When it fell to my lot, on two previous occasions, to introduce to the House the Navy Estimates, on each occasion the Board of Admiralty, which I represent, were severely criticised, because it was said that we had failed to produce a policy. At the time I ventured to urge that that criticism was not well-founded, and in the statement which I have had the honour to present to Parliament, we have given, I think fairly fully, the reasons why, on the two previous occasions, it was quite impossible for the Board of Admiralty, with any due regard to their responsibility, which was very great, to define with any accuracy or completeness what their policy would be for the future. The House knows that the conditions in the world were unsettled, and that it was impossible to say what the immediate consequences of the Armistice would be. There were other reasons, which I need not dwell upon now, which made it really impossible for us then to formulate a policy. I have no doubt that the critics—they are always with us—will find some reasons even now to find fault with the action of the Board of Admiralty. Indeed, I have been told that in some quarters we are found fault with because it is said our Statement on this occasion is too long. I dc not know, but I think that the critics must be very hard set to find something for which to blame us when they say that the statement we have circulated is more full on matters of detail than it ought to be. Let me remind the House of what the occasion is. We are, for the first time at the Admiralty, presenting real peace Estimates to the House of Commons. These Estimates and the policy which they represent are largely based upon war experience. It has often been said, and I think it is certainly true, that the whole world has been changed by the War through which we have passed and from which, I am happy to say, we have emerged victorious. Therefore the policy of the Admiralty must be constructed upon that basis. The conditions are changed and we have to try and look into the new future with as far-seeing vision as we can command. We thought at the Admiralty, and I believe that on reflection the House and the country will agree with us, that we ought to take this House in the first place, and the country which will learn from this House what has happened, as fully into our confidence as is possible, or, in other words, to abandon the policy which has too often obtained, of secrecy and concealment, and to place our cards frankly and openly on the table and let everybody know what we think ought for the future to be the governing principles of the Board of Admiralty and the Government of which we are a part. If in doing that we have laid too great a burden on the industry and attention of Members of Parliament, I can only say we are sorry they should be so troubled, but, none the less, we are unrepentant sinners, because we believe the course we have adopted is the right one.
It has been frequently stated in the newspapers that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister instilled into his Ministers, and especially into his colleagues who are connected with the great spending Departments, the principle and the rule that they must, in face of existing circumstances, be severely economical in their presentments. But it has not been stated that the Prime Minister did not end his admonition there. It is quite true that he told us, as it was his duty to do, that, in face of existing conditions and the immense burden of debt, for which, as a result of the War, we are responsible, that the great fighting and spending Departments must be severely economical in all that we propose; but he told us, in addition, our economy must be consistent with absolute efficiency. We, at the Board of Admiralty, believe that in the Estimates we are asking Parliament to sanction to-night we are making proposals which are consistent at once with strong economy and, at the same time, with full efficiency.
May I say here that we owe a very great debt to the present Board of Admiralty and to their predecessors, the old Board of Admiralty, for the very hard work continuously done since last autumn, when we began to consider what our Estimates and our policy ought to be. At that time many members of the Board of Admiralty had been very hard at work right through the War. The Second Sea Lord abandoned his leave, which he badly needed, in order to preside over a Committee of Naval Lords, whose duty it was to investigate the whole situation and arrive at conclusions as to what the Navy of the future ought to be. He was, I need hardly say, aided by his colleagues. I venture to ask the House to let me pay a tribute here to the work done by them, the Civil Members of the Board, the Secretary (Sir Oswyn Murray), the Accountant-General (Sir Charles Walker), and by the other officials for their extraordinary labours from August last upon this examination of the Naval situation which has resulted in the policy which it is my privilege to present to-day. The conclusions of that Board were adopted by the Board which is in existence to-day, and continuously from that time to this until the other day we have been engaged in ascertaining how we could, consistently with efficiency, present to the House Estimates which are really and truly economical. That task has been completed, and I pay this tribute to my Naval and civilian colleagues the more easily, because my own part of the detailed work has necessarily been far less than theirs.
I desire to direct the attention of the House first of all to the personnel. The reductions there are very remarkable. Before giving the figures, I say quite frankly to the House that in presenting these reduced Estimates it is an undoubted fact that we run some risk, if risk it may be called; but we believe, and the Government to which we belong believe, that we cannot possibly be exposed to any real risk of a contest for our supremacy at sea, if ever, at all events for some time to come. Therefore we are justified in asking the House to approve of Estimates which represent much lighter demands on the taxpayer than would be the case if we thought that we must face immediate dangers and provide against them. Let me give the House the figures. At the time of the Armistice the strength of the Navy was 407,317. In November, 1919, it was more than 257,000. The maximum for next year, that is 1920–1921, which we are entering upon, is 136,000, and at the end of next year the number will be 131,000. The number required for the Fleet which we ask for in the future, the post-war Fleet, is 127,500. In 1914–15, the year in which the War began, the numbers were 151,000, and in 1920–21 they will have fallen to a maximum of 136,000. I do not think that the most determined opponents of armaments can deny that the reductions we have made have been very great. It has been said that we have got too many of the men who were enlisted for hostilities only, that is for the War. As a matter of fact, there are now only between 900 and 1,000 of them left, and of those 600 belong to the trawler reserve, and they are kept on waiting for the reconditioning of their trawlers.
This immense reduction in numbers in volves, of course, a consequential reduction in officers, because it must be obvious to the House that this diminution in total strength involves a surplusage of officers for whom there will be no employment. I am very sorry that I am not in a position to-night to state precisely what the terms will be which we propose to offer to officers who may be prepared to retire. There are two or three details of the scheme which are not yet finally settled with the Treasury. We anticipate that they will be settled within a very few hours. I was quite hopeful that they would be settled in time to enable me to make the announcement to-night. We are doing our best to see that the terms offered to them shall be satisfactory terms and such as will enable them to turn their great ability and knowledge and experience into other channels and other professions and occupations in a way which will, I think, on the whole not be regarded as ungenerous even by the severest critics. Until they are approved no definite announcement can be made. There is the case also of the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Here, again, we are not in a position to state precisely what the plans for the future will be. We feel that a great debt is due to those great branches of the Naval Forces for the splendid service which they rendered throughout the War and before the War. We readily acknowledge that they must form an essential part of the Naval Forces of this country in the future, and we have every intention of availing ourselves again of their services. The precise details of the scheme depend very largely on the exact numbers required in the Reserves, and until that question, with one or two others, is settled we cannot announce what the arrangement will be. But the members of these great Forces may rest assured that the Board of Admiralty is in no way unmindful of the debt which this country owes to them, and we have every intention of doing our best to secure their invaluable services in the future.
So much for the personnel. I now come to the strength of the fleets for the future. In the statement which has been circulated I have given what the fleets are and what their composition in the future is to be. The Board of Admiralty and the Government were confronted with an extraordinarily difficult task. Before the War various Governments had to consider what the strength of the possible enemies on the sea opposed to them might be, and, as the House knows, there were various standards taken. But I think it was generally accepted that our strength ought to be equivalent to that of the two next strongest Powers, and in one sense—I am not pretending that there were not many difficulties—the task was easier then than it is for the Board of Admiralty to-day, because while it is, of course, essential that the Navy of Great Britain must be maintained at a strength and a standard of efficiency sufficient to enable it to do its duty by the Empire, yet it is also true that, look where you will, you will find it difficult to-day to find a possible enemy. The Germans, who were the cause of this War, who brought so much suffering upon humanity, who were so proud of their Navy, who built it at such immense expense to themselves and thereby entailed very great expense upon us too, the Germans are to-day without a Navy. A portion of it lies beneath the waters of Scapa Flow, and a portion of it has been distributed by the Allies in the different forces of those Allies. The Germans have disappeared. There is practically no naval Power to-day which can offer to us any serious threat of opposition, or indeed any threat, because the navies of our principal enemies have been destroyed.
Looking round the world to find what are the navies which at this moment can compare in strength with our own, we find that the only one is the navy of the United States of America. I believe it is a fact that the naval policies of all past Governments, whichever party they represented, have, at least, included this common principle, that our Navy should not be inferior in strength to the navy of any other power, and to this principle the present Government firmly adheres. We are very fortunate in the fact that the only navy approximating in strength to our own is that of the United States of America, with whom we are associated in such a way that the idea of competition in armaments between us is one that is, to put it mildly, repugnant to us all; and we here—and I speak now, not merely for the Board of Admiralty, but for the Government—hope and believe that if there is to be any emulation between the United States of America and ourselves, it is likely to be in the direction of reducing that ample margin of naval strength which we each alike possess over all other nations. That is the foundation of the naval policy of His Majesty's Government. This is not a matter for the Admiralty, this is a matter for the Government, and this is the policy which we have deliberately adopted, and I, at least, think it is a policy which will commend itself to the House of Commons and the country.
We have sometimes been told that the old distribution of our fleets ought to be altered, but that is not the view of the naval advisers of the Board of Admiralty and it is not the view of the Board of Admiralty itself. We still have, as our two main fleets, the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and I would only say to those quite friendly critics who have often suggested that the real strength should be concentrated in the Mediterranean but not in the Atlantic or Home Fleet that I do not think there is any real point of difference between us, because it is perfectly easy at any moment, in a very short space of time, to work those two fleets together in such a way as to make the one helpful to the other. I will instance the case which arose only the other day, when, as the House knows, we sent the First Battle Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet, which was then at Malta, to reinforce the Mediterranean Fleet at Constantinople, because the Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean wanted his forces strengthened. Therefore I think we are justified—at all events that is the considered view of the Board of Admiralty—in retaining the old division. Then we have the various squadrons stationed all over the world. There has, I know, been discussion at one time and another over the policy of what is called showing the Flag, that is, sending our squadrons of light cruisers into the waters of the world. Since I have been at the Admiralty I have had many opportunities of discussing with men at first hand their experiences in different parts of the world, and I am satisfied that anybody who approaches this question with an open mind, and who will take the opportunity of discussing it with men who have returned from different parts of the world, will come to the same conclusion as I have done, namely, that it is essential, in the interests, not of peace or war, but of trade and commerce and progress and prosperity, that our ships should show the Flag in different parts of the world. I am also certain of this, that anybody who will take advantage of the experiences of these people who come home from these different places will find that there are abundant cases where the appearance of an English cruiser in foreign waters has given an enormous impetus to the efforts and labours of those who are trying to push British trade in different parts of the world.
Therefore to that policy, the policy of our two main fleets and of our squadrons showing the Flag, we confidently adhere, and we believe that the Navy which we are asking for, and which we are distributing in this way, is adequate for the work that it has to do. May I remind the House of this very pregnant fact? Previous First Lords have had the great advantage of the services of distinguished sailors who have served the Empire in many parts of the world, and in the Board of Admiralty, in different offices, with distinction and ability; but no First Lord, for I do not know how many years—I am very bad at history—has stood in the position that I stand in to-day, and that is, that every naval lord, and not only the naval lords, but the officers who work under them in all sorts of capacities at the Admiralty—every one of them has come fresh from the sea full of the experience and knowledge gained in this great War and able to give us the benefit, not only of the ability and training which sailors acquire in peace time, but of the actual knowledge which they have acquired, either in holding high commands or in other important capacities during this War in various parts of the theatre of war. It is an inestimable advantage, and I venture to say that it gives an extra authority to the recommendations which the Board of Admiralty-make to the House to-day in regard to the constitution of the Fleet and to its distribution.
We have been told in some quarters that the day of the big capital ship is over. All I can say is that, in the first place, that is not the view of my naval advisers at the Board of Admiralty, and secondly it is not the view, so far as I can find out, of any other great naval country. There is no country which desires to have a strong navy which is not to-day actually laying down big ships, and the theory that the day of the big ship is over is one for which there is not really, if you examine the evidence, one shadow of foundation. In the statement which I have circulated I give some evidence drawn from the actual experiences of this War. It is the fact that the naval advisers of other countries are firmly convinced that the capital ship is as essential a part of any fighting navy as ever it was. That is undoubtedly the case, and my naval advisers are satisfied that the big ship, if you, unhappily, came to war, would prove again, as it has proved before, to be the predominant factor in naval warfare, and that in the end the weight of metal would tell, and that therefore the big ship must, at all events for some time to come, be preserved as an important part of our naval equipment. I know it is said in many quarters—and there are reasons to which I will not refer why I should not regret the fact—that the Admiralty and the Navy are much too conservative, that they adhere too long to old theories and old doctrines. This is not a political Debate, but if it were I should be inclined to say, when we talk about Conservatives being too crusted, too inclined to stick to old traditions, that it is a good thing to stick to old principles until really new principles are established which you can accept. I have no doubt my right hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Major-General Seely), who was a distinguished member of the Air Force, and speaks with unrivalled experience in regard to the Air Force, will be inclined to say, "You are too blind to the development of the Air Force; you do not realise what the Air Force is going to do." I do not think that charge is well-founded. We are not blind to what the Air Force may do. We are not blind to what the developments may be. All that we say at the Admiralty is that your developments have not come yet, and a great deal has got to be done before you can say with confidence, "You can dispense with your big ships, because we can do all that is required." You will find plenty of evidence in the War for what I am saying. All we say at the Admiralty is that, as we are advised to-day, we see no prospect of the time coming in the immediate future when we can afford to dispense with the big ships. May I say another word from another point of view? It is not only as a weapon of war, or, as we believe at the Admiralty, the decisive factor in the War that the big ship is required, but if you are going to maintain the training and personnel of your Navy at the high level at which it has been maintained hitherto, the big ship is absolutely essential. I do not know a sailor who does not hold—and hold with great vigour and great determination—the view that you cannot train your officers and men thoroughly and effectively unless you have a certain number of big ships in which to make them serve for a period of time. Therefore, whether from the point of view of warfare, or from the point of view of training, it is in the opinion of the Board of Admiralty absolutely essential that the big ship should be maintained. That is our policy, and to that we intend to adhere until much stronger evidence is shown than has been produced up to the present.
I turn now to a question which has aroused a great deal of interest, quite naturally, the Naval Staff at the Admiralty. Of course, I have only been a very short time on the Board, and the last thing I wish to do, or ever have done in my long political career, is to use any language which would seem to be critical, much loss condemnatory, of any of my predecessors in the office which I happen to hold for the moment. But I think in the old days before the War the question of the Staff at the Admiralty had not been thought out or dealt with in a sufficiently satisfactory manner. Then came the War and the urgent need for a Staff, and, under the pressure of the War, a Staff was devised on a much broader basis and of a much more efficient character than anything that had existed before. But it is obvious that work done under the pressure of war cannot be so effectively done as when you are able to regard your problems under the easier conditions of peace. I believe that the Staff as now established at the Admiralty is thoroughly efficient, thoroughly competent for the very important work it has got to do. The predecessor of the present First Sea Lord, Lord Wester Wemyss, who was First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff when I first went to the Admiralty, devoted most of his lime to the working out of a thoroughly satisfactory and efficient Staff system. He left behind him a great part of the work completed The present First Sea Lord took it up the moment he arrived, and I think we have now got a Staff in, as I have said, real business-like working order.
I will not trouble the House with a long description of it. We have got the Chief of the Naval Staff in the First Sea Lord, the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, who has charge of operations and other duties, and the Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff, and I want to say a word about that post, because it is in this case that the most important change, in my judgment, has been effected. The Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff in future will be charged with the duty of advising the Board of Admiralty, through the Chief of the Naval Staff, as to what are the best types of guns, projectiles, and weapons. Hitherto that has been the duty of the Controller of the Navy. He had two tasks of a totally different character to perform. It was his duty to advise as to types of guns, etc., and at the same time to advise as to the best method of provision and construction. Those duties will in future be divided. While the Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff will be charged with the duty of advising what is the best type of material, it will be the duty of the Controller to devote the whole of his attention to the best way of providing what is wanted by the Navy as a whole, and I believe this division of duties will prove to be probably the most business-like change that has been made for some time. It is due entirely to the present First Sea Lord, of whom I would only say that I ventured to predict what his career at the Admiralty would be when I spoke last on the Navy Estimates, and I can now add this, that he has already gone far to establish as great a reputation as an administrator as he had already acquired as a great naval commander. The duties of the Staff, of course, become more arduous and heavier as the developments of science progress. It is their duty to advise us not only as to what is the best kind of submarine, torpedo, etc., but it is also part of their duty to superintend those experiments which are essential if we are to keep abreast of the times. As the House knows—this is also referred to in the statement—we have at Shandon an establishment where experiments are conducted in various directions and with various objects, notably—this is the most interesting and probably the most important of them—experiments which are connected with helping us to hear what hitherto we have been entirely dependent upon our eyes for seeing. Wonderful developments are taking place, but Shandon is not satisfactory. It is too far away, wrongly situated and too expensive. We hope by the end of the year to be able to give up Shandon altogether, and to substitute for it an establishment at Teddington which will be close to the great National Physical Laboratory there, and which will, therefore, be in touch with it, and enable us to do the scientific experimental work much cheaper than and with equal efficiency to that we are now doing at Shandon. I think I can say from my own personal knowledge and observation that the Staff' at the Admiralty are engaged in daily and hourly examination of the scientific and other problems with which we are confronted, and that we have now got a Staff which will enable us to keep our Navy thoroughly abreast of the times. It would be wholly unjustifiable if I said that our proposals, while they are economical have not also been framed for efficiency, and my language would have been wholly unjustifiable if I had not been able to tell the House that the Staff are thoroughly engaged in watching every development and in examining for themselves all the possibilities in order that our Navy may be kept, in the most literal sense of the word, abreast of the times.
Let me turn for the moment to our relations with the Air Force. I know the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Major-General Seely) thinks we are too conservative. During the time he, with so much distinction and advantage, held the position of the Representative of the Air Ministry in this House, he more than once paid a very generous, and I think I may add, well deserved, tribute to the Board of Admiralty for their efforts to see eye to eye with him in their joint working. I can assure him and all those like the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Captain Benn) who are profoundly interested in the Air Force and convinced—largely from their own practical experience at the seat of war, where they did great and gallant service—profoundly convinced that in the Air Force is to be found salvation for the future, that if we are not prepared immediately to accept as prudent all they advocate and suggest, it is not because we are too conservative, but because, as I said just now, we are entitled, as Trustees for the Navy and the security of the country which the Navy means, to ask that we shall get further and more clearly proved development before we take the view they ask us to take, of what to a certain extent is still a thing of the future I want to make it perfectly clear, for there has been some misunderstanding, that there is no intention whatever on the part of the Admiralty to attempt to depart from the clear and definite policy laid down by the Government, of which I had the honour to be a Member, namely, that the Air Ministry is to be an independent Authority, and that we should look to them for developments of air policy in the future, for the best kind of air machine, the way in which the men have to be trained and so on.
Some advocates of the air go further, and suggest that the Admiralty has not accepted the clear conditions laid down and arranged with the Air Ministry. They go further and suggest that where the two Forces are combined in joint operations the air commander is to be Commander of the Naval Forces. So far as that is concerned, the Board of Admiralty will offer the most strenuous opposition. They maintain that responsibility and command must go together. They are responsible for the Navy. The Navy is the great security for the safety of the country, and they cannot share that responsibility with anyone. This is a matter which will have to be discussed between us later. It is, I think, at present in its infancy. I think, however, it is my duty to state quite plainly as to this matter, that there is no difference of opinion in naval circles or among those civilians who, like myself, are associated with the Board of Admiralty. There is one other question which bears upon this. It has been suggested that if the time has not come, it, at all events, has very nearly arrived when one Minister could represent the three Forces—a Minister of Defence. Speaking for the Board of Admiralty, any proposal of that kind will be most strenuously resisted. I do not know a sailor who can be found who docs not believe that that would be most detrimental to the real security of the Empire. Consistently with these two views which I have sought briefly to express, we are not desirous in any way of interfering with the duties, responsibilities, or rights of the Air Ministry. All we ask is that we shall be consulted as to what we want, and allowed to state what we want, in order to pursue our work properly, and not be interfered with in matters in which in our judgment, freedom of action cannot be separated from responsibility.
We are making, as the House knows, a certain change in regard to the training of our naval officers. The Board of Admiralty profoundly regrets that the time has come that we have to put an end to Osborne. As the House knows Osborne was given by the late Sovereign to the Admiralty as a great training college. We are desirous that reasonable economy should be effected. We feel that the time has come when Osborne and Dartmouth ought to be and can be amalgamated, so that in future cadets entering the Navy will go to Dartmouth instead of Osborne. We propose that Osborne should be given up in 1921. The age of entry for cadets will be as it is now, 13½ to 14; the special entry will be maintained, the age for which is 17½ to 18½—this for a small number of those who enter. It is believed that the approximate annual number will be somewhere about 120 cadets, and about 15 special entrants. This involves some reductions being made in the numbers of cadets who are now at Osborne.
I have not got it by me at the moment. We are dealing with those who are there now, and for whom there will be no hope to enter the Navy in the future. What we have done is to offer to the parents or guardians of these cadets at the colleges a payment of £300 if before July they choose to withdraw their boys. If, on the other hand, they think that the cadet stands a good chance of passing the final examination sufficiently well to enter the Navy they can leave him. I have been approached by a great many people who want information on the subject, and I am glad to give it now. I myself have been greatly interested in this matter, and I very much regret it is obligatory upon us to terminate the naval career of a great many of these cadets who had hoped to have the right of entering the Navy. If the parents or guardians do not take the £300 offered they can leave their sons or wards till the end of their time, which, I suppose, means anything up to August, 1922. There is no doubt about it—I have been over both establishments myself—I have gone carefully into the subject, and I have consulted the best educational authorities—there is no doubt, I repeat, that the educational training is of a wholly admirable character, and if a boy remains to the end of his time he will certainly be turned out with an education and a training which will fit him either for the Universities or for any other profession.
I think it would be very convenient—it is I admit a small point, but it is very important—if we could be told whether, when a parent voluntarily removes his boy, that boy will be allowed to sit for special entry examination later on.
That, I think is a point well worth consideration, and I will consider it. Of course, my hon. and gallant Friend must know that all depends on the number of vacancies there are. We could not give special advantages to any boy who had been removed as against boys who come up from school. But I shall be very glad to consider the point. That is all I have to say about Osborne and Dartmouth. I hope that hon. Members of this House who may be approached by their constituents or by friends as to what will really he the future of the boy at Osborne and Dartmouth will not forget that the boy staying until the completion of his time is really getting a very great advantage. These boys are, in fact, receiving a first-class education and a fine manly English training on very moderate terms This, of course, docs not deal with a question which has raised a great deal of interest, and which is of vital importance, namely, the means of entry into the Navy. It has been said to me in this House, and it is constantly said outside, and very naturally and very properly so, that the advantages which you are giving to these boys should be also given to boys coming from the elementary schools, whose parents are just as strong supporters of the Navy and of the Empire as we are. They ask—Can you tell us how these boys are to get as good a chance of passing into the Navy as the boys from preparatory schools? It is useless to pretend, and, indeed, it is impossible, that two boys, one educated in an ordinary elementary school and the other in one or other of these preparatory schools, where special care is taken to prepare boys, are on an equal footing, and you have to find some means of equalising these disparities if you can. We have not found them yet, but they may be found in some system of scholarships or other form of aid to education, and we are working at that, because we are anxious to give effect to what my predecessor and I have more than once said, that, if possible, we must make it easy or, at all events, as easy as one can, for boys with lesser educational advantages to get into the Navy.
We have at all events made one great stride in this direction, and that is in dealing with the mate question. The mate system was the system by which it was made possible for a petty officer with good ability and conduct to become an officer and to pass up to the quarter deck. We found that, owing to the age at which these men were promoted, they came to a period in their service when future advancement was denied them, that is to say, a man becoming a lieutenant at the earliest at 28, found as he passed through the various grades of the service that he was shut out from the higher commands—from flag rank. We have now decided upon a development of the system whereby men selected by the Selection Board at 21, provided they be of first-class character and able to pass a certain examination, may, after undergoing a special training, become lieutenants at 23. That does not sound very much, but it is a tremendous stride in the direction of opening the quarter-deck to those who, by circumstances, are forced to enter the Navy through the lower deck. It is a real alteration, and it will be true in future, as far as these men are concerned, that all ranks in the profession will be open to them, and that a man can go to sea with the assurance that, if he be competent, he may rise to flag rank, which, under existing conditions, is impossible.
Further, with regard to the training of officers, we propose that in the future the cadets shall devote more of their time at Dartmouth to general education. They will spend three years and eight months at Dartmouth and eight months on a training ship. Then they will go to sea as midshipmen, and they will be educated afloat under specially selected Instructor Officers. After 2½ years at sea they will become sub-lieutenants; then they will go through a Greenwich College course, passing in tactical subjects and an elementary war course, and subsequently we propose, if we can secure the consent of the University of Cambridge, that one quarter of them shall go through a special course at Cambridge. We believe that that will give a wider outlook to the naval officer of the future, and we are hoping—indeed my naval advisers are confident—that with these means the education and training of the future will be of more general character, and that the officer of the future will be given a better chance than he has hitherto had. That is the view which is held by those who themselves have gone through the training of a naval officer. I am only a civilian. I never was educated anywhere. I spent five very happy years at Harrow, but I failed to become educated. That, however, was my fault and not Harrow's fault. Therefore, I am speaking not from ray own experience, but from the experience of naval officers who agree that this system will give a better chance to the cadet in the future. Time only will show whether we are right or wrong. At all events, this view is based on close examination of the subject and on experience of men who have been through the training of a naval officer themselves, and they believe it will prove a substantial advance in our naval educational system. As regards the training of officers for the higher command, commanders and ranks below, to the number of about forty a year, will take a staff course at Greenwich qualifying them for work on the War staff at the Admiralty and afloat. Reference is made in the Statement to a change that is being made in regard to the position of the engineer officer and the deck officer. I believe there are some who hold that we are taking a wrong course altogether and are destroying a system which has worked well. This system, which was established sixteen years ago, has gone through several modifications, and we are proposing an alteration now because the experience of every officer with whom I have discussed it, whatever his rank, is that this change is essential if we are to have for the future the engineer officers we need and must have; but the common entry and early education and early training are all retained, which are, in my judgment and in that of the Board of Admiralty, the vital part of the scheme. We are told that it is an actual fact that under the scheme as it now exists you cannot get the necessary number of engineer officers. They must be got. It is not because we want to do something fresh ourselves, it is not because we want to strike out a new departure and get credit for this or that. We are doing it because we believe it to be essential to the efficiency of the Navy in future.
I should like to say a word about the great cruise which Lord Jellicoe made. In some quarters it has been stated that we ought long ago to have expressed our views as to what we mean to do in respect of his reports. If hon. Members saw those reports, I do not think they would be so ready to criticise. They are very long, they require, very careful examination and they involve very grave considerations. This is not a purely naval question. I am entitled to speak on this with some authority other than that possessed even by naval officers. I had two most interesting years in my official career when I served as Secretary of State for the Colonies, and during those two years I had an experience which no other Secretary of State has ever enjoyed, of presiding in two consecutive years over great Imperial War Conferences when the Prime Ministers of our Dominions, the Ministers of Marine, the Ministers of Defence, Finance Ministers and others were here, and I not only heard those questions discussed at the Conferences, but I had the immense advantage of discussing them privately with those Ministers on many occasions. Whatever may be the view of His Majesty's Government as to our policy for the future in connection with the Dominions, you will do nothing in the way of working out a real scheme until you are able to meet here in London, discuss this round a table and talk it over with the representatives of the great Dominions—and then, possibly, you will arrive at some business-like conclusion. To produce some hasty scheme, simply because we are told we ought to have action in respect of these reports, would be regarded as a criminal action, not only by this country but by the Dominions. It must not be thought we have been idle. We have been in communication with the Dominions on many subjects. We have made one or two steps, small, but important. I hope on our Naval Staff we shall have the advantage of representatives of the views of the Dominions, who will work with us in connection with great naval staff questions. We are a slow people in Great Britain. We come rather slowly to realise even the most patent facts. I speak on this subject with real knowledge and experience. You must go slowly in all these future developments of our great Dominions. They have accepted immense responsibility, they have made heroic sacrifices, they are bearing great burdens, and they will not be hurried into doing anything which may be calculated to interfere with their absolute right of controlling their own affairs. We must approach this subject slowly and cautiously, and I am satisfied that the best solution of this great question of a combination of all the Empire in one great naval provision will be found most safely and most satisfactorily by the sort of conference I have indicated, rather than by hasty discussions or debates or announcements by the Board of Admiralty. It is impossible to exaggerate the debt we owe to Lord Jellicoe. He bestowed immense labour on the work. He has displayed the greatest tact and immense ability. I hope neither he nor anyone else will think his labour has been in vain.
I should like now to say a word about the Welfare Committee. It was set up in the early part of last year. Its object is to provide the machinery by which the lower deck can express their views and can, if they have them, give utterance to their suggestions as to certain existing conditions and can come into closer touch with the Board of Admiralty than was possible before the Welfare Committee was established. It has just concluded its sittings. It was presided over by Admiral Jerram, and a great debt is due to him for the great services he has rendered to the Navy and the country by presiding over it, and also by the work he did in connection with the pay of the Navy. It has produced a series of very long reports dealing with an immense number of subjects. It is impossible for us—it would be very wrong—to give a decision upon it in a hurry, but I can see from my little experience of the Navy something more than the germ of a great future for the Committee. I am satisfied that if the Committee is sympathetically treated, as I know it will be, by the Board of Admiralty, if under a wise and sensible President free opportunity is given to the representatives of the lower dock to state their case, to put their views, to express their objections to existing conditions, there will grow up a conviction in the minds of the lower deck that they have in the Welfare Committee a real opportunity of getting into close touch with the authorities and of taking an active part, and I am sure it will always be a loyal and honourable part, in deciding questions which so vitally affect their own lives and their own future and those of the sailors who will come after them. Therefore, I attach enormous importance to the Committee, and no Board of Admiralty will ever fail to give it every possible opportunity or to give to its recommendations the most sympathetic and most careful consideration.
I come now to the dockyards. Again we have been very much criticised. We have been told we have been very slow in acting upon the Report of the Colwyn Committee and, of course, the good old gag has been trotted out—whenever critics of any Government of whatever party have nothing else to fall back upon they always talk about red tape. It seems to me that the talk about red tape will have to be dropped, because for some reason or other connected with the War we have recently been using not red tape but white tape. We are told, "You are doing nothing at the Admiralty about the Colwyn Report. It is all red tape." Many people are attacking the Government about wild extravagance. The papers are full of it. Hon. Members in this House are constantly saying that the Government is extravagant and wasting public money. What am I to say to my critics in connection with the Colwyn Report? What did the Colwyn Committee do? The reference to that Committee was to inquire into two questions, one the leasing or sale of our dockyards, the other the building of merchant ships. They reported against leasing, but reported in favour of building commercial ships in the dockyards. Then our critics say, "You have the Colwyn Report. Why have you not done something?" I would remind these critics that, although the Colwyn Committee told us that we ought to build commercial ships, they did not go into the difficult question as to how the work was to be done by the Admiralty. It is one thing to tell the Admiralty to build commercial ships, but it is another thing to arrange for that work to be done satisfactorily by the Board of Admiralty, who have never done such work in the whole of their official career. We had no machinery for building commercial ships. The Committee deliberately stopped at the general recommendation. As soon as we received the Report of the Colwyn Committee I appointed a conference composed of exports to advise the Board of Admiralty as to the best way to set up machinery for the building of these ships. I tell my critics quite frankly that, whatever they may wish or whatever they may choose to say, I had no intention, if I could prevent it, of allowing the Board of Admiralty to be hustled into a position in which We should after six months or twelve months have been open to the charge that we had wasted thousands of pounds of public money because we had started to build ships when we had no adequate machinery. Therefore, I appointed this expert committee.
What is the position at the present time? One might think that the question of building commercial ships is very simple. It is extremely complex. I have before me a statement drawn up from information given to me by the experts, because I do not pretend to understand this subject. It comes to this, that you can only increase the number of ships which you purpose to build to the extent to which you have men of each of the various trades concerned in the building of the ships. There are a great number of trades concerned, quite distinct one from the other. You may have 10,000 surplus men in your dockyards, but among those 10,000 men there may not be one man whom you want of some of the trades you will have to employ for the building of commercial ships. In the dockyards these various trades, in consequence of the War, got into a state of serious disproportion. We have to-day not nearly enough shipwrights to balance the numbers in the engineering and electrical trades. This is not peculiar to the Admiralty. I am informed that, the same thing applies in the private shipbuilding yards. The same difficulty exists there of this disproportion of the various trades. That this is so is borne out by this fact. We have been more than once asked to build the hulls of commercial vessels, whilst the commercial firms have proposed to build the engines. We said: "We will build the machinery if you will build the hull," but we have not had one single response to that proposal.
We have now decided on laying down two oil tankers. I am not prepared to undertake on behalf of the Admiralty to speculate in wider fields than oil tankers. We are laying down one oil tanker at Devonport and one at Pembroke, and we hope we may be able to lay down another at Portsmouth later in the year, but as to this I make no promise. It must be entirely dependent upon the progress of repair work on ships of the Royal Navy. If we are to go far into this class of work, it can only be done by taking shipwrights from naval work and diverting them from work which may be absolutely essential. We are not prepared to run a risk of that kind. But if we can, consistently with our duty to the Navy, we shall lay down a third ship later in the year. Any further opportunities of taking in hand work such as is contemplated in the Committee's Report will be watched for and utilised. We may be able to retain a limited number of our surplus men in the engineering trades on such work as overhauling the dockyard cranes. This only means a very small number of men. The number of men in the dockyards to-day is much greater than in pre-War days, while the work is obviously less. This policy of building oil tankers is only a policy intended to avert an unexpected and undeserved trouble which had nothing to do with us. It was due entirely to the fact that you cannot move men back to the place from whence they came because of the housing conditions. If it was not for the difficulty of housing, these men could move freely to the yards from whence they came. It is no good, and I say so most respectfully, to urge the Government on a Tuesday to be economical, and to save money and to cut down expenditure in all directions, and on the Wednesday to tell the Admiralty that they must spend money, which they do not want to spend, on work which they do not want to do in order that a certain number of men can be kept in employment.
Who has been discharging shipwrights? The facts are these. A short time ago an appeal was made to the Board of Admiralty by shipbuilding firms in the country. They pointed out that when the War broke out the Admiralty made an appeal to the shipwrights of the country to go on work in the Admiralty yards and that the men went and private work was put on one side. Now they appealed to us for shipwrights, and we thought it our duty to respond to this appeal. Although we did it very reluctantly we allowed a certain number of shipwrights to go. We did not discharge them; they went to private yards. We did it in the interests of the commerce of the country, because we felt that now that the War was over and peace had come we ought to do everything in our power to help commercial shipbuilding. That is the answer to my hon. Friend's question. He must not misunderstand me. We are not short of shipwrights in proportion to the actual number of men we want to employ on naval work. In this naval programme that has just been put before the country there is not a penny for now construction. We are not building a now ship. We are only finishing those which are under construction. We have nothing corresponding to our great programme of contract work before the War, which meant the employment of immense numbers of men—some 47,000.
One result of the War has been that we had to postpone repairs. We had not time to do them. In some cases we had not the vacant slips or the unoccupied men. Therefore the ships of the Royal Navy got into arrears with regard to repairs. We have got all that lost ground to recover. But the present position is that our numbers are now 57,000, whereas before the War they were 42,000, and the result of our cutting down is that we are left with a very large number of men—11,000—who are surplus to our programme's requirements. Of those 11,000 a large proportion are not shipbuilders at all. They have boon employed in the Stoics Department unloading stores, and when this work comes to an end they will not be wanted. With a reduction of your Fleet you necessarily get rid of a great deal of work. A great many more are men of the engineering and electrical trades who cannot be employed either on repair work or on merchant shipbuilding in the dockyards, because we have not the shipwrights necessary to balance them. Therefore I ask the House to pause before they blame us for not going in more vigorously for this shipbuilding policy, and to realise that we are not spending our own money, but the Nation's money, and that if we did not go cautiously we might easily find ourselves led into one of these unfortunate experiments which cost the country so dear, which were bad enough in the course of the War and would be wholly unjustified in time of peace.
There is one matter to which I would like to refer, although it is unusual and not connected precisely with the Estimates. I have observed in the newspapers reports to the effect that my right hon. Friend (Dr. Macnamara) near me is going to be transferred to some other field of labour. Of course, it is not for me to say how these reports originated, but if they are true I should like to say that the Board of Admiralty would regret profoundly if my right hon. Friend leaves the Admiralty. I say this for a special reason. I think it my duty for myself, after the short time I have been there, to say that it is a privilege and a pleasure to be allowed to bear testimony to the splendid loyalty and generous goodwill with which he has aided me in this House and out of it. It has been alleged that he is a "Treasury official," and that he has done injury to the men of the lower deck. My own experience and the knowledge which I have gained from the records of the Admiralty convince me that no charge ever had less foundation, and if the officials of the Treasury were here they would have something to say about the statement that he is a Treasury official. So far from being a Treasury official, he is daily engaged in fighting the Treasury, and the Treasury have a holy horror of seeing him on their doorsteps, as they know what the result is going to be. These attacks which were made against him in regard to the Navy are absolutely without foundation, and it is my duty to say so here. As far as the Board of Admiralty is concerned, and I believe as far as this House is concerned, if he be transferred to another field of labour he will carry with him, not only our gratitude for his past services, but our best wishes for his success. I am profoundly grateful to the House for the great indulgence which it has meted out to me. I am conscious that in a statement of this kind there is a great deal that is dull and a great deal that the audience think might be left out. I am conscious that some of it was not put, as more eloquent speakers could do, in the most attractive form. But I have tried to put before the House and the country quite frankly, without reserve, what is the position of the Board of Admiralty to-day, and what are our views and our policy: and I am entitled to say, on behalf of the Board of Admiralty, without any doubt, that in our judgment, if this House be pleased to grant to us the supplies for which we ask, we are confident that we can provide a Navy which will ensure the safety of our own land, enable us to do our duty to this great Empire, and prove again, as it has proved through all our history, to be the greatest security for the peace of the world.
I am quite certain that I shall be voicing the views of every Member of this House who has been fortunate enough to do without his dinner to listen to the statement of the right hon Gentleman when I say that we are very grateful indeed for not only the matter of that statement but the manner in which it has been made. My right hon. Friend has, I believe, an unequalled experience in high offices, not only with regard to the variety of office which he has held, but also to the care which he has given to each in turn. I am quite sure that that experience served him well in the very trying position in which he has been in holding the House of Commons during the dinner hour from half past seven o'clock, but it was his own choice. We were willing to do anything we could to oblige him, and we must express our indebtedness for his very frank statement, admirable in form, lucid in expression, and able and comprehensive in scope. Perhaps it is not unfitting that I should say from this side of the House, after a statement of the importance of that to which we have just listened, one or two words My right hon. Friend and Leader (Mr. Asquith) would have been here in discharging the duty which I am now attempting to discharge, but for another engagement. In any criticism which I may make with regard to policy or lack of policy I hope that it is clearly understood that I regard the Navy as in a class by itself in all public questions affecting the defence of this country. That having been said, we have of course a duty to discharge, in frank and open criticism of the executive as to the manner in which they have fulfilled the responsibility cast upon them.
The first thing I would say is this, and I am very glad to say it by way of congratulation. I have watched, and nobody has had so many opportunities of watching, the efforts at demobilisation and economy of the various great Departments of the State since this Parliament began its work, and as far as I am concerned, I say at once that the Navy compares well and, indeed, favourably, with any other Department in the efforts it has made. Notwithstanding what has been done, I think there is very much room for improvement. There is the question of policy. My right hon. Friend said it was difficult to find a possible naval enemy; he said frankly that there was no naval threat. I congratulate him on being able to make a statement which is almost without precedent in the case of any First Lord who has laid Estimates before the House of Commons. To be able to say that alone of this country is one of the assets we won out of the War. It is on that point that I wish to press an argument on my right hon. Friend and the Government. I do not think that the comparison which he has laid before us with the year 1914 is the true or the correct comparison. What was the position in 1914? It was a period of the deepest anxiety. From 1910 onwards we remember the troublous years when the Cabinet was almost split in twain on the subject of building further Dreadnoughts. I shall never forget the day when Sir Edward Grey made his statement from that box on the subject of the German press. I think the German Ambassador was in the gallery at the time. From that time onwards, year after year, the menace grew. It was at its height in 1914. The second navy in the world was a very great and powerful navy, and it is no credit to our Navy to run down the German navy. That was the time when our naval expenditure was at its peace height, to meet a menace which we know unhappily resolved itself into the actual catastrophe.
I suggest that the true comparison is not with the period of our national anxiety immediately before hostilities, but with years before that. I would go much further back than 1914, and suggest that the true period should be 1906. I remember that when the Liberal party came into power it was with an express determination to cut down the Naval Estimates. We know what the result was. The facts were too strong for the Government in those days, and we had to go on increasing the Naval Estimates owing to the German threat. That threat has gone for years. The Germans cannot build without our knowing the very first steps they take. They have neither the men, nor the munitions nor the money to do it I repeat that the true comparison is not with 1914, but with 1906, and I press that very strongly on my right hon. Friend, and on the Government. The Naval Staff at the Admiralty have to carry out policy. It is no good talking of what the Admirals do. If a policy is laid down for them they say "Very well, we will carry that out." If the Government say to the Naval Board that in their opinion we need not regard the European or the world position as seriously as at the moment they are apparently doing, then, of course, the naval advisers will say loyally, as they always do, "Very well, that is your business Our business is to shape the needs of the Navy according to your policy." I believe it would be a perfectly safe position for the country to take to go in for much larger reductions than are at present contemplated.
I cannot tell with what deep gratitude I heard my right hon. Friend refer to the United States of America. It is so easy to make trouble, and at a stage like this it is so easy, if we have the right spirit, to cultivate cordiality. I am quite sure that the words of my right hon. Friend will find a very ready echo in the United States and do far more to bring about hearty co-operation and agreement than all sorts of eloquent speeches at dinners, or even at League of Nations meetings That is the sort of thing for a man in his responsible position to say, and I am thankful to him for having said it. This is what he said: That as far as he and his colleagues were concerned, the dominant idea in their minds was not competition in an increase of armaments, but competition in a decrease of armaments. There is some hope of the peace of the world if that is the spirit animating our advisers and our statesmen in charge, at any rate, of the Admiralty. I should be glad indeed if I could be assured that that spirit animated another great Department of State. I should like to touch, very briefly, on two other points. I welcome very heartily what my right hon. Friend has said as to the hope of the access from the Lower Deck to the Quarter Deck being made very much more easy. I understood at once the real significance of what he said. The age is the point. When a man is over 21, 22 or 23 he gets set, and it is not easy for him to accommodate himself to the real difference which there must be between the Quarter Deck and the Lower Deck, and anybody, however democratic, is talking sheer foolishness when he does not recognise that there must be that real difference. If you want men of the Lower Deck to get to the Quarter Deck you must take them young. It is recognised on all hands that brains are not the monopoly of any class—this House alone shows that—and the country at the present time is providing a sound education. Another splendid thing which I welcome very much is the development of the Welfare Scheme. That is the sort of way by which you can make men fit to tread the Quarter Deck. It is the kind of thing to train officers fit to command and lead men. It is the atmosphere in which you can breed them. We all welcome therefore, with great heartiness what my right hon. Friend has said, and we only hope that will be developed as swiftly as possible. It will lead to an immense amount of good feeling in the Navy and out of it all over the country. It is the kind of thing that helps to mitigate social unrest in all parts of the community. It is the little things that tell, especially when they are done in time, and I heartily welcome what my right hon. Friend has said.
I hesitate very much to launch my unskilled barque upon the troubled sea of the question of the control of the Air Force and its relations to the Army and Navy. I had no qualification whatever for addressing the House on this point, and I would only urge upon my right hon. Friend the immense importance of preserving an open mind in the matter. It is only natural that there should be prejudice. If I were in the Army or in the Navy, I daresay that I should be prejudiced, and that it would be very hard for me to get rid of that prejudice. We are, however, at the beginning of great developments in the air, and the danger is that some real splendid new development making for greater efficiency and vast econmies may be lost sight of through professional jealousy. We must combat it. In no range of human achievement and promise is there anything approaching the immense possibilities of the air, and this is all that I wish to say: Let my right hon. Friend keep an open mind, and lot him and his advisors see that no natural prejudice—I will not call it pettiness—affects the great national needs in such a question.
I will give one instance from my own observation. I am not wholly ignorant of ships; I have lived among them, and I have seen a great deal of Mercantile Marine work during the last twenty-five years. During the last year of the War I was very much struck with the aerial scouting, a service which we quite inadequately recognised. I remember very well that at one meteorological station to which I went they were doing wonderful work. I had the opportunity of seeing something of what they were doing. They were under the Navy. There was another air station not far away which was not under the Navy. This meteorological station was able to give them most reliable information as to what the weather was going to be, and they would not listen to them. Time and time again they told them to mind their own business, that they knew when their aeroplanes could go up, and that they did not want their interference. All the time that meteorological station was in constant touch with the Admiralty, and able to furnish most useful information as to the possibilities of the weather for the next twenty-four hours. The other station would have nothing whatever to do with it. The air scouting which was done from that station with the assistance of that meteorological office was admirable. Is it not possible that a very large number of craft used for sea scouting might be saved if this department of the Admiralty were thoroughly grappled with? I only put that in my uninformed way as an example I am sure that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will understand, if at a later stage of the discussion I feel compelled to vote for a reduction on policy, that I shall do so with a full and hearty recognition of their work and that of their colleagues and the whole Naval Staff with whom they have been so well associated. I shall do so because I earnestly believe that we have far too large a margin of safety, and that we can safely compare our present position, not with that of 1914, but with that of 1906.
In view of the statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and also of the more or less blessings bestowed upon him by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, it has become unnecessary for me to move the Amendment which stands in my name, but there are one or two things which I wish to say, particularly in connection with the question of the dockyards. I am sure that the House and the country will view with the greatest satisfaction the decision to which the Admiralty have come, which has been indicated by the right hon. Gentleman, and which has been expressed with more detail in the memorandum which he has circulated. The question of the Royal Dockyards, and more particularly of the old-established Royal Dockyards, is one of great national importance. The principle which I would like to establish is the maintenance of the strength and potentiality of those dockyards, viewed in relation to the needs of our naval power. I do not for a moment profess to argue that the strength and the standing of a dockyard should be maintained at any greater ratio than is necessary for its work in connection with the Fleet. From that point of view I had held a certain amount of apprehension about a proposal suggested to the Admiralty—the leasing of one of the old dockyards—which seemed to indicate that there was in contemplation some policy which would mean the disintegration of these great establishments which are such a national asset. The tendency which was indicated in that proposal was, I know, viewed with great apprehension in many quarters. It did seem to show that the thin end of the wedge was being inserted, and we all know that, once the thin end of the wedge has been got in, there is always a great tendency to have it driven home. I am glad to hear that the Government have now decided to put into force the recommendations of the Colwyn Committee, so far as it is practicable to do so.
I am not one of those, who support or approve of Government trading in any shape or form. The more the Government confines itself to governing, pure and simple, the less they encroach upon the domain of private enterprise, the better. The examples which we have had of their attempts in that direction are not such as would encourage anyone in this country to recommend them to go on. I need only mention Chepstowe, an experiment which I hope will never be repeated. The question of our old dockyards is one of an entirely different order. With regard to that, I have no doubt the hon. Member for Devonport (Sir C. Kinloch-Cooke), will agree, though he will be likely to put in a claim to equality. I would like to join issue with him on that, and so I know would people in other districts, but, clearly, we are all agreed, and so long as we agree on the main question we will not quarrel about that. These old dockyards which—it must have been in a moment of aberration—the Admiralty proposed to cut off are very important organisations. They are the result of centuries in some cases, of a
century in other cases, of careful adaptation to the purpose for which they were devised. They possess a personnel imbued with an esprit de corps which is not the least element in their value. They have developed with the growth and development of the Navy, and any reduction in their capacity, or in the degree of their efficiency, which would be out of proportion to a corresponding reduction in the Fleet would, I am sure the whole House will agree, be a mistake of the first magnitude. I base this case for the continuation of the standard of these dockyards on the principle of their relation and proportion to the needs of the Fleet. The First Lord of the Admiralty said that when he was looking round the world to-day he could not find a probable enemy. The nation will hear of this statement with relief, though some with regret. We are approaching an era which all have been looking forward to, which may develop into a period of perpetual peace, in which the British Navy will be no longer required. Then the argument for the maintenance of our dockyards goes. But I would submit with great deference that that time is not yet. All of us look with fervent hope and with fervent prayers on our lips to a time when the League of Nations will eventually become an organisation which will result in that happy consummation, but at the same time, with the League as well as with all things in Nature, it will have to have its birth. It is only in the process of being born; it has to pass through the dangerous period of childhood, it has to go through the period of adolescence before, it arrives at the stage of its manhood. During that time the British Navy will be required, and if the British Navy will be required, the British dockyards will also be required, and they will require to be maintained at the standard which is necessary to keep the Fleet in the state in which, to the pride of this country, it has always been. I cannot help referring for one moment to a statement made by a distinguished Admiral, quite recently the First Sea Lord, only about a year ago. He used these words:
The best guarantee mankind has been able to devise for the peace of the world and the security of freedom is the power of the British Navy.
I think that, during this period of development which is to result in a state of peace between the nations of the world, that sentiment will still hold good,
and the British Navy will be required. Again, I should like to refer to the speech made by the First Lord himself, just a year ago, in this House, introducing the Navy Estimates for 1919–20. It adumbrated a policy which the nation everywhere hailed with enthusiasm as the right policy for the Government to adopt. He said, and I quite well remember the cheers with which his statement was received, that the policy of the Admiralty was to reorganise for peace in every way consistent with safety and due economy. He has referred to-night in somewhat similar words to the furtherance of that policy, but he did not express it, if I may be allowed to say so, with the same precision and crispness as he did a year ago. He said:
We know that it is our duty to provide a Navy sufficient and efficient for our Imperial needs. The only plan that we have laid down, and the only plan that we can lay down, is that in the Navy of the future we must be able to show the British flag throughout the British Empire. We believe that that means everything to the British Empire, to its prestige, its greatness and its trading honour. We realise that this country has incurred a tremendous burden as the result of the War, and it will be our bounden duty to avoid any expenditure which can be avoided, and which it is possible to avoid consistent with the safety of the country. But we feel that our bounden duty, our first duty, is to see that the British Navy is able to do its task—a double one—of maintaining and playing continuously a leading part in preserving the peace of the world.
That statement had not reference to any possible or potential enemy, but had reference to the need for the British Navy, enemy or no enemy; and that need, until this era of perpetual peace arrives, will continue. The statement that that was to be achieved with due regard to economy was one of great importance, and the First Lord has shown, by the reduction in his Estimates, that such a course is possible. But the ethics of economy are somewhat abstruse; they might be applied in more ways than one. With regard to their application to the dockyards, the maintenance of a proper standard in the dockyards—a standard related to the standard of the Fleet—not only does not prejudice the case of economy, but it strengthens it. While the Fleet is in being, our dockyards are an economy and a necessity. They are not only that, but they have a great potential value. They
are not only the organisation for equipping the Fleet, but they are an insurance for the future which is of inestimable value.
I should like for one moment to see what the relation of the expenditure on the dockyards is to the total naval expenditure. The First Lord had such a lot of work to do to-night, and he made such a comprehensive statement, and presented the House with such a developed view of the general principles of the policy of the Navy, that he had not, I am sorry to say, as much time left as I think the House would have liked, to develop his argument as regards the dockyards. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) said that he thought the standard of comparison should not be the standard of the future with 1914, but the standard with, probably, 1906. I am inclined to agree with him, because I think we lose nothing. If you eliminate from the gross Navy expenditure, and correspondingly eliminate from the dockyard expenditure, that portion which belongs to new construction, there is very little difference in the comparison between now and 1914 and between now and 1906. The average of the five years before the war, which' I think is a very relevant period to take, is much the same figure as the naval expenditure in 1906. That average of the total naval expenditure for the five years was approximately £44,000,000, of which the total expenditure on the dockyards was £6,000,000, or somewhere between 13 and 14 per cent. That is to say, the expenditure on the whole organisation upon which the business of our great Fleet depends, was between 13 and 14 per cent., or £6,000,000 out of £44,000,000, of the total naval expenditure. If you eliminate the new construction on both sides, you have about the same percentage. The figure for the gross expenditure comes down to £35,000,000, and the figure for the dockyard expenditure comes down to £5,000,000.
The First Lord used the word "criminal" in reference to some action which it was suggested should be taken. I say it would be criminal on the part of the Government in any way to take any course to reduce the efficiency or cripple the potentiality of this great national asset. What applies to the dockyards in the aggregate applies to dockyards individually. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am the more particularly concerned, in the terms of the Motion which I put down, with regard to Pembroke dock. Pembroke, taken individually, deserved the same treatment as all the other docks. Why should this child be singled out and why should it be treated on a principle which is not applied all round? What is its history? It has equal traditions and equal records with all the old-established yards including the particular property of my hon. Friend (Sir C. Kinloch-Cooke). It has a personnel, which I venture to say is quite equal to the personnel at Devonport. It is situated in one of the finest and most magnificent harbours in the world. It has created round it a community to serve its own needs, and which, if it had not been created, would have involved considerable additional expense on the Government to cater for the needs of the dockyard. To those communities, not only in connection with Pembroke, but all the other dockyards, the Government owe a real responsibility when they come to consider this question of how far they are going to reduce the status of these yards. I am very glad to notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. A. Shaw) is not in his place, because if he had perhaps it might have been somewhat more difficult for me to make the suggestion which I am now going to offer. Before the War, owing to the German menace and owing to the existence of a naval throat and the direction in which it came, the great bulk of our naval power was concentrated in the North Sea. One of the results arising from that was the creation of that great new dockyard on the Forth at Rosyth, a dockyard which only came into operation after the War. There is no further menace in that direction, and the fleets are concentrated in their natural home, the Atlantic. The dockyards which properly belong to the fleet in its disposition now are the old-established dockyards of the South and Western coasts.
If it becomes a question of beginning to cut off any dockyards, or any portions of dockyards, then I submit that should apply to the dockyards which are less advantageously situated away from where the fleet is operating. Undoubtedly, that great dockyard has the most approved modern equipment. That makes it all the more, suitable for conversion to commercial purposes. Its situation further lends itself to that. It is in the centre of a district which has at hand all the raw materials and necessaries for commercial shipbuilding. It is surrounded by the great iron and steel works and coalfields of Scotland, and when the Admiralty have a dockyard for sale to be used for commercial purposes, I suggest that they should divert their eyes towards the Eastern coast, which is out of the way for the maintenance of our fleet in its present disposition. It is true that under certain conditions the leasing of one or two yards might be a practical question if it were accompanied by the security that the efficiency of the yards would be maintained so that the Government could take possession of it in full efficiency whenever the national interest required. I can well understand that to secure that would be difficult. May I, as a new Member, take the liberty of congratulating the First Lord on the unique position which he occupies in the character of the Estimates which he has brought forward. While preserving the safety and the honour of this country through its Navy he introduces economy. For the first time since the War there is some ray of hope when a Government Department comes here and practically produces an Estimate which, when allowance is made for post-War values as compared with pro-War values, is little, if anything higher, than the Estimates the year before the War. The lesson to be derived from that is this. I hope the other Government Departments who have not yet succeeded in adopting that policy will take heed of the example, and adopt that system that has been adopted by the First Lord of the Admiralty, which so admirably shows that where there is a will there is a way.
I understand from the last speaker that the First Lord is wielding a sword of Damocles and engaged in slaughtering the innocents. With regard to his admirable defence of the dockyards, I would only make this comment. The growing need of the country is for economy, and the Board of Admiralty have to consider simply what is vital. They are not able to do what is merely useful. They ask themselves what is vital in regard to the dockyards, and that they give; but what is merely useful is redundant, and that they have to get rid of I should like to echo, as a Back Bencher and one who has for many years past been a somewhat severe critic of the Admiralty, the praise which the First Lord gave to the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Dr. Macnamara). We are very sorry to lose him, but what is the Navy's loss will be the country's gain, and I hope, whatever position he occupies, he will have sufficient leisure to follow the universal habit, which is spreading, of writing his reminiscences. He has occupied the position of Financial Secretary to the Admiralty probably longer than anybody for years past, and he has been a Minister of the Crown longer, in one position, than any other Minister of the Crown. Possibly he has not been so long Financial Secretary to the Admiralty as his distinguished predecessoor, Pepys, but if he writes his reminiscences I hope they will rival those of that distinguished predecessor.
The First Lord of the Admiralty has issued a most admirable White Paper. I have been a student of these White Papers ever since 1886–87, when they first came out, and I do not remember one which conveyed so much instruction and so much reform m regard to the Navy in the past. He has accompanied it by an admirable statement for which he apologises as dull. It was not dull. In regard to all naval statements, it must be said of them that they cannot be witty, and they must be long. You have got to cover the ground fully, and he has covered it very fully indeed. It has not been my good fortune to praise what the Admiralty has done in the past, but I hope and believe the criticism which I have given in the past was inspired by good motives. It is therefore a peculiar pleasure to me to say that I agree with every word that the First Lord has said on this occasion, with possibly the doubtful exception of what he said in regard to a Minister of Defence. I know he has the view practically of the entire Navy behind him, but what we seek is not necessarily an actual Minister of Defence; we desire to bring about some system which will co-ordinate the different services, bringing them together so that there is no overlapping in regard to expenditure, so that every pound is well spent, so that the Air Service gives the maximum of assistance to the Navy and the Navy to the Army and the Air Service. If you can achieve that system through the Committee of Imperial Defence, that is all we ask for, but it is part of a larger question, the desire of this country to have smaller Cabinets. We have got back to Cabinets of 20, and those of us who believe in this system believe that we can take the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Secretary of State for War, and the Minister for Air right out of the Home Cabinet and put them on the Defence Committee, which would constitute the second Cabinet, in regard to Imperial defence and foreign policy. That is our hope as to what will come to pass.
In the large ground which was covered by my right hon. Friend's statement and by the White Paper, which I have read most carefully, there was one point which was not referred to, and to which I have referred very often in the past. I believe the Admiralty have decided that in the future we are to revert to the old practice of holding a court-martial whenever a ship is lost. My right hon. Friend will pardon me for referring to this matter, because it has been an old grievance of mine ever since the departure from the universal practice of the Navy was made in 1907. They have reverted to that practice, and in this very first case since the reversion one sees the benefit of the old Navy system. A ship called the "Vittoria" was lost in the Baltic. A secret court of enquiry took place. Nobody knew what was the result of that court of enquiry. It was not on oath, and the officers and men belonging to the ship might have felt that they had not been vindicated. My right hon. Friend decided to revert to the old practice of holding a court-martial, and what is the result? The officers and men are put on their trial, they are acquitted with honour, his sword is returned to the commanding officer, and he is vindicated in the eyes of the whole Service, and I think that is what would be the result in most cases of the return to the old practice.
There are certain points to which, if I get the opportunity, I would like to refer in Committee, and one is the question of promotion by selection from the Captains' list. My contention is that we should like to see a very small percentage of promotion by selection from the Captains' list. You need not do it, but the Board of Admiralty ought to demand the right to promote, say, 5 per cent. of the Captains by selection each year if they wish to do so. The question which was
referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), and by the First Lord, of the determination of the Admiralty to give enlarged opportunities for promotion from the lower deck at a younger age, so that a man may say that he can reach the flag list, involves a reference to the question of the scarcity of schoolmasters. I believe it is the one class in the Navy where there is a scarcity of ratings, and of course if these men are to get the education you want, I think you will have to improve the position of the schoolmasters afloat. I would also like to refer in Committee to an enlarged number of public school entries being given, and to the position of the artificer engineers in the Navy. In regard to expenditure, I think the position was admirably stated by the First Lord. The Cabinet lay down the policy, but the Board of Admiralty must decide what is required to carry out that policy. Now the favourite device of the House of Commons is the device resorted to by Sir Robert Peel when he wrote the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1841:
Pray consider the following suggestion. Let us employ in downright earnestness the services we have a right to command from the British Treasury.
I do not think that is necessary. The Board of Admiralty have a right to go to the Cabinet and say, "We want to know what your policy is," and, presuming they have got that policy from the Cabinet, then the Board of Admiralty decide the extent of the armaments they require to carry out the policy. The right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) said the. Cabinet can say to the Admiralty, "You need not take the world position very seriously." That is not a policy. That is simply an expression of pious opinion. Can anybody imagine the Board of Admiralty sitting down to carry out a policy that is given them from the Cabinet, "You need not take the world position very seriously"? They want to know definitely what the Cabinet regard as the danger, and then they can frame a policy to suit that danger. Now my right hon. Friend referred to the old measuring rules. First of all, this House understood that we had two to one of the next strongest Power. Later on the rule became 10 per cent. over the next two naval Powers, and then, before the World War, the rule laid down by the
First Lord of the Admiralty was 60 per cent. margin over Germany in capital ships. We have not at present got any rule with regard to these matters, so that the House of Commons has necessarily got to trust to the Board of Admiralty to a very great extent. There is no doubt the House is appalled at the tremendous expenditure still going on in Armaments. If you add the gross Estimates—and I do not know why we should deal with net Estimates, because the gross Estimates are what constitute the actual expenditure—we are spending on Armaments now £267,600,000 on Army, plus Air, plus Navy under the Estimates now submitted to this House. Of this total, £96,500,000 is the gross Navy Estimates. If you take away from that the expenditure on new construction, you got an expenditure of £77,500,000 as compared with £35,000,000 in 1914.
I am coming to that very point. That is after deducting the new construction. The answer to that is that costs have trebled, wages have doubled, and you have got pensions due to the War, so that you have got to deduct £40,000,000 from the 1920 Estimates. You then get £37,500,000, as compared with £35,200,000 for 1914. Obviously, the Admiralty will be able to cut that figure down still further, and we hope they will, because, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, we have no enemies at the present moment. You cannot forecast the future, but there are, strictly speaking, only two navies with which we can compare our strength at all at the present moment. One is Japan, an ally by diplomatic means, and the other is the United States, an ally by nature. I want to say a word or two about Japan, not as a probable enemy at all, but simply for the purposes of comparison. We are now six times as strong as Japan, which is in the position that Germany occupied in 1900. There is this difference: the programme of Japan is more progressive and more intensive than was that of Germany in 1900. Japan is a great nation with a population of 60,000,000, and expanding. It is a nation with a high military spirit; in fact, following the Armistice, naval manœuvres were carried out on a gigantic scale under the supreme direction of the Emperor of Japan. The programme which Japan has in view consists of eight battleships and eight battle-cruisers armed with 16-inch guns, while it is proposed to replace all vessels over eight years of age, and not 20 years, as formerly. We may have no programme for next year or the year after, and we shall still be three times as strong as Japan, but the time must come when the position will have to be considered if we cannot, by our example in the reduction of armaments, induce Japan to reduce her armaments, too.
The capital ship is costing now £7,000,000. The docks that will be required for that capital ship will be much bigger docks than we possess, especially in the East, and this brings me to another point. The obvious way to got economy is to bring about an alliance not merely under the auspices of the League of Nations, but, if possible, as has been suggested, between this country and the United States. In such a case, the United States, in conjunction with India and Australia, could very well look after the Pacific, while we could keep a reinforcing fleet in the Mediterranean and look after the Atlantic as well. At present, to show how zealous the Admiralty has been in economising, we have only 16 big ships in commission while the United States have 29—actually 31 to be reduced to 29. The difficulty with the United States is in manning the ships. When I was over in the States last autumn, Mr. Daniels had the resignations of over 2,000 officers on his desk. He was refusing these owing to the difficulty in getting his ships manned. I absolutely agree with what the First Lord said in regard to the United States. It is unthinkable that we can contemplate military rivalry with the United States. Commercial rivalry, yes; but a fratricidal strike between this country and America is absolutely impossible. You could not get the Navy to carry out orders if we ever had anyone as mad as George III. amongst our politicians to bring this country to the verge of war. You could not get it done! Not even Daniels without judgment could possibly bring this country and the United States to war. President Wilson has taught us to look beyond the man to the Nation. I rejoice in the strength of America. I rejoice in any accession to that strength, because it is so much more towards the defence of the ideals of Anglo-Saxon civilisation for which we all contend.
I should like to re-echo what previous speakers have already said with regard to the First Lord's statement in introducing this Estimate. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to wish to apologise for the length of that statement, but if, as a humble back bencher I may presume to do so, I would congratulate him on the length of the statement and on its very full character. It was a really valuable statement. The First Lord spoke about the reduction of officers. This is a question which must concern the serving Navy to-day very much indeed. He said he had hoped he might have the details when he came to make his speech to-night. May I venture to express the hope that the details will be ready when the discussion is resumed to-morrow, because I know these particulars are very much wished for. The right hon. Gentleman also made an allusion to the U.S. Navy. I think the less said about that great country the better. But it is worth while remembering that the two countries which have a big Navy in capital ships are America and Japan. I very much rejoice at the references of the First Lord to America in his speech. He later on referred also to the light cruising squadrons, and this again raises the question of capital ships. These light cruisers can only show the Flag; they really cannot fight navies in distant waters, and we must remember that the power of those navies entirely depends on the battleship forces behind them.
I should like to refer to the First Lord's remarks in his explanatory statement on capital ships, Many people hold that the day of the capital ship is gone: amongst them is a very distinguished Admiral who generally advises the country to "sack the lot." He looks to the submarine or to the airship to take its place. It is possible he may be right, but at present I disagree with him. People seem to think when talking about capital ships that every torpedo discharged at a ship must hit and sink it. It is a very good thing in this connection to examine the facts as we know them in connection with the late War. When the German fleet was going to be surrendered, I was one of the officers who met the German naval officers who came to make the surrender, and I asked one of them why it was that the German fleet turned away at the battle of Jutland. His reply was, "Because the destroyers had fired all their torpedoes and they had none left." If the Germans had two flotillas at the head of the line it must have meant forty destroyers, and if each of these had five or six torpedoes, no fewer than 200 torpedoes must have been fired; yet, so far as I know, only one ship was actually hit by a torpedo, so that that reduces the menace to reasonable proportions in that connection. I was told by an officer in a particular ship in that battle that he saw no fewer than 32 torpedoes pass it at one stage of the action, and therefore every torpedo discharged does not necessarily mean a hit ship.
I want to reinforce what is said in this Memorandum as to the value of capital ships. The right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) made one statement which I really could not quite understand. He said it was no credit to our Navy to run down the German Navy. I have never heard any English naval officer run down the German naval officer from the professional point of view, and I do not understand what the right hon. Gentleman was alluding to.
With regard to this statement itself, there are only two serious omissions from it in my opinion. The first is the question of the scrapping policy. I should like to know whether the First Lord can give us a little more information with regard to what ships it is proposed to scrap. I have seen it stated in the Press that it is proposed to scrap all 12-inch-gun battleships and cruisers. I do not know whether that is correct, but I should very much like to know. The French Government has only got seven ships better than these ships, and I very much hope the scrapping policy will not be carried too far. There are still valuable ships capable of rendering a very good account of themselves against ships of a lesser capacity in foreign navies. The other question I should like to ask is with reference to the number of flag officers in commission. We have in the Reserve Fleet no fewer than six Admirals with their staffs, and I should like to know whether this is really necessary in the interests of economy. There are no fewer than six Admirals with the Atlantic Fleet, and in the North of Scotland area you will find a Captain, and another in the Immingham area. This is in addition to the senior naval officer on the spot in the ordinary way. I hope the First Lord will be able to justify the retention of all these flag officers with their flags flying under present circumstances in the interests of economy. The training of officers is a most important thing. I hope very much that the Admiralty really mean what they say when they talk about more chance of promotion from the lower deck. It is really a most important thing. The lower deck is uneasy about schoolmasters. They did not have their pay raised in common with all other warrant officers, and therefore the point of view of the lower deck is that their status as naval officers is lower, and they think, rightly or wrongly—I do not share the view—that the Admiralty cannot really be sincere in their professed anxiety for promotion from the lower deck if they do not increase the emoluments of schoolmasters to a similar level to that of the warrant officers. If we have a really efficient Admiralty war staff surely they would be able to collect the information and to give advice to the various Dominion Governments, I hope that the Admiralty will make it quite clear as to what will happen supposing the views of the present Admiralty war staff do not exactly coincide with the reports rendered by Lord Jellicoe. I remember seeing in the Press an extract from one of his reports advising that on the Australian station there should be eight battleships and eight battle cruisers. I do not know whether the extract was correct, but it is a very doubtful question whether the present Board of Admiralty would agree with that report or not. There is another point which the First Lord did not refer to, and that was the sports and recreations branch of the Navy. That is a most important innovation so far as the Navy is concerned, and it did a great deal for the Navy during the War. It is in the hands of most capable officers, who are devoting a great deal of energy and thought to really improving the health of the men who man the lower deck. I hope that the motto which is placed before all the young seamen of the Navy when they go in for this course, will not be lost sight of. The first motto is, "Do not play foul." The second is, "Do not chuck up the sponge"; the third "Go all out to win," and the fourth, "Play for your side and not for yourself." That is very excellent teaching, and teaching which we all might imbibe with great benefit. I hope that the First Lord will, as far as he can, do everything possible for this new branch of the Navy.
We all share the desire for economy, but I hope that our desire for economy will not lead us to forget the value of the Navy, and that when we economise we shall not impair the power of the Navy. It is very important that a sufficient number of men should be either on the active list or on the reserve in order to man the ships should they be so required to do so. Naval power cannot be improvised in a moment, and if our reductions are carried too far or in too great haste, we may do irreparable harm. The international situation was never so unsettled as it is to-day. Therefore, I hope the reductions which we may see in the near future will not be carried too far.
We welcome the intervention in Admiralty Debate of naval officers, and no more welcome intervention has been made than that of the Noble Lord who has just spoken. Especially is that so in regard to his last advice that we should not unduly economise in the Navy. I desire to re-echo the praises which have been given to my right hon. Friend the First Lord for his most comprehensive and lucid statement. For about 35 years I have had an opportunity in and out of the House of hearing statements of successive First Lords, and I never heard one more illuminating and more comprehensive than that to which the House listened tonight. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) made some comparisons based upon the memorandum in the White Paper, between the economic cost of the Navy at the time the War broke out, and its economic cost in the Estimates now before us.
The First Lord endeavoured to make some corrections or modifications of my hon. and gallant Friend's statement. Nothing is more important at present than an accurate comparison between the cost and efficiency of the Navy at the time of the outbreak of the War and under the present Estimates. That is a comparison which I think my hon. and gallant Friend will agree is something like this. In 1914 the gross cost of the Navy was £53,500,000, but from that had to be deducted, in order to make a comparison with to-day, £18,300,000 for new constructions, because in these Estimates there is no new construction. The gross of these Estimates to-day is £96,500,000, and from that figure you have to make two reductions—£19,000,000 for special liabilities arising from the War and another £40,000,000 for continuing expenditure which cannot be stopped because it was started during the War. That leaves for the upkeep of the Navy £37,500,000 for the current year as compared with the upkeep of £35,200,000 in 1914. This shows an extraordinary economy on the part of the Navy when you bear in mind that the purchasing power of £37,500,000 to-day for upkeep is only half what a similar sum would have been when War broke out.
I did not understand that to be the meaning of the Memorandum, and I am not clear that that is so; but even if that be so, you still have an economy which comes to within £2,000,000 of the former figure, and the comparison is as creditable to the Admiralty as it is to the Government which they represent. These economies may be carried too far in the reduction of the Estimates. The last thing that the country would desire would be a reduction which would risk, not merely the present naval efficiency, but future progress and economy. We have reduced the Estimates by the simple process of abolishing new construction. This naval holiday may wisely last for a year or a couple of years perhaps, but if you extend it beyond that time the result will be that your progress in scientific development as well in the training of your personnel will be interfered with. Reference has been made to Lord Jellicoe and his tour round the world. I wish to refer to a book published a year or so ago by Lord Jellicoe. In that book he makes very serious and grave charges. He makes the startling accusation of lack of complete preparations in 1914. He says the German mines were superior to our own mines. He alleges that German shells were fitted with delayed fuses, of which we knew nothing, which fuses enabled the shells to penetrate the armour of large ships and to explode inside the ships, thus doing enormously increased damage, whereas our shells, having no such fuses, exploded outside and before they had penetrated the armour of enemy ships.
Lord Jellicoe refers to our relative inferiority in the number of our destroyers at the time of the outbreak of War. These destroyers were necessary for the protection of our big ships, but, being insufficient in numbers, hampered him over and over again in the strategy that he had intended for the carrying on of the War. Lord Jellicoe refers also to the fact that there was no harbour in the North protected from submarines, and he relates how at Scapa Flow there was a difficulty much later than there ought to have been in converting the harbour into a protected harbour. I myself remember, and, indeed, was concerned with, a process which was cruel and a matter of great regret, of sending valuable merchant ships, filled with cement, up to Scapa Flow, in order that they might be sunk to form a break-water. Several dozens of valuable merchant ships were sacrificed in that way in order to make good defects which ought to have been remedied before. Many other things are referred to by Lord Jellicoe, but perhaps the most startling of all was the reference to the absence in our Navy, compared with that of Germany, of proper means of air scouting—a defect which led to the great embarrassment of the Commander in-Chief. These things were no fault of the present Board of Admiralty, and my sole object in referring to them is to emphasise a great truth which, I believe, cannot be emphasised too much, that in your struggle after economy you must not repeat the deficiencies of your predecessors. The Noble Lord (Viscount Curzon) referred to the international situation as complicated and dangerous, and possibly he was right. I do not care how clear the political and international atmosphere may seem. It is your duty, and I am sure you will carry it out, to make every possible preparation and such economy as is possible, and without economy if economy cannot be carried out.
The Fleets which the Hoard of Admiralty are maintaining in various parts of the world have been referred to. It seems to me that the Fleets in Home waters, in the Atlantic, in the Mediterranean, and in the Far East are wisely distributed, having regard to all the conditions. In ships they certainly do not exceed what is necessary for efficiency or for the training of both officers and men. We must have the British Fleet distributed in all the stations the world over. It has been said that trade follows the flag. We must show the flag so that trade will follow it. It is only by this means that we can fulfil one of the prime functions of the British Navy.
I want to refer to the effects of, this cessation, practically the complete cessation, of new construction, We must build and equip ships if we want to make scientific progress. Scientific progress on paper and in the laboratories and under the new direction of the Director of Research, I am sure, will be very great, but if, it be on paper and in the laboratory and in the Research Department alone it will be futile. We must test every new discovery by trial at sea, and we cannot therefore stop new construction. It may be that we shall build only one instead of half-a-dozen, but we must build one, especially if we wish to make real practical progress. I cannot say what will be the result of this new system which I welcome so much, and which I hope will be carefully and thoroughly organised. It may be, as Lord Fisher prophesied, that we shall have submarine ships increasing gradually in size until they become the capital ships of the future, but, be that as it may, the internal combustion engine, which opens up infinite possibilities, and all the other improvements, will lead to relative perfection of naval construction only if we put the scientific conclusions and discoveries into practice. The evolution will be gradual, but it must be practical by trial at sea. I would like to say one word about the connection which this new department will have with the mercantile marine and with the other commercial and non-naval agencies for discovery and progress. I well remember, some 25 years ago, when liquid fuel was first used in the mercantile marine, that the Admiralty sent one of their officers to watch and report. It was done spasmodically and perfunctorily. I hope now that we shall have a carefully organised system and that it will be co-ordinated as far as possible with all the progress and discoveries that are made in the merchant service as well as in the Royal Navy. Before I sit down I want to refer to a subject in which the two hon. and gallant Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench (Major-General Seeley and Captain W. Benn) are interested and which is of very great importance, namely, the question of the Air Service in regard to the Admiralty. The reference of the First Lord of the Admiralty to that subject may be summarised by quoting some of the words of the Memorandum to the effect that our craft flying from His Majesty's ships in connection with the command of the sea must be under naval control. I am one of those who have always been very doubtful about the wisdom of an entirely separate Air Ministry. With regard to the Navy, we might as well have a separate Ministry for the Marines. But they are under the administration of the commanders of the ships. If you have a separate Air Ministry it may foster the development and advancement of aviation, but it cannot have executive control of the airships and aeroplanes, which is necessary for the service of the Fleet. You cannot have the command of the sea entrusted to anyone other than the Admiralty and the naval officers. I emphasise the statement in the Memorandum and the very strong, eloquent and clear words of the First Lord. I feel strongly upon the whole question of naval preparation. It has saved our country in the past and it will save us again, if not in our time in the days of another generation. Let us not be carried away in regard to economy in naval preparation by the requirements of the Army. I remember the words of Cromwell, "Put your trust in God and keep your powder dry." If I hear of the League of Nations and the promise of peace for all time I remember I these words of Cromwell. No court of justice can dispense with the strong arm of physical force. The Magistrate must wait for the policeman. And the League of Nations must wait for the policeman of the world, which has always been the British Navy. It can perform any international function or secure the peace of the world only so long as the British Navy is paramount and its strength is not allowed to flag.
The admirable memorandum which the First Lord has issued, and the very sound doctrines which he himself has expressed, have altogether knocked the bottom out of any criticism. I have no criticism to offer, except on one little point. Moreover, the speeches that have already been made make it unnecessary for me to say more. All that is left for me to say is that, since the Admiralty have decided to accept the Air Ministry as the providing branch to the Naval Air Force, they should insist on having a Naval representative on the Air Council, and naval constructors on whom would depend the future of the flying Navy. There should be naval constructors attached to the Air Ministry to look after the proper investigation of the real flying ships. I urge upon the First Lord that, if he is going to be sure of the future of the Naval Air Service, he must have the Navy represented at the Air Ministry.
I welcome the tribute which the First Lord has paid to the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. I have sent rather more letters, perhaps, to the hon. Gentleman than most hon. Members of this House, because many old sailors who are not my constituents write to me about their grievances. Those letters receive the most courteous and prompt replies, and, however much we importune the hon. Gentleman in these cases, he always does what we want to the utmost limit of his power. As I am going to speak against the hon. Gentleman in his constituency on Tuesday, I think I may be allowed to say that.
It will be noticed in these Estimates that a great amount of money is being spent on anti-submarine devices and preparations, and this brings home to us what a great pity it was that we were not successful in pressing at the Peace Conference for a declaration that the submarine is illegal. I think we missed a great opportunity. I daresay one or two of our Allies—one in particular—objected to it, and we gave way right along the line. I think we might have stood firm on this one point. It might be said that you cannot prevent nations from building submarines any more than you can prevent them from manufacturing poison gas; but I rather think you can. You cannot build submarines without someone knowing about it. We could have had a system of inspectorates in all countries, to see that they were not built. They have only
been successful, comparatively speaking, against merchant ships, and they are a cowardly weapon. They cannot possibly be used in peace, as aeroplanes can. You can always build commercial aeroplanes, which might be used for war; but the commercial submarine is a monstrosity which no one would dare suggest as a commercial proposition. This is of vital importance to us, dependent as we are at present on sea-borne food for our existence. Would it not be possible for us to try and have this matter opened up again before the Council of the League of Nations? I cannot see what the valid arguments are against making the submarine illegal. I know what the invalid arguments are, namely, those of people who are interested in submarines, and quite justifiably so. They love their work, and they, of course, press for the retention of the submarine. But there is a higher duty than pandering to these interested persons. I do commend that with the First Lord to see if the question can be opened again. We have nothing to lose by the abolition of the submarine. It is an inhuman, cowardly weapon against commercial ships and inadequate and inefficient against the man-of-war May I join with the Noble Lord the Member for Battersea (Viscount Curzon) about the tour of Lord Jellicoe? I have a great admiration for the great ability and professional qualities of that distinguished and gallant Admiral, but may I point out this very extraordinary state of affairs? The First Lord told us last year that it would be impossible for him to declare what the actual policy should be and that he could not tell us about the future of the redundant naval officers or the men because the world situation was so disarranged and so on, but at the same time this distinguished officer was sent round the world and went on a tour to the Dominions, and judging by the newspaper reports, he laid down a policy for them. I put it to the House with great respect that that was a waste of money. The First Lord, in his speech, said he looked to the day when he would be able to preside at a meeting of Ministers of Marine from the different Dominions. That is the way in which the future policy of the sea of the British Empire as a whole will have to be decided. There will be a representative from the Admiralty and a combined War
Staff meeting in London or Quebec. I really think this world tour of the distinguished admiral is a bad precedent, and I hope it is not going to be followed. I have already pointed out one way in which economies could be effected by declaring the submarine illlegal. There is a remark in the introductory statement on the Naval Estimates which reads as follows:
All experience teaches that a strong Navy is the surest guarantee of peace.
The hon. Member for Plymouth says "Hear, hear." No it is not; policy, peaceful policy is the best guarantee of peace. It was almost in those words were introduced the Navy Bills in the German Reichstag, and they were told that the German Navy was the surest guarantee of peace. No hon. Member of this House is more devoted to the ideal of an efficient Navy than I am, but it is not going to be a guarantee of peace unless we adopt a peaceful policy. I do welcome the statement we have had from the First Lord and from the hon. and gallant Member for Maid-stone (Commander Bellairs) with reference to the United States of America. If we are going to enter into naval rivalry against the United States, let us be quite frank, one of two things is going to happen—I leave war out of the question—we are going to be outbuilt or bankrupt. Any Government which does not pursue a policy of friendly and close relationship with the United States docs not deserve a month's shrift from the British people. I think it right to regret the appalling campaign of calumny that is going on in the United States against this country. It is disastrous, and at the same time I also regret the campaign of calumny that is going on in this country against America. You can see it on the newspaper bills anywhere in London, and it is very unfortunate. It can only be stopped really by a strong expression of opinion in this House, which, after all, must affect public opinion to a larger extent, and that is why I make this appeal. I have heard remarks below the gangway to my horror. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members are somewhat hilarious, but this is a serious matter. The United States Navy came over here and freely exchanged all their naval secrets with us and we did the same thing by them. We taught them to shoot, which they themselves most generously admit, and now to think we have got to be held up to them as a Power whom they must beat on the seas by over-building us, and egging them on to do this is disastrous for the whole world, which wants peace and disarmament and demobilisation.