HL Deb 08 May 1930 vol 77 cc436-82

VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN rose to call attention to the provisions of the Naval Treaty and its effect upon British policy of naval construction; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I venture to bring the subject of this Motion before the House this afternoon because it seems to me that a Treaty so complicated as that which has recently been arrived at by the Government does require explanation and discussion, and the effect of many of its provisions on our naval strength in the future sems to me so important that we ought to lose no time in ascertaining the views of the Government on the subject. A few days ago I had occasion to express some misgiving as to some of the provisions in the Treaty, and the First Lord of the Admiralty immediately fell heavily upon me when he, with some of his friends, went to the Fulham by-election two or three nights ago. He said that my action was very mischievous, and he wanted the electors of Fulham to realise that he wanted the vote of West Fulham in support of what the British Delegates had done. He also said that he would ask the electors of Fulham not to forget that a vote for Sir Cyril Cobb was, in his judgment, vote against the policy of the Government in the Naval Conference.

It is not because of the result of that election that I am asking your Lordships to consider the Treaty this afternoon; but I must say I am a little surprised that in a matter of this importance anybody who ventures to criticise some parts of the Treaty should be accused of mischievous conduct. I should like to know, especially from this Government, who have expressed their great objection to secret diplomacy, when is the opportunity to be if not now after we have had plenty of time to read the Treaty? When are we going to have the chance of criticising it if not now? All of us most loyally abstained from criticism while the Conference was proceeding, but now that it is over and the Treaty is printed it seems to me legitimate for anybody to make what comments suggest themselves to him. To say that we are not to discuss it at all seems to me intolerable. "I am Sir Oracle and when I ope my mouth let no dog bark !" That is apparently the Attitude of the Government on this subject. The First Lord said what was not altogether unexpected, that my criticisms had the appearance of sour grapes. It had occurred to me that some profound thinker would evoke that rather trite proverb on this subject. All the same I am prepared to risk the terrible consequences, and I am obliged to say at once that I am not in the least jealous of anybody who has taken part in signing this Treaty. I should have been very reluctant to do it myself.

But I do not want to approach this question in any vituperative spirit. I know from experience what the difficulties of these Conferences are. I know what patience the Prime Minister has shown all through this Conference, and I realise that there were very great difficulties to meet. The most satisfactory outcome seems to me to be that all the Delegates representing the different countries showed the greatest good temper and friendliness. That rather suggests to me that even if no agreement had been reached there was not that awful danger of war which some people are perpetually harping upon. There are people who seem to think that unless you are signing an international agreement about once every six months war is certain to take place. It is against that background that they are always asking us to look upon any agreement they make, and according to them you must have some agreement, however bad it is. I do not accept that view, and I think that the attitude of all the Delegates there shows that we need not be in the least alarmed, and it is better on the whole to try to let people go their own line. I believe that in the long run there will be no risk.

As far as the small portion of the Treaty which was signed by all the five Powers is concerned the important thing is prolongation of the life of capital ships. That was the term we gave it at our Geneva Conference in 1927, but here it is called a naval holiday, for the sake of more picturesqueness I suppose. It is, however, exactly the same thing as the late Government proposed at Geneva in 1927. At that time we proposed something that went a great deal further. I do not quarrel with the prolongation of the life of battleships. How could I? We proposed it ourselves. In the interim it is quite true we give up more newer and stronger battleships than the Americans do. I am not prepared to quarrel about that; but what I want to know is why they did not take that opportunity, as we tried to do in 1927, of getting the agreement of all five Powers to reduce the size of all battleships that would be built in the future.

I have every reason to suppose that certainly four Powers were in favour of that, and I do not believe the fifth would have required very much pressing. Why did not our Delegates press harder for that? They have made a great claim that they have done something to stop building competition, but it left out that part of the battleship arrangement. They have done nothing to stop building competition because they have done nothing to reduce the size that battleships may be in the future. So to my mind they have missed a great opportunity. It would have been an immense financial saving, far greater than anything they have done now. While the atmosphere was as good as it was, I should have thought that they could very easily have made an agreement that when replacement took place no ship should exceed a certain size, say 25,000 tons, or whatever figure you like to name—that is 10,000 tons less than before—with 12- inch or 13.5-inch guns instead of 16-inch guns. Therefore I think they have missed a great opportunity.

Then with regard to destroyers and submarines, they have succeeded in getting some kind of categorical maximum for each type of ship. That is all to the good. They are very fond of contrasting their merits with those of our proposals at Geneva. I should like to say that our proposals at Geneva in every case suggested destroyers and leaders and submarines of at least 100 tons less than those that have been agreed to here. The First Lord has compared the reduction that has been effected with certain figures at Geneva, but it is not a very fair comparison because he takes the figures of the very last proposal we had at Geneva, and in it is 25 per cent. of old ships. He forgets entirely that that figure was raised because of the fact that the representatives of the United States insisted on having so many large 10,000 ton cruisers. Therefore the comparison would be much fairer if you took what we originally proposed at Geneva. Anyone comparing the two would see that if our original proposals had been accepted they would have effected a very much larger economy and would have done a great deal more to stop building competition than has been done under this Treaty. Before I leave the question of destroyers I should like just to say that I hope we shall have some information as to the replacement that is contemplated for destroyers. A very large number of our destroyers are over age, and unless we set to work at once to replace a good many of those over-age destroyers we shall be left with something very far short of what was agreed upon even by this Treaty.

Then with regard to the reservation by which we are empowered to increase our naval strength if any Power not signatory of the Three-Power Agreement builds to an extent which is threatening to us, that reservation seems to me to put us in a very invidious position as things now are. We have to consider not only the Atlantic and the Pacific but we have also to consider the Mediterranean and our position in Europe. Neither of the other two Powers in the Three-Power Agreement is concerned in that way. Therefore, if we find that it is necessary to ask for more shipbuilding we shall have the odium of it and we shall have the appearance of being afraid of some European Power. That is not a very pleasant position in which to put this country. I am speaking, of course, without knowledge of what went on—what went on at the Conference has been very carefully kept secret—but I should have thought it would have been possible without even raising the difficult question of parity between France and Italy to have got them to say: "Well, anyhow, we neither of us are going to build snore than so-and-so and so-and-so in the next five years." That would have been a safeguard. We should have known that that would not be enough to endanger our position here as a European Power.

Now I come to what is to my mind much the most alarming part of the Treaty. That is the question of cruisers. Before the Conference began the Government made a sudden and gratuitous sacrifice of twenty cruisers. Up to then seventy had always been regarded by our naval advisers as our maximum. I remember the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, made a very great speech at Geneva in which he emphasised that point.


You said "maximum". Do you not mean minimum?


Seventy was what we wanted as our largest requirement. We wanted to be allowed to build up to seventy. They are specially necessary for us because of our Imperial position and trade. There are some very remarkable figures which the French Naval Department got out in estimating the strengths of the five Powers. They took into consideration the area of each Power, the length of coast, the length of communications and the amount of sea-borne trade. The French Naval Department worked those figures out as follows: Taking Italy as a unit of one, Japan required 1.6, France 3, the United States 4.2 and the British Empire 10. Our requirements therefore, according to their calculation, were more than double that of any other Power. Yet it was in dealing with this particular phase of the problem—the defence of our trade by our cruisers—that before the Conference began twenty cruisers were gratuitously given away by our Government. I think it is quite clear from the answers which have been given in the House of Commons that that was done against the advice of the Sea Lords. The Government have been asked questions two or three times and the First Lord said that the Government took the responsibility. I assume that that means that they acted against the advice of the Sea Lords. So against that advice and when every other country was asking that at any rate its own security might be assured, we began by risking the strength which our advisers considered necessary for our security.

There was one comfort which was given to us, and that was that the First Lord Said that those fifty would be dependent on adequate limitation of projected building programmes by other Powers. We thought that unless the other Powers produced some adequate limitation we should be exonerated from cutting down to fifty. That appears to have been a delusion. What other Powers have made any equivalent reduction? And yet we were to agree to this only if other Powers did so. The First Lord of the Admiralty made a speech at Sheffield in which he said:— I must emphasise that this figure is the least that we feel can be fixed to meet even peace conditions in present world circumstances. And he added:— The proposed reduction in the number of cruisers to 50 is, of course, dependent upon agreement at the forthcoming Conference on adequate limitation of projected building programmes being made by other Powers. Unfortunately those equivalent limitations have not been made, and yet by the Treaty we are kept to our fifty cruisers.

It seems to me that there is something worse than that. Are we going to have our fifty cruisers, even as matters stand? Sixteen years has been taken as the life of a pre-Armistice cruiser, and under Article 20 we are the only country of the three to be limited in our replacement tonnage to 91,000 tons. This figure appears, if you think of what it is meant to stand for in numbers of ships, to represent thirteen ships of 7,000 tons, or possibly fifteen of 6,000 tons or eighteen of 5,000 tons; but that does not give us a chance of getting anything like fifty at the end of 1936. In an answer in the House of Commons we were told that, of the three countries that had cruisers now over ten years of age, which will then be over sixteen years of age, the British Empire had twenty-four, the United States four and Japan ten. Accordingly we have many more obsolescent cruisers than anybody else. Why is it, then, that we are the only country that is restricted from replacing them? We shall have only twenty-four that are not over sixteen years of age at the end of 1936. That will be the figure if we do not build at all, but if we build up to our full allowance of 91,000 tons we may have thirty-seven, thirty-nine or even forty-two if they are of only 5,000 tons displacement.

In any case, we cannot possibly get near to our 50 that we were promised as the essential, even in peace time, for our requirements. I do not understand why that has been done. The First Lord said that while special provision was made in the case of the United States for carrying out long-postponed cruiser construction (I do not know what that means) we were confined to 91,000 tons. That is to say, special provision is made in the case of the United States for carrying out long-postponed cruiser construction, and special provision is also made for preventing our doing so. I do hope that we shall be given some comfort on that subject. I hope it will be shown that I have missed some provision in the Treaty, and that we really are going to have the minimum of 50 cruisers at the end of 1936.

Three great claims are made of benefits that have been secured by this Treaty. One is that for the first time parity between us and the United States has been secured. It has been secured by putting one set of figures against another set of figures that are not really comparable, but I do not mind that. Parity has never been really in dispute for years, and parity is no measure whatever of our security. Our security depends upon totally different considerations. It is the protection of our commerce and of our very food and lives. So far as I am aware, no war plan has ever been made which contemplated a war with the United States of America, and all our plans have been based on the totally different consideration of our trade. I would far prefer to see America not only having parity but having everything she wants above it, provided that we get the minimum that we think is necessary for our security. Amongst peaceful nations such as the United States and ourselves, and, indeed, the other participants in the Conference, I see no great danger in having the fleets which each country thinks adequate for its own protection.

It is also claimed that this Treaty puts an end to building competition. As I have already pointed out, it does not do so in the matter of capital ships, which is the most important thing of all. Building competition depends mainly upon having no upward limit for the size of ships that you may build. Before the War we were increasing the size of our ships from Dreadnought to Super-Dreadnought and so on, and Germany followed us because there was no limit at the top. The only way to stop building competition is to fix a limit, and to fix it as low as you can. Accordingly I say, when they claim to have put an end to building competition, that they certainly have not done so in the case of capital ships, though they had a great opportunity for doing so. Finally, we are told that this is a great step in disarmament. For whom is it a great step in disarmament? What country except our own has made a great step in disarmament? Some of them have more than they had before, some have about the same, and we have a great diminution, though our country has done more in the way of reduction in the years since the War than any other. Where is this great step in disarmament, except as concerns ourselves?

I hope that if I have misunderstood this Treaty I shall be told so by the noble Lord who is goring to reply, but, if I have not, I think I am justified in raising the subject to-day. At any rate the country ought to know what are the Government's intentions for the replacement of cruisers, destroyers and submarines before 1936. It is of vital importance to us. As it seems to me, there are provisions in the Treaty which prevent our getting our 50 cruisers by that time, and it seems that there is very little probability of our getting to our numbers in destroyers and submarines. I hope that the Government will take us a little more into their confidence and tell us what they propose in the way of replacement and what they consider to be a reasonable building programme during the period for which the Treaty lasts. I beg to move.


My Lords, I venture to ask your indulgence in making a few remarks upon this subject because at a critical period of the War I was myself First Lord of the Admiralty, and this Treaty as I read it has brought back to me many of the difficulties and emergencies through which the country passed at that time. I do not think the noble Viscount who has just spoken needs to make any apology at all for bringing forward this question. Surely, there never was a graver question for this country. Never has there been before an attempt to reduce the Navy of this country so as to take away from it the mastery of the seas, which hitherto has been always considered essential to the absolute existence and safety of this country. So far as I am concerned, I have not the least hesitation in saying that I think it is a great pity that this question has to be raised in the manner in which it is raised. If you are going to take away naval supremacy from this country, as you are doing, I think admittedly, by this Treaty—I think it is the object of this Treaty—it ought to have been done in the full sunlight of day, before the country, with the authority of the country behind it, and I do not believe for one moment that if to-morrow you were to submit to the country the question, Aye or No, are you prepared to give up your supremacy on the seas? there can be any doubt what the answer would be.

The truth of the matter is that this Treaty has been, I will not say entered into—it has not yet been entered into, I am glad to say—this Treaty has been negotiated with a view to bringing about better relations with America. Nobody can object to that so long as the price you pay is not too dear; but the whole thing depends upon that, and I object to being dictated to by America, or by any country, in what are the essentials which we require for the safety of our own country. There are two questions which arose in my time, on each of which I will say a word in a moment, and which go absolutely to the root of the existence of this country. One is the question of the food of our people, and the other is the question of defence from invasion. I would like to know, and we have a right to know, who are the experts who have advised the Government that this Treaty, as it is at present before the House, will ensure to this country, in eventualities that may arise, a proper supply of food for the existence of our people and a proper defence in the event of an attempt at invasion? Surely that is the minimum of our requirements, and I would be perfectly satisfied if the Government would say that they were prepared to lay before any board of experts this Treaty, and ask them these two simple questions: (1), Does the Treaty ensure the bringing in of the food of our country in eventualities that may arise under existing conditions (2) Does it leave this country absolutely safe on the question of defence?

I remember well—I happened to be First Lord at the time—the intensive submarine warfare. Many and many a day of anxiety did we have as to whether the food supply of the people of this country could be kept up, and your Lordships will remember that to such a condition did we come that we had, at the expense of millions of pounds, to stabilise the price of flour, for which we are now paying. Many and many a day we were unable to say, from day to day, whether the food would arrive in safety, and when we adopted the convoy system there were grave dangers and grave difficulties which were eventually overcome, or to a large extent overcome. But when you come to consider the question of how many cruisers or how many destroyers you ought to have, how can that have any relation to what America has? Take this, for instance. I have read this Report through from beginning to end, and except as regards some observations upon submarine mine-laying I do not see anything in the whole of this Treaty, from beginning to end, to limit the power of mine-laying. When you are considering the number of ships which are to enable you to supply the country with food, supposing our ports are all protected from the entry of ships by the laying of mines, and you lose cruiser after cruiser, or destroyer after destroyer, or ship after ship of any kind, in your attempt to convoy, what has that got to do with America or with the problem before America?

The problem before you is the supplying of your people with food. The problem before America, and it has given rise to the whole of this, was the desire of America for what they call the freedom of the seas during war, which meant that they were to be able to supply to belligerents on both sides as much food as ever they pleased. Ours is a question of feeding our people. Theirs was a question of feeding the belligerents and not being bound by the law of contraband. How are you to draw a comparison in a case of that kind? You may make all the formulas in the world. I think more disasters occurred during the War from formulas which were put forward to please various differing interests than from any other cause which I can recollect. The only possible rule that you can lay down —and it is what the people expect any Government. in this country to assure them of—is that under existing circumstances we should have a Navy which, should war unfortunately arise, will be able to protect our sea routes and enable us to bring in the necessary food for our people in this country.

The next question is the question of defence. Shall we have enough ships under this Treaty, and are you advised by your expert advisers that you will have enough, to defend the country from any such invasion as might be attempted under existing circumstances? I am not taking the circumstances before the War, or after the War; I am taking the circumstances now. That is your problem. During the War when we were hard pressed—at the time that I have mentioned I was at the Admiralty—I remember the Government asking us whether we could assure them that the country was absolutely free from any chance of invasion—whether we could guarantee that; because they wanted to send away troops that were here on the defence of the coasts and other defences. I remember well being present at the consideration of the subject, and listening to the whole question being discussed and thrashed out from beginning to end. And I remember the experts who were advising the Government, soldiers and sailors, jointly coming to the conclusion that it would be absolutely impossible to give such a guarantee to the Government. Certainly it might only be a short invasion, and those who were engaged in invading the country might be thoroughly annihilated in the long run; but what would happen if the country were invaded, what the damage that would be done, both actually and morally, it would be impossible for anybody to say. And so we had to be prepared, and we prepared for the evacuation of the coasts for the purpose of the defence in the event of any such thing being attempted. Are we not now entitled to know, is not the nation now entitled to know, whether under this Treaty, if it is to be ratified, they can be perfectly satisfied on the best expert advice you can get, that the country is safe in the particulars that I have just gone into? I think that is the least we are entitled to.

I happened to be reading an article upon this Treaty in a great paper, the Engineer of April 25 last, and the article supports the Treaty. I am not going to quarrel with it. I suppose they have their own reasons, and they state them candidly. But why I am going to quote the article at all is that they state perfectly frankly what the result of the Treaty is. And this is what I want the people of the country to know, and what I think cannot be denied by the Government. First they go into the question of the saving. They say:— To the three Powers concerned this represents a saving … that is, the battleship holiday— of over £160,000,000, Great Britain's share being estimated at £70,000,000. To our over-burdened taxpayers this large reduction in our future commitments should bring some relief. Well, whether it will or not it is not for me to say; it may be turned in another direction, for all I know. However, that is the case they make in favour of it. And they say further economies will be effected by the scrapping of five capital ships.

Now listen to what they state is the result:— America's long-cherished ambition to possess a fleet second to none is on the point of realisation, without involving that vast expenditure which would have been necessary had the element of competition continued to dominate ship-building programmes. Her future battle fleet will be slightly stronger than ours especially in gun-power; Does the country desire that?— her cruiser force will be superior in heavy ships and inferior in 6-inch gun vessels; but measured by the 'yardstick' formula it will be quite equal to the British cruiser establishment. The journal also says:— It may not be ungracious to point out that the United States is very markedly the gainer by this arrangement, since she is so much less dependent than the British Empire on sea power as a vital instrument of national defence and existence. And that is exactly why you cannot get a comparison which brings about a parity in these cases.

The article goes on:— When the strategic situation and requirements of each nation are analysed and compared it will be found that the United States, in gaining 'parity,' has actually gained supremacy. Then it goes on to praise Japan—praise which, I have no doubt, is well deserved, because it says Japan has agreed to accept a measure of naval strength which its professional advisers declare to be inadequate. I want to know, have we done the same? And I ask that most specifically. Then it goes on:— The British Empire, it is true, had already made the same brave gesture,…. —now listen to this— since no reasonable person supposes that our future fleet, as regulated by the new Treaty, will be strong enough to guard the 80,000 miles of trade routes which represent the arteries of the Empire …. Is the country satisfied to have a fleet which will not be strong enough to guard the 80,000 miles of trade routes which represent the arteries of the Empire? All I can say is that if such had been the state of facts when the War broke out we should now be a German dependency.

Then it goes on to say:— We and Japan are accepting with open eyes those 'risks of peace' to which the Prime Minister referred on the eve of the Conference. I have not had time or been able to find what the "risks of peace" were. I suppose the new motto will be: Si vis bellum para pacem. And then mark this statement— For, the first time in modern history we are cutting the Navy down to a point far below safety level. It is a grave decision to take, having regard to our unparalleled commitments, but it is one, we think, in which public opinion throughout the Empire will concur. What an opinion of our Empire! I think better of it, and I think better of our people than to believe that for the first time in modern history they are satisfied to cut the Navy down to a point far below the safety level. It is indeed "a grave decision to take having regard to our unparalleled commitments." I am quoting this because it is an article in favour of the Treaty, and as I have not the necessary technical knowledge nor the advantage which the noble Viscount has had of going into these things recently, I shall be delighted if the noble Lord who has to speak for the Government in this debate will assure your Lordships that they have behind them in this Treaty and in the defence which it offers to the safety of this country the expert opinion at the Admiralty. If he is able to tell us that it will go a long way to satisfy the people of this country. No one wants to do anything that is not generous or that will not bring about the very best of relations with America, but I should be very sorry out of deference to any country to run any risk to the safety of my own.

There is one other matter that I must mention. As I understand it, we are immediately to proceed to scrap five capital ships and to scale down the other ships. It is very amusing to read in this article some remarks on a matter about which they are peculiarly able to give a good opinion. Going into the questions of these cruisers which were built under the emergency War programme and otherwise, they say:— Although of considerable age, they are splendid ships, and, as we are able to testify from personal experience, first-class sea boats. Yet we are to proceed to scrap them. Then the noble Viscount asks very rightly what are to be the replacements and when are those replacements to be begun. What estimates are to be gone into? We have been promised that there shall be no increase of taxation next year or something of that kind: what arrangement has been made for this?

But above and beyond all that I have spoken of there is a bigger question. It is this. How on earth can you decide a question which affects the very existence of this country without at the same time considering our other modes of defence—the Army and the Air? The sea is everything to us. It is a secondary consideration to other countries, especially to those not in Europe. When we are told that this is sufficient for our defence under existing exigencies—as I suppose will be said—I want to know what consideration has been given to our Army. What Army of defence have we? Has it been increased? Even the Cadet Corps are being given up! Are we superior in the air to the other countries? Very interesting discussions have taken place in your Lordships' House recently upon that subject. I was, unfortunately, unable to be present, but I read the debates with great care and great interest. Any one who has ever had the responsibility during a war of trying to do his best to save his country will know what torture it is when he knows that the very existence of the people is at stake, as it always is in such cases. No one that I know of has assured us that we have that superiority in the air any more than in the Army.

What strikes me above all other things is this. Having been up to the present in a position of superiority on the sea, of which we have been so proud, and rightly proud, we are for the purpose of bringing about better relations to scrap that superiority. But what reductions are to be made by those who have Armies and can do by means of their Armies what we have to do by means of our Navy? What are they doing to please us? The truth of the matter is that this is the gravest case in recent times since the War that has come before your Lordships' House, and I hope it will soon be treated by the country as the gravest case that has come before them.

There is this further consideration which must be present to the mind of everyone who has ever had any experience in regard to naval construction. If you once dissipate and put an end to all those great artificers among whom the art and practice of shipbuilding has been handed on from father to son and from one generation to another, who have made shipbuilding in this country the wonderment of the world, you will never get them together again. That is something in which if you stop progress you will absolutely stunt any possible growth in the future. You may make soldiers by drilling them and teaching them to shoot, and by the natural courage of our race. You may even do it in a comparatively short time. But you cannot build ships, and you cannot get together the men who are able to build ships and have helped you to keep this island in the great position which it occupies, having regard to its scattered Empire. That position has been maintained by means of steady progress from day to day under men who have given their whole lives to it and who often have succeeded those who did the same thing and have gone on steadily doing the work which is necessary for keeping up the greatness of your fleet.

It may be said, I dare say it will be said, that one ought not to talk in such a way of a Treaty which is at present before the Senate or some other body in America. I speak in no unfriendly spirit. If we are not allowed to discuss these things when they are put forward in this kind of way behind the backs of the people, and conclusions are come to with out the will of the people being ascertained in any way, when are we to discuss them? Surely, it is not for the Government to say, unless it has been a specific issue, whether we are to have a Navy large or small. This may, for all I know, be only the beginning of the reduction in our naval strength, but if they have the right to reduce so much then they have the right to reduce altogether without the country knowing anything about it. I hope we shall have specific assurances given us by the Government as to what all this means to this country, and, above all, that they will express their readiness to let us know, or, if necessary, submit to some board of experts—Imperial Defence or other experts—what it is proposed to do, so that people may be satisfied that the great maritime position which we have hitherto held is going to be maintained.


My Lords, we shall all agree with my noble and learned friend who has just spoken that the subject before your Lordships' House is one of extreme importance. We can never deal with reduction of armaments, particularly naval armaments, without being impressed with the importance that must attach to such questions. I agree with my noble and learned friend, and I am perfectly certain that every one of your Lordships will be of the same opinion, that the essential question before us in any such Treaty is whether sufficient care has been taken to protect this country against invasion, and to give it the security which it must have—in other words, to enable it to protect itself by its naval forces against any attack that may be made upon it. There can be no division of opinion upon that. I assume that His Majesty's Government is just as conscious of the importance of the subject and must be as anxious as everyone in this House and elsewhere, to do nothing which will weaken the position of this country, to do nothing which will endanger the country, for if they did assuredly their end would soon come. No Government could stand which attempted to reduce this country to a position in which it could not take adequate means to ensure its supply of food, or its defence, or real security.

What has surprised me in my noble and learned friend's argument is that he seemed to take no account whatever of all that has happened since August, 1914. What he said is quite true, and many of your Lordships, having taken part in different ways during the War, have become as conscious as my noble friend of the difficulties we had to encounter, and of the perils which, fortunately, we managed to surmount, but we were then in a totally different position. Is it quite fair to put the case as if our supremacy were now threatened by Germany as in the past when we all knew that she was attempting to get a Navy equal or superior to ours?


Perhaps my noble friend will allow me to say that I thought I did emphasise that the assurance we asked for was as to whether the arrangements made in this Treaty were sufficient, in the view of those who are capable of judging, to meet any of the exigencies which can at present arise. I thought I made that clear.


I quite agree. I thought I had said that. I began by saying that I agreed with my noble and learned friend. My criticism, if it is criticism, of the observations he made was that so much stress was laid upon what happened during the War with the effect, as it seemed to me, of diverting our minds from the position in which we now stand. May I remind your Lordships that now the situation is entirely different, and we really must approach it from that standpoint? The German fleet has gone. We are now confronted with fleets of countries with which we are living in the greatest amity. I am not suggesting that there never will be war. Far from it. I am as anxious as the noble Viscount who introduced this subject for discussion, and as my noble and learned friend, that there should be adequate protection, and also, I think, we must take account of this, that we are pledged—solemnly pledged—to a reduction of armaments, and that we have undertaken to reduce armaments.

For that purpose we have had Conferences. We had the Washington Conference. We had the Conference at which the noble Viscount was present and took so important a part. As a result we have now had a further Conference, and, presumably, we shall have another in 1935. All those are steps in a new direction, and I ask your Lordships to bear in mind that we must now envisage the case with regard to the Navy from the aspect of a nation desirous of securing peace, of having no wars, of trying to prevent wars in the future by any nation, and doing our utmost to make certain that the Treaties into which we have entered with other nations shall be duly performed in the future. That, I am sure, raises no question of controversy. I refer to it to remind your Lordships that when we are considering the present Treaty it must be in the light of those events, and that the Treaty must be regarded from the aspect of a nation which is already committed to a reduction of armaments in order to preserve peace.

That being the case, it does not dispose of the first proposition to which I referred, and in agreement with my noble and learned friend, that we must not reduce armaments at the risk of the proper defence of the country and of its ultimate security. Here, again, I do not expect that there can be any difference. The real question, as I understand it, is the extent of the reduction. In the main the questions put by the noble Viscount who opened the debate and also by my noble and learned friend come to this, whether, in fact, we have got adequate protection. The form in which, I understand, the question is put to His Majesty's Government is whether they have got the assent of the Admiralty experts to the reduction to which they have agreed.

I am not prepared myself to put that as the sole test, although I agree that it is a very important one. I would not for one moment suggest that we should disregard it. No responsible Government could. It is an impossibility. But equally Governments, whether they be Conservative or Liberal or Labour, have always taken the view that they must get the views of the experts in all the Forces, they must consider most carefully everything that is put forward by them, and then the Government must come to their own conclusions, take their own responsibility and must not seek to place it upon the backs of the experts. I have never heard a statement to the contrary. Again and again in another place and throughout the country First Lords of the Admiralty and Prime Ministers have asserted that that is the principle upon which we govern. I see two or three ex-First Lords here at the present moment, and I am perfectly sure that not one would controvert the proposition I have put before your Lordships. Therefore, it is not a question solely of what the experts have advised. The question is: Have the Government most carefully considered everything that the experts have put before them? It may be that some of the experts lean more strongly in favour of reduction than others. Have the Government viewed the whole aspect of the question?

I agree again with my noble and learned friend that we cannot leave out of consideration either the Army or the Air Force. The whole question must be considered for the purpose of the defence of the country. The Government have to remember the situation, the circumstances that confront them, what it is they reasonably have to fear, against what nation must they protect themselves, and what steps they ought to take in order to make quite sure that we are safe. When they have done that and come to their conclusions, having weighed it all, then I think the Government take the responsibility and must bear it and are conscientiously entitled to give effect to their views. Now it has been said that we are not to be dictated to by America. I have never heard it suggested yet that we should be.


I have.


Perhaps my noble and learned friend consorts with those with whom I have not had an opportunity of conversation on the subject. I have frequently heard it said that our policy must not be determined by reference to America solely, and perhaps that is what is meant by the observation of the noble and learned Lord. In that, of course, again I am in complete agreement, but that is very different from appearing in any way to resent what is called dictation. My noble and learned friend, of course, has most friendly feelings towards America and his reference to America and his objection to America having too great a say in the matter is not because it is America but because he stands for his own country. I am in complete accord again. I would only add, and I think it is important, that I would go a long way if I could be assured that by the action I was about to take I should secure the good will and co-operation of the people of the United States of America. Although I say that, I guard myself against the possible implication that that means that I would go beyond the limits that ought to give security. I have not the least thought of that in my mind, but I do think it is of the utmost value that we should try to work in friendship, the closest friendship, with them.

Now we have the advantage after very long protracted discussions at the Conference of an Agreement with America and Japan. Very unfortunately we were not able to get agreement with the other two Powers, France and Italy. It was not, I am convinced from what I have read—I know no more than any of your Lordships who have read the papers that have been published—that every attempt was not made most patiently and most carefully by the Government to seek some kind of agreement with France and with Italy. That they did not succeed was not the fault of His Majesty's Government, so far as I am aware, and I should not think of imputing it. At the present moment it is useless to discuss that part of the question. It is left, as I understand it, for future discussion. If I remember aright, according to the reports that were published it was M. Briand who said at the final plenary session of the Conference, "The Conference is not at an end, it is adjourned in order that there may be further diplomatic discussion between the Powers so that we may seek again to arrive at a complete agreement."

What has been gained at the moment —and I think myself it is a most important gain which we should not seek to minimise, because for this country it is of great value—is that we have an agreement with America. I care little about parity with America and indeed, as I understand the argument both of the noble Viscount and my noble and learned friend, they care as little as I do. What they say is: "Let America have more ships if she likes." That may be, of course, an alternative which you might have reached if you had not had the Treaty, but is it desired? Is it the wish of this country that we should enter into competitive construction with America? We do not contemplate entering into competition with America in building. Then may I ask, if we are not seeking to arrive at an agreement with America why did we hold the Conference at Washington, why did we hold a Conference at Geneva? Why did my noble friend take such extreme care and devote himself to the best of his ability to arriving at an agreement?

The only difference between him and His Majesty's Government is that if he could have had his way on behalf of the country he would have had different terms in regard to several of the matters secured by this Treaty. But that is the only difference. He has been just as anxious. The Conservative Government strove rightly and patriotically to obtain agreement with America, and really it is idle to suggest that His Majesty's Government now in power should not make the same attempt. For my part I think that His Majesty's Government and the Prime Minister himself have every reason to congratulate themselves on having reached an agreement with America and Japan and having, as I think, sown the seeds of a future agreement with France and Italy.

Great care has been taken in the Treaty. Your Lordships may be aware—are aware, I am sure—of the most important clause that was introduced at the last, to which no objection was raised either by America or Japan, which takes into account possible complications that may arise from building by other countries. We know perfectly well that France already has a number of destroyers constructed, a number that are being constructed and a programme of future construction until the year 1936 which is, from our point of view, a very great programme of building and which, of course, must make us consider, if it continues in that way, what steps we shall take in order that we may be able to put ourselves in a proper position with regard to it. That is the situation. All we can say about it at present is that, although on some minor matters agreement has been come to with them, on this important question nothing has been done. But that does not mean that nothing will be done. I believe that attempts will be made, and all one can say is that we may hope that these attempts will be successful.

If they are not, and if difficulties arise, then, according to the Article of the Treaty that was introduced at the end:— If …. the requirements of the national security of any High Contracting Party in respect of vessels of war limited by Part III of the present Treaty are in the opinion of that Party materially affected by new construction of any Power other than those who have joined in Part III of this Treaty"— —that is, America and Japan—then the words that follow are worth noting:— that High Contracting Party will notify the other Parties to Part III as to the increase required to be made in its own tonnages within one or more of the categories of such vessels of war …. That is to say that, if this happened, we should have to give notice to the other two Powers with which we are in complete agreement. As regards the Articles of this Treaty, we have the right, if the circumstances require it, to increase our tonnage, and then, of course, equally the other parties—that is, America and Japan—would be entitled to make a proportionate increase in the category or categories specified, and no doubt there would be negotiations and discussions through diplomatic channels. That seems to give us real security, assuming that in the final arrangements that have been made between America and Japan we are adequately protected.

For my part I think that we have taken a step which is historical in its importance. We have taken this vital step because we are anxious to give true effect as quickly as we can to the wish which, I believe, is in the minds of every single, person in this country—namely, to secure and stabilise, if we possibly can, peace for the world. We have made Treaties, we have abandoned war as an instrument of policy according to the Kellogg Treaty, and we have made statements again and again on that point. This is a very important step, as I think, along the road which may ultimately lead to peace, and in which we, just because we have been the supreme nation on the sea, have taken a leading part and, I hope, have given an example which may be followed.


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has pointed out very clearly the absolute dependence of this country upon the safety of our sea communications for our food supplies, and those of us who realise the absolute importance of the safety of our sea communications must ask ourselves, when naval reductions are proposed or are in progress, how far those reductions affect our security in the future. Especially must those of us who happen to have held positions of responsibility for the safety of our sea communications during the late War ask ourselves that question. Immense reductions have been made in our naval strength since the conclusion of peace, and no doubt those responsible for them have made them in consequence of two thoughts in their minds: because they know that at the moment there is no threat of any possible future war; and also because they have in mind, no doubt, the steps that have been taken since the conclusion of peace to ensure that future international disputes shall be settled, if possible, by agreement instead of by recourse to arms.

But we cannot be certain that attempts at agreement will succeed, and it is for that reason, presumably, that naval, military and air Forces are still kept in existence. I submit that, in view of what is being done in the Navies of other nations, we have now reached a position in which we cannot reduce our fleets any further with due regard to our future security. Indeed, I think one may say that the reductions that are now proposed go beyond the limit of security. The Naval Conferences that have been held, since the proclamation of peace, at Washington and in London have effected reductions in our own Navy but, so far as I can see, they have not effected reductions in any other Navy in the world, except that the Washington Treaty resulted in the reduction of a certain number of American battleships.

The noble and learned Marquess who has just spoken has said that we are pledged to a reduction in armaments. It is true that we have effected that reduction in armaments; but have the other nations followed suit? Anybody who looks at the building programmes of other nations at the moment will see that, instead of reducing naval strength, they are actually increasing it, and nobody who holds a position of responsibility can lose sight of that fact. The position that has been before this last Conference and was before the Conference at Geneva was really the effort of the United States to obtain parity with us. As the noble Viscount said, that question was never in dispute at Geneva. It was perfectly clearly accepted by the British Delegates at Geneva that there was no objection whatever on our part to naval parity with the United States. Indeed, however much we might object to naval parity, it is out of our power to prevent it if the United States intend to build. In this country we have to consider not only the question of our relative strength in comparison with the United States but, owing to our geographical position in the world and the widespread nature of our Empire, the strength of the Navies of nations other than the United States.

In considering the Report of the Naval Conference, I propose to confine myself largely to remarks upon the question of cruiser strength and strength in smaller vessels, because I do not think any one will disagree with the halt that has been called in capital ship construction, although it is quite possible, as the noble Viscount says, that we should have preferred to see a limit placed upon the capital ship, as was admitted during the Geneva Conference. As regards the cruiser question, many of the difficulties which have arisen both at Geneva and in the London Conference come from the fact of the production at the Washington Conference of the 10,000-ton cruiser. There was no cruiser of that size in existence prior to the Washington Confer- ence—no light cruiser—and the setting up of a 10,000-ton cruiser at once set up a standard which naturally every nation building cruisers had to act up to, otherwise they would be building cruisers inferior to those of their neighbours. Consequently, as other nations built 10,000-ton cruisers we had either to build the same size craft, and from the point of view of economy reduce our numbers, or else allow other nations to have vessels of the cruiser type more powerful than our own, and accept the situation by having an increase in our numbers.

We have always in this country in the past considered a large number of cruisers essential to the security of our sea communications. In 1904 we had 117 cruisers of 2,000 tons displacement and over, and a total of 157 cruisers, giving a total tonnage of 750,000 tons. In 1912, after the scrapping policy introduced by Lord Fisher, of the smaller vessels, we had 90 cruisers of over 2,000 tons displacement, and 12 building, and at the commencement of the War we had 114 cruisers, with a total tonnage of 720,000 tons. During the War our losses of vessels by surface attack—I am not now speaking of submarines—arose from two causes—first of all, from the depredations of the German cruisers at sea at the commencement of the War; and secondly, from armed raiders, disguised, which got oat from German ports. I would like to mention to the noble Lord who has just spoken that there were only nine German cruisers at sea during the early days of the War. Therefore our losses were due to those nine cruisers, and those losses totalled in the early days of the War 220,000 tons. It must be borne in mind when I speak of nine cruisers, that the great majority of those losses took place from the depredations of the two raiders, the "Emden" and the "Karlsruhe," and therefore when the noble Lordspoke of the threat being much minimised by the fact that we have no such powerful Navy against us as the Germany Navy in pre-War days, one must recollect that our losses were almost entirely due to those two cruisers. Subsequently the three German raiders which got out were responsible for the destruction of 250,000 tons of our shipping.

The German nation was in a very difficult position for getting their ships to sea for the purpose of commerce destruc- tion. They were shut in almost by the North Sea. The English Channel was closed, and the North Sea has a comparatively narrow entrance of about 180 miles. Yet three out of the five German raiders which tried to get out succeeded in getting out in spite of the immensely powerful Grand Fleet guarding the approaches to the North Sea. If your Lordships will consider the case of some nation with a very long coastline—there are plenty of them—with numerous ports, and think of the difficulties that would confront the British Navy of the future in preventing the egress of disguised raiders or cruisers, you will realise the excessive difficulties with which the Navy would be faced in the event of a conflict with a foe possessing a very long coastline.

To cope with those German raiders which were at sea in 1914 we had, as I stated, 114 cruisers. That included, of course, those with the Grand Fleet. I do not think that I can possibly put the case of the difficulties facing the Navy more clearly than by quoting from a book on the World Crisis, 1911–14, written by the then First Lord of the Admiralty. In a note prepared by him to placate critics, on October 24, 1914, and issued to the Press, because as he said, "much discontent was making itself heard and felt owing to damage caused by a few German cruisers," the following statement was made:— Eight or nine German cruisers believed to be at large in Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Searching for these vessels and working in concert under the various Commanders-in-Chief are upwards of 70 British, Japanese, French and Russian cruisers, not including auxiliary cruisers. The vast expanses of sea and ocean, and the many thousand islands of the archipelagos, offer an almost infinite choice of movement to the enemy's ships. No one could better describe the difficulties which faced our Navy in those days than does that paragraph. How quickly those difficulties seem to have been forgotten. In another place in the same book the following statement appears:— The strain upon the British naval resources in the outer seas, apart from the main theatre of naval operations, was now at its maximum …. That was at the end of October, 1914. The quotation continues:— and may be partly appreciated from the following approximate enumerations: Combination against von Spee, 30 ships. In search of 'Emden' and 'Konigsberg', 8 ships. General protection of trade by other than the above, 40 ships. Convoy duty in Indian Ocean, 8 ships. Blockade of Turko-German Fleet at Dardanelles, 3 ships. Defence of Egypt, 2 ships. Miscellaneous minor tasks, 11 ships. It concludes by saying:— We literally could not lay our hands on another vessel of any sort or kind. No words can put the case more strongly than that, and I would ask your Lordships to remember that only two cruisers were really causing that damage. If 114 vessels cannot stop the damage done by two cruisers, how are fifty cruisers going to prevent damage to our trade and secure the safety of our sea communications?

The Conference agreed to our having a total of 339,000 tons of cruisers, of which 146,000 tons are 8-inch cruisers. I may mention that nowhere in the Conference Report can I see that a total of fifty cruisers is aimed at. There is no mention anywhere in that Report of a total of fifty cruisers. It is merely a, question of tonnage everywhere. I cannot myself see how it is possible for us to attain a total of anything like fifty cruisers by December 31, 1936. Our cruisers go off at such a rate owing to the majority of them having been constructed during the War, and therefore their life being limited to sixteen years, that it is absolutely impossible, unless we had a building programme of five or six cruisers a year, to get our numbers to fifty by the end of 1936.

In destroyers the Treaty figure is 150,000 tons—provided, of course, that. France and Italy reduce their programmes. That means a total to us of about 110 destroyers. Now, it is a fact that under the age limit we need to lay down 80 destroyers in the years 1930–1934. If we are going to work up to 150,000 tons, which I have not the slightest doubt the other nations will do, that means a total of sixteen a year. The truth is, of course, that we have almost entirely neglected destroyer building since the War ceased. As regards submarines, we are limited to a total of 52,700 tons. Our present figure is about 45,000 tons, and it will need a total of about three submarines a year, totalling about 3,500 tons, to get up to our total of 52,700 by 1936. I would, therefore, stress to His Majesty's Government the imperative importance, if we are going to carry out even the terms of the Treaty, of embarking upon a building programme of considerable size.

And there is one other point which I would like to mention to your Lordships and to His Majesty's Government, and that is the question of the personnel. These naval reductions are fatal to the future careers of naval officers and men. Entries into the Navy have to be made years and years ahead of the building of the ships, because it takes longer to train an officer or a man than it does to build a ship. And with constant naval reductions the effect must be that promotion is blocked and compulsory retirement is forced upon the Admiralty. Officers and men go to sea with the intention of devoting their lives to the service of His Majesty's Navy. They are thrown out at an age when they can get no other work to do. Their training does not fit them for work ashore. They are thrown out with a totally inadequate pension, and the result is disaster. I will take the case of reducing one battleship, just to point out what it means. To reduce a modern battleship means that one officer of captain's rank, four officers of commander's rank, twenty-eight officers of lieutenant-commander's rank and lieutenant's rank, three officers of sub-lieutenant's rank, twenty warrant officers and twenty midshipmen become redundant. What can it mean now after the immense reductions which have been effected since the War? The Admiralty know quite well the awful distress which has been caused among naval officers and lower deck personnel by the reductions, and I do think that some adequate compensation should be paid, both to officers and to men who become redundant as the result of reductions effected. I would appeal to His Majesty's Government to give that matter their consideration.


My Lords, much as I dislike the result of the Conference and fear its effects in the future, I must confess that what I dislike even more is the willingness which was shown on our side all through the negotiations to mortgage the future for an immediate but transient advantage or success. It is to my mind one of the most dangerous attitudes that I have seen for a very long time on the part of His Majesty's Government. Of the five Powers that entered into this Conference we appear to be the only one who had no fixed ideas as to what the real strength of our defensive forces should be. The consequence was that we have given up largely—not only large numbers, but numbers greatly superior to what we should have done in the opinion of most people, to get— what? As far as I can see, nothing. For, certainly what the Conference did not succeed in doing, and what it set out to do, was to put a limitation to naval armaments. The Conference was of course the natural, and in fact even the inevitable, result of that held at Washington, when for the first time in our history we voluntarily abandoned our freedom of action in the question of armaments by taking into consideration the opinions of others. That may or may not be a good sentiment, but that it is a most dangerous precedent events have shown.

Now I am not going to go over the ground which has been covered so ably by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, with his undoubted and his unquestioned authority, but I would ask you to come with me back to those years that immediately followed the War, when we found ourselves after the Peace with a Navy much too large for our post-War needs, and one whose reduction was not only required, and evidently of advantage to us, but absolutely necessary from the financial point of view alone. But the reduction of a large organisation such as the Navy cannot be easily and well undertaken, unless it is to create chaos, owing to the many trades and crafts with which it is connected. Moreover, there must have been a great difficulty at that time to fix what the strength of our post-War Navy should be. Because that, of course, must depend upon a policy, and, indeed, it must have been difficult to fix a policy at that time in face of the state of Europe. So that I can well understand the satisfaction with which the invitation of the United States was received to take part in a Conference which had for its object a general all-round limitation, for I suppose the Government must have seen in that a possible way out of our difficulty. That some system of rationing was required was evident, and the United States led the way by their proposal of parity with us.

Now, it surely is a matter of thought—Why should the United States have required parity, or asked for it? Before the War never when we were fixing our standard, when we came to the two-Power standard, did we take America into our consideration. She seemed so far from us, she was beyond the orbit of our politics; there was no reason why her Navy should be considered. What is the case now? Why should she want it, and why should we have accepted it? It seems to me that we should have been out of a great many difficulties if we had replied to her by saying, "We look upon your proposal as a most friendly gesture, and even a generous one in the circumstances, but we feel that to accept it would put us into large difficulties"—as it has done—"with the remainder of Europe. We shall never look upon any building that you take in hand as a menace, and we shall take no cognisance of it." Had we adopted some such policy as that we should not have been in any worse position than we are to-day. As we all know, the United States is rich enough to outbuild us or any other Power if she requires to do so. She has even intimated her intention of doing so if she finds it necessary. Why should we object? How can it affect our defensive policy and the number of our ships? We should have had a far freer hand, had we only to turn our eyes to Europe, than if we had to turn our eyes elsewhere.

What was the reason for it? Was it that the Government expected to get a reduction of armaments? What has happened since? No reduction except our own. Was it just one of those gestures which have been so frequent during the last ten years that it has become almost a custom with us to make a gesture vaguely towards peace? We have done all we can by word and deed to avoid war and to wipe it away from the possibilities of human nature. It is indeed an idealistic hope; but idealism to be practical must be based on reality, and the reality is that, whatever may have been the case in the past, war in the future, especially after the safeguards we have made, is not likely to break out either from Machiavellianism or from a desire to hurt, or even from ambition. The fact is that the causes of war are to be found in a combination of economic circumstances over which we have no control, the seeds of which are to be found in what was at the time a perfectly beneficent or per- fectly innocent intention or action on the part of some person or Government, but which, in the changing circumstances of the world, alter their shape as they grow up—a shape that we cannot in any way help—and, with the altered circumstances that they may face, create just that situation which makes for war. I ask myself whether this undue weakening—for I maintain that it is an undue weakening—of our naval forces is not one of those seeds which may grow into such a malign plant.

It has been said that these inflated armaments make for war. I will not deny it. But if that is the case, may not undue weakness also lead to war? What was the position in 1914? Nobody will deny, I think, that if the awful panic which seized Europe had been checked in some way, the very strength of the British Fleet might possibly have restored the world and brought about peace. Had the Navy been weak it never could have done that, and war would have been inevitable. It is for those reasons that, I feel so strongly, as I think many must, these reductions of the Fleet.

As I said before, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has so ably placed the position before your Lordships that there seems from that point of view to be no more to be said; but there is something to be said as regards the responsibility for what has been done. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, pointed out, very rightly, the constitutional duties of the naval advisers of a Government. He also pointed out that the responsibility for not taking their advice falls upon His Majesty's Government. I do not know, and I do not think any of your Lordships know, what the position is at this moment. The Government, of course, must take the responsibility, but I cannot help thinking that in such a case as this where it is, without exaggeration, a question of life or death to the Navy in the future, the public should be informed whether the naval representatives had anything to do with it.



I hope that we shall have that in the reply of His Majesty's Government. In many circles I have heard the question asked: "Is it possible that these reductions have been allowed to take place on the advice of our naval advisers? "And I think your Lordshiups will agree with me that that question should be answered.

If I am not wearying your Lordships, I should like to say something about what is claimed to be the great success of this Conference—the saving of £70,000,000. Before I accept that figure I should very much like to know how it is worked out. It is a fact that of the sum which is expended upon building a battleship, nearly 90 per cent. goes to labour. That may be a high estimate, and it takes in many things, including the work of getting coal and so forth. If it is not 90 per cent. it must be 80 per cent. What is going to happen to the people who are thrown out of employment by this reduction? We know, alas, that they cannot be employed in the shipbuilding trade. How, then, is this figure of £70,000,000 arrived at? Unless you can employ those men, it seems to me that the saving will be about 80 per cent.


20 per cent.


No, 80 per cent.—and think what we are paying for it. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Carson, I think it was, pointed out so well and so clearly that the art of shipbuilding is not one which can be acquired in a short time. It goes on from generation to generation. I hold in my hand proof that the arts engendered and acquired in relation to shipbuilding are on the decrease, simply because the young men who are entering the profession of naval architects or engineers see nothing before them. There is one case of a young naval architect who, after four years at Greenwich, gave it up and actually took to being an Income Tax collector. Can you imagine anything more different? That those brains which had been trained for four years should come down to that! That is but one instance. But the serious thing for this country is that if we cannot find employment for our shipbuilders they will not only give up the profession and try to get others—God knows where they are to get them !—but they will leave the country and go to other places where shipbuilding is going on, and we shall be the poorer for the loss of such men.

I am sure nobody, not even in those quarters of the Press which are so ready to seize upon anybody who even mentions a war as being warlike, will accuse me of desiring anything but peace. Like everybody else, even like the greatest pacifist, I desire peace, but unlike the pacifist I do not chase ideals like a will-o'-the-wisp. I do not chase a will-o'-the-wisp which cannot possibly take me on to the high ground of safety and peace, but will surely ultimately lead me into the quagmire of war. It is for that reason I have suggested the great danger that there is in the idealistic part that is being played in this large question of world disarmament. We all admire perhaps the courage with which the Government have made these efforts to obtain peace, but it seems to me they have done so at the risk of the safety of the country and the possibilities of feeding our people. It is a step which indeed involves a responsibility that few people could have the courage to accept.


My Lords, I may assure the noble Lord who spoke last that the present Government have ample courage to bring forward and support the policy which he finds contained in the new Naval Conference Treaty. I must say that his speech and that of the noble Earl opposite. Lord Jellicoe, have satisfied me that, whatever the size of our Navy may he, whatever the conditions might be either as regards the number of ships, their equipment or the way they are used, we should come again to the position—which the noble Lord, Lord Jellicoe, has described so clearly—that we found at the commencement of the last War in making quite certain that there would be safety and security. Let me say one word on that, because I entirely agree with what the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has said. It is the duty of any Government to ensure both safety and security. No one would question that for a moment, and, although I shall have to he a little long upon one or two points, I hope I shall convince your Lordships under those heads.

What is the position? I sympathise very much with a great deal that was said by the noble Viscount opposite, Lord Bridgeman. He represents, of course, a different Party from the one which is in power now, but I do not like to bring Party considerations into this question. He went to Geneva, and the basis of his argument was that in order to secure safety and security we must have 70 cruisers. On that point, if I may say so, as he knows perfectly well, that Conference ultimately broke down. What does Lord Jellicoe say? He says that with 114 cruisers in 1914, when the War broke out, when there were only one or two German ships at large, there was no safety and security. There was also, as the noble Lord, Lord Carson, emphasized, a constant fear that the security and safety of this country and Empire were not sufficiently stabilised. There was a constant anxiety, and beyond that, as far as I can see, no real safety and security in the sense that I am going to use the term. I think this discussion has made it quite clear that if you are to rely on force—power, number and equipment of ships—you can never give what I may call real safety and security to the people of this country.


Why do you have any ships at all?


I should have thought that the noble and learned Viscount, who has a logical mind—


I am not a noble Viscount.


Let me apologise. I do not feel the difference between a Lord and a Viscount perhaps, but what I want to say is this. His view, as expressed, undoubtedly was that we would only get safety and security by paramount force, superiority, domination, or any other word you like to apply to it. What I am putting to Lord Carson is this, that what we have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Jellicoe and Lord Wester Wemyss, dispels for ever, it appears to me—I always thought it was unsound—the view that you can ever have, in our position in this country and Empire, if we depend on force and force alone, a sufficient force to give certainty of safety and security. Upon this point there was an absolute distinction as between the noble Viscount, Lord Bridge-man, on the one side and the three subsequent speakers to whom I have re-erred on the other side. Lord Bridge-man did not complain that we had gone too far in certain directions, but he seemed to wish that we had gone further in order to obtain agreement—which is all important in my view—as between America and ourselves. He said: Why did you bargain with America on the question of the number of capital ships or cruisers, submarines or destroyers? He said: What does it matter? Let them have what they want?


That is not quite what I said.


I do not want to exaggerate in the least. I think it was the purport of what the noble Viscount said, and I should be the last person to wish to exaggerate it. Let them, he said, have what they want because the great point to us is peace. There I agree with the principle which the noble Viscount put forward. More than that, I can appeal to him on another point. He was present as one of the negotiators at the Geneva Conference in 1927. We know it was not successful, and his coadjutor Viscount Cecil ultimately resigned from the Government then in power. I do not want to go into that, but what I want to say is that no one made greater efforts than he did to arrive at an understanding with America. No one, I think, appreciated more fully than he did; and I presume the Government behind him, the great importance in the world's history of peace, of an understanding upon points of this kind between America and ourselves. It is useless to suggest under modern conditions that America is not a most potent factor in guaranteeing and assisting the peace of the whole world, and perhaps more particularly of this country.

On the question of disarmament they started the matter at the Washington Conference. After that you had the Conference, in 1927 at Geneva. That was a Conference in which a leading part was taken by the noble Viscount opposite. It was because no arrangement or agreement could be come to at that date that the late Naval Conference took place in this country. I ask the noble Viscount: Has he any argument whatever to advance adverse to the attitude of the present Government because they wanted the Conference to take place, and were determined to do all they could within their power to maintain a kindly and friendly attitude towards America? As against what has been said on the question of America I should like to read an extract from what was said the other day by a great Englishman in America. I quote it because I endorse it in its entirety. He said— If Great Britain and America made a point of knowing what each other intimately required, of understanding each other and of going forward hand in hand"— now this is what would result— future generations would realise the ideal of peace for all time. Now, I believe in ideals. I believe in the ideal of peace, not for our time but for all time. I agree further that a great factor, and an important and vital factor, in ensuring world peace is to get a friendly spirit of co-operation and close coordinating action between the people of America and the people of this country. I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount on the advance which he made at Geneva in 1927, although no doubt he was not able to succeed at the time. But, before I answer the specific questions, may I refer to one other matter, upon which the noble and learned Marquess, Lord Reading, based his argument, namely, that a debt of honour, so far as we are concerned, is imposed upon us in Article 8 of the Covenant of the League? Whether we like it or not, it is a debt of honour that we should do all we can to push forward disarmament to a defensive level, subject only to carrying out any obligations which that Covenant or which the League as a whole may impose upon us. That is not a matter of choice. That is not a matter which we can decide one way or another. It is a positive obligation or debt of honour which we have undertaken in one of the most solemn Treaties ever made since the world's history began—namely, the Treaty between the signatories to the League of Nations at Geneva.


What about other nations?


I think they are in the same position. I do not think the noble Earl or anyone else would suggest that because another nation does not do what it ought to do, and what we should do with our sense of honour, we are to follow their example.


Does the noble Lord accuse every other nation of having no sense of honour?


No, I am sorry the noble Earl should have made such a suggestion. I say nothing of the kind. If it is a question of an obligation of honour on this country we decide it for ourselves, and I say in this case we ought to decide, and we must decide, to act in accordance with our obligation under the Covenant of the League. I must say that that sort of tu quoque argument has no weight with me.

The real question was admirably put by the noble and learned Marquess, Lord Reading, when he asked: What is our position in this matter, what do we desire as a nation? I say that we desire to fulfil the obligation we have undertaken. That is sufficient for my purpose to-day, and I recollect dealing with it before when I was at Geneva in 1924, and the same question was raised whether we would implement our obligations or not. I refused to discuss the question, and I refused to discuss it on the ground that I would not allow the honour of my country even to be questioned. When the country had undertaken a solemn international obligation it was a question which could not be further discussed. If it had been further discussed we should have taken no further part in the particular matter which was being considered. It is not only, of course, the obligation to disarm, but it is the distance to which that obligation has been carried. It has been carried a very long way, largely with the help of America and ourselves, as I shall have to point out presently on the question asked me by the noble Viscount (Lord Bridgeman) opposite. He asked whether there is a difference between the conditions now and the conditions when he was at Geneva in 1927. The obvious answer is that since that time, and since in August, 1928, America took the lead, practically all the great Powers interested in naval construction or in naval equipment have signed what is known as the Pact of Paris outlawing war.

As far as I could understand, the two Admirals who have spoken took no notice of the difference in position. They took their minds back to the conditions as they were in 1914, and they showed conclusively that under such conditions force gave neither safety nor security, whereas at the present time we have advanced a very long way in the direction of what is, after all, the aim of all these various Conferences—some form of disarmament. I want to say that I believe the whole country desires a Treaty of Peace as between America and ourselves. I believe there is no doubt whatever in any quarter of the country upon that point. It would be indeed melancholy if there was any such doubt, because how could one contemplate a greater misfortune to this country, or a greater misfortune to the world at large than that doubts and difficulties, wars and suspicions should arise between us and our kinsmen on the other side of the Atlantic Now the Prime Minister, of course, has taken the leading part in carrying out this great policy. I thought that all his countrymen appreciated the results of his journey last autumn to America, and that all of them wished him well, and wished that he should carry out a friendly arrangement between the Americans and ourselves. Now we have got it, now we are discussing it. Apart from the speeches of the noble Viscount and the noble and learned Marquess, the discussion has gone back to the primitive conditions when, unfortunately, the War broke out in 1914, and the test that is taken is that we must have the same sort of false security as we had then, and as was found, in the time of trial, to be quite inadequate.

I should like now, as the hour is getting late, to answer directly the questions put to me by the noble Viscount. In answering those questions I think I shall cover any incidental point that has been raised in the course of debate. Let me at the outset thank the noble Viscount for writing me a letter indicating the three points on which he really wanted information. The first point concerned the number of cruisers and the reduction from seventy to fifty. The second point was that, as he read Article 20, the noble Viscount thought it would be impossible for us to have fifty cruisers of less than sixteen years of age in 1936. The noble Viscount's third question was: What was to be the building policy of the Government with a view to replacing obsolete destroyers and submarines? As regards the reduction from seventy to fifty, there is no doubt whatever that, when the noble Viscount was at Geneva, he was advised by the Board of Admiralty, of which he was the head, that seventy was the minimum of cruisers on which we could safely rely. He asks me why the seventy has been reduced to fifty, and I will give him an answer to that question.

In the first place, conditions have altered as regards what I may call the general peace outlook in the world. He will be the first to admit that the Pact of Paris, for instance, has made a very great difference indeed. The second point is perhaps more important than anything else at the present moment. It is that the Government are acting conscientiously and carefully upon the advice that they have received from the Board of Admiralty. I will read in a moment the actual words that were used by the present First Lord of the Admiralty, but I want to be quite clear. It does not mean necessarily that we take every view that is expressed by our expert advisers; it means that we had that advice, we considered it, we acted upon it on our own responsibility, and I believe that our advisers were satisfied with what we did. The Board of Admiralty are prepared to agree to 50 cruisers as the minimum requirement of the Empire up to the next date for conference and revision, about the year 1936. I need not emphasise, in replying to the noble Viscount, that it is the Board of Admiralty —that is to say, our expert advisers upon this point—who are prepared to agree to 50 cruisers as the minimum requirement of the Empire, not for all time, but until the next date for conference and revision. I hope that this will satisfy the noble Viscount in reply to the question that he asked me upon that point.

I should also like to point out again, as was pointed out by the noble and learned Marquess, that, as part of the agreement in reference to which advice was given, we have Article 21, which allows for alteration under specific conditions and which, if different advice is given at some future time by the Board of Admiralty, leaves the Government open to alter its opinion. I do not think that I can give any further answer upon that point. My answer is: Yes, we have acted upon the advice of the Admiralty and we are satisfied that our national duty regarding safety and security has been amply safeguarded by the opinion that we have received. I can go no further than that assurance, nor could anybody.

I am not quite sure whether the noble Viscount asked me a question about the 8-inch-gun cruisers. These cruisers, as the noble Viscount is aware, were a source of difficulty at Geneva, but the point has been settled. So far as 8-inch-gun cruisers are concerned, there is to be parity between America and ourselves, and Japan is to have a slightly less number. The ratio will be 15:15:12. I am taking the 8-inch-gun 10,000-ton cruisers, which were a matter of dispute at one time. That difficulty has been settled on a basis which is satisfactory to this country, to America and to Japan, and I hope that future discussion and difficulties in that connection may be avoided. I must say a further word or two regarding the 6-inch-gun cruisers. The Treaty allowance, as it stands, is really for replacement only, except that in the case of the United States an allowance is made for the carrying out of long-postponed-cruiser construction to meet the demand for parity with this country. I think no one could possibly object to that, or think it anything but right. This is not a matter of concession but of friendliness and understanding with one another, each appreciating the position of the other in all these matters, and we have behind us the authority and advice of the Board of Admiralty.

The next question that the noble Viscount asked me concerned a technical point, but I am sure that he will understand my answer. Although my explanation may not be very clear, I will try to make it as clear as I can. He asked me: How can we have as many as fifty cruisers of less than sixteen years of age in 1936 when the additional replacement tonnage for cruisers that we are permitted to build under Article 20 of the Treaty is limited to 91,000 tons? The answer to that is that, if you accept those assumptions, we cannot; but the real facts to be considered are these: our life for cruisers, as laid down on many occasions and again the other day in the annual Report on the Navy, is twenty years, and the calculations that we have made are not on the basis of a life of sixteen years, but on the basis of a life of twenty years.

We have done that, not in the way of concession or anything of that kind, but because in the back details and figures of the Admiralty, so far as I have been able to go into them, the twenty years life has always been the basis on which cruisers and the replacement of cruisers has been considered, and the only question about sixteen years is this. Japan, for the purpose of economy and employment, wanted to hasten the period when she would be allowed to replace, and that was hastened by allowing her to take a sixteen years life against a twenty years life; in other words, to replace after sixteen years instead of only after twenty years. That was the liberty they asked for and that was allowed them. It does not really affect the answer to the question which the noble Viscount asked me, which is this, that if you take a twenty years life and not a sixteen years life then the provision for replacement will, I think, be found to be satisfactory. It is necessary to do that. Of course if you take sixteen years as the period you obviously get a much earlier period within which replacement must take place. It is a mere matter of the life of a particular cruiser or the life of cruisers as a whole.

The next question which the noble Viscount asked me about was the construction programme of the future. Of course it is one thing to have liberty to build and replace under certain terms, it is another matter—a question of policy —what to do. So far as policy is concerned, I cannot say absolutely or distinctly what the Government is likely to do in the next six years. I do not think any one could. It depends upon the Estimates brought forward in the House of Commons, upon the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and upon the amount of the grants for the purposes of equipment and rebuilding that we can get from time to time. What I want to say upon that is this: it would be a mistake to suppose that in a country like ours you could delude yourselves by supposing you could make a certain prophecy as regards expenditure upon a matter of this kind. Our intention is, so far as we can look forward—I dare say the noble Viscount and his Party may be in power long before that time—


I agree.


Supposing that is so, the responsibility will be with the noble Viscount and his Party. The responsibility will be with the Government in power for the time being. I can only say that so long as we are the Government in power, with the responsibility upon us, we intend 60 far as we can to work up so that the replacement may be substantially at any rate provided for within the time contemplated in the agreement between the United States and ourselves.

If I may, I will in conclusion summarise what in our view is the general result of the Treaty. I understand that the noble Viscount was not quite sure what that would be. I am not speaking in antagonism to the noble Viscount. It seemed to me, particularly when I heard the speeches from other noble Lords, that the late First Lord of the Admiralty was on substantial points in agreement with us. I do not say that he was entirely in agreement, because as regards one ship and another no two people can possibly be in complete agreement, but in substance he was contented that in order to obtain agreement with America we should make these concessions, which we were asked to make and which we were willing to make, and which in my belief have been more than justified by the creation of friendly feeling between the two countries, which to my mind is infinitely more important than a ship here or a ship there.

Let me sum up what is the conclusion. As regards capital ships, which, after all, is a very important point, I do not think the noble Viscount raised any difficulty. All he asked was: "Why do not you at the same time reduce the size of capital ships, if they are to be built in the future?" The answer is that we could not, and as far as one can foresee it appears to me that by 1936 there will be a general world opinion that the capital ship is in the nature of an archaism, and not the sort of fighting machine wanted under the conditions which will then exist. My answer to the question is that we would have done it if we could, but we could not.


The Americans would not agree.


The Americans would not agree. Would the noble Viscount have broken off negotiations, nine-tenths of which were satisfactory, because the one-tenth could not be obtained? Then there are two other questions which I think I must say a word about. First, the aircraft carriers. I am not sure whether the noble Viscount asked me about them.




Then I will certainly not go into that point, because I assume it is satisfactory to him. I have already dealt with cruisers as completely as I can, except that we are considering arrangements which I hope will be considered as a satisfactory compromise with the French, on the subject of the old controversies about limitation by categories or limitation by global tonnage. As to destroyers, I am not sure that the noble Viscount made any complaint about the provision with regard to them. These are limited for ourselves and the United States to 150,000 tons and for Japan to 103,500 tons, subject to revision under Article 20, to which I have referred. Lastly, as regards submarines, the three Powers are to be limited to 32,700 tons. This involves certain substantial reductions. There is to be a limit upon individual tonnage, and what is more important, there are rules agreed to by all the five Powers for the conduct of submarine warfare. The two noble Admirals who have spoken in this debate will at least realise that the danger of submarines has been diminished, not only as regards quantity but also as regards their use.

I think I have answered specifically all the questions which the noble Viscount asked me on general matters. I do not know whether he agrees with me or not, but I do feel this, that the Board of Admiralty under his control, and the Government which he represented, were far nearer to agreement with the policy of the present Government than they were with the policy outlined to-day by the two noble Admirals, and that of Lord Carson, who advocated nothing except trying to obtain security by force and numbers, which was found in the late War to be futile in the sense of giving real safety and security, which can be sought much better in the direction of peace and concord. In conclusion, let me say that the Government believe they have obtained two great results, safety and security for this country and a splendid friendliness between ourselves and America and Japan. As regards Italy and France, the transaction is not closed. It may be reopened, and I hope that all countries in the world may come in, and that the real nature of the obligations of the Articles of the Covenant may be carried out wholly and freely by all of them.


My Lords, I cannot agree that the noble and learned Lord's description of my attitude as being nearer to that of the Government than that of my noble friends on this side is altogether accurate, and I am afraid he has not given me a great deal of comfort on the actual figures of the cruisers that we are going to have. As I understand it, the Sea Lords agreed to fifty, provided we can have fifty at the end of 1936. He then proceeded to show that we could not.




Yes—except by having a great many old ships while everybody else is allowed to have new ones.


No—twenty years' life.


Then why should not the other countries have twenty years' life for cruisers? It has already been admitted that the Americans have far fewer old ships than we have, and the Japanese too. Why, then, give away our position by altering the life of cruisers to our disadvantage, the result of which would be—a result which I cannot believe is agreed to by the Sea Lords—that we shall have ever so many old ships incapable of equality with the more modern ships which the other countries are allowed to build. The noble and learned Lord has gone on the assumption the whole way through that if something was not agreed to there would be war with America.




The noble and learned Lord said that the result of this is a splendid friendliness between us and America and between us and Japan. It was splendid before, and there was no necessity to make enormous concessions in order to retain their friendship. But the noble and learned Lord's only idea is to paint a lurid picture of some imminent war, and to say that we are to give away everything rather than run the risk of that. That is the whole argument that is put before us. What is said, in effect, is that you must not ask anybody else to give anything. You must not ask America to agree with us about reducing the total tonnage of battleships, but you must give up something to them if they ask you, and you must give up something to Japan if they ask you. That, I am afraid, is the attitude which he has revealed in his speech to-night. I still do not understand how we can possibly fulfil the demands of the Sea Lords that we should have fifty efficient cruisers—and the First Lord himself said that they were to be efficient—in 1936, if you compare them with the modern ships that other countries will have.

I should like to refer to the noble and learned Lord's argument against having 70 cruisers. What it amounted to was that it was not enough, and, therefore, as it was not enough, you had better have none at all.


I said that the acceptance of 70 was quite inconsistent with the arguments of the two noble Admirals, which is quite a different thing.


The two noble Admirals referred to our having had 114 before the War. The noble and learned Lord said that that had proved to be of no use; but the result was that we won the War. I do not know whether that was of any use or not. At any rate, it was enough for us to win the War. It is surely better to have 70, or as many as you can get, than to take an unnecessary risk. When you want to insure your property, if you cannot afford to insure it for its full value you insure it for as much as you can. That is all we are asking in this respect. The noble and learned Lord's argument is that you do not insure at all, or that if you insure, you insure for much less than you can afford to insure for. I must say that I cannot follow that argument.


I should not like the noble Viscount to think that I said that. What I said was quite different. I said, on the responsibility of the Government, advised by the Board of Admiralty, that they thought they would get national safety and national security under these proposals.


Yes, but what I do not understand is why, if we are told that 70 is not really enough, other countries should think it necessary to put forward their requirements for security. They evidently do not take the same view as the noble and learned Lord. They say what they want for their security, but we apparently do not.

Then both the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, and the noble and learned Lord opposite said that we were pledged to disarmament. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said that quite obviously we have kept that pledge. We have been disarming far more than any other country all the time. But who has ever said that we are pledged to be the only country out of the five Powers to disarm? The fault I find with the different parts of this agreement is that we have given away a great deal and got nothing in return from the other Powers, because our negotiators seemed to think it was necessary to get some agreement, and that if we could not get some agreement, however bad, there was some danger of war. I do not believe that a bit. I believe that all the five nations are as friendly as they ever were, and that it was unnecessary to make the surrender that we have made.

I do not know whether we can have some Papers to show what the building programme is to be. There do not seem to be any. The noble and learned Lord said: "We cannot tell what it is going to be until the Estimates; you can never tell." Surely, it is the business of the Government to prepare Estimates for this. They told us before the Conference that there would be further Estimates if we were to have a building programme. How long are we to be kept before we know that? If I withdraw my Motion, I ask that we shall be told within some reasonable time what the building policy is, whether any Estimates will be brought in this year, and what they are going to be. I hope that we shall get at any rate that amount of information. I think the whole country wishes to know, and has the right to know it. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.


My Lords, might I make one explanation, which does not affect this country but might affect outside opinion? As regards the 10,000 ton cruisers I said that the ratios were 15:15:12. In the case of America there is power to build up to eighteen. I should not like any mistake to be made, or for it to be said outside that I had not stated it accurately.


They can get sixteen by laying down the sixteenth in 1933, and the sixteenth is actually completed in 1936.




So it is not even fifteen.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past seven o'clock.