HL Deb 16 June 1937 vol 105 cc632-66

LORD AILWYN rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether consideration will be given to the matter of dual firing in all ships of new construction for His Majesty's Fleet; and, if not, whether they will state the reason for their continued policy of relying exclusively on oil for His Majesty's ships, observing that no adequate supplies of liquid fuel are available in this country or in the Dominions, that the supply of oil from foreign countries is likely to be precarious in war time, both at the source and in transit, and that an inexhaustible supply of coal lies ready to hand in this country—and in the Dominions—alternative use of which would safeguard the mobility of the Fleet in time of war or stress; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, may I crave that indulgence of your Lordships which is always so readily extended to those who, for the first time, address your Lordships' House? In bringing forward the Motion which stands in my name I will be as brief and concise as possible, and being almost entirely without experience of public speaking, and being anxious to stick closely to my argument, I must ask your Lordships' forbearance in the frequent reference that I shall have to make to my notes. I should further like to preface my remarks with the hope and belief that there is nothing in the terms of this Motion that can be thought to be contrary to the public interest in being debated in your Lordships' House, nor in the information for which I have asked that could be deemed in any way improper for the Minister to divulge.

As your Lordships are aware, this is no new question. The subject of oil, its supply and storage, the extraction of oil from coal, and many other kindred subjects, are continually cropping up in the form of question and answer in another place, and are mentioned from time to time in the various Defence debates. I have been unable, however, to trace the record of any actual debate in your Lordships' House on the specific subject that I have thought it right to bring before you to-day. It is an urgent matter, as I see it, the importance of which is well illustrated by the words of Sir Samuel Hoare, the then First Lord of the Admiralty, when he stated a little over a year ago: The problem of fuel for the Navy is one of the most urgent of all defence problems, and I will on no account ignore the possibility of a return to coal bunkers. I believe it to be true that a considerable body of opinion in this country is not a little exercised over the safeguarding of the fuel supply of His Majesty's ships in time of war. As is well known to your Lordships, the Meet of to-day is to all intents and purposes exclusively oil-fired. It is equally well known that no oil, or, to be precise, only a negligible quantity of oil, is available in this country or in any of the Dominions, and every ton of this fuel has to be brought from overseas to this country and to the Dominions. This, in time of war, means a very extensive convoy system to ensure the safe arrival of the large number of tankers employed on the transport of this lifeblood of the Navy.

Your Lordships will appreciate that I am only dealing with the Navy in the course of these remarks, but you will not be unmindful of the fact that a large proportion of the Mercantile Marine, about 50 per cent., not to mention the various land industries, are dependent upon an assured supply of oil for their functioning. I am also leaving entirely out of the question to-day the subject of supplies for our largely increased and increasing Air Force. Our oil import figures are interesting and illuminating, showing as they do a steadily increasing annual consumption of oil in this country. In 1914 we imported 2,500,000 tons of oil, in 1918 we imported 5,500,000, in 1930 we imported 8,750,000, in 1935 a total of 11,250,000, and in 1936 a fraction under 12,000,000 tons of oil. With this enormous and ever-increasing consumption it will be crystal-clear that, however immense a reserve of oil can be built up in this country and in the Dominions, there will always be the inescapable necessity of assuring an uninterrupted flow of oil from the source of supply to this country and the Dominions.

When one remembers how hard put to it we were in the Great War to protect the transport of our food supplies and the vast number of vessels of all categories employed on escort and convoy duties in this connection, the question of the additional protection of the oil tankers under present-day conditions is one concerning which it is very necessary to have some definite assurance. The situation, however, is not as comparatively simple and clear-cut as that. Assuming that safe transport can be assured once the tankers are full and on the way to their destination—a big assumption, I submit, but one which I will not pursue further to-day—what of the actual source of supply? I will not weary your Lordships with too many statistics, but it is desirable to quote a few essential figures in order to establish the point I wish to make. The following figures, giving the world production of oil in 1936, are quoted from the Petroleum Times of May 1, 1937:—The United States, 61.6 per cent.; Russia, 10.6 per cent.; Venezuela, 8.6 per cent.; Rumania, 3.6 per cent.; Iran (Persia), 3.2 per cent.; the Dutch Indies, 2.8 per cent.; Mexico, 2.3 per cent.; Iraq, 1.6 per cent.; Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Trinidad, British India, British. Borneo and Canada, all less than 1 per cent.; other countries not specified, 1.2 per cent. Summarising those figures, we see that the British Empire produced 1.6 per cent. of the world's production of oil in 1936.

There is one further set of figures which I will venture to quote, taken from the same organ, the Petroleum Times, of February 27 of this year. They refer to the consigning countries supplying the United Kingdom's oil imports for 1936. The Dutch West Indies supplied 35.8 per cent.—


East Indies.


The Dutch West Indies; and I should like in passing to remark that the Dutch West Indies produce no crude oil themselves at all; they are merely large refineries where oil, almost entirely from Venezuela and a little from Colombia, is refined, and from which it is re-exported. Iran (Persia) supplied 18.6 per cent.; the United States, 10 per cent.; Rumania, 6.6 per cent.; Mexico, 6.3 per cent.; Iraq, 5.1 per cent.; British West Indies, 4.7 per cent.; Peru, 2.8 per cent.; Russia, 2.7 per cent.; Venezuela, 2.2. per cent.; other British countries, 0.9 per cent.; Dutch East Indies, 0.5 per cent.; all other countries, 3.8 per cent. A summary of those figures shows that 5.6 per cent. of our oil imports in 1936 came from Empire sources, the remaining 99.4 per cent. from foreign countries. We also see that in 1936 62 per cent. of our oil emanated from Transatlantic countries, 34 per cent. from Eastern Europe and the Far East, and 4 per cent. from unspecified sources.

Since we have no home production to meet the needs of the Navy, our ability to provide the necessary oil is measured by the possibility of purchasing from those foreign countries which are willing to sell. But the disturbing factor of the whole situation of our oil supplies is that they are liable in time of war to interruption at the source. Everything depends, of course, on the grouping of belligerents, but when one visualises such possibilities as the blocking of the Suez Canal and the cutting of the pipe lines from Iraq and Iran—the latter only too easily effected by a few ill-disposed persons—and when the situation is further aggravated by the possible attitude of America on the question of supplies of oil to belligerents, and by the refortification of the Dardanelles, not to mention the not too healthy passage through the Mediterranean to-day, it is difficult not to feel apprehensive in the event of the curse of war once more falling upon us.

And a further cause of disquiet is the financial aspect. In the Great War, when comparatively little oil was used, the price rose to £20 per ton. I know of an individual case where one of His Majesty's ships had to pay no less than £32 per ton. Is it unreasonable to suppose that, with the enormous quantity of tonnage and machinery throughout the world now dependent upon liquid fuel, the price might well be forced up to £40 a ton? So we arrive at the situation where, should war come, the Fleet is dependent on foreign fuel that, firstly, may be interrupted at the source; secondly, has to be safely conducted in tankers under convoy; and thirdly, may cripple the country's finances. Any one of these conditions is serious; I do not think I shall be accused of using extravagant language if I say that the combination of the three is definitely alarming. Is it wise under such conditions to rely exclusively for the motive power of the Fleet on this liquid fuel?

Your Lordships will be well aware of the campaign which has been waged for some considerable time in certain quarters to get the Fleet back to coal firing. The Admiralty have repeatedly made it clear that such a proposition is unthinkable. The late Prime Minister has stated that: "It is the settled policy of the Government to rely on oil fuel." But I am constrained to ask: Is it wise to rely solely and exclusively upon oil fuel, when, as I have attempted to show, the supply may be so precarious in war time? Here in our own shores, as well as in those of the Dominions, lies an inexhaustible stock of coal, safe from all war risks and ready to hand at any moment as an alternative fuel for His Majesty's ships. Would it not be wiser to pause and reconsider the question of building all new ships for dual firing? The exclusively oil-fired warship has probably as much as 50 per cent. greater mobility than an exclusively coal-fired ship, a factor which those who favour the oiler evidently imagine is not appreciated by those who recommend the dual-fired ship. On the contrary, the dual-fired ship is recommended largely because of the fact that the foreign oil suppliers appreciate the superiority of oil and this will be a cardinal factor in their strategic scheme of endeavouring to keep it from us.

Your Lordships will remember that before and during the War His Majesty's ships were built on a dual-firing system—a system based on primary coal and auxiliary oil—and one that, compared with present-day developments of machinery adjustments, was primitive in the extreme. To-day there is no obstacle in the way of building an efficient dual-fired warship. It would not be required to function on coal unless and until the oil supply became insufficient. The outstanding point is that with dual-firing the Fleet could burn coal at cruising speed and maintain its freedom of movement whatever complications arose in the matter of liquid fuel supply. We have got to be realists on this question. If our security as a nation and as an Empire is menaced by our exclusive reliance on foreign oil as the motive power of the Fleet—as I maintain that it is—then to discard the dual-tired warship on the assumption that it cannot match the exclusively oil-fired enemy ship, without the most demonstrable definite proof is, I Submit, little short of madness. It means that we are hazarding the Empire's future on a specialised type of engine, the vital Motive power of which is in the hands of the foreigner, who may be our enemy in war time. It is inconceivable, of course, that dangers so apparent and issues so vital have not been made the subject of the most exhaustive examination by those who control our destinies in such matters, but I wish to stress that the position, as I see it, is so serious as to demand far more definite evidence than has yet been given that in sacrificing the immense advantages of an alternative fuel, in the shape of Empire coal, for this exclusive reliance on foreign oil, we are not, as many experts believe, committing national suicide.

One of our most distinguished admirals, Sir Howard Kelly, recently retired, with long arid intimate experience of squadron and fleet command, in the course of a letter which he wrote recently to the Daily Telegraph, used these words: If we want to become once again the masters of our own fate, free from the fetters Of foreign oil control, we must develop the coal habit. Every necessary quality for a man-of-war can be obtained in a vessel burning the combination of coal and oil, and there is no reason or excuse to prevent us from returning to this well-tried method. I tender my apologies to the noble Earl who will be replying for the Government for not having given him longer notice of a particular point which I wish to bring forward, but it is only two hours ago that I picked up a paper called the Shipping World, of to-day's date, June 16, and in it I read: When, on behalf of the Minister of Co-ordination of Defence, Lord Apsley inaugurated the first attempt of the Anglo-American Oil Company to find oil in Great Britain, at Grove Hill, in Sussex, he is reported to have made a most remarkable statement. Emphasising that the promotion of oil production in this country for defence purposes was of vast importance, he said that the Navy was the greatest consumer of oil, but added that if supplies were cut off, it could still manage to operate on coal. There is of course no truth whatever in this statement. That is the remark of the paper. It goes on to say: The Admiralty is not infallible and its present fuel policy may be dangerously wrong. That is a matter of opinion, but nothing should be said by a Government spokesman to mislead the public into believing that the Fleet can in an emergency operate on coal. I turned to find the original report of this speech, and found it was in The Times of June 5. The Times is not in the habit of misquoting, and what I have just said is repeated word for word in The Times.

But the report adds that Lord Apsley proceeded to say: It would be an enormous advantage to Great Britain if oil could be found in appreciable quantities at home. It would relieve the Government of great expenditure in the way of creating underground storage, which, after all, might not be safe against armour-piercing bombs with delayed fuses, and in arranging for the development of fast tankers which might have to be submersible in order to evade the vigilance of enemy scouts. I submit that it would appear that the Government are in any case conscious of the seriousness of the situation if they are visualising the building of submersible tankers to bring our oil. I am sure that the noble Earl will be able to give us an assurance that Lord Apsley's reported statement, that the Fleet was able to operate on coal to-day, was a definite mistake.

I have endeavoured to condense my remarks into the smallest possible compass. I could wish that some noble Lord carrying a far heavier broadside than myself had raised this question. The subject is one that clearly could be elaborated very considerably, and I hope that some noble Lord who may follow me will further develop the argument. I have not even touched on the important subject of the protection afforded to ships by the presence of coal in their bunkers. I have not referred to the restricted movements imposed on the Fleet in peace time through the imperative necessity of conserving our oil supplies, nor to the important point that Sir John Latta makes in his pamphlet entitled "British Bondage to Alien Oil," when he says in a letter to Mr. Baldwin, as he then was, written a year or two ago, that the incorporation of alternative fuelling in our ships would give us bargaining power with the oil monopolists—an incontestible argument, I submit, the importance of which it would be difficult to overestimate. But I hope I have said enough to convince your Lordships of the urgent importance of this matter. Time is getting on. New ships are being laid down. The expansion of the Fleet is in full blast. May I express the hope that the noble Earl will give us the assurance that the Government will give immediate further consideration to this urgent matter? I beg to move.


My Lords, I am sure I am expressing your Lordships' opinion when I congratulate the noble Lord on his very clear and carefully documented speech, of which the matter and substance and manner were pleasing to your Lordships. Perhaps I may be so bold as to say that I hope we shall hear the noble Lord more often—in fact, I should like to see him change sides. This matter of returning to coal, either completely or in the manner suggested by the noble Lord, has been pursued and explored for many years by honourable friends of mine in another place who represent the mining divisions and, very naturally, want to encourage and stimulate the use of coal in every way. They have been very fervent advocates of the policy now fathered by the noble Lord, and it is difficult to withhold sympathy from that point of view. But they are always up against the objections of the Naval Staff, and those apply also to dual firing.

I have spent many happy hours in peace time coaling ship. We used to make it a kind of sporting competition, and the experts who could devise a system of quick coaling earned the gratitude of all their shipmates. But in war time it was a terrible nuisance—the noble Earl, Lord Howe, will bear me out—especially in the battle cruisers, when they had to keep continually filling up their bunkers, and they were practically out of action during coaling time. When warships are in harbour they are liable to be menaced by air attack, and a warship that is taking coal is in a difficult position in which to defend herself; whereas if she uses oil she can at any rate fight her anti-aircraft guns. I might also remind your Lordships that our two battle cruisers at the Falkland Islands during the War were actually caught by Admiral von Spee's ships, the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau," when coaling, and if only the Germans had had the initiative to dash straight in the British battle cruisers would have been in a very difficult situation altogether.

That is the case with regard to the Admiralty; and from the point of view of naval efficiency, in spite of the fact that you get extra protection, at any rate from horizontal fire, by having coal bunkers along your sides, the naval arguments seem very, very strong, and are likely to remain so. However much we may regret it, there it is, and I cannot see this Government, or any other Government, overriding the Board of Admiralty on a question of that kind. But I think that there is in any case a great deal to be said with regard to our vulnerability as long as we are dependent on overseas supplies, and I would point out that, even if we adopted the policy that the noble Lord advocates to-day, practically our whole Fleet now is oil burning and only the new ships, I presume, would be engined for dual firing.

I would make only one more plea, and I have been making it now for years in one House of Parliament or the other: that is for storing a reserve of oil in this country. It is not necessary to store it underground at all. Heavy oil fuel is not vulnerable to fire. Indeed, your modern tank for this purpose is built with a kind of saucer-shaped cavity round it, and if it is hit by a bomb the oil simply escapes into the cavity and is not lost. It is very difficult to set heavy oil on fire with bombs, and the tanks can be well scattered up and down the country. Even if some of them are damaged by air attack there will be others in other districts. I have not the figures of the cost with me, but I have given them before. For the cost of a couple of "Dreadnought" battleships you could supply this country with a year's reserve of oil. I think you would have to look into the question of extra cracking plant, and there some subsidy might be necessary, but that is not a very great question, though an important one. You would have to have your cracking plant, of course, well away from the most vulnerable parts of the country. I think that has been taken care of to a certain extent already. But if you go in for oil storage on a large scale extra cracking plant will be needed.

I hope the Government are doing all they can, as successive Governments have promised to do, to stimulate the extraction of oil from coal in our own country. I know a great deal has been done, and a great deal still could be done. I personally would like to see legislation in this country to prevent the burning of raw coal in the domestic grate and in the home altogether. New York is a smokeless City now, because the anthracite interests, I believe, persuaded the local government to prohibit the burning of raw coal. Well, we could do the same thing here in the interests of the extraction of oil from coal, so as to utilise the residual fuel, and thus add to the health and beauty of the countryside.

The last suggestion I would make is this, that there are great expenditures going on at the present time in oil boring. The noble Lord referred to a curious speech made by somebody purporting to speak for the Government, in which there was a lot of nonsense about submersible tankers. It is obvious, when people talk about such things, they are either being intentionally misleading as a matter of jesting or they do not know what they are talking about. The information I have is that, geologically, there is a chance of considerable oil supplies being found below our own land, and I suggest that if the present efforts in Hampshire and elsewhere are not fruitful we should not despair immediately. Until all the likely areas have been drilled, and deep drilled, as you can do with modern methods, we should be ill-advised to give up the effort to find natural oil below our own surface. I apologise to your Lordships if, for special reasons, I cannot wait to hear the further reply by the noble Lord, but I should like on behalf of those of my Party who take a special interest in the coal-mining industry to thank him for his gallant efforts on behalf of the British coal-miners.


My Lords, I shall not intervene for more than a few moments before we hear the noble Earl, Lord Howe, whom we are glad to see back in his place after his serious accident; but I should like to say a word or two in connection with the speech to which we have just listened from the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn. Many of us knew his father both in another place and in this House, and I am quite sure that everyone who listened to the noble Lord's speech recognised that his ability to present a case clearly, concisely, and ably was such that it was really unnecessary for him to ask the indulgence of the House which, of course, is always given to individuals who address it for the first time. His speech has been an important and interesting one. We may, indeed, congratulate him on his first utterance in this House and hope often to hear him again. Something like eighteen years ago I went to America to ascertain for myself how far it was necessary in this country to convert, if we could, our coal into oil fuel. I was satisfied, just after the War, that if the same increase was going on in the consumption of oil throughout the world as was then the case, this country would probably find, in about twenty-five years, a very great shortage of oil, and it was very important for our Mercantile Marine as well as for our Admiralty to realise that they must increasingly rely upon coal fuel unless we were able to convert our own coal into oil. We are doing something in that direction, but it is a slow process and it is a very expensive process.

As I have said in this House more than once, if the Government would only realise that we can produce our own oil from our own coal, and put down the money, it can be done and we should be absolutely independent of sources of fuel supply in other countries. That is the direction in which they ought to look rather than, possibly, at this moment try to do without oil for our Admiralty. I know the importance of our naval vessels being able to leave port rapidly and get up power, and the argument in favour of oil fuel as compared with coal. The Coal Utilisation Council, of which I am a member, has given a great deal of attention to this subject, and we are satisfied that, with the prices as they have been existing in the past, it is in the interests of this country to encourage the use of coal rather than oil. It is of course a financial matter, which every ship-owner has to look into, whether he is going to burn coal or oil. It is a different matter for the Navy, and I realise that at the present moment it would be very difficult for the Navy to return imme- diately to coal as compared with oil. But it is a question that really wants to be investigated. I welcome very much the speech of the noble Lord who has introduced the matter and I shall be very interested to hear what the reply of the Government may be, because I think he has established a prima facie case.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord who introduced this Motion will not look upon it as impertinence if I say how delighted I was personally with his speech and how delighted I am also to think he has brought this very important question before your Lordships' House. The question of oil or coal for the Navy is obviously one which is beset by the greatest possible difficulty in many directions, and I feel somewhat alarmed at the prospect of speaking on it this afternoon. I could wish that others of your Lordships' House who are here were going to speak instead of me and were going to make the case for oil that I propose to endeavour to do. We have heard a lot about the disadvantages of oil this afternoon and the advantages of coal, but, if your Lordships will allow me, I should like to place a few facts before you which I know are facts that weigh with the Admiralty and with the Naval Staff and have decided them in the direction of oil.

I should like to take your Lordships back to about the year 1908. In or about that year we had just built one series of destroyers known as the "Tribal" class, one of the biggest classes we had built up to that time, and they were built to burn oil fuel exclusively. Soon after they were built there were doubts in people's minds as to whether we should be able to get enough oil, whether it was a good thing to have our ships running exclusively on oil, and whether it would not be wise to have some burning oil and some burning coal. So the "Beagle" class was built to burn coal. The result of that experiment was that every destroyer we have built since that time, after the "Acorn" class, has been built to burn oil fuel alone. Having seen something of the work of the flotillas with the Grand Fleet during the late War, I cannot understand how anybody thinks it would be possible to run the flotillas on either coal alone or on coal and oil. In the case of the "Beagle" and "Acorn" classes to which I referred, the "Acorn" class were about the same size, but they were built to carry a superior armament. As a matter of fact they were about 20 per cent. less displacement, they cost 16 per cent. less, they were 1½ knots faster, and they could hold their maximum speed as long as their oil lasted. That is a specific case of two different classes of ship.

That is not the only thing about oil. It has a calorific value greater than that of coal. Not only does it take up less space, but its calorific value is 1.3 or 1.4 times that of coal per ton. Then, again, oil is always uniform in quality, or approximately so. It does not deteriorate with storage, and it produces no ash. Coal is exactly the opposite. I apologise to your Lordships for placing these facts before you, which must be well known to most members of the House, but they are not known to people at large. Coal is not uniform in quality, even Welsh coal; it deteriorates with storage, even the best of it, and it does contain a lot of ash. Coal requires for storage on board ship 40 to 43 cubic feet per ton. A ton of oil requires about 38 cubic feet. With oil bunkers you can complete the storage up to about 95 per cent., whereas with coal bunkers you cannot complete up to anything like that, because you have to allow room for the trimmers to get inside and so forth.

It has been suggested by many people that pulverised fuel is an alternative, but pulverised fuel, I am told, makes a very good explosive under certain conditions and therefore is very unsuitable. Then, again, it has to be stored in a safe way in a bunker, and the special way of storing it means that a very much longer time is taken in storing it, and it takes up very much more room. It takes up 55 or 60 cubic feet per ton as against the 40 cubic feet in the case of coal or 38 in the case of oil. You cannot pulverise fuel on board because, if you do, you have to have an extra weight of machinery and to have a place to put that machinery in. Then in coal-burning ships of great endurance you have to have your bunkers in most inaccessible positions. A number of our coal-burning ships had reserve coal supply bunkers, and during the War they never used those bunkers once. It became absolutely impossible to do so. They could not get the coal out, and if they did get it out it was almost impossible to get it back again. If the ship wanted to refuel her reserve bunkers it became a matter of the greatest difficulty. The men were absolutely fagged out, and it was almost impossible for them to get coal in or get it out again.

Another point is this. As your Lordships all know, warships are extensively subdivided and you have to get from one compartment to mother easily, going through a watertight door. The moment you have a coal-burning ship you have to have a number of holes in your bulkheads, and a large number of watertight doors; and every time you have an opening of any sort in the bulkheads it is a very serious matter in the Navy because there is all the more opportunity for the bulkheads to leak. Again in a warship—it does not operate to anything like the same extent in a merchant ship—the moment it is fitted to burn coal, you have to have hatches through protective decks, and openings through all parts, in fact, from the upper deck, and that inevitably has the effect of weakening the structure of the ship to a certain extent. That is because you must have these rather important and vulnerable openings everywhere. I think it would probably be absolutely impossible to design a warship which would have an equal amount of coal for all the furnaces of that ship. I could give your Lordships figures but I do not want to weary you with unnecessary facts. I can give figures with regard to certain ships, to show that the coal supply for some of the furnaces is very much greater than it is for other furnaces on board a warship. That, of course, has a very bad effect upon her steaming capacity.

It has been said that coal adds a protective quality to a warship. That has never been absolutely proved. I believe I am right in saying that. It is theory. But a good deal depends upon the state of the bunkers and a good deal depends also upon how much trimming has had to go on, whether the upper bunkers have been broken down and whether those below are in fact empty, and what exactly is going on. Your Lordships will remember that I alluded to watertight doors. It is not much of a help to a warship if she gets one bunker flooded and she cannot close the watertight door communicating with another bunker because that door is choked with coal. That does happen and it is not likely to increase the defensive qualities of the ship. It has been suggested that a ship called the "Mark borough" was torpedoed in her bunker, and that the bunker saved the ship. I believe that in fact she was not struck in her coal bunker, but in another compartment. Then as to fueling ships, when ships come into harbour they must refuel at the earliest possible moment. If they are oil-burning ships they will be able to refuel about three times as quickly as they would do if they were burning coal. Not only that, but when you coal ship, as the noble Lord who spoke for the Opposition pointed out, the whole ship's company has to take a hand in the job—I have done it myself many a time—and at the end of it the whole ship is in a frightful state of filth and has to be cleaned. Moreover, practically the entire ship's company are absolutely fagged out. You may want to ask them to go to sea, and if that is so you will certainly not get the best out of them when they have been working under those conditions.

It has been suggested this afternoon that you can have dual-fired ships. The noble Lord who brought forward the Motion suggested dual firing. I should like to give your Lordships actual figures for two different ships so that you will be able to see the advantages or disadvantages. Take the case of H.M.S. "Tiger," one of our battle cruisers during the late War. She has, unfortunately, been destroyed under the provisions of one of the numerous naval treaties. She was a magnificent ship. H.M.S. "Tiger" had a shaft horse-power of 108,000 and she required an engine room complement of 600 men. She was dual fired, burning coal and oil. Then there is H.M.S. "Hood," which many of your Lordships saw the other day at the Naval Review. Everybody in the House knows of H.M.S. "Hood." It has something like 144,000 shaft horse-power and an engine room complement of 300 men. That shows the difference. The "Hood" is riot twice as big a ship as the "Marlborough," but is a considerably larger ship, and from the figures I have given your Lordships will see that she is a very much more powerful ship. If the Navy had to burn coal instead of oil, I believe I am right in saying that you would have to increase the personnel of the Navy by something like 15,000 men, and it would probably cost you about £30,000,000. Those are the figures which have been given publicly from time to time.

Another advantage with regard to oil is that it is smokeless. Any of your Lordships who served in the Grand Fleet during the late War will remember the coal-burning ships and the great pall of smoke that used to come along with them very often when they had the wind astern. It was like a sort of fog. With oil-burning ships, unless you want the smoke, you do not get it. You may want smoke badly sometimes as being something of great tactical value, and therefore that is another advantage of oil. A further advantage of oil as against coal is that you can increase speed almost instantaneously. You do not have to wait and work up speed as with a coal-burning ship.

The noble Lord in introducing this Motion pointed out to us the danger to oilers when you are proceeding to fuel a fleet. The question I should like to ask him is this: Have they really decided where our next war is going to be? I gathered from the noble Lord's speech, to which I listened with close attention, that his idea is that the next war will be a European war. But it need not necessarily be a European war. Oil which is suitable for the Navy is to be found all over the world, but the only coal really suitable for the Navy is found in Wales. I have been told that coal that could be burnt in His Majesty's ships in an emergency is to be found in other parts of the world, but I should be very sorry to be in any ship that had to burn it. Colliers going from Welsh ports to a fleet in the East or in the West, or wherever it might happen to be in another war, would be just as much subject to attack, and would require convoy, just as much as oilers. I cannot see much advantage to be gained.

It is perfectly true that we do not, at the moment, produce oil in this country, and I hope that the Government will give some sort of answer to the noble Lord who spoke from the Opposition Benches with regard to the urgent need for storage of fuel. I believe that to be fundamental. There should be a vast increase in our capacity for storing oil. I hope also that it will be found possible to do something as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, who spoke with all his knowledge just now, in the matter of the production of oil from coal. I have always understood that there are great difficulties in the way of this and that it costs a lot of money, but although it may not be economic from the commercial point of view need we consider that when it is a question of the efficiency of the Navy? If it is possible to produce appreciable quantities of oil from coal would it not be a very good investment on the part of His Majesty's Government to assist that production by the various processes now in existence?

Anyhow, I hope that the facts which I have ventured to put before your Lordships may be considered. We do not want to make a mistake. It is very easy to put up a case on imperfect knowledge of the facts—the sort of imperfect knowledge available to the ordinary layman like myself—and I think that in this matter we should trust the Naval Staff. We do not want to send ships to sea inferior to ships that they may have to meet, and if we are to have treaty limitations on the size of warships, I hope it will be remembered that increased weight and space taken up by fuel will probably mean the cutting down of armaments, and our ships are already weakly armed in the opinion of many people. Therefore, I hope we shall trust our Naval Staff, who alone know all the facts. When all the facts are considered I think there is really only one conclusion.


My Lords, I should like to support the technical points brought forward by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and I should like also to congratulate the noble Lord who opened this debate on his excellent and informative maiden speech. I hope he will bear with me if I have to differ from him on certain essential points. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred at the end of his speech to the increase in weight in ships if coal was used. There can be no shadow of doubt about that: If there is coal firing of ships it is absolutely necessary to increase the weight of plant and machinery. As soon as that is done we come up against the very important problem touched upon by the noble Earl, and that is the question of limitation of the size of capital ships. If that size is limited by treaty it means that any increase in weight must mean a decrease in offensive and defensive arma- ments, in shells and torpedoes, in armour and other equipment. Let us suppose that His Majesty's Navy is fitted with dual firing and that equal efficiency can be obtained by the use of both fuels. I cannot help feeling that a tendency might arise to foster one fuel rather than another, and that in the case of oil fuel our plans for the defence of its supply and of its sources and transit might not be so extensive as they might have been if we had not relied on coal.

Another point to be considered is that if we relied on coal we might be faced with a coal strike at a critical moment and the Navy would be deprived of essential fuel. For my part, I think we should concentrate on protecting our oil supplies, and I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating His Majesty's Government on the steps they have taken to foster the production of fuel oil from coal in this country. We must have oil for our aircraft and other mechanical units, and the use of oil in the Navy has one great advantage, which I think has not been mentioned so far, that a fleet car, be fuelled at sea with oil. That is not a practical proposition with coal, and it seems to me a very great advantage. Perhaps I. might be permitted to suggest to His Majesty's Government that they might establish a series of shadow production plants for oil, or even one such production plant, which in the event of emergency might be put into production and supply the necessary oil for the Navy. I do not know whether that is a practical possibility but I am given to understand that it is. I am assured by one of the highest authorities that the technical difficulties in producing oil from coal have been practically overcome and that it is now merely an economic question.

In fact, I world go so far as to say that if the present duties on imported oil were increased sufficiently, all the oil required by His Majesty's Fleet could be obtained from coal in this country. The oil produced by the low temperature carbonisation process is entirely suitable for ships. It was tried in His Majesty's Ship "Westminster" in 1932 and proved very satisfactory. Your Lordships no doubt have seen the report that Germany expects to be independent in the matter of oil fuel supplies by 1939, and that position has been brought about very largely by the judicious use of import duties. There are many advantages in producing oil from coal in this country. Perhaps I may be allowed to mention one or two. There would be far less work for the Navy to do in convoying tankers and therefore more ships would be available for protecting foodstuffs in transit. Again, more work would be given to the mining industry and we should have to spend far less on buying oil from abroad.

There is one other point which I should like to bring before your Lordships and that is the question of fuel oil storage. I suggest that a number of underground storage depots should be constructed in open country far away from railways, or waterways, or anything that would give aircraft the possibility of locating them. The area in which such a depot was established could be grown over with grass and trees and would look perfectly normal, so that from the air nothing at all would be revealed. These underground depots could be connected with the coast by pipelines. Such a scheme might cost £20,000,000, but we are spending £100,000,000 on roads and I cannot help feeling that an expenditure of £20,000,000 on preserving the fuel supply in case of war would be a very good investment. I hope that His Majesty's Government have something of this kind in mind and that they will give consideration to it.


My Lords, I want to intervene in this debate for a very few minutes only because the technical details of this question are far beyond the scope of my knowledge. I feel that we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord who raised the subject this afternoon, because if public anxiety is to be allayed at this very important time in the reconstruction of our Fleet it is only right that this question should be ventilated before we have gone too far in the complete rebuilding of the Royal Navy. There is no doubt at all that oil is far superior in every way to coal as a fuel. As several noble Lords have said, the mobility that it gives, the economy in space and weight of machinery, and many other technical advantages that it has over coal make this superiority quite obvious. I well remember having drilled into me as a junior officer all the advantages of oil over coal, and I have not, like some other noble Lords here, forgotten that lesson.

One argument with which the noble Lord opposite, Lord Strabolgi, and the noble Earl below me made much play to-day was that refuelling a ship or fleet with coal made it very vulnerable through delaying it in port and exhausting the men by continual coaling. I would remind those two noble Lords of the vast improvements that have been made in methods of handling coal. For instance, if coal were used in ships it would all be sized, and the new pneumatic loading plants would greatly decrease that disadvantage. But I am intervening at this moment to put a few points concerning the broader aspect of this question.

The first point—several noble Lords have mentioned it—concerns the limitations that are imposed upon us by the Washington and London Naval Treaties. It was natural that in attempting to limit the size of navies by international agreement the first obvious limitation was that of the size of ships within each class. Once those sizes were limited, the vastly superior qualities of oil obliged us to use it, and very naturally the nations which had oil supplies at hand were only too ready to agree upon the limitations in those classes. Therefore have we, who have to import all our supplies, not rather fallen into a trap in all these years? At this moment in our history, when so much depends upon the rebuilding of our Fleet as our first line of defence, would it be possible, if the position became so serious that the Navy thought we should free ourselves of these limitations, to inform other nations that if they felt so inclined they could increase their dimensions to cover coal bunkers? Moreover, if a thing which at the moment may be thought impracticable were ever to come to pass, and through encouragement given to our engineers and shipbuilders an efficient dual-fired ship were constructed, we should then at least be partially independent of oil.

Even though it is glibly said that our oil supplies come from all over the world, yet, as the noble Lord who moved the Motion pointed out, less than 6 per cent. of the world's natural petroleum is found within the British Empire. We derive the rest of our supplies mainly from the East, Persia, Russia and Rumania; and from the West, the United States of America and the Dutch West Indies. Taking the supply from the East first, surely the position in the Mediterranean has now so altered as to make it uncertain whether we could count on supplies coming through, as they would have to run the gauntlet in the confined space of that sea. This would mean that we should be compelled to send our supplies round the Cape, and the protection of the Navy would be required over long stretches of that route. This is an unhappy prospect which was not faced in the last War. On the Western side, of course, the situation is not so gloomy. Nevertheless, we should have, as the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, said, to rely upon the willingness of foreign countries to supply us and we should have to accept whatever terms they wanted to dictate to us.

In each of these cases there seems to be a focal point on the route through which the supplies come—that is to say, round the Cape from the East, and via the Gulf of Mexico from the Dutch West Indies, Mexico and the United States of America. It is all too clear that nations possessing oil are becoming conscious of their powers; and not only that, but hostile submarines could operate greatly to our detriment at these focal points. In the Great War Allied shipping was sunk as far away as just off New York. Surely, then, a long-range submarine, perhaps fitted with aircraft, would constitute a very grave menace to our supplies at these points.

I now come to my second point. If it were possible to construct a dual-fired ship which, if need be, could fall back on her second method of mobility, then that surely would act as a deterrent against any prospective enemy concentrating an attack upon the two focal points which I have just mentioned. That is to say, I believe that the mere fact of giving our Fleet a mobility not entirely dependent upon oil would deprive the enemy of the very strong incentive which they have under existing conditions of making a special effort to stop our oil supplies at these points. Thirdly, even though the Admiralty appear to have made up their minds so firmly on the policy of using only oil, are the Government sure that it is wise not to give encouragement to engineers and shipbuilders who might attempt to produce plans for a dual-fired ship? As I see it, the Admiralty are so sure that their policy is the only policy that they have given the impression to shipbuilders that it is useless for them to attempt to produce plans for a dual-fired ship, and thus have almost completely checked the further advance, or attempted advance, of progress in that direction.

Surely this is a shortsighted policy and far from being in the best interests of the country, especially when one considers the amazing advances continually being made in the design of new machinery and the development of new processes. In any case, are we approaching the question in the right way if we despair of a satisfactory solution of it simply because there are—even though admittedly serious—technical difficulties in the way? I cannot help feeling that the nation is being exposed to dangers by this attitude of the Admiralty, and especially by its effect on the Mercantile Marine. Over 50 per cent. of the ships of the Mercantile Marine are now driven by Diesel engines requiring oil fuel, whereas in 1914 less than 3 per cent. were using oil. At the same time the Army and the Royal Air Force require a correspondingly greater supply. Does it not seem that we are risking everything by making oil the only fuel in the Navy?

A noble Lord said he believed that by 1939 Germany's production of liquid fuel from coal, by the process of hydrogenation and the more recent Fischer-Tropsche process, would make her self sufficient for her needs. Italy is also well advanced in this direction, and I believe, as he said, that the low temperature compression process in this country has proved itself to be economically successful, as well as a great asset to the coal industry. It would therefore seem to be only common sense for our Government to give even greater encouragement than has been given in the past to the production of oil from coal, as well as to exploring the possibilities of dual-firing. I am aware that the Government feel that probably the most economical method of protecting our supplies is to fit huge storage tanks not only in this country but in every part of the Empire, so that a colossal reserve is thereby ensured, but I feel that if the Government could give an assurance that they are taking into consideration these other points that I have mentioned they would do much to allay public anxiety, and add to our national security.


My Lords, every speaker with the exception of Lord Gainford has, I believe, had the privilege of serving in His Majesty's Navy, and I suggest that, possibly in consequence of this, the general tone of the debate has taken a perhaps too narrow line as between the respective merits of coal and oil fuel. The noble Lord who introduced this Motion, I suggest, meant it to be of decidedly wider implication, and it is along this line that I propose to speak during the very few minutes for which I shall inflict myself upon your Lordships' House. I am sure that Lord Ailwyn quite agrees with all that has been said about the advantages of oil fuel, especially from the point of view of convenience, but I would stress a point which he stressed, and which I think was not sufficiently taken up. Are we certain that in the future we are going to be able to get oil fuel for our ships, without which they are of course entirely useless? As the noble Lord said, our oil supplies for all practical purposes come from foreign countries a very long way off, and even an antiquated coal-burning ship, with her bunkers full, is more useful for protecting our commerce than the most modern oil-burning vessel with no oil on which to run.

This question is one which I suggest goes further than a mere debate as to the relative merits of two systems. It involves our whole national security, and many Departments of State besides the Admiralty, because we have to consider what would happen if by any mischance full supplies of oil were unable to be delivered to our ships, in time of war, as and when required. It is still a matter of complete uncertainty whether there is any appreciable quantity of oil to be found in this country, and although, as has been said, there have been great strides forward in the production of oil from coal, I do not think we can be certain that enough progress has been made to ensure that a sufficient supply will be obtainable from that source in the next few years. Lord Teynham suggested that it would be a great incentive to the production of oil in this country if a heavier duty were placed upon imported oil, but at the same time we must bear in mind that any such tax would fall heavily upon, and be bitterly resented by, large sections of the com- munity, both private and professional, who would have to pay a higher rate for their oil, and it must also be borne in mind that oil to-day is already heavily taxed.

If our ships are unable to get their fuel, coal or oil, they will be unable to protect our trade routes, and however successful may be the efforts of His Majesty's Government to increase the food production of the country, the time will never come when we shall be able to supply the whole population with home grown food. And if our trade routes are not protected, then our people, even more quickly than during the last War, will be brought near to the verge of starvation, and many industrial concerns, as well as our aeroplanes and ships, will be brought to a standstill in a short time. It may be that the noble Earl who is to reply for the Government will be able to prove conclusively that it will be possible for ships to return to coal fuel during war time. If not, I suggest that it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to investigate immediately what can be done, and also to arrange not only for the storage of an adequate supply of oil to last at least for some months, but also to consider, what has been raised in this House and elsewhere, the provision of a sufficient store of reserve foodstuffs to ensure that we shall not be brought to our knees in a short time merely by reason of lack of food for the people. Such are the wide implications of the Motion which has been brought before your Lordships this afternoon. That Motion, I believe, is of such importance that every one should be most grateful to the noble Lord for having raised it, because a shortage of oil really would strike at the safety of this country and the feeding of the people in time of war, and such a Motion is worthy of fullest consideration by the Government.


My Lords, I feel impelled to offer a few remarks on the points that have been described as narrow technical matters. Your Lordships may rest assured that dual purpose mechanical devices are nowadays met with suspicion throughout the engineering world, and for good reason, because a device such as a boiler, which is highly efficient for one purpose, must usually be much less efficient for another purpose. As regards steam boilers constructed to be fired by coal, they can perhaps be fired efficiently by oil, but it is not the case the other way round. The difference of space required makes it absolutely undesirable to attempt to work a ship both ways. Moreover, the staff has to have technical experience of both systems, which are not easily interchangeable so as to be available at the point of highest efficiency either way on the day of battle. A warship is meant to fight in war time and to have the very highest speed and efficiency for a short time. Less efficiency than the highest at the critical moment might be fatal, and it is to be hoped that the Government will resist the invitation to build new ships with a new device to serve a double purpose as regards fuel consumption.

Your Lordships may remember that during the Great War German ships were specially built with the minimum living accommodation for their crews who were normally housed in barracks and put on board before leaving port for exercises and for battle. This was adopted to allow of more space to protect their ammunition hoists, and to make other dispositions of space which otherwise would be occupied by seamen, stokers, trimmers and so forth. To occupy space unnecessarily in a modern warship not only for the normal complement but for extra stokers, and also for coal trimmers and for their barrows, shovels and implements, and stoking floors and all hoists, would certainly be a very unwise policy which no engineer in any branch of the profession could ever advise the Government to follow.

There is one line of approach to the question of dual purpose utilisation of oil and coal which is of interest. Recent experiments have been successful in mixing finely powdered coal with oil, in the proportion of from 5 per cent. to 40 per cent. as an emulsion, and feeding the emulsion with the same mechanical contrivances as are used on oil-burning ships, and it has been stated in technical engineering journals that technical difficulties have been overcome and economy has reached to the point of 40 per cent. Such experiments overcome the danger of powdered coal and deserve very earnest exploration by His Majesty's Government. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, discussing a technical point, assured your Lordships that heavy oil does not explode, and that that fact eliminated danger from bombs, but heavy oil tanks may be made to leak as well as any other sort of tanks, by bombing. Therefore His Majesty's Government may give weight to the observations of noble Lords who strongly recommended that large tanks for holding oil should be located in places where they can be made bombproof, and in surroundings not easily discovered from the air.

With reference to the financial side of storing oil, the difficulty is much smaller than appears at first sight. Whatever may be the cost of building large storage tanks for oil, there is no doubt that they could be used in time of peace commercially for equalising the price of oil between one period of the year and another, and so as to average normal fluctuations of price. In peace time that storage possibility for commercial purposes might reach the point of paying interest on the cost of the storage tanks and of their contents. That is especially probable in these days when the Government can borrow on Treasury bills for about one-half per cent. per annum, and that amount of interest could probably be earned by equalising the price of oil as an exchange operation in the manner to which I have referred. However that may be, there is no doubt whatever that we must have a sufficient store of oil to meet the exigencies of a great war, not only in England but at our naval stations all over the world. Those stores should be underground and must be bomb-proof. Moreover, they should be built as quickly as possible and to an adequate extent, regardless of cost.

The noble Lord who initiated this debate has deserved the congratulations of your Lordships' House and the gratitude of the country for making Ministers realise more deeply that the need for the expenditure of money for this purpose is probably a necessity above every other need—probably even above the need for reserves of food supplies in time of war. The technical points that I have mentioned are, I think, fatal to the main suggestion made in this Motion, and a word may be added in support of the argument of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who mentioned that Welsh coal is the only coal suitable for stoking on a modern man-of-war. That is technically true, because the fire bars of a marine boiler have to be adjusted to the type of Welsh anthracite coal that is to be used in preference to soft coal. The noble Lord mentioned the thermal superiority of oil as compared with standard units of types of coal. The thermal units in Welsh anthracite coal run from 12,000 to 13,000 or 14,000, whereas in other coal like Newcastle coal the standard may be as low as 9,000 and the percentage of ashes greater. Such figures add to the figures already given by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the accumulation of these arguments, with the other very weighty considerations submitted by the noble Earl, should lead your Lordships to hope that His Majesty's Government will realise that our Navy must concentrate on the use of oil fuel and nothing else. Ministers should make the preparations necessary at all costs, and without delay, to have enough oil safely stored wherever it may be wanted.


My Lords, I think my noble friend who instituted this debate need make no apology for having introduced this subject to your Lordships' House. So far as I know he is quite correct in saying that the matter has not been raised here in recent years, and it is a matter of such importance that I think your Lordships will all agree that he has done a service in bringing it before the House to-day. My only objection is that, like my noble friend Lord Mansfield, I cannot claim to have any knowledge of the sea. He and I are merely landsmen, and therefore we get into rather deep water when we are up against technical subjects of this kind. And the matter is very technical, because I find that it really divides itself under four main heads—the technical side, the manning side, the operational side, and the supplies side.

My noble friend dealt principally with the supply side. He made an extremely strong case showing how dependent this country is on supplies of oil coming almost entirely from overseas, and the very large proportion of it—almost the whole—coming from outside Empire sources. Not unnaturally, that has caused great anxiety in many people's minds in this country. I might point out to him, however, that, with the exception of the United States and Russia, every other maritime country in the world is in exactly the same position as ourselves. It is quite true that several of the minor countries, the countries with small navies, have got oil supplies, but all the main maritime countries except those two are in exactly the same position as ourselves. They, too, are dependent on oil imported from sources outside their own control. Therefore there is nothing very exceptional in the position in which this country finds itself in that matter. It is quite true, as he has stated—I have not of course checked his statistics, but I am pretty certain that they are accurate—that a very large proportion of the oil at present comes from the United States; but I think it is common knowledge that there are various other sources of supply, which at present do not provide a great proportion of the oil which is sold throughout the world, but which in time of emergency could be increased very rapidly. That would apply not only to Persia but to such places as the northern countries of South America, Venezuela and the West Indies.

When one comes to look round the world one realises that, although the oil supply is not under British control, such a large number of countries supply oil that it would be extremely unlikely for us to be in any real difficulty in getting our oil from one source or another. Of course, if this country were going to wage what I might call a League war against all other countries, then undoubtedly we should find ourselves in an impossible position. But that is an impossible attitude to contemplate as regards this country, because I have not the smallest doubt, nor has any other member of your Lordships' House, that we have no intention of taking on the world in general. My noble friend dealt with the subject rather from the point of view of naval warfare off the coasts of this country. Well, none of us can tell where or when the next war may come, but most of us hope that we shall have long departed to another and better world before that happens. But it is not quite the same story if you think of a war waged in other parts of the world. I am told that the oil industry has established some 230 bunkering stations on trade routes throughout the world. That is entirely apart from the naval fuel supplies which have been already provided in various naval harbours throughout the King's Dominions. Therefore there is already a considerable amount of oil available on those trade routes.

Similarly, the supply of oil to those many bunkering places is a very different problem when you view it as a question of oil supplied from oil countries instead of from a coal country. Supposing we were fighting in a distant part of the world. It would mean that our Welsh coal would have to go the whole way from this country out, say, to the Far East instead of possibly being supplied from places such as Burma, Persia and so on. In that way oil has, in some respects, an advantage over coal. It has the further advantage, which I think was mentioned by Lord Howe, that oil does not deteriorate with keeping, whereas coal does. That is particularly true when coal is stored in hot climates. I understand there has to be a turn-over every twelve or eighteen months unless the Navy is prepared to put up with inferior fuel.

The whole question of the supply of oil is, of course, one that has been exercising the mind of the Government for a long period. There has been a Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence in existence for certainly more than twelve years. I happen to know something about it, because when I was at the Admiralty I was Chairman of that Committee. I can assure the noble Lord that we considered very carefully indeed the various sources of supply from which oil would be drawn in time of war if such should arise, also the question of the number of tankers, the routes they would have to follow, the protection they would require, and all sorts of questions of that kind. That Committee is still very much in existence. As conditions vary throughout the world these new conditions are taken into consideration by the members of the Committee, and they make their recommendations to the Government according to the situation as they find it. It is a most complicated question, and, as I say, it varies from year to year, but I can assure my noble friend that it is under very careful consideration by the Government, and we hope and believe that the measures which we have in view will be sufficient to meet the case.

I do not want to rest the Government case solely on the question of supplies being adequate and being sufficiently well guarded. I must, of necessity, follow other noble Lords into the more technical side of the question. My noble friend Lord Howe kept on using one argument after another which I had got down to place before your Lordships. I carefully ticked them off and have not many left, as I do not propose to cover again the ground which he has already adequately covered. I must just mention this one point which perhaps is not quite clear. It may not be widely known that oil has a heat value of 1.3 to 1 as compared with coal—that is to say, it has nearly one-third more effect in producing heat than has a similar tonnage of coal. Here is another point which I think was not mentioned by any previous speaker, and that is, that a ship using coal in its boilers is limited to a tire grate of 7 ft. 6 ins. in length, because that is as much as a stoker can supply adequately with a shovel. If you have an oil-fired boiler, you can have a boiler of anything up to 20 ft. in length or more. Therefore, whereas in a coal-fired ship you have to have a very large number of small boilers, in an oil-fired ship you have a few large boilers.

The difference in weight is very remarkable indeed, and so, too, is the ease with which the marine engineer can place his big boilers in a ship out of the way of the multiplicity of equipment which a warship requires, as compared with the number of small boilers, which have all to be close to the coal bunkers. When you get, in addition, the fact that, as my noble friend Lord Howe pointed out, a large number of these bunkers are reserve bunkers which, when it comes to actual steaming, are very hard to get at, it very often means drawing on the deck complement of a ship in order to increase the number of stokers available so as to get the coal within reasonable firing distance of the boilers. So much is that the case that, as the noble Earl mentioned, there were many cases in which reserve fuel supplies were never drawn upon at all. As to the question of manning, here, too, the difference between the oil ship and the coal ship is very remarkable. It requires about twice the number of engine-room ratings for a coal ship as compared with an oil ship, and we must remember that these men have to be housed in the ship, they have to be fed, and the stores required are increased proportionately. That, of course, affects the whole planning of how a ship is to be built.

I inquired from the Admiralty as to what the effect would be if a ship were an oil ship or a coal ship, and I asked for the figures for a 10,000-ton cruiser. I am told that if a modern 10,000-ton cruiser had its oil-burning boilers and equivalent machinery removed, and the spaces filled with coal-burning boilers, then the coal-burning ship would be three and a half knots slower than the oil-burning ship. May I just pause there? Every noble Lord who is a seaman will agree that speed in these days is really essential to success. A ship that has speed can always keep out of range of her opponent, and if she finds the opponent too strong she can get away. First of all, therefore, you lose three and a half knots by converting from oil to coal. Then, for the same endurance—that is to say, for the same radius of action—the coal ship would require to carry 4,000 tons of coal instead of 2,250 tons of oil. But there would be no room in such a hypothetical ship for 3,700 tons of the required 4,000 tons of coal. Further, there would be no room for the additional 150 men. One soon realises that you have got a ship that is of very little value at all.

Take another case. A coal-fired ship with the same endurance and other qualities as a modern 10,000-ton oil-fired cruiser would have a standard displace-merit, not of 10,000 tons, but of 21,000 tons, and would require about 550 more men, and cost twice as much as the oil-fired cruiser. May I remind your Lordships that under the London Naval Treaty there is a limitation on the size of battleships, aircraft carriers, and cruisers? Although that Treaty has not yet been ratified, because various countries have not yet agreed to its terms, still at the present moment His Majesty's Govern-merit are working on the limitations imposed in that Treaty. It is to our interests as much as to the interests of other countries that we should try to limit the size of warships, and not get competition in size as there is competition in so many other parts of the rearmament question. If you are limited in size, and you revert to coal, then at once, as various noble Lords have said, you either give up speed or armour or armament, or possibly all three, and the same applies if you have a dual-fired ship. It is obviously of no use having a ship fitted out for burning oil, and then to expect to be able to put coal into oil bunkers, and so supply the furnaces.

My noble friend referred to a speech ma de by Lord Apsley, who was representing the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, at the opening of some oil scheme in Sussex. Lord Apsley may have been representing the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence on that occasion because the Minister could not be there, but I doubt if the Minister handed over his speech for Lord Apsley to deliver. At any rate, I am quite certain that the remarks attributed to Lord Apsley would not have been made by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. It is quite out of the question that a ship could be fitted out for oil and go back to coal, or that such a possibility could be considered for one moment for the Fleet as a whole. It would take a major reconstruction in every single ship to be able to convert an oil-firing ship into a coal-burning ship once more. Therefore I think we need take no further notice of that remark. Certainly it is not the view of His Majesty's Government.

There are a good many points that I might have made. For instance, if a ship is damaged in action, if she has coal bunkers you cannot trim her once more on to an even keel or fore and aft if she is carrying coal, whereas with an oil bunker you can get the oil pumped to some other bunker and so get her once more in proper trim. The general view of the Admiralty is that the technical arguments in favour of oil are so strong that they outweigh, even from the strategical standpoint, the disadvantage of having to buy oil fuel from oversea sources. I think your Lordships will agree that if it was thought that British warships were less powerful than those they will have to meet at sea those who are ill disposed towards us might be inclined to make war. Therefore, the stronger we can make our ships as compared with any foreign warships, the less likelihood is there of war breaking out, and so the Admiralty feel, and His Majesty's Government accept that view, that it is essential from the strategical aspect to maintain oil and not to go back to coal-firing or even to dual-firing ships in His Majesty's Fleet.

As regards the question raised by several of your Lordships about producing oil from coal, that is a matter which has been under consideration for very many months, in fact years, but quite recently the Government have, I understand, instituted yet another Committee to go into that question and consider what should be done. The public as a whole are inclined to look on oil as just one substance, whatever may be its use. I need hardly remind your Lordships that fuel oil is a very different thing from petrol or from lubricating oil, and some of the processes which have been quite successful in producing petrol are not so successful for producing fuel oil, at any rate at a price within reason. The question of price was raised by my noble friend as one which we should have to consider seriously. It is, of course, one that we fully realise. I think fuel would be only a comparatively small proportion of the cost of any future war. Our object is to keep out of war rather than to find ourselves paying a little less for fuel for our ships which would not be so efficient as those they might have to meet.

I think I have dealt with most of the suggestions and statements which were made by my noble friends, but there is perhaps one I omitted and that is the question of reserves. It would be altogether wrong that I should go into that matter in detail in your Lordships' House or anywhere else, but I can tell your Lordships that reserves of oil fuel are being steadily accumulated in this country, and they have been so for a very large number of years. Certainly before I went to the Admiralty in 1924 the provision of reserves had begun, and it has been going on since, with some intervals when misguided Chancellors of the Exchequer refused to find the money. We have been better placed as regards our Chancellors in recent years, and the reserves are going ahead very satisfactorily. I think everybody will be grateful to my noble friend for having brought forward this Motion. I am afraid I have no Papers to lay before the House. I can only hope that, as my reply must necessarily have been meagre in technical arguments, he will forgive me as being merely a landsman.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl most warmly for the courtesy of his very full reply. I hope your Lordships will agree that the Motion has served its pur- pose in bringing about an interesting debate, in the course of which many varying points of view and opinions have been advanced. It would be impossible at this hour for me to follow all the various points which noble Lords who have been good enough to take part in this debate have brought forward, but I should like to deal with one or two very shortly. The difficulties and hardships at coaling, I am inclined to think, have been a little overstressed. I do not believe that the stoker of the present day is any less able to handle a coal shovel than he was during the War. After having spent four years of war in battle cruisers, I have yet to learn that the efficiency of those battle cruisers yip any less because the stokers had to handle coal when they came in.

As regards the extraction of oil from coal, I would remind noble Lords that every such process means the putting up of a plant, and every plant represents one more target for enemy aircraft. The question of destroyers is obviously a difficult one. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, rather stressed this point. But I suggest that the modern destroyer with perpendicular oil tanks in the holds represent a dangerous form of construction. Were the space occupied by these tanks built into the hull for the purpose of containing coal for cruising speed their increase in size would be negligible. I would also remind the noble Earl that with present day construction the adjustments of machinery show an improvement that is out of all knowledge compared with the days of ancient history to which he referred.

With regard to what the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, said about our being no worse off than other countries in our remoteness from oil supplies, I am not quite able to follow him there. France certainly is as badly placed as we are, but of all other countries I can think of none that is worse placed than we are in the matter of oil supplies in the event of war in any part of the world. It seems to me that in this matter one point was left out of consideration. Take the possibility of war in the Far East, or some distant part of the world. In that case there would be a possibility of a retirement being necessary to a Colonial base, and there is no oil in any part of the Empire. I am still not entirely happy that the Admiralty or the Government fully appreciate the gravity of the issue at stake. The Admiralty say that an absolutely efficient engine, no matter what the sacrifice, is essential and that without it any naval battle must be lost. The dual fuel man says that, placed as this country is remote from virgin oil supplies, with all the other countries in between us and those supplies, such an engine may be more a source of danger in its incidence than a protective force. I would like to stress, as the debate has taken so much the form of a technical debate, that some of the greatest engineering experts outside the Admiralty have emphasised again and again that alternatively-fired men-of-war are perfectly practicable without any loss of fighting efficiency.

These really serious national issues introduce material considerations far beyond the scope of the Admiralty. The question at issue, as was stressed by my noble friend the Earl of Mansfield, is not a technical one. It is a strategical, political and economic one. It is not a question for experts; it is not one for the Admiralty; it is a Government responsibility. It would be unbecoming in me, on this the first occasion I have had the privilege of addressing your Lordships, to press my Motion further, and I am very sensible of the honour your Lordships have done me in listening so patiently to my remarks. I would also like to thank those noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.