the enlargement of their programme, and to that extent, therefore, you tend to defeat your own object.

It is true that next year, in view of the maritime strength of the world three, four, or five years hence, it will be necessary to look the situation once more in the face. Whether it will be the plea of the Admiralty that it will be impossible for us to be fairly represented in the Mediterranean without our possessing there a large fleet of battleships—upon that I will not profess to give any opinion, because I have no idea. The particular functions, strategic and technical, which can be fulfilled by a powerful cruiser squadron are, of course, different from those which a Fleet of the line of battle fills, but it may be argued that as a permanent provision some such form, possibly extended, of holding the Mediterranean by cruisers might sufficiently uphold our dignity and preserve our interests there. Upon that I will not attempt to express any opinion, but I cannot, for the reasons I have given, admit We truth of the charge that my right hon. friend and the Admiralty and consequently also His Majesty's Government are running it too fine in this matter, because I cannot conceive a condition of affairs in which the margin of time is not sufficient for our purpose. The noble Earl will forgive me if do not at this moment enter into the question of the inadequacy of the margin in the North Sea. That is a matter which I can assure him has received the closest and most anxious consideration, but I do not think ally useful purpose would be served by my attempting now to discuss the various considerations involved and the various opinions entertained by the most experienced and practical men on the value of particular forms of armaments and particular methods either of offence or defence. I would ask the noble Earl and the House to believe that, even if we cannot follow the noble Earl in his shipbuilding programme or in seine of the views which he has expressed as to the necessities of the case, we are quite as fully alive as he can be to the necessity of maintaining impregnable the defence of this country, sharing the belief that such a defence is the surest guarantee for the peace of the world.

I will only say before I sit down that I share with the noble Earl and welcome the sentiments which he expressed with regard to the co-operation of the great Dominions of the Crown in this matter of the naval strength of the Empire. Their co-operation is welcomed in the heartiest way by men of all Parties and views without a shadow of distinction, and those of us who of late years have been directly concerned in these questions, as I was at the Colonial Office and on the Committee of Defence, recognise that in the Dominions themselves there is only one desire—to take their proper part in maintaining the strength and the dignity of the Empire. As we know, they are not altogether agreed on the best methods by which that object may be achieved, but although there may be differences of opinion on particular points the same spirit of loyalty to the Empire and of a desire to play their part is shown throughout. I also agree with the noble Earl that such co-operation as the Dominions freely offer us must mean and ought to mean some further share, however it may be obtained, in the representation of their separate interests in the councils of the Empire. Noble Lords opposite are well aware of the peculiar difficulties, resting largely on the physical facts of distance, which surround that question, but I certainly shall never believe that those difficulties are altogether insuperable, and it is, I think, an appropriate task for the best minds of the Empire, either overseas or here, to put forward their best powers in the consideration of how that object can most fittingly be achieved.


My Lords, the noble Marquess's remarks were couched throughout in a reassuring tone, and what fell from him made it perfectly clear that His Majesty's Government are as much seized as anybody on this side of the House with the gravity of the situation. I do not think, however, that the noble Marquess would claim that his speech was couched in tones of confidence; in fact, at times wondered whether the noble Marquess possessed the confidence which he found it necessary to assume. In his opening sentences the noble Marquess rather took exception to my noble friend Lord Selborne having travelled beyond his Notice by dealing with our whole naval position, but I think any one who read the First Lord's speech last night would feel that the justification for my noble friend's action lay there. The First Lord was at pains with very great precision to lay down the difficulties in which we stand with regard to our position in the North Sea, and he introduced the Mediterranean as a sort of background to that picture.


I was far from complaining of the action of the noble Earl. What I said was that it had occurred to me that the noble Earl might wish to deal with that branch of the subject on another day. The speech of the First Lord was directed to the defence of a Supplementary Estimate largely dealing with the North Sea.


My point was not so much that as to endeavour to persuade the noble Marquess to consider one or two aspects of the situation in the Mediterranean even under the temporary arrangements which have now been made there. The instance of South America which the noble Marquess gave when he said that it was impossible for us to be in a position of superiority in all places at the same time is inapplicable to the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is vital; the South American station is not. I would put another point. The noble Marquess expended a considerable amount of tactical rhetoric on the undesirability of our regarding every Power in the Mediterranean as a potential foe. We all feel the same. But, after all, it is necessary to face the facts. The noble Marquess knows the position of the Triple Alliance and that the desires of a particular Power at a particular moment may cause a coalition to be brought into action, of which the other members have a very remote interest in the quarrel. Again I would put this point to the noble Marquess. If the Government are sending four battle cruisers to the Mediterranean it is because they believe that in some circumstances they may be necessary, and if the Government bases the Fleet upon Malta it is because they think it the best strategic position. It is necessary for the land defences in the Mediterranean to be such that they will leave whatever ships are there free for the work which they may be required to perform. The First Lord last night spoke of these battle cruisers as being the ships of all others most suitable to preserve our trade route and to protect our trade in the Mediterranean in case of trouble. If they are to protect our trade, they must be free for that work. They cannot at the same time protect our trade and act as a defence to Malta.

When I was at the War Office I was under continual pressure to increase the garrisons in the Mediterranean. I visited Malta and Gibraltar in the year 1903 in order to see on the spot what both the Generals then commanding asked me to see with regard to their distribution of troops—not because my opinion was of any special value, but because what one has seen for oneself enables one the better to appreciate the expert opinions given one. The strongest pressure was brought to bear on the War Office to add four battalions to the garrison at Malta. It was just at that time that the Defence Committee was brought into being by Mr. Balfour at the instance of Lord Selborne and myself for the consideration of this very class of questions, and for the first time, I believe, all the problems of military and naval defence were considered together as part of a whole under the influence of that Committee. The very clear position was taken up by the Defence Committee at that time that we could abstain from adding to the garrisons of Malta and Gibraltar—but on one condition, that a certain naval force was kept in the Mediterranean which enabled the Navy, when performing its own duties, still to leave at Malta a sufficient force to constitute a serious difficulty to an enemy attempting to make a landing. In the debate in the House of Commons last night Lord Charles Beresford, who held the command in the Mediterranean three years after the date to which I have been referring, made this most important statement— Another point he would like to put to the right hon. gentleman was, Did he intend to increase the garrisons at naval stations? When he (Lord Charles) was in the Mediterranean he and the then Commander-in-Chief at Malta expressed the hope that they would not be reduced, and all they got from the Admiralty was that they were going to be reduced for economy, but the naval support would be good enough. Now the naval support has been taken away. Is not that really a serious state of affairs? You have decreased by five battalions the garrison which I was asked to increase by four battalions, and you have removed the naval support which justified the Defence Committee in 1904 in refusing the additional garrison. I would ask the Lord Chancellor to tell us distinctly whether any military authority advised the Government that without adequate naval support the troops now at Malta and Gibraltar can hold those places? I believe that these garrisons can only be maintained at their present strength on the assumption that a very large measure of naval support can he given to them. In case of war you are in this very serious position, that you have not got the troops to stop the most moderate landing, and if the Fleet there in its reduced condition is to do its duty it cannot possibly afford to Malta or to Gibraltar the necessary support. We were told last night that £12,000,000 had been added annually to the cost of the Navy. The cost of maintaining these garrisons at strength would only have been about £100,000 annually. At all events, I urge most sincerely that those two questions should be considered together. A great and pressing need has arisen largely owing to the fact that the Government have abandoned the Cawdor programme and at the same time reduced the Alediterritnean garrisons by five battalions—two things taken together which have made for danger where safety is imperative. I hope that before this debate closes we may hear from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack whether there is some military authority for the present position. Certainly I hope that in the conditions, which have changed since the reductions were decided upon, the Government will not be above coming to Parliament if they cannot do it executively and restoring these garrisons to proper strength.


My Lords, I desire to make a few observations on the speech which has just fallen from the noble Viscount. I agree with him that these are matters which deserve our best consideration, and on that happily both Parties in the State are at one. The noble Viscount has spoken of two matters—the abandonment of what is known as the Cawdor programme, and the reduction of the garrisons in the Mediterranean— as being at t lie root of the evil, or as being part of the cause of the trouble at the present moment, and it is about these two matters that I wish to say something. Since the Cawdor programme was laid clown the whole face of Europe has changed altogether so far as fleets are concerned. If we had maintained the Cawdor programme we should be very far behind to-day. We are much further on than we should have been with the Cawdor programme. It is not the Cawdor programme, or any change of policy on our part, but it is the enormous and new development of naval power on the part of foreign countries which has made the difference, and it is a very serious difference.

Then I come to the question of the reduction of the garrisons in the Mediterranean, and about that I entirely agree with the noble Viscount. The question of those garrisons cannot be dissociated from the question of our sea power in the Mediterranean. I go further. In the absence of sufficient sea power the garrisons are ludicrously inadequate. It is not a question of four battalions; it is more nearly a question of forty battalions if we were to aim at providing such a force as could hold each without adequate sea power. Sea power and the state of the garrisons are matters which are so completely interlaced in the Mediterranean that it would be strategical madness to consider one apart from the other. Reinforcements may have to be transported. With adequate sea power no attack can be sustained. You may have to keep off an attack for a limited period, but if you have sufficient sea power you can go to the relief of and rescue a garrison and make further attack impossible. It is upon that basis that the plans which have been worked out are founded.

To begin with, four battle cruisers are very different from the "Duncan" and. "Swiftsure" types which are there at present and are to-day inadequate. A much faster and more powerful type of ship is necessary, and for that purpose four battle cruisers and four other cruisers will be sufficient, and added to those there will be a very powerful flotilla of submarines and destroyers which will protect Malta, and another which will be off Alexandria. I am far from wishing to give your Lordships the impression that I look upon the vessels we are just putting into the Mediterranean and these flotillas as sufficient for the develop3nents which may and probably will take place in the future. My point is that they are a very much stronger armament than we possess in the Mediterranean at the present time, and they will see us through until the period arrives for which we shall have to watch. Two Great Powers in the Mediterranean belonging to the Triple Alliance are increasing their Fleets and have Dreadnought programmes which are in course of maturing. I am far from saying that the mere fact that those two Great Powers belong to the Triple Alliance means that we should look upon them as likely to enter into any form of aggressive attack. On the contrary, with one we are on terms almost of intimacy, and with the other we have friendly relations. I have no means of knowing that the Triple Alliance is founded on an aggressive basis, nor am I prepared to accept that without proof. As regards the other Power, the Fleet of which is and is likely to remain as large as the Fleets of the two others combined, we are on the most friendly relations, although we have not entered into any alliance. In that state of things, what is it that we have to deal with? So far as the command of the sea in the ordinary case is concerned, we have a very powerful Fleet outside. There will be based on Gibraltar a Fleet which by degrees will be increased to eight modern Dreadnoughts. The whole resources of the Navy, so far as the necessary task of guarding the North Sea will permit, are available to reinforce. The Fleet is ubiquitous, and, therefore, though I am far from saying that the situation is not one which we must watch from year to year, and as it grows adapt ourselves to it, for the situation as it exists at the present moment we have taken steps which I think will protect those garrisons by adequate sea power and lay the foundation for what we may do in the future.

I am far from wishing to speak in a tone of easy-going optimism in this matter. On the contrary, I think the country is face to face with one of the most trying naval situations that have existed for a very long time. The Government have made up their minds that the position of this country depends on sea power. We have told the only Power which is our rival—we have told them in the most friendly fashion—that that is our view, and whatever efforts they may put forth they must reckon on our making efforts still greater than any they may make. We have said that we do that, not with any intention of aggression, but because sea power is our life, and in sea power we intend to remain superior. That is the view of the Government; that is the principle to which we have pledged ourselves, and according to which we shall approach all questions of naval strategy which concern our life as a nation.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before Eight o'clock, till Tomorrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.