Navy.

National Expenditure. – in the House of Commons on 1st March 1922.

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Now I turn to the question of the Navy. The Geddes Committee recommend a reduction of £21,000,000 in the Provisional Estimates which the Admiralty presented, and that without any regard to any savings which might be effected from the result of the Conference at Washington, or of any saving upon the provision of oil for naval services. The Admiralty have offered a saving of £21,000,000 including the savings which have been effected or may be effected owing to the Resolutions at Washington, and including also a certain saving upon supplies of oil. It is fair to put the amount represented by these two exceptions at the figure of £11,000,000. Therefore the comparable figure which the Admiralty sets up against the recommendations of the Geddes Committee is that of £10,000,000 against £21,000,000. There is this qualification to be made, that out of the £21,000,000 reduction recommended by the Geddes Committee only £14,000,000 is specified, and so far as the other £7,000,000 is concerned we are left to decide what might be the further elements on which it would be possible to economise. Indeed, it really amounts to this, that this is the kind of margin which might very rightly be represented by the savings effected at Washington. In any case comparing the specified reductions of the Geddes Committee and the reduction which the Admiralty has offered, there is only a difference of £4,000,000 between them. That difference, resolves itself almost entirely into a question of the number of the personnel of the Navy.

5.0 P.M.

The number of men in the Navy at the present time is 122,700. The Admiralty propose to reduce that number to 121,600 next year. The Geddes Committee propose a figure of 88,000 instead of 121,000. There has been some discussion as to the calculations upon which the Geddes Committee arrived at that conclusion. I have gone into the figures according to my capacity, and, as far as I can see, there is no error whatever in the calculations which the Geddes Committee made, but this point arises, that they arrived at their conclusion by comparing the proposed fleet of next year with the fleet of the pre-War period, and they took the proportion of men to be found in the fighting line of the pre-War fleet and then in the smaller ships, and they said: "We shall apply the same proportion to the fleet of next year. You want so many men for your capital ships; therefore, applying the pre-War proportions, you will only want so many for the smaller ships." It is perfectly obvious that there is no real sequitur in that argument. The great use to which all kinds of small craft can be put has been maintained as one of the lessons of the War. Accordingly the Admiralty cannot agree with such an argument. The Admiralty now agree to a figure of 98,000 men, and it is upon that basis that they offer the reductions from the Estimate to which I have referred. That is a difference of 10,000 in personnel as between the Geddes Report and the Admiralty. The Government, after considering the whole matter, have come to the conclusion that they cannot insist upon a reduction of the Navy below a figure of 98,000. That figure compares with the personnel of 151,000 in the fleet before the War, so that they are bringing down the number by a full third. It compares also with a figure of 129,000 in the United States fleet to-day, allowing for a recent reduction which they have made. It is true that we have a reserve of seafaring men on our shores such as they have not got in the United States. At the same time I do not think that we are in a position to say, looking at these numbers, that we ought to insist upon the Admiralty performing all the services which this great Empire requires at its hands with less than the 98,000 men which they prescribe.

Mr. GIDEON MURRAY:

Are these men to be reduced by the 31st of March?

Photo of Sir Robert Horne Sir Robert Horne , Glasgow Hillhead

Obviously, it would be impossible to bring about the reduction in so short a time as that. I shall have something to say later as to the effect of the lag of the reductions upon the amount of money that will be available next year. Meantime the answer to my hon. Friend's question is in the negative. We have to remember, in dealing with our Fleet in relation to others, that our Empire, more than any other, is scattered about the face of the terrestrial globe, and that the maintenance of our power at sea is of more importance to us for our mere livelihood than to any other population upon the globe. We cannot forget that consideration when we come to estimate the expenditure upon our greatest service. It is only because of the great achievements that have been accomplished at the Conference at Washington that we are able to do even what is now proposed. It is not merely that the conclusions which were reached at Washington enable us to stop the building of two of the four ships which we have set in hand. Much more than that. Suppose we had had no Washington Conference, the results of which we now know, the attitude towards each other of the nations of the world would have been such that we should have been bound to make greater provision than we are making to-day. I hope that there are still more results to come out of these great conventions which were signed at Washington. I believe that in the course of the next year we may, by further investigations and by further agreements and by greater knowledge of what other Powers are doing, be able to effect still greater reductions in expenditure of the Navy than we are agreeing to at the present time.

Photo of Mr Carlyon Bellairs Mr Carlyon Bellairs , Maidstone

Are you dealing with the financial reduction recommended by the Geddes Committee due to the reduced cost of living?

Photo of Sir Robert Horne Sir Robert Horne , Glasgow Hillhead

I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friend has quite followed what they say on that topic. They say that if the cost of living falls, as they expect it to do—and it is somewhat below the figure of 100 per cent, which previously had been taken as a measure—there may be further economies to be discovered, but they do not say that at the present time they can discover more economies by having regard to the cost of living.

Photo of Sir Robert Horne Sir Robert Horne , Glasgow Hillhead

Yes. The question of salaries will come into that consideration.