HL Deb 05 June 1923 vol 54 cc397-414

VISCOUNT WIMBORNE rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether, having regard to the finances of the country, expenditure upon the Air Service should come before expenditure upon the proposed new naval base at Singapore. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the Question which stands in my name on the Paper raises several points which have been already separately discussed in your Lordships' House this Session, but I thought the matters of sufficient importance to justify me in bringing them into direct relation so as to emphasise, if I can, their interdependence. Moreover, since this matter was discussed we have a new Government, and it will be very interesting and important to know whether the present Government hold the same views upon these subjects as their predecessors did. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, told us on two occasions—in March and last month—that a Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, of which, I think, he is the Chairman, was in existence——


The acting Chairman.


—and that it was considering these allied questions very closely with a view of coming to a definite decision. The noble Marquess told us last month that no conclusion had then been reached. I hope that since then the labours of the Committee may have advanced, and I shall invite him, if he is courteous enough to reply to my Question, to give us, if he can, further information on the subject. We seem to be confronted with, the extraordinary and disquieting paradox that in times of straitened resources—and I do not think anybody can dispute that these are such times—when admittedly we have lost our position of insular security, and when London is exposed to aerial attack and admittedly unable to cope with a one-Power menace of that kind, we are going to engage upon the creation of a great naval base at Singapore which, if cost be any criterion, is to exceed in importance and magnitude the great sheet anchor of our sea supremacy in the North Sea, the naval base at Rosyth.

If I may briefly allude to the several issues that are involved I would like first to turn the attention of the House to the question of the financial position of the country. Nobody can, I think, deny that the country is very much impoverished, in common with all other European countries. We have not yet by any means recovered from that serious impoverishment, although we may be doing better than our neighbours in some ways. But it is at a very heavy cost. The taxation of this country is extremely injurious to trade. It hinders the prospect of an early revival of trade. Nobody can doubt that the present scale of taxation hits trade and business very hard indeed. Although, as a result of the sacrifices we have made, the pound sterling has been restored to something like its pre-war position, and London still maintains its lead in the money markets of the world, that achievement has been purchased at a very heavy sacrifice in the hindrance of the trade revival which we might otherwise have expected.

There are official figures on the subject. I believe your Lordships will find that it is asserted by our Treasury that, taking taxation per head of the population, we contribute three times as much in the way of taxation as either France or the United States of America. This Government has, we understand, obtained the prospective services of a new Chancellor of the Exchequer, who will shortly take up his duties. Nobody is more conscious than Mr. McKenna of the evil which this heavy taxation means to business. Nobody has emphasised the hindrance that it is to the revival of trade more than he, and nobody, I think, is more deeply pledged than he is to retrenchment with a view to a reduction in taxation.

I wonder what he will feel about this proposal in regard to Singapore? Let me remind your Lordships what the proposal is. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in making his statement in another place, indicated that the naval base at Singapore would cost the country some £10,000,000 of which £200,000 was put down in this year's Estimates. But is £10,000,000 really the figure that we shall have to face? Singapore enjoys a very unenviable reputation among engineers for exceeding the estimates for work done there. Owing to some geological formation, or to "some alluvial deposit, it seems that the estimates of public works in Singapore harbour are always grossly exceeded. There is a Member of the House of Commons, Mr. Darbishire, who has the advantage of having been a resident in Singapore for some twenty years, during which time he was brought into official connection with many of the public works undertaken in Singapore, and, making a speech m another place on the subject, he said that we should be lucky if the estimate did not come nearer to £20,000,000 than £10,000,000. But supposing that were a pessimistic view, £10,000,000 is itself an immense sum of money even in these rather prodigal post-war days, and one which we ought to consider seriously before dashing into expenditure.

I want to ask: What is the objective of this naval base at Singapore? What is its purpose? And against what danger is it designed? It is a new proposal on the part of the Admiralty. We have the testimony of Mr. Asquith in another place that during all the years he presided over the Committee of Imperial Defence the subject, although discussed, was never entertained by the Committee. It is quite a new, or comparatively new, thing. Against what prospective enemy, against what danger in particular, is this new work designed? The First Lord of the Admiralty, in the speech to which I have referred, said that there is in this course no suggestion of any difficulties in our relations with Japan. If Japan is excluded it is difficult to see what particular peril threatens our interests in the Pacific. In that connection it is well to remember that the Washington Treaty was signed only last year, and that Treaty implies guarantees for the status quo in the Pacific. Article XIX of the Treaty is to this effect: The maintenance of the status quo under the foregoing provisions implies that no new fortifications or naval bases shall be established in the territories and possessions specified. The specification is east of the meridian of 110° East longitude. East of longitude 110° is a sort of sanctuary for the status quo and all competitive militarism in that area is ruled out of court.

What is the position of Singapore? Singapore is longtitude 105 East, or only five degrees outside the prohibited area. The First Lord of the Admiralty says that we are precluded from strengthening or improving the naval resources at Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a kind of Tom Tiddler's ground, and he says: "I will get over the border to Singapore. There I am all right." He proposes to do at Singapore what he is precluded from doing at Hong Kong. To step only just over the border, over the fringe of the prohibited area, and embark on the creation of a formidable naval base seems to me to be an infringement of the spirit of the Washington Treaty and lays us open to the age-long calumny against "perfidious Albion." It is difficult to see low you can build this naval station so close to the prohibited area without incurring the risk of being spoken of as having infringed the spirit of that Agreement. This House cannot view that aspect of the question without grave misgivings.

Then there is the League of Nations in existence, and Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations says that "The Members of the League undertake to interchange full and frank information as to the scale of their armaments, their military, naval and air programmes." So far as I know no Government spokesman has claimed that this provision has been complied with. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but no Government spokesman has claimed that Japan has ever been advised as to what we propose to do at Singapore and I shall be much interested to know what Lord Robert Cecil, a new member of the Government, will say about an omission of that kind.

There is another point, and it is this. Are we sure that in embarking on this grandiose scheme we may not be creating something in the nature of an obsolete device for the security of this Empire? I know that the Admiralty still claim complete and absolute confidence in the battleship, but what is the view of the Committee of Imperial Defence on that subject? Experiments have been carried out between aerial craft and ships. The results of those experiments have been concealed from the public, but enough has leaked out to shake the confidence of some first-rate experts on the subject. The Admiralty may be right in saying that, to-day, the battleship can be protected against aerial attack. It may be that it is the unit of Imperial power abroad now, but can the Admiralty say that with the same confidence of the future? Aerial war is still in its infancy. There are great possibilities of expansion and development, and it seems to me that to embark upon a policy, which admittedly is to take ten years to complete, when the primacy of the battleship may have been surrendered to this new military weapon, is a point which we ought not to pass over without some information being given upon it.

This brings me to my last point is it a fact that we have been thinking in terms of sea-power and have neglected to consider the new weapon which, perhaps, may ultimately become the most important of all weapons of attack and defence? I mean air power. There was a debate in your Lordships' House last month and the noble Duke who represents the Air Force gave your Lordships figures as to how we stand in comparison with other countries, and especially with France, in air power. The figures are too recent to make it worth my while to recapitulate them, but they amount to this, that we only have a quarter of the Air Force which France possesses, and, unless we do more the disproportion will ho greater still as time goes on. I do not say, and your Lordships do not feel, that the French Air Force is aimed at us. We know enough of their prevailing obsession and we have sufficient confidence in the friendship which has existed between us since the Entente Cordiale to know that they have no such intention at all. The French Air Force is designed for an entirely different purpose. But there it is, and if things should turn out that we were not such good friends as we are to-day we have only one-quarter of the Air Force that is at the disposal of France. It is easy to build aeroplanes rapidly. It is not at all easy, however, to improvise rapidly the personnel which those aeroplanes require and the esprit de corps which is only the product of very long work and effort.

That briefly is the Question which I put to the Government. It amount to this:—Can we afford to indulge in this rather dubious act of Imperialism when at home the overburdened taxpayers—I was going to say the " sweated " taxpayers—have to sustain a million unemployed men in the making of roads in a country which cannot be said to be free from serious danger?


My Lords, I certainly cannot complain of the noble Viscount's speech or of his calling your Lordships' attention to this matter of great importance. Let me say in the first place that I thank him especially for the attention which he devoted to the subject of economy. It is a vital subject, and I should not like this occasion to pass without endorsing and emphasising what he has said as to the grave necessity which vests upon us, whether we be in the Government or in the Opposition, of co-operating together in the interests of public economy. That is essential. But at the same time no one who is responsible for affairs can allow even the motive of economy, important as it is, to overshadow other Imperial obligations which are east upon us.

I can say this with all the more confidence because the noble Viscount, in touching upon the debates on the Air Service which have recently taken place in your Lordships' House, referred, as I understand, with full approval on his own part, to the general attitude which was adopted towards this matter by your Lordships. That attitude, as I need not remind your Lordships, was expressed by a plea delivered from every quarter of the House in favour not of cheeseparing economy but of legitimate extension of the Air Service, notwithstanding that it must necessarily throw a very heavy burden upon the country. That is because your Lordships, if I may say so with respect, as men of the world and men of common sense, recognised that there is a limit to economy, that certain obligations are thrown upon us by our Imperial position, if I may so call it, which we must fulfil and which we cannot ignore. However much we may desire economy, we must be equal to that responsibility.

May I say, as I mentioned the question of the Air Force, that I am afraid that I cannot respond to the noble Viscount's invitation to enter into that subject again in detail on the present occasion? I do not think it was very long ago that we discussed the matter at some length, and since then certain events have taken place, trifles like a Ministerial crisis, which, though very important in themselves, have certainly delayed matters a little as far as the consideration in Cabinet Committees of these very necessary questions is concerned. I can add nothing really useful in respect of the Air Service to that which I said upon the last occasion. All that I promised your Lordships is being fulfilled. Investigations are proceeding, and of course they have reached a further development. Every meeting of the Committee involves that, but I do not think there is anything that I can usefully say in public.

I will turn then to the other part of the noble Viscount's Question, the question of Singapore. Your Lordships should be made aware that the establishment of this base at Singapore was carefully considered not merely by the present Government, but by the late Government, and I believe I am accurate in saying that they were as decided as we are that this matter must be faced. I cannot, of course, speak with any confidence of the views of the late Government, and I may be in error, but I think that is the fact. The Conservative Government took the matter into consideration at a very early period after taking office, and it was referred to the Committee of Imperial Defence, as all such questions are. I can testify that in that Committee it received the most careful consideration both from the point of view of Imperial strategy and from the point of view of economy. We were obliged to come to the conclusion that the establishment of a fortified base at Singapore is necessary.

The noble Viscount asked us if we were sure that we are not building upon a false foundation. He seemed to ask whether the days of battleships were not over, whether they were not superseded by aircraft, so that the whole of our provision will be thrown away. It is, of course, impossible to say what future developments are going to be, and I should be very rash to prophesy. All I can say to your Lordships is that none of the evidence I have seen would justify such a conclusion if the noble Viscount put it forward. There is no reason whatever to think that aircraft are going to supersede battleships. Supposing a foreign battleship were to attack a base such as Singapore may be, unless it were properly defended otherwise than by aircraft it could not be defended at all. I make that observation only to show the noble Viscount how far we are from having come to that conclusion.

What is the case for Singapore? I think I shall not exaggerate when I say that unless a naval base is established at Singapore the action of our Navy in the Far East will be absolutely paralysed. The noble Viscount may think that this does not matter. I will say a word upon that in a moment, but the broad fact remains that without a fortified base at Singapore you could not have the use of your Navy in the Far East at all. That is the deliberate conclusion at which the Committee of Imperial Defence arrived. Just consider what it means. We are not only responsible for this country, for the British Isles, but we are responsible for far-flung Dominions in every quarter of the world and certainly not least in the Far East. We have the great Dominions of Australia and New Zealand and we have numberless other Colonies and Dependencies in those regions. They cannot be defended by aircraft because, as the noble Viscount knows, the effective area of aircraft is strictly limited. They can act only within a very limited range, and unless therefore you can have efficient naval support you would really be abandoning the responsibility which rests upon you in the Far East. That was an eventuality which we could not face.

I should like to say one more word. The strategy upon which these things depend must be treated as a whole. You cannot take the strategy of the British Empire as a whole, cut a great hunk out of it and suppose that it will be just as efficient as if was before. The whole thing is made to interlock and dovetail, and to come to Parliament and to say" We want to remove your naval base at, Singapore," and so deprive the Navy of any possibility of action in those regions, would be to injure the whole structure of 1he strategy upon which the country has entered.

The noble Viscount said, in effect: "Surely this is very nearly a breach of faith. If you are not allowed to have increased fortifications in a particular area, you ought not to have increased fortifications anywhere near that area.'' That is an astounding doctrine. How far would the noble Viscount carry it? He might say that, because you must not have a naval fortification east of line 110 you must not have a naval fortification at line 105. Why 105? Why not 95, or even 90? Argument of that kind is, on the face of it, absurd. A certain line is drawn and good faith demands that you shall abide by your obligations up to that line, but outside that line you are at liberty to carry out your own requirements, just as anybody else would be; and I am certain that the great friendly Powers with whom we have made this Treaty would interpret it in exactly the same way as we have, and that if it were necessary, not in the area which is sacrosanct but outside it they would not consider themselves to be in any degree directly or indirectly guilty of breach of faith in carrying out operations which they thought necessary.

I have spoken of great and friendly Powers, and that is the fact; but we are not looking to the present in respect of the new base at Singapore. There is no question of the present. We must look into the future. The noble Viscount himself said that: this base is going to take a great many years to build. That is true, but does ho not see that the conclusion from his own argument is that the situation which we have to contemplate is not the present situation, but the situation as it may be ten or twenty years hence, and that however friendly we may be with our neighbours in those regions at the present time, it would be quite unacceptable that the Government, which is a trustee for the safety of the Empire, should draw the inference that because we are on perfectly friendly terms with everybody now we shall always continue to be on equally friendly terms with everybody. It is perfectly evident that what you must do is not to provide against what might happen in the present but what might possibly happen in the future—what we may reasonably call the distant future—of our Empire.

All these matters are matters of insurance. Because you insure yourself it does not mean that you think you are necessarily going to meet with an accident directly. The whole nature of insurance is that you insure yourself against possible accident, and what is true in the case of the individual is equally true in the case of a nation. You must spend money to insure yourself against the possibility of great disaster in the future. I almost apologise to your Lordships for having repeated anything which is so obvious, but when the noble Viscount challenges us, and asks us to abandon—which, in effect, he did do—the establishment of this great naval base, all we can reply is that as the responsible Government of the country we dare not incur the responsibility of delaying entering upon the establishment of this base, without which our Navy, as I have said, would be altogether powerless in the Far East.

I do not think that the present Government, or the late Government, can be accused of undue extravagance in these matters. After all, we have watched a process of cutting down, almost to the quick, in our fighting Services. The noble Viscount is well aware of what has happened to the Army in the last few years, and what has happened to the Navy under the Washington Agreement, he is also aware of the condition of the Air Service, and I think we may with some confidence appeal to your Lordships, and to the country, to trust us, who are not only professors of economy but engaged in those processes which our predecessors started, if we tell the country, with a due sense of responsibility, that certain expenditure, even though a large expenditure, in the matter of Singapore is necessary.

The noble Viscount, or any noble Lord who follows me in the debate, may ask: What do you want with this great naval base? We want two things in the main. We want a graving dock sufficiently large to take modern ships. There is no such thing in the Far East at present. As the House is aware, owing to the change in the form of construction of modern ships they require larger docks than any we have had heretofore. The additional width, which is a necessity for the purpose of protection, has changed all the dimensions which are required, and it is absolutely essential to have some dock which shall be capable of taking these large ships. Then, we want all the ancillary workshops which are necessary with a dock, and besides that there is the necessary provision for oil. As the House is aware, we are watching a process by which coal fuel is gradually being superseded in the Royal Navy by oil fuel. I am not capable of speaking in the presence of the noble Marquess behind me who represents the Admiralty and who is far more capable of explaining to your Lordships the reasons for this change, but I think you may take it from me that that is what is going on.

If that is to be so, you require provision so that oil may be available to make good what is required for the ships in every part of the world where His Majesty's ships are to go, and not least, of course, in the Far East. One of the principal things which will be required in Singapore will be the erection of these oil tanks without which this motive power is impossible. The noble Viscount said something about the difficulties of the site, and he pessimistically prophesied that our enterprise would cost at least double what we expect. I hope that is not so. There was no evidence laid before the Committee over which I presided which would lead me to that conclusion, although I know there was very careful consideration as to where the dock ought to be. The site was very carefully explained to us; and I entertain the hope that his pessimism may be unfounded, but I would not, of course, like to prophesy.

The noble Viscount said so little about the relation between the Air Service and the Singapore base that I hardly need trouble your Lordships about it. But it is quite evident that it is no argument that because an Air Service is necessary and must be provided therefore you can dispense with the Singapore dock, which is also necessary and must be provided. That would be a very illogical form of reasoning. If we, indeed, reached such a point that we could not possibly afford the two, then, no doubt, the argument would be sound. But I can assure the noble Viscount that we are not so badly off as that. Short of that, it is evident that the fact that the Air Service is necessary is no reason why we should dispense with what is also necessary in the shape of a dock. But I will say this, at any rate, to comfort the noble Viscount. During the first year or two it is not proposed to spend very much at Singapore, and for the very obvious reason that there are preliminaries which have to be carried out before you get to the very heavy expenditure. We do not expect to spend in the next financial year more than £200,000, and even in the financial year which succeeds it very little more will be necessary. That is, at any rate, two years during which there will be no heavy expenditure at Singapore. In those two years I hope a great deal will be done towards rehabilitating the Air Service. So that the two will not be, as it were, in direct competition during those two years.

When those two years come to an end your Lordships and another place will have an opportunity of considering the situation as it then presents itself. You will have to consider, in the circumstances of that time, which seems to be the more important of the two—which should be hurried on the faster, and which may be delayed a little. At any rate, nothing will be prejudiced. Parliament will still have a completely free hand. The only thing which will be decided will be that ultimately there will be a great fortified base at Singapore, and utimately there will be an adequate Air Force in this country. For my part, I need not tell your Lordships, after what I have said already in this House, that I earnestly hope that no time will be lost in providing us with a sufficient Air Force. I do not think that that brooks any delay whatever. But I cannot conclude, because I have said that, that therefore the Singapore base is unnecessary. On the contrary, both are necessary and, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, both must be carried out.

Viscount HALDANE

My Lords, no one, I think, on this side of the House, will complain of the noble Marquess be cause ho has not gone in any detail into the question of the Air Force. He has told us that the Committee of Imperial Defence is considering the subject connectedly, and we know that Sir Samuel Hoare and Sir Hugh Trenchard are also active on their parts. We are very willing to wait until they can tell us more. That does not mean that we are not anxious. The situation as regards the air in this country is a very serious one, for reasons which I will not repeat, because they were fully discussed the other day. That brings me to a second point, on which I find myself in agreement with the noble Marquess. Although economy is a most important consideration, there may be a situation of national peril so great that you can only look at economy in the second place, and I think, with one phase of the Air Service, that is so at the present time. Therefore I have no quarrel with him upon that point.

But my doubts come in when I consider the reasoning by which the noble Marquess put the establishment of the new naval base at Singapore on something like a parallel line with that of the Air Service. They are both to go on, and for the Air Service he properly says there is great urgency. I am not so sure that for Singapore there is equal urgency. The British Navy has managed very well in the Far East hitherto. It managed very well in the Pacific during the war; no doubt there were difficulties, but those difficulties were got over But is the matter one of so great an urgency as to break down, or force to yield, the principle which we have laid down for ourselves as regards economy?

I would remind your Lordships that fifteen years ago a new principle was laid down. Before that the Admiralty and the War Office, for which I was responsible, used to borrow merrily when they wanted to set up permanent works of the kind we are discussing now. Those works were paid off with very long sinking funds, and nobody minded much in those days, with a very small National Debt, which was steadily decreasing. But fifteen years ago the Government of the day—I think it was Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Government—laid down the doctrine that oven permanent works were for the future to be paid off out of Revenue. That certainly applied stringently to the War Office, and I think it applied equally to the Navy in those days. Note the result. All the money that is wanted for this Singapore dock must come out of Revenue. That is to say, it must come out of the taxes. And, as there will be difficulty in raising a much larger Revenue than at present, it will have to come out of the pockets of people like my noble friend opposite, Lord Novar, who represents Scotland, and other Ministers who are concerned with other Services of great national importance, which will have to suffer, because these commitments are fixed commitments. It is all very well to say you begin with spending only £200,000 upon the naval base at Singapore. Yes, and for the second year you may go slowly, but then comes the third year, and there is a demand for something like £3,000,000, and we are told the contracts are out, and we cannot break faith. It is then that the pinch comes, and the matter gets serious.

It is for that reason that there arises in my mind a rather different question from that which the noble Marquess presented. I am not disputing that it is a very good thing to have a naval base in the Far East. So far as I know Singapore is geographically a very suitable place for it. I am not questioning that that is a thing which we ought in time to have. What I am questioning is whether we are not proceeding towards it rather precipitately. For my part, although prima facie I think a case is made, there are other matters which the Navy has to consider. Two years ago there was a proposition put before the public by the Admiralty that £100,000,000 should be spent upon replacing the ships which had become worn out, or been lost, or got obsolete during the war. That was before the Washington Conference. It looked very much like going through, because the Board of Admiralty is a very powerful body and very good at making its case heard by the public.

Then there came an outcry from a few people who were anxious about these things. What they asked for was that there might be a closer investigation than appeared to have been made of the kind of war in which the ships were expected to be used, and, that bring settled, the kind of ships that were wanted for that kind of war; the arrangements for working those ships, together with the military forces which might be required; and, finally, what would be the types of ships. It turned out that these things had not been so closely considered as they should have been. The Committee of Imperial Defence finally took the matter up and a Committee was appointed, with a result of which we know nothing except that the proposal died away under investigation. I have no doubt that the investigation was a close and searching one. I took it to mean that the propositions of the Admiralty, good in themselves, had been put alongside other questions which arose, and that, as the result of a more general and searching investigation, the £100,000.000 proposition disappeared.

When we come to Singapore I should like to feel certain that there had been an investigation of that thorough kind. I am aware—I, too, have sat on the Committee of Imperial Defence, and for a long time—that these questions are brought up with great ability by the Departments concerned, and certainly nobody is more able than the Admiralty in putting a case before the public or before the Committee of Imperial Defence. But it does not follow that everything is got at first presentation that you can get by taking time. To my mind one of the most important subjects the Admiralty has to consider from the point of view of war is the protection of our trade routes. That is a matter which has been very inadequately gone into in the past and I am not sure that it is adequately studied to-day. What bearing the protection of our trade routes would have upon the Singapore base I cannot tell. Perhaps it would be a very favourable one and perhaps it would be otherwise. But I should like to feel that the question had been surveyed from that large point of view, military as well as naval and commercial as well as naval, which would enable us to have the feeling that if we are called upon to establish this new naval base at Singapore we shall be setting it up for reasons of that paramount kind which we are called upon to face in connection with the Air Force.

I am not at this moment satisfied that that is so, not because I have any scientific grounds on which to raise doubts, but because I have my misgivings as to the extent of the investigation which has taken place. These misgivings are based upon my past experience. Therefore, speaking for myself and, I doubt not, speaking for other noble Lords on this side of the Table, what I should like to see is a good deal of delay over this business. You have to pay your £10,000,000 out of Revenue. That, as I pointed out, will very much embarrass the provision in the Civil Estimates in years to come. I should like to see very thorough and very critical examination of this proposition. It may be that a graving dock is wanted, and I think that very likely it is. It may well be that you cannot take the modern battleship into the existing graving docks. But I should like to know what battleships we are likely to have to send there and for what purpose they would have to go there. It may be that you would find that your scheme might become a more gradual one and not quite so grandiose as I suspect it is, according to the Admiralty plans, at the present time. There might well be, I think, a very considerable spreading of it over, because at present at all events there is no indication of a calamity to be faced in the Far East.

I agree with the noble Marquess that it is the most idle thing to predict beforehand that you are never going to have a war. You may have, to fight. But that does not prevent you from considering where it is that you are most likely to have to do so, and at the present time I greatly doubt whether the Far East is the place in which we are most likely to have trouble. We are getting along very well in the Far East at present and I know of no reason why we should not manage to get along in the future. I have no doubt of the ability of the Admiralty to deal with any circumstances that may arise there. Therefore, without prejudice to the desirability of the new scheme, I cannot convince myself that it is urgent in the sense that the other thing is urgent, nor can I convince myself that at a time of great financial stringency we should be called upon to face such an expenditure in addition to that which is required for the maintenance of labour and social improvements, a policy to which we are all committed.

That is really all that I wanted to say. I agree with the noble Lord who sits near me in thinking that the case of the Air Force is much more urgent, and I have tried to show that I have reason to doubt that the Singapore scheme is of such an urgency that it might be allowed to jeopardise the progress of the Air Force scheme, as it will if it eats up a great deal of money. I do not believe you will finish your expenditure upon your necessary Air Force within the next two years, and after the next two years——


I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Viscount, but I did not say that.


—it may go on, and so much the worse.


I am very sorry if the noble Viscount interpreted me as meaning that, and I should be misleading your Lordships if I did not explain it now. I only said that we should have made great progress in the next two years.


The noble Marquess had a vista of more things to be done when we have taken that £3,000,000 of the Navy for the graving docks at Singapore and that is why I interposed. Our true policy is to go very deliberately in regard to this Singapore business, to investigate it very carefully and very closely and to see how much is neceessary and how much can be dispensed with. I think we are a little bit inclined in these questions to leave things too much to the Government. There is a good deal to be said in favour of trusting a Government, because they have sources of information which nobody else can have, but still it is necessary to be watchful, and I think that we shall be neglecting our duty here if we do not scrutinise very closely such propositions as that which we nave before us.