I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The object of this Measure is to vest in the Government the legal powers necessary to enable it to carry out certain provisions of the two Naval Treaties agreed to at Washington. I do not suppose that it is necessary for me to explain those Treaties in detail to the House. They represent the greatest measure of practical idealism in international relations that has been achieved in our time, and the credit of that achievement will rest equally with the Government of the United States and the British Empire. Nor is it necessary for me to go into the details of the administrative measures which will necessarily arise out of the Treaties. I have already dealt with those measures in introducing the Naval Estimates some time ago; in fact, the execution of the agreement is writ large in every line of our Navy Estimates. We have thought it our duty to act in that respect as if the agreement had been ratified by all the contracting powers, and we have gone ahead with all the necessary measures for the reduction of our Fleet on the assumption that it was our duty to trust those who have framed these agreements with us, and give a fair lead to other nations in this matter.
There are several respects in which the execution of these Agreements demands fresh powers to be placed in the hands of the Government as against the private citizen. For example, we have undertaken under the Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armament that our total tonnage of capital ships shall not exceed a certain amount. We have undertaken that our individual capital ships and ships of war shall come within certain limitations. Those are undertakings which we can fulfil by administrative action. We have also given certain other undertakings. If hon. Members will look at the First Schedule of this Bill they will see that in the Articles of Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armaments we have undertaken that certain things shall not be done within the jurisdiction of the contracting powers. In Article V we provide that no capital ship excaeding 35,000 tons shall be acquired or constructed within the jurisdiction of any of the contracting powers. In Article IX we have undertaken that no aircraft carrier exceeding 27,000 tons standard displacement shall be acquired or constructed. In Article XI we undertake that no vessel of war exceeding 10,000 tons, other than a capital ship or aircraft carrier, shall be acquired or constructed. And there are a number of other articles of the same sort undertaking that certain things shall not be done within our jurisdiction.
We have also undertaken that, if any ships be built for the purpose of war in this country, for sale to other powers, even if they come within the limits of the treaties, we must keep the other contracting powers informed as to the tonnage of the vessels we are building, the date on which the keel is laid, and other particulars relating to the construction of such ships. The Government at the present moment do not possess power to prevent any private citizen or firm building ships of any size or character they may wish to build. Therefore, the first thing which is essential, if we are to fulfil our obligations under these Treaties, is to give ourselves power to prevent ships being built in this country in contravention of the terms of the Treaty.
The method which we are adopting in Clause 1 of the Bill is to lay it down that the construction of a ship of war cannot take place in this country without a licence from the Admiralty. This applies not only to the construction of a ship of war, but to the sale of a ship of war to any foreign country. This is provided for in paragraphs (a) and (b) of Subsection (1), Clause 1. At the same time, the following paragraph of the Clause makes it clear that the power of the Admiralty to withhold a licence to a private firm should only be used in connection with purposes arising directly out of the Treaties; that is to say, there will be no arbitrary power in the hands of the Admiralty to refuse a licence for any other reasons than those which are stipulated in the Treaties. I think that is essential.
It is equally necessary for the Admiralty to be in a position to see that, when it has given a licence, the terms of the Treaties are actually being fulfilled. This necessitates the power which is given in Sub-section (2) and Sub-section (3) of Clause 1, for the Admiralty to know the designs of the ship and other particulars, and, if necessary, to empower members of the Admiralty Naval Construction and Inspection staff to visit the shipyards in question, and assure themselves that the provisions of the Treaties are not being contravened. That really covers the machinery necessary for enforcing the Treaty upon private construction.
Clause 2 deals with the legal penalties for a contravention of this Bill. These penalties cover a very wide range. They include a maximum fine of £100, and imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding two years, and there is also a liability that the ship and her equipment may be forfeited, which is a very substantial fine indeed. The penalties may extend to all persons, including every director and manager of a company or corporation concerned who has been privy to the contravention of the Bill. This wide range is obviously necessary, because the contravention of the Bill may vary from a deliberate conspiracy on the part of all the directors and managers of a company to violate the Treaty at one end of the scale, to some small technical violation, to be dealt with by a comparatively small fine at the other end of the scale.
The next Clause of importance is Clause. 3, which makes it clear that a licence given under this Bill does not in any sense absolve a ship owner or a ship constructor from the obligations of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 1870. Under that Act, as the House well knows, no ship in time of war between two foreign Powers may be built in this country, or equipped and armed in this country for use by one of the belligerents. The only object of Clause 3 is to make it clear that a licence under this Bill, which allows the building of a ship within the limitations of the Washington Treaty, does not form any justification, if war should subsequently break out between two foreign Powers, for the sale of such ship, even if it conform in dimensions and armament to the Washington Treaty, to one of the belligerent Powers Those are all the legal powers necessary to implement the Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armaments.
There was a further Treaty, which is defined in the Preamble to this Bill as
a treaty to protect neutrals and non-combatants at sea in time of war and to prevent use in war of noxious gases and chemicals.
Hon. Members may recollect that one of the endeavours of the British Delegation at Washington was to get rid of submarine warfare altogether, in view of the manner in which that warfare had been carried on by our enemies in the late War. That particular proposal did not commend itself to France, nor, I think, to some of the other Powers at Washington. But the feeling against the manner in which Germany had employed her submarines was so strong, both among the members of the Conference itself and in the general public in the United States, that the American Government brought forward the second Treaty, of which certain Articles are reproduced in the Second Schedule, and the object of which is to make it quite clear that submarines must conform absolutely to the ordinary-laws of war. Indeed, if laid it down further, as between the contracting parties, that the use of submarines as commerce destroyers should be abolished altogether, and that they should endeavour to make that part of the common international law. I think it might interest the House if I read to them the actual words used by the author of this Resolution, Mr. Root, in order to make it clear what is the purpose of the Treaty. He said:
You will observe that this Treaty does not undertake to codify International Law in respect of visit, search, or seizure of merchant vessels. What it does undertake is to state the most important and effective provisions of the law of nations in regard to the treatment of merchant vessels by belligerent warships, and to declare that submarines arc under no circumstances exempt from those humane rules for the protection of the lives of innocent non-combatants, It undertakes further to stigmatise violation of these rules and the doing to death of women and children and non-combatants by the wanton destruction of merchant vessels upon which they are passengers as a. violation of the laws of war. which, as between these five great Powers and all other civilised nations who shall give their adherence, shall be henceforth punished as an act of piracy. It undertakes, further, to prevent temptation to the violation of these rules by the use of submarines for the capture of merchant vessels and to prohibit: their use altogether. It undertakes, further, to denounce the use of noxious gases and chemicals in war as they were used, to the horror of all civilisation, in the War of 1914–18.
The House will notice that there are certain things in that Treaty which the contracting Powers undertake to observe as between themselves, and to endeavour to establish as part of the law of nations. One is the complete prohibition of the use of submarines as commerce destroyers, another is the use of noxious gases and chemicals. There are certain other things, namely, the proper conduct of interference with merchant vessels by any craft, whether submarine or surface craft, which are reasserted as part of the existing law of nations, and the violation of which it is proposed shall be treated within the jurisdiction of this country and of any other country as an act of piracy. The House knows well that piracy is one of those offences which, wherever committed and by whomsoever committed, can be brought into the Courts of this country or anywhere in His Majesty's Dominions, and punished, whether committed by a British subject, by an enemy at war with ourselves, or by a neutral; and Clause 4 of this Bill makes it part of the law of this country that we shall be able in future to deal with those who violate Article I of the Treaty in question in the same way as if they had been guilty of piracy.
No; I thought I had made that clear. The use of submarines against commerce and the use of noxious gases are things which we undertake administratively not to do, and which we hope to see established as part of the law of war. But the use of submarines as they were used in the late War, without a proper opportunity for women and children and passengers to get into safety, is laid down as a violation of the existing laws of war, and it is that violation of the existing laws of war which, in future, is to be treated in the law courts of this country and of His Majesty's Dominions as an act of piracy, liable to be punished in the same way as piracy. That, I think, really covers the whole of the provisions of this measure, except purely forma! provisions; and though there may be minor points that may arise in Committee, I think there is no doubt in the House as to the general agreement with which we carry out our undertakings in this respect.
The House may possibly wish to be informed how the position stands in regard to other nations. The United States, as I think the House generally knows, have taken a most important step in that direction, namely, the formal assent of the Senate. That was passed, I will not say with unanimity, but by an overwhelming majority, some time ago, and, subject only to some minor enabling legislation—I think of similar character to that which I am bringing forward this morning—we may consider that the United States have fully implemented their undertaking.
I do not think that they have. I said there is some minor enabling legislation, but I am not fully informed as to how far they have to ask for the same powers as we have. At any rate, that legislation no doubt will very shortly be passed. In France and in Italy, I think, the Bill for Ratification of the Treaty is in each case before the Foreign Relations Committee. In Japan—the new Prime Minister, Baron Kato, was chief Japanese delegate at Washington—I understand ratification is to take place almost at once. In our own Dominions, I think we can assume that there is no doubt that both ratification and the passing of legislation on similar lines to those contained in the present Bill will take place without any delay. In Canada it is some weeks since ratification was unanimously agreed by both Houses. So we cannot claim that we are acting greatly in advance of our co-signatories. Whether that be the case or not, I think we should make it quite clear that Parliament and this country is fully behind the statesmen who signed that great Pact at Washington.
There is one point in this controversy on which politicians and the public of all shades and complexions of opinion are united, namely, that these two Treaties which were enacted at Wash ington two months ago are instruments that command universal approbation. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman that he has the privilege of being the first of the statesmen of all countries concerned in this Pact to introduce in his own Legislature a Measure to give practical effect to the Agreement arrived at at Washington. It is regrettable—
but no one is to blame—that there has been as much delay as there has been in the ratification of these two great instruments, and in the passing of the necessary ancillary legislation. We may justly congratulate ourselves, however, on having shown no remissness in these respects. I am only going to say two or three words about this Bill, and they will not be in a critical sense, but their object will be to ensure that its real effect may be generally appreciated and understood. The Bill consists, as the right hon Gentleman has truly said, of two parts, one dealing with one Treaty, and the other dealing with the other Treaty. The first part is necessary to make effective the Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armaments, and I should like, if I may, to call the attention of the House to one or two of the provisions in the first Schedule, which cite the Articles of Agreement in regard to naval construction. The House will find in Part IV that a definition was arrived at in Washington of the term "capital ships." I think it was wise that that vague phrase, used in a different sense at different times, should receive an authoritative interpretation. The definition is as follows:
A capital ship, in the case of ships hereafter built, is defined as a vessel of war, not an aircraft carrier, whose displacement exceeds 10,000 tons or which carries a gun with a calibre exceeding 8 inches.
Therefore, for the purposes of the Treaty, and the naval programme of the various Powers in the future, that will be treated as a capital ship. Now we come to another important provision. Article V, which also deals with capital ships, says:
No capital ship exceeding 35,000 tons shall be acquired by, or constructed by, for or within the jurisdiction of, any of the contracting Powers.
This is a great step in advance in the way of competition in naval construction. Article VI is, I think, equally important. It reads:
No capital ship of any of the contracting Powers shall carry a gun with a calibre in excess of 16 inches.
That will put a stop to the reckless and ruinous competition in the ever-increasing scale of guns and ammunition. Then Article XII, which certainly ought not to be passed without notice, provides that
No vessels of war of any of the contracting Powers, hereafter laid down, other
than a capital ship, shall carry a gun with a calibre in excess of 8 inches.
This Bill will enable the Government and executive of the day, at any rate as far as this country is concerned, to prevent infractions of the Treaty by private adventure, and it is for that purpose, as I understand, that the first Clause is needed. No one will dispute that these provisions are essential for that purpose, or will criticise them on the ground of excessive rigour in the way of punishment.
Now I come to that part of the Bill which deals with the second of the two Treaties contracted at Washington—the Treaty to protect neutrals and non-combatants at sea in time of war, and to prevent the use in war of noxious gases and chemicals. If the House will look at the second Treaty on the last page of the Hill, it will see what that means. The rules which are specified in the first paragraph of Article I are, as the right hon. Gentleman has stated, no innovation. They are in no sense an innovation upon the established code of international law. We have always recognised in our Courts that merchant vessels must be ordered to submit to visit and search, to determine their character before they can be seized, and that they must not be attacked unless they refuse to submit to visit and search after warning, or to proceed as directed after seizure. That is, a standing rule in international law, and was so at the beginning of the late War.
I have always thought that the action of the German submarines was a distinct and flagrant violation of these well-established rules. The procedure adopted in the case of many of our merchant vessels, and in the case of merchant vessels, belonging to neutral Powers, constituted in fact an act of piracy of the worst kind, and ought to have been branded as such, and punished as such. I hoped we should have been able to obtain an agreement for the abolition of submarine warfare altogether; for even with the strongest paper safeguards such as we have here, it would be difficult to prevent these violations. If submarine warfare is to be allowed at all, everyone will agree that these provisions, to prevent such acts by submarines, are not in any circum stances a departure from the universal rules as to piracy, and are necessary to make logically complete the well-established principles of international law. I think, therefore, that in both respects, as regards these Treaties, the Bill ought to command, as it certainly will command, not only the assent, but the warm approval of every section of the House. I will only add what I am sure must be in everyone's mind, that it is high time that similar agreements were come to with regard to disarmament on land. Excellent as it is, and great step in advance as it is, that so many of the great Powers should come to agreement as to Naval limitations, it is necessary, for the purpose of the peace of the world, that similar arrangements should be come to in regard to armaments on land, and I am sure it is the fervent prayer of the whole House and the whole country that that happy consummation may not be long delayed.
In the consideration of Treaties such as these, it seems a little unfortunate that matters so vitally affecting the future of this country should be debated without the presence of any of the chief Ministers of the Crown, and, in particular—in the regrettable absence of the Leader of the House, owing to illness, with which we all sympathise— that the Prime Minister should be absent on an occasion such as this. These are executive steps to put into force one of the greatest international instruments or set of instruments which have ever been effected, They are the first fruits of co-operation between America and ourselves, in which, as none of us doubt, the only hope for the peaceable development of the world is to be found. In addition, they mean the broaching of questions which are more important to this country than to any other, namely, the power of this country at sea, and the voluntary limitation by this country of the provisions which have been considered necessary in the past DO defend the very bread of the people of these islands. In all these circumstances, it does seem very unfortunate that the Chief Minister of the Crown should not be here for the purpose of proving to the world that these problems have not been treated lightly in this Parliament, but have been taken with the utmost seriousness that it is possible for us to apply to them, and also because, when the British House of Commons is discussing sea power, it certainly seems that the best brains of the Government should be applied to the Debate.
These provisions are the first step towards a practical scheme of limitation of armaments, and they are the first step towards the solution of another problem, which has not been mentioned so far in the Debate, but which is also of vital importance to the future of the world—the abolition of the construction of armaments by private enterprise. This subject has not even been touched upon, as far as I can gather, either in the able though very short speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, or in the subsequent remarks of the Leader of the Opposition. Any limitation such as this involves an increasing responsibility on the Government, which, under this Bill, is thrown entirely upon the shoulders of the Admiralty. It certainly seems that we may find ourselves regretting in years to come that the whole of this great responsibility has been given to a mere Department of the Government, and is not, as far as one can see, subject to any revision either by Parliament or by the country as a whole. The decisions of the Admiralty arc to be final on all these points.
The question of the limitation of the construction of armaments by private enterprise is not nearly so simple as it appears at first sight. When the Government forbids, the Government has the responsibility also of permitting. When the nations as a whole forbid. they have the responsibility as a whole of permitting. The signatories to this Treaty, to take a single concrete example, have bound themselves not to construct any ship, or to allow to be constructed within their jurisdiction any ship, of a tonnage exceeding 35,000. But there are great Powers, with great financial resources, entirely outside the limitations of this Treaty. Spain, for instance, is not a signatory; and, when these-Powers take upon themselves the obligation never to build any ship beyond the-limitations imposed by this Treaty, they enter on a serious responsibility with their populations when it is realised that Powers outside the scope of the Treaty may find themselves in a position to-construct warships on a scale vastly superior to anything that either the people of this country or of America may be able, under the limitations which they have themselves imposed, to build. There is no reason whatever why engineers from Germany should not set up in Spain dock- yards and arsenals capable of building ships for, say, a South American republic far above the limitations imposed under the stipulations of this Treaty. There is no immediate supposition that such things will be done, although it is not by any means impossible to suppose that Soviet Russia might find itself in a very profitable position where it is not bound by limitations of this Treaty, and might, to the order of some foreign Power, construct vessels on a scale which the big armament firms of this country had bound themselves not to undertake.
These problems are worthy of somewhat deeper consideration than discussion by a small sporadic attendance on a Friday morning at eleven o'clock, without the presence of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. No doubt there are excellent reasons for their absence, but, as a junior Member of the House, I should wish to be assured that these great questions were going to be threshed out in the House this morning in some greater detail than seems probable from the cursory manner in which the right hon. Gentleman introduced this Bill. We are, for good or ill, entering on the path of limitation of armaments and abolition of the manufacture of armaments by private enterprise. These are steps of the utmost importance, not only, as I have said, to all the nations of the world, but in particular to this nation, which lives so vitally and immediately by the traffic borne to it across the seas, under the guard of those navies which we have constructed in the past. I do not know if it is the intention of any Members of the Government to give us some further information on these points, but is it not possible that this Debate is rather perfunctory, in view of the importance of the subject under consideration?
The abolition of the construction of armaments by private enterprise has not even been mentioned. The attitude of the Government towards other Governments, not signatories to the Treaty, who may possibly indulge in the construction of armaments on a scale greatly beyond the scope of the Treaty has not even been mentioned, nor has the attitude of the Government towards the other nations who are signatories to the Treaty, in regard to whether they will be satisfied merely with their declaration, or whether any joint commission of inspection is to be introduced under this or any other Treaty. It may he said, quite rightly, that the bona fides of the Powers who are signatories to the Treaty cannot be impugned, but I would ask the House to consider that we hope that this will be a preliminary step to a further introduction of the limitation of land armaments, and not only that, but to conventions with the ex-enemy Powers, and with other Powers who, although they were not actually enemies, are Powers with whom our relations are not nearly so friendly as they are with the great Republics of America and France. I would suggest that it is necessary for the House to consider whether some joint commission of inspection such as we have forced upon Germany in relation to disarmament there would not be worth while considering as a proof of bona fides by the countries signatory to this Treaty in the hope that later on, when we get belligerents in, we may be able to dissipate the atmosphere of suspicion which is undoubtedly one of the chief things in keeping up the race of armaments. Already, even with a Commission sitting in Germany, you have the suspicion of the French, which is fostered by great newspapers in this country. that depots of munitions and arms exist and secret armament manufactures are being carried on in that country. While if is all very well for the three or four Powers under this Treaty already to believe in each other's bona fides, if we get in enemy Powers the mere affirmation of these Powers will not be considered sufficient by great and important sections of opinion in this country, and therefore I would ask the Government to consider whether it would not be necessary in addition, when we wish to bring in further Powers, ex-enemy Powers and belligerents, whose bona fides are not nearly so well believed in in this country as are the bona fides of the Republics and the Powers signatory to the present Treaty, that we should actually allow in this country some form of inspection, voluntary and asked for, of the great dockyards and arsenals of this country in order that later on we ourselves might ask that some form of inspection of the dockyards and arsenals of the other countries who are coming in under this Treaty might be allowed in order that accurate information should be disseminated throughout the world as to the actual state of armaments in each of the countries which are coming under these great disarmament schemes.
The Treaties of Washington have generally been regarded as one of the greatest achievements of British diplomacy, and indeed of world diplomacy as a whole. I have no such optimistic illusions. There is no doubt the Treaties of Washington were largely for the limitation of capital ships. The other great problems of the future have been looked in the face and passed by on the other side. The problem of disarmament as a whole has scarcely even been mentioned. The state of opinion on submarine warfare has been reaffirmed, as it was reaffirmed at the beginning of this war, but these are mere paper affirmations. It is very difficult to believe they will prove very much more effective than they were at the commencement of the last war. The fact that we can, if we like, treat these as acts of piracy does not bring us very much further on. We all remember that during the last war an attempt was made to treat captured German submarine officers in a way to indicate that the opinion of the Allies considered that they had been guilty of acts absolutely on a different footing from ordinary acts of warfare according to the usage of civilised nations. That broke down completely, and it is my belief that any attempt to treat as pirates submarine commanders in future wars, engaged on similar acts, will again break down. Suppose, in some future state of war between Poland and Soviet Russia, Russia claimed that as they had not been consulted in the matter of submarine warfare they were not bound by the state of opinion of civilised nations. If Russian submarines took to sinking merchant ships at sight and the Poles took to hanging their commanders in the squares of Warsaw when they were captured, that attempt would break down as these attempts broke down in the past and will break down in the future. The attitude of the civilised Powers to problems of disarmament was, I think, brutally exemplified in the Washington conferences. The Powers went to the Washington Conference, as we went there, having voted for great ships which really, to be; perfectly honest, I do not believe this country intended to construct.
The intention has been and always was that these enormous megalosauri were not to be continued, and this huge expenditure was not to be gone on with. But the saving undertaken at Washington was not nearly so much a saving for humanitarian purposes as a saving for economic purposes, and, while hon. Gentlemen are very anxious to pat themselves on the back for saving for economic purposes, a saving for economic purposes is a saving after all of greed, and any great action committed on account of greed will not bring any very lasting spiritual reward. When we touched the real problems affecting what nations regarded as problems intimately connected with not their money but their honour, when we touched the question of land armies, when we touched the question of coastal defence, when we touched the question of air attack and defence, then the old spirit and the old prejudice arose again, and these were shelved and dismissed and relegated to some future date, when it might be that opinion would have less force in the matter than it has to-day.
Already all over the world people are clamouring for greater and greater air development. In France they have a strength of something like 200 squadrons to five, or it may be 10, in this country. In Italy, only two or three weeks ago, Gabriele d'Annunzio, the great poet, was urging, with all the force of his tremendous power over the Italian people, a greater and greater Italian air development. He urged in his great speech "The Creed of a Poet" that Italy-must find a Master Blacksmith to cut the Roman eagle from the shield and loose it into the skies. The power which has made Italy one of the great motor countries of the world, their skill in technique, their skill in aviation should lead them to enormous development in the air, and Italy should dominate the skies as once she dominated the earth. That is the spirit in which development in the air is being regarded, not perhaps by the mass of people, but by the vigorous, thrusting minds throughout the world, and this is the problem which the great Conference at Washington looked at, and passed by on the other side.
We have taken only one step to-day, but it is a step in regard to the voluntary limitation of armaments in good faith by the countries of the world. In the spirit in which we move to-day the greater and greater achievements which we hope to bring about in the limitation of land armaments and air armaments will eventually be entered upon. It is to be entered upon in the same small business spirit as we have shown this morning, saying, on the one hand, that there will be a great saving of money, and, on the other, the steps we propose to take are not really very important when you come to look into them. That creates a fear that the important problems in regard to the new field of activities will not be realised. Armies are leaving the ground, and leaping into the air. All over the world already the sky is beginning to hum with the come and go of these locusts of death, which we have seen over London in the last year of the war, and which already even the Air Ministry admit would probably make London uninhabitable as a great city in any future war even if it were to break out within 24 hours.
When, therefore, we are taking one step in the matter I think it is important that it should be regarded not as the completion of a passing agreement regarding the safety of San Francisco and Shanghai and the shores of the Pacific, many thousands of miles away, but that it should be regarded as a movement of the human mind towards a new orientation in this problem. Undoubtedly in Europe what concerns us more than anything else is air armaments, because we live in one another's lap, and within ten hours of the declaration of war, Paris, London, Berlin, or any of our capitals might be wrecked. The problem is quite different here from what it is in the United States, where the belligerents are separated by oceans which have scarcely been traversed till within a few score years ago. When one finds that the first step is treated with this levity and cursoriness by the Government of the day, it makes one despair of the question whether they are really applying themselves to it with the knowledge that Europe, which has been shaken but not wrecked by the last war, will be ground down into dust if the new war which we are fearing break out.
The mere fact that we have saved £5,000,000, £10,000,000 or £50,000,000 on these huge armed leviathans to sail about the Pacific and blow the rocks of British Columbia into powder, will be as nothing if we cannot bring about a new spiritual orientation towards the problem of wars in Europe. Unless we can bring that about, a European war will break out. These great aircraft which can already, within a few hours, cross frontiers as though they did not exist, and level the greatest of our cities into the dust, will begin to pass again, and we shall find that the mere saving of a few-millions of sovereigns which we make in this Treaty is absolutely dust before the wind when compared with the lack of spiritual appreciation and mental appreciation of the problem of war, as it is waged to-day, and the problem of the risk of Europe as it is run to-day.
These European problems are the main problems. The steps which we are taking to-day are only of importance as an earnest of the greater steps which we have to take to-morrow, and the still greater steps which we have to take later. If we continue in the spirit in which we have begun to-day, these great cities will fall, our civilisation will fail, and the savings that we have made and the buildings we have built by the money we have saved will go down in the common smash. London will be like St. Quentin and Peronne, and in a hundred years it will be like the ruined city of Byzantium in Asia Minor, because we could not realise that the spirit of man in civilisation was capable of destroying all his works with the utmost of ease, and that unless we develop the God in man against the brute, the achievement of humanity will be lost.
The speech to which we have just listened, with all its eloquence, seems to be the right accompaniment for this Debate, and I can only regret that the hon. and gallant Member continues to be a supporter of every adventure adumbrated and put through by the Government. He should sit on these benches, and then he would be able, with a single-minded spirit, to advocate what we all know to be the right cause of humanity against the old militarist spirit of Europe. The matter we have before us to-day will secure the united support of the House. Not only do we welcome the Measure itself, but we welcome, above all, the fact that we are the first country to implement and carry out in every detail that which was agreed upon at Washington. I hope that it will be noted at Washington that we have led the way, even though it involve some sacrifice in our own workshops to carry out the decisions of the Conference. When we are looking at the present Bill, we must look at it, not merely as it affects the decisions of the Washington Conference, but as it will affect the decisions of those future conferences to which we must look forward for limiting armaments on the earth and in the air. These arrangements will require amplifying when the new conferences take place. It is from this point of view that I want to look at the provisions to-day.
By profession I am a designer of warships. I am certain that 10 or 15 years age had this Bill been presented, there would have been an out cry from all the great armament firms of this country. There would have been a sustained protest, and the Bill would never have gone through. Now, fortunately, we approach it in a different spirit, and from a different angle. Let us realise what is being done. In this Bill the Admiralty require every manufacturer of anything which can be called a "warship" to submit to the Admiralty their designs for approval before they go ahead with the work. They have to submit, also, to the right of the Admiralty to inspect their yards, and to see that they are carrying out accurately the designs which have been approved. I can imagine the howl that that would have produced 15 years ago. The Admiralty would have been charged with handing over the business secrets of one manufacturer to another, and of trying to extract from the yards the secrets of the success of Armstrong's or of Vickers'. Now it is accepted offhand. I want something more to be accepted. It is not merely inspection by the British Admiralty that is required, but inspection by an international body, which will satisfy international opinion, and not merely our own Government.
This is the first Measure to be brought forward, but presently other countries will bring forward Measures of the same sort. Everybody must realise that it will depend on how the inspection is carried out by the executive of the different countries whether it is satisfactorily worked or not. I am certain that in this country the Admiralty will prevent any sort of infraction. Everybody in England will believe that, but it is important that everybody outside England should also have faith in the inspection and in the carrying out of the Treaty. Is it not possible, therefore, to use the League of Nations to do that work? There you have the only body that will secure in future a general agreement. I should not object to having skilled experts, even if they were Frenchmen or Germans, going through our yards, and seeing that there was under construction no warships which were in any kind of way a contravention of the Treaty. I believe it would avoid a great deal of the suspicion that exists to-day if there were that spread of universal knowledge of what was being done. I hope that as soon as the other countries, not only the signatories to the Washington Treaty, but also countries like Germany and Russia, accept this position, we shall go the next step, and get international inspection and international authorisation.
That seems to be the next stage towards what all on these benches want to see—the abolition of the right to manufacture all instruments of war in private yards. If you are going in that direction, you have first to go through the stage of registration and inspection, and this Bill seems to be the first step in that direction. It is with some slight twinges of regret that I see the end of that great old battle between the gun and the armour, with John Brown producing a 16-inch armour plate and Vickers producing a 16-inch gun to pierce it, and next year Cammels producing armour which the 16-inch gun cannot pierce. So year after year the old battle went on. Now we are coming to an end of that, and a good thing too!
The whole point of this Bill is—can we extend it? In the old days before the War we had the naval scare. We were afraid of Germany because she was creating an enormous navy. Now an exactly similar scare has been started in connection with the air. Six months ago hardly a Member in this House knew how we were at the mercy of France so far as air power was concerned. Now nearly every child in the country knows that France has 140 squadrons, or whatever it may be. During these six months the air scare has been worked up. We are preparing the way in this country for a gigantic construction of aeroplanes. The only way to stop it is that we should have similar supervision and inspection and a convention dealing with the air. It is not creditable, when we are discussing vital questions like this, that we should have on the Front Bench not a single Cabinet Minister, because there is no country which is more interested at present in disarmament and putting an end to this air scare and getting the Washington Agreement extended to the other arms than Great Britain. The one sound financial policy is in disarmament. Yet we have not a Member of the Cabinet present at this Debate. That is unfortunate. It should be made clear that in welcoming this Bill we welcome it as the first stage towards a limitation of armaments which should extend to every one of the arms of the Service. I do not pretend that the Washington Conference, which merely prevents more than a certain number of battleships being built, and says that the sinking of merchant ships by submarines shall be considered as piracy, is doing much for disarmament, for which not only we, but the Prime Minister stands. It is only the first step, but on those lines much more can be done, and I hope will be done in future.
I notice that the second part of the Bill declares the sinking of merchant ships by submarines to be piracy. But the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill said that the signatories also agreed, though they did not put it into the Treaty, not to use poison gas in land operations against each other, and that, as far as future war between the signatories was concerned, poisonous gas was ruled out. That is all to the good. It cannot be embodied in this, I quite understand, but it does seem to me that if it be wrong to use poison gas against Europeans, against the troops of the signatories, it is just as wrong to use it against coloured people, as is being done to-day. And if it be wrong to use it against troops it is much more wrong to use it against non-combatants. It is incumbent upon us to carry out our principles and to see that if we refuse to use gas against organised armies of Europeans, we should not adopt it in operating against villages in Mesopotamia, or in these different places where earlier operations are being carried on against coloured people at the present time. I think the sacrifice of our power would be very small and it would add to our reputation, and also to the certainty that we intend to carry out to the letter the obligations into which we entered, if we cease to allow smoke bombs to be used on Arab villages or in Egypt, India or elsewhere. Let us stop ourselves some of the most offensive operations of warfare. If we do so we hope that the rest of the signatories will follow our lead, and put an end not only to the sinking of merchant ships without notice, but to the use altogether in warfare of poison gas.
Vice-Admiral Sir R. HALL:
The hon. and gallant Member for Lanark (Captain Elliot) instead of displaying that caution which I would expect to find in one of his nationality, deprecated that we did not go much further with this Bill. This Bill is limited both in its scope and application. The reason is that we have only a few Powers for signatories. If we had been fortunate enough to get all the nations of the world, the proposition put forward by the hon. and gallant Member would have been feasible, but as things are to-day, with this Treaty signed by only a few of the great Powers, no responsible Executive would have undertaken the risk to the State which would be involved if the Treaty were to be further extended. That is a consideration which the House must take into account. The hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) said quite lightly that we have to go much further. Tie referred specially to the air and, with the hon. and gallant Member for Lanark, he urged that we should at once extend this agreement to cover the air. I do not think that we could get France to agree. I think we have got France to go as far as we can. We had to consider the susceptibilities of the Powers with which we were dealing. When we came to deal with naval Powers, France felt perfectly safe in reducing: her navy, but when we come to the air a very different state of affairs exists. Two of the great Powers, Russia and Germany, are not signatories. Russia and Germany to-day have a very small navy, but Germany has probabilities of having a great air force, and so has Russia. Before we can extend our Treaty, excellent as it is, to cover air warfare, we must work so as to get all the great Powers. Otherwise I do not believe that we shall get the signatories to the Treaty to extend it to the air.
With regard to submarine warfare, submarine attack on merchant ships without warning is to be regarded as an act of piracy. I welcome that view. These Clauses would have carried much greater force in the world had we insisted on the punishment of these Powers after the War. Had we enforced international law on these Powers after the War this would not have been a pious expression of opinion, but a continuance of executive policy which is a very different affair. Even the Germans knew that ruthless submarine warfare was illegal, because in their attack on commerce they pursued two different policies. When they sent out their cruisers and their men-of-war, Koenigsberg; Karlsruhe and Emden, they did not sink merchantmen without warning, but first called on them to stop. They took the papers and then they destroyed the ship. They carried out to a large extent what we have always accepted as the laws of international warfare at sea. When it came to submarines why did they not adopt that principle? Why did they have two different systems? They said, "It is too dangerous for a submarine to obey the same law." That is a confession that they knew they were wrong. I hope that it may still be in our power to enforce punishment on these submarine pirates, as determined by this House and by this country, and that we shall not have expressed a pious opinion on such acts, but that we shall see that they are fully punished.
Mr. L'ESTRANGE MALONE:
The right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill said, rightly, that this was a Measure embodying the first principles of idealism, and with that, in general, I agree. But I want to add certain qualifications. First of all, it is rather strange that a big Measure such as this, which is probably one of the most important Bills brought before this House since the Bill ratifying the Treaty of Versailles, is brought forward on a Friday morning with merely a quorum of Members present. I need only draw a comparison between the way this Bill is brought in and the Debate we had on the Genoa Conference. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, slips quietly out of the backdoor of the Admiralty and brings this Bill in on a Friday morning in an almost empty House. The comparison needs no comment at all. I regret that it probably shows that the inner Cabinet of the Government are going to treat the Treaty of Washington with the same respect that they have shown to the League of Nations, and other idealistic efforts of that sort. I regret that the principles which were brought forward at the Washington Conference were not brought forward sooner, and that, if the Government really intended to carry out those principles, they were not introduced through the League of Nations. The House knows that at Washington there were five important Treaties and a number of Resolutions carried. The Treaty we are discussing to-day deals only with two of those Treaties. The two Five-Power Treaties, the Limitation of Armaments Treaty and the Treaty relating to neutrals and poison gases. The three other Treaties—the Four-Power Treaty relating to insular possessions, the two Nine-Power Treaties, that regarding China, that regarding the Chinese Customs tariff—contain matters vital to the settlement of Asia and the peace of the world. They are not included in this Bill, and I shall be out of order if I discuss them. Those Treaties were carried out by our plenipotentiaries at Washington, but this House has no opportunity of expressing its opinion upon them.
If hon. Members will turn to the White Paper dealing with the Washington Conference they will find that in every one of the five Treaties a Clause was inserted to the effect that the countries concerned would ratify the Treaties in the manner usual to those countries. Why is it that, only these two important Treaties have been brought forward? The whole peace of the world is dependent on our policy. It is highly important that there should be a strong and enlightened public opinion regarding what is happening in China. There are difficulties in China which make for the disturbance of Asia, owing to the fact that at home no searchlight of public opinion has been thrown on what is being done out there. I cannot discuss the Treaties which are not included in this Bill, but the three Treaties cannot be taken separately from the two which are being ratified to-day. The three Treaties are the Quadruple Treaty, which may involve us on the side of Japan, should Russia attempt to recover Saghalien; and the two Nine-Power Treaties, which set forth the whole policy in China, both financial and political. Unless we can discuss the future policy of this country regarding China, and express an opinion as to whether China should be allowed to raise her Customs tariff or whether the Boxer indemnity should be commuted or be utilised for other purposes, such as educational facilities for the Chinese, these Treaties are to some extent nullified.
I tried to find in the White Paper, Command Paper 1672, any indication as to how the reduction of naval armament is to be carried into effect. How, for example, do we know that Japan is disarming her battleships, dismantling her guns and turrets and barbettes, and taking out her range-finders and torpedoes? Is any provision made for inspection to ensure that this work is being done, or is there any organisation set up to which reports will be rendered that the provisions of the Treaty have been executed? I should imagine that that was a matter which could be dealt with most suitably by the League of Nations. It is the sort of advisory non-executive function which a body of that kind might well be given, and it would add to the prestige of the League of Nations.
Then there is the Treaty regarding naval limitations. This Treaty gives enormous powers to Japan in the Pacific Ocean. It throws upon Siberia and upon China very great responsibilities in regard to the treatment of their territory. It does more than that; it gives Japan practically a monopoly of the Eastern provinces of China, where she already has enormous powers, and also over Eastern Siberia, where there is already a very large Japanese army of occupation. What has been the result up to the present of these negotiations?
At the Washington Conference the Japanese Delegates gave to the Conference a very clear declaration of their policy in regard to Eastern Siberia. The Japanese delegates said that they were authorised to declare that it was the fixed policy of Japan to respect the territorial integrity of Russia and to observe the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of that country. Hardly had the delegates returned from the Washington Conference when a conference was held at Dairen, in Manchuria. The conference was held on 15th April, 1922. The Japanese plenipotentiaries, fresh from the Washington Conference, where they had given these pledges, placed before the delegates of the Far Eastern Republic an ultimatum of seventeen clauses, including demands for the transformation of Vladivostock into a free port, an extension of Japanese fishing rights, the regulation of postal and telegraphic communication and a number of other very severe clauses in regard to that Republic. What is the Government going to about this matter? What steps are being taken to insure that the Japanese are really going to evacuate that part of the territory of Eastern Siberia to which they have no right whatever? They have spent up to the present in armies of occupation over £80,000,000, and the Japanese population in Eastern Siberia is, I believe, only about 8,000. They would be well advised to spend some of that money in indemnifying their population in that country, rather than going on with this senseless, military, Imperialistic intervention. We must not pass the question of Japanese intervention in Siberia and China without trying to understand the meaning of it. There are two schools of thought, one which says that Japan must expand in the East, and one which says there is no need for the Japanese population to expand. Before the question of the Pacific can be settled, with any degree of certainty, it is very desirable we should know whether it is necessary for Japan to expand in the East, and therefore I suggest this is a matter into which the League of Nations or some other body ought to inquire.
The full effects of the Treaties of Washington have, to some extent been nullified by the fact that no reference at all has been made to the limitation of air armaments. If we believe that the old battleships are out of date, then the Washington Conference simply means that the big Powers came together to scrap obsolete weapons. It may well be that the next war will be entirely—it certainly will be primarily—an air war. I do not believe there will be another big war as long as the people who fought in the last War are young and active and liable to have to fight again. But in another twenty or thirty years' time we may find ourselves in a new war where air development will be supreme. It may well be that the next war will start by a great attack of thousands of heavy bombing planes, each carrying two or three tons of high explosives, starting from a secret base somewhere in Central Asia, Bokhara or Beluchistan, where they have been secretly collected, and appearing over London. It would mean nothing more nor less than "hands up" for London. We have not got to go as far as Asia in our imagination. To-day France is in a position to say "hands up" to this country. Should we have to bomb Paris to-morrow, and I hope there will never be any cause for war between us and France, but if we had to bomb Paris, I should be surprised if we could send enough machines to run into two figures. I doubt if we could send ten machines, whereas France is in a position, in case of war, to send something like 100 machines over London at any time. Steps should be taken to extend the results of the Washington Conference to the air.
Regarding the Treaty provisions relating to neutrals and poison gases, I saw-in the Press that very soon after the Treaties were concluded at Washington, the United States of America set up an enormous poison gas factory capable of turning out 200 tons of poison gas per day at a place called Edgemore, near Baltimore. Has the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary any information about this factory, and can he say whether or not the Americans' have, as a result of this Treaty, decided to do away with it? This particular Treaty has a very important bearing on the omission of the Governments of the various countries to include the air question in the first Treaties. It may interest the House to know what Marshal Foch thinks about future warfare. In a preface to a book by Major Victor Lefebure on "Chemical Warfare," Marshal Foch emphasises that the ever increasing capacity of the aeroplane to carry heavier weight will supply a fresh means of spreading poison gas by the aid of ever more powerful bombs and reaching armies and populations far to the rear. Marshal Foch continues:
Chemical warfare is thus able to produce more formidable results over greater expanses. On the other hand, it is beyond question that this extension finds a ready realisation in a country like Germany which devotes itself in peace time to the wholesale manufacture of chemical products which by a slight modification of the process of re-action, can be converted into war products
I think I have shown that these two Treaties are very closely connected, and as to the question of the limitation of air armaments, and, of course, also land armaments, I should like to know whether there is any intention of bringing them up before the League of Nations or before another conference. If the Treaty of Washington is simply concerned with naval armaments it: is to some extent nullified, or at any rate it is reduced in potentiality. The House should have some assurance on these points before passing the Bill.
I did not quite follow my hon. Friend's attack on the Government for not having sent down their capital ships to see this Measure through. This Measure, as is realised on all sides of the House, is, to all intents and purposes, non-contentious, and I think the Government should be congratulated on showing a glimmer of common sense in not employing their capital ships to put it through. While I have no intention of raising any querulous arguments upon this Bill, it is fair to tell the House the other side of this matter. When the Washington discussions were taking place they were regarded nowhere with greater interest or more anxiety than in the Latin-American countries— throughout Mexico, Central America and South America. The peoples of those countries hoped that out of the discussions there would arise something which would be of benefit to themselves, which would assure them in the future, not only on the question of war between each other, but would also—which was more important from their point of view—ensure them against aggression from their powerful northern neighbour. The Press of South America reflected in no uncertain degree the disappointment that people felt at the outcome of the Washington Conference. One newspaper put very well the case from their point of view. They said, in effect, "When powerful trusts find that it is inexpedient any longer to compete against each other, it is their habit to combine, to turn round, and to rob the public. We are the public; the great Powers are the trusts. They have got together, they have made certain arrangements among themselves for the purposes, of saving their own pockets or of carving out for themselves a position in the world, and we, the smaller countries, have got to pay for it." If our consciences are clear in this respect, we need not, of course, pay too much attention to that aspect of the matter, but we have got to pay for it in hard cash.
May I explain myself in this manner? Politics and trade are very closely allied in South America. Political preferences for one country or for another carry with them, as a rule, advantages in trade which are very considerable. It has always been the privilege of this country to hold a very high position in the South American countries. Our name in Chile at one time stood as high almost as the Chilean. We have been respected throughout the South American Continent for the assistance that we gave in the early days of the revolutions in those countries to the revolutionary parties, and we gained for ourselves such a name and such a position as brought with them the reward of commerce. Everywhere where British goods were exported to those countries they were bought with preference in the markets of those countries, but I am sorry to say that the evidence is very strong that our prestige has fallen. I am not, of course, in a position to speak of such a vast Continent as South America in all its parts, but I have ventured, in a small and humble way, to keep as far as possible in touch with current opinion in the different countries there, and I am afraid there is no doubt whatsoever that our prestige has fallen. It has fallen because, as the hon. and gallant Member for Lanark (Captain Elliot) said, this Treaty is the first fruits of co-operation between America and ourselves. It may be a very excellent thing indeed to have the closest possible co-operation with America. I am not going to quarrel with it, but I must point out the price that we are paying.
If we ally ourselves closely with the United States, we alienate South America, because the United States are exceedingly unpopular in all the Latin-American countries. They are unpopular for political reasons, into which I need not go at the present moment, but hon. Members may take it from me that there are very few countries in South America where the North American is not feared politically, and probably heartily disliked. The great difficulty that the British representative in South America has to contend with is the fact that we are classed with the Americans, and so surely as we are classed with the Americans so surely do we lose prestige. It is a lamentable fact, but it is so. Unfortunately, these Treaties which were signed at Washington have only turned into a certainty the suspicions which have been felt for some years past now in those particular countries, and, as I say, we have got to pay for it, but the disastrous part of it is that we are losing, not to France, not even to Spain, but we are losing to Germany all the time. Just recently it was reported—and it has never been contradicted—that there has been a large onrush of German commercial travellers into all parts of Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Latin-American Republics, Santo Domingo and Haiti. Not only that, but large orders have been placed with German firms from those countries and, worse still, the firm of Krupps have established a large factory near or close to Rio, so I am informed, and another one in Chile, where it is their intention, as they say, to turn out agricultural and other machines. The people who are going to suffer are ourselves. The competition in those markets is not between French and German goods, but between German and English goods, and it is we who are going to suffer.
I think the House should realise that we are paying a high price for these Treaties. I am not saying for a moment that it is not worth while, but I do not think we should ourselves imagine that by having signed these Treaties, or by passing this Bill, we have improved our position in all the world, at any rate, or that we have even succeeded in setting abroad a feeling of confide in our good intentions. There is & particular Article in the First Schedule to this Bill which, if I read it aright, is very pertinent indeed to the subject I have raised. It-is Article XVIII of the Treaty, which says:
Each of the Contracting Powers undertakes not to dispose by gift, sale or any mode of transfer of any vessel of war in such a manner that such vessel may become a vessel of war in the Navy of any foreign Power.
By far the largest market for almost, or entirely, obsolete warships is to be found in Spanish America. I am not talking for the moment of the Argentine, or of that great Portuguese Republic, Brazil, or indeed of Chile, but of the
smaller Republics, which have to keep, for purposes of Customs and even of maintaining civil order in their countries, one or two smaller ships. This Article is going to hit them very hard, because there are very few of them that can afford to buy a brand-new warship. There are certainly none of them in a position to manufacture them for themselves. Where will they turn? It is not to be supposed that a country like Ecuador or Colombia will be a naval menace for many generations to come, if ever. Where are they to find them? They will go to the parties who are not contracting parties to these Treaties; they will go to Germany and to Spain, whose Navy is daily increasing. We are doing ourselves an injury, and while I welcome this Bill, which gives effect to the Washington Treaties that have been signed, I welcome it with the idea all the same that we have got to pay a heavy price for what we are doing.
The hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) does not, as a rule, run away from his speeches, but I do not see him in his place after having made some very extraordinary remarks. To hear him, one would think he was not a fighting man, but a "conshy." Those who know him, however, know that not only has he distinguished himself in the Army, but that he has also distinguished himself in the Navy. He has sown his naval and military wild oats, and he now wants the rest of the world, this country included, to grow corn. He has designed ships. A friend behind remarked that they had all been sunk. That was, perhaps, unkind to the designer. So keen is he on these particular remedies, of his that he is prepared to allow even German experts to go round, and make sure that the nations of the world who signed this Treaty are acting up to their word. But there is one remark he made which I do not think-should be allowed to pass without comment, and that is, that we are using poison gas. He did not say we were using it against troops, but he insinuated that we were using it against coloured persons. I believe that to be an incorrect statement. For my own part, I did advocate, some months ago, that we should use tear-shells and mustard-shells against the savage people of the North-West Provinces—people who give no quarter, and kill the wounded. The suggestion was not accepted.
The hon. Member for East Leyton (Mr. L. Malone) protested that there was not a single Cabinet Minister in the House. The real answer to that question is that there are very few people in this House who take any interest at all in the Navy. We see that in the Naval Debates. The country does not seem to take the interest in Naval affairs that it should. It does not seem to realise that the whole country is built on the Navy. What are we doing now? We are starving the Navy. We are putting men out of the Navy at such a rate that we shall not have the personnel to man the new ships. There was a great man (Carson), till lately a Member of this House, sitting below the Gangway, who told us not very long ago that "If you were going to allow this country to sink to a second- or a third-class Power, you should tell the country so." Nobody of any importance, I am sorry to say, has been to the country and told it what these things mean—that we arc starving the Navy and gutting the Government yards, throwing men out whom we cannot replace. And we call that economy. At the very first panic—and panics do occur—instead of spending hundreds of thousands, we shall have to spend tens of millions to put these things right. The private yards, which are built, financed and turned into companies for the purpose only of making money, were to get the super-Hoods, and (hey were cut down. Then they were to get the other three ships, and they were cut down. Now they are to get two ships as a kind of sop, while the Royal Yards, on which the nation depends, arc having men of 14 and 15 years' service turned out of them, and men who went into the yards during the War, so as to escape their proper duty in the field, are being retained. A great part of the world belongs to us. If we are there, it is not for our private gain, but because, as thousands of us believe, the British Government is the best Government we can give these people. So long as we have all those possessions, we must be in a position to defend them, and we are not in a position to defend them by starving the Navy and gutting the yards.
I want in a word or two to add my voice to those already raised in welcoming this Bill as a great step forward in the reduction of armaments generally throughout the world, which, I think, is the greatest question now before us. My mind reverts to the time when I first came to this House, and from then onward to the opening of the Great War. We were constantly engaged in talking about the rivalry between Germany and ourselves in shipbuilding, and I cannot but think that the rivalry and conflict, the general psychology both of this country and Germany, must have been affected to some extent as the result of the discussion. The country and House are to be congratulated upon the fact that, at all events, so far as shipbuilding is concerned, the Washington Conference has ended that rivalry between the big Powers of the world. That is a great step forward. It is said that we have not done what we ought to have done, and might have done, in regard to land and air armaments. I agree with the hon. Gentleman who has spoken in that sense, in regretting the fact that little progress has been made in that direction; but I cannot agree with him as to the responsibility. So far as my memory serves me, the delegates of this country expressed their willingness to discuss the question of limitation of land armaments, and also armaments in the air. It was not our fault that these things were not discussed. I hope they will be discussed in the near future, and that we shall have some such arrangement with regard to air and land as we now have in regard to capital shipbuilding. We have gone a little distance, not only in the matter of capital shipbuilding, but at all events in limiting the scope of the activities of the submarine.
Submarine warfare on merchant ships has been declared to be an act of piracy. I am glad of that. I agree with what has been said, that if we had done something more in the way of carrying out the expressions of opinion in regard to submarine warfare in the War, that this Bill would have had a better chance of being made really effective. I believe that we ought to have done a great deal more to punish those people who were capable and guilty of carrying out all sorts of acts, not only contrary to international law, but contrary to the dictates of humanity. I have been blamed—and I think there is a reference to it in Mr. Keynes' book—in reference to what I said or did about the Kaiser. I was not so much concerned, however, in hanging the Kaiser as I was in trying the Kaiser, so as to ascertain who was-responsible for the War. I say now that if, after trial, the Kaiser had been found guilty of causing the War, I should have hanged him nine times over if he had had nine lives. I think we were far too soft with the people who were guilty of acting in the War as they did in some cases—a war which under any circumstances was bound to be bad enough, but was made 50 times worse in consequence of these acts of submarine piracy of which the Germans were guilty.
I feel, therefore, that we might have done a great deal more after the War in the way of punishing the War criminals, and this would have made Bills of this kind more effective for the punishment of those people if such crimes occur in the future. I hope this Bill will be followed at no distant date by some other Bill in regard to land armaments. I am more anxious that that should be done in consequence of what we may now call the secondary position of the capital ship. Admiral Sir Percy Scott, I remember reading, has recently put a question as to what was the use of the capital ship, and he has answered that question himself definitely to the effect that the battleship was no good now. That, perhaps, is a matter of opinion. But the position is constantly changing. The relative merits—perhaps "merits" is not the word—but the effect of warfare between ships and aircraft is rapidly assuming different proportions. Whether Admiral Scott is or is not right altogether in his condemnation of the capital ship, it is perfectly certain that the air will be a greater factor in the warfare of the future than ever it has been before. Admiral Scott, in the course of his narrative dealing with this matter, has told us there were airships either under construction or constructed —aeroplanes he calls them—that will carry a bomb weighing 1,800 lbs. which if dropped, not on the battleship but within a hundred yards of the battleship —a battleship, it might be, costing £7,000,000 and carrying a complement of 1,000 men—would put the whole lot at the bottom of the sea. in five minutes. Whether that is true or whether it is exaggerated, it is perfectly certain that all reasonable-minded men, not representing dockyard constituencies, agree that in future aircraft will be a greater factor in warfare than they have been before.
I, therefore, welcome statements made by hon. Members in the House that it is extremely desirable that arrangements such as are embodied in this Bill in regard to the capital ship should, as rapidly as possible, be brought also into operation so far as the air is concerned. I do not, however, agree with what has been said in condemnation of the Government in this respect, because I believe the Government are perfectly willing to enter into negotiations with other Governments to bring that about. In regard to the land armaments, that is the more obvious still, for the Government have always endorsed the Clauses that limit land armaments, so far as I know, and, at all events, that was done at the first meeting of the League of Nations Assembly at which I was present. We welcomed the setting up of the Commission in accordance with Article 9 of the League of Nations Covenant. We welcomed the provision made for the presence there of civilians as well as military and naval people, by which the view of the civilian population should be given effect to, if possible. I believe that only within the last week or so the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord It. Cecil) has been putting a definite scheme before the Commission now sitting, or which was sitting, at Paris last week, so that, at all events, we are contributing our share towards something being done in the way of the limitation of land armaments, such as this Bill has already done in regard to capital ships.
Poison gas comes into the Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) in the course of his remarks seemed to have some doubt as to whether the prohibition or limitation of the use of poison gas would apply to civilians as well as to combatants in future warfare. As I read the Bill—the sentences are in brackets—the prohibition of the use of poison gas would be effective as against the use of it on the civilian population as well as on combatants. When, however, the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary gets up to reply I should like him to re-assure the House on that point. It is dealt with in the Preamble of the Bill. If what we think is not so, it ought to be so. Just a reference to what the hon. and gallant Member for Northern Cumberland (Major C. Lowther) said as to the price we were to pay for this Bill, and the relations, in consequence of the Bill, of the South American countries to us. We may have to pay some price, but it seems to me the right way to get over the difficulty suggested by the hon. and gallant Member is to bring all one's influence to bear into the agitation now going on to get North America, as well as South America, into the League of Nations. I agree with him that all these sectional arrangements between nations have a danger in them, though it may be that, under certain circumstances, sectional arrangements between two or more Powers may not be out of order. America attaches immense importance to the Munro Doctrine, and therefore it may be necessary to have sectional agreements between two or more Powers. It is perfectly true that such agreements may carry with them much danger, but the obvious remedy is to get, as soon as possible, all the big countries into the League of Nations, and then that danger will pass. I want to say, in conclusion, how heartily I welcome this Bill, and I hope it may be the forerunner of other Measures having a similar object. I am anxious that our own Government should give full effect to this principle and lead other countries to do the same.
During the passage of this Bill there has been a striking unanimity of opinion expressed in its favour on all sides, with one or two exceptions. The hon. Baronet the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) was one of those exceptions. He referred to the hon. and gallant Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), and said the fact that he had served in the War, and had sown his wild oats was preventing him from enjoying war in time to come. In my view it is from the people who have served in the ranks that the great opposition to war in the future will come. It is to the men who have been through the Army that we must look for forming that body of opinion which will give real substance and spirit to agreements of this kind which attempt to lessen the risk of war in the future. I think they are precisely the people who are entitled to speak in assisting instruments of this kind to become operative.
Apart from that general observation I wish to refer to the question of air competition. On this question I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon his able speech in introducing this Bill, and I hope he will be able to say a word or two on this question when he comes to reply. I agree with everything that has been said about the ultimate possibilities of the Air Service as an offensive weapon. Perhaps I am inclined to somewhat anticipate the date when the full effect of our air policy will be reached. Some hon. Members are inclined to imagine that changes will come about a little more quickly than in fact they actually will do. We are face to face with a scare which is being fanned by the newspapers, and which is being supported by some hon. Members in this House. The scare is that our air power is very low, and should be immediately greatly strengthened. Surely the argument which has been used on this point is, to a great extent, a contradiction in terms.
Hon. Members admit that it must be many years before war on a large scale is likely to be entered upon in European countries—the Geddes Report says 10 years. The people who are demanding the immediate provision of aircraft on a larger scale ought to remember that such aircraft would be completely obsolete before it could be utilised in active operations. There is such a thing as conserving your financial reserves if ever they should be required to provide munitions of war, and it would be a queer kind of consolation to expend our money on the provision of large numbers of fighting aeroplanes which anyone who has watched the development of aircraft must know are likely to be obsolete before the next war occurs.
That is what makes it all the more interesting that this question of air power should be dealt with from the point of view of attempting to secure air disarmament, which is the real way to deal with the problem. Otherwise we shall be at the mercy of those who get up scares in newspapers, and urge what would certainly be a useless expenditure of public money. I believe that the League of Nations is considering schemes for air disarmament. I suppose that question could not be raised at Washington unless all the European countries were prepared to come in. I should be glad to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty what steps the Government are taking in this direction, and I would like to have an assurance that the Government will do everything they can to promote some understanding between European countries in regard to this question of air disarmament. There is a peculiar difficulty in the matter, because nobody would desire to come to any agreement regarding the limitation of the production of war aircraft which would have the effect of limiting the development of commercial aircraft.
I think that is a very important point. I am more interested in the air as a civilian agency than as a war making agency. It is very important in both branches, but its capacity for conferring benefits on mankind, and obliterating barriers and divisions and misunderstandings which cause so much trouble makes it more attractive than on its fighting side. We should be very careful not to put hindrances in the way of the development of civilian aviation. I know that is a very difficult matter, and no doubt it is foremost in the minds of those who are working on these lines. I hope; the Parliamentary Secretary will give us an assurance that this country will not be backward in giving its fullest support to a Measure of disarmament as regards war aircraft.
I think it is only right that on an occasion of such importance as this some hon. Member representing the West Country should speak, because that country after all has a longer and more continuous naval relationship with this country than any other part of the community, and that is why I wish to give a welcome to this great Measure. A great deal has been said about the absence of certain people from the Front Bench, but all I can say on that point is that, as far as the Front Government Bench is concerned, we have had a remarkably able exposition of the details of this Bill. At one time during this Debate there was only one single Member of the Opposition present, and the most remarkable absence, in my opinion, is that of the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord Robert Cecil).
I think we are all anxious to admit the great success which the Noble Lord's relative (the Earl of Balfour) achieved at Washington. For the first time in history you had great Powers coming together, attempting to reduce the risk of war, and agreeing voluntarily to limit naval armaments. My only regret is that they were not able to go further because, as far as submarines are concerned, if the Government could find it possible to do something in this direction, I am certain that they would be supported by nearly every party in this House. I hope it will be the aim of the British people in the future to endeavour to abolish entirely the submarine as a naval armament. I would like to see it laid down here in the House of Commons, by the Government, supported by every party in this House, that we should agree, not only to abolish submarines, but also all forms of poisonous gas as well. I think almost anyone would support the Government if they laid that down as something which the British people would like to see carried out. We cannot, however, do it unless other nations come in with us. The British House of Commons and the British Empire, with their enormous responsibilities to other nations, cannot always take the lead in acting in these matters, but they can, at any rate, always be perfectly ready to meet other nations and:to enter into agreements which are carried out by everyone.
The hon. and gallant; Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) congratulated the House and the country on the fact that the great rivalry between armament firms who are making guns and others who are making armour was to be stopped, because there was a limitation of 16 inches laid down for guns. I would not like it to go out from this House that that limitation of competition is a real fact, because, although the size of the gun is no doubt a considerable and, perhaps, the major element in the penetration of armour, yet the power of penetration of the shell and other factors are very important as well. All that is done under this Clause is to prevent us and other people building larger and more expensive guns, in the same way as we have agreed to stop building larger and more expensive ships. We certainly have not stopped the competition between armour on the one hand and gun-power on the other. It may have been made more difficult, but it has not been stopped.
There is only one other point with which I would like to deal, and that is the sale of war vessels and our particular position as a nation in this respect It has been quite clear to almost every other nation that in the past the best place to buy ships for the purposes of war has been Great Britain. It has been held by a large number of people that it was our duty to stop them buying here and to stop this particular industry. I do not think that this country, except under limitations such as we. have here, could prevent the sale of vessels to South America, China, Japan, or any other place, but I do say very clearly that, just as you cannot prevent it if other nations are allowed to do it, so it would be a good thing if we could lay it down as a permanent part of British policy that we should, under the League of Nations, or under a Treaty of this kind, be prepared to enter into a general agreement to stop the sale of warships from one Power to another. Every other nation in the world, however, would have to agree, because we cannot handicap ourselves and allow, say, Spain to undertake these possibilities. We have shown our willingness to go a long way, and it is part of the Government's work and duty to try and extend the policy which was begun at Washington, both as regards the limitation of armaments and as to the possibility of doing away with submarines and gas, and, if possible, air forces. If that were made part of the British policy, I believe that in time—and it would take time—other nations would agree to it. Before I sit down, I should like personally to congratulate the Government on the very great work that they did at Washington and to express the hope that, always looking after the most essential interests of our people, namely, the condition of the British Navy, they will continue that work in other ways as well.
I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down should have struck a note from which I entirely dissent. The rest of his speech was confined more or less to technical points into which I do not propose to follow him. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. G. Barnes) and I, in the past, have had many contentions, and a great deal of discussion together with regard to the Navy. I was a little surprised to hear him talk about the reduction of armaments in connection with airships and bombs. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman desires to do away with capital ships and to substitute airships and bombs. I cannot quite see how that means a reduction in armaments, although, of course, it might mean a reduction in expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman has done so much, in the League of Nations, to promote a reduction of armaments, and he and that body have so signally failed to accomplish anything that one can quite understand the difficulty he finds in discussing a Bill which does deal more or less with the reduction of armaments. Certainly, this Bill does what the right hon. Gentleman and his friends have entirely failed to accomplish. I have a great deal in common with the hon. Member for Cumberland (Major C. Lowther) in what he says. There is no doubt that this Bill means a great loss of prestige for this country, and especially naval prestige. The House knows that ever since the days of Queen Elizabeth, right through four centuries of time, the British Navy has been our surest bulwark against world domination. That position exists no longer. We have now no Navy that can be said to be a bulwark against world domination. We have to depend upon the assistance of Japan and America. The national song, known for generations in this country—"Britannia rules the waves," commonly called "Rule, Britannia"—is now a myth. There is no such thing as Britannia ruling the waves. Britannia does not rule the waves. Britannia is only to have a Navy equal to two other Powers, and at the present time she has not even that Navy. The British Navy has played a very important part in the civilisation of the world. But for the British Navy the world would never have reached the high state of civilisation which it enjoys to-day. What has the American Navy or the Japanese Navy ever done for civilisation? Nothing at all. Yet, apparently, we have come to the conclusion that the time has arrived when we are in such a high state of civilisation that we can place our Navy on an equality with that of Japan or that of the United States. All I can say is that I regret the decision that has been come to in that respect. The hon. Member alluded to the loss of trade which this Bill will involve and he then went on to talk about commercial travellers going from Germany to South Africa. That is not by any means a new statement. I can remember that 25 years ago I wrote something to the same effect in the columns of the "Times," and it would appear therefore that the same difficulty with regard to-commercial travellers from Germany to South America exists to-day as then existed. I do not see, however, that that has very much to do with the question before the House.
With regard to the Navy, let us look for a moment at what this Bill has done. To use the words of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, it has "cut the Navy to the bone." I hope the House will thoroughly understand that that is a result of the Washington Conference. It has cut the British Navy to the bone, and that is the admission of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. Then, again, where are our ships? What is to be the future of the great dockyards; of this country? I am glad that the cheers which that statement has elicited show that the House appreciates the point. We know what these great dockyards have done for this country in the past. I do not wish to emphasise the great work done by the dockyard which it is my privilege to represent—Devon-port, but I do say that ail the great dockyards have done good service for the Navy, and I ask, What is their future position to be? Men are being discharged. The fine mechanics who have built up a Navy on which the civilisation of the world has depended are being cast out into the streets, with their wives and children, without sufficient money to live upon and without a roof to cover their heads. That is one of the results of this Convention, and I should like the House and the country to realise that our Navy has been cut to the bone, that we have lost a great number of our sailors, that we are losing the men who have built our ships, that we shall not get those men again, that we shall not get back the sailors, neither shall we get the officers. These men cannot be replaced in a day or in a year. One thing is very certain. The League of Nations cannot stop war. We in this country shall never see absolute peace, and therefore I regret very much that this Convention was not a little more considered, and that the country was not told at the time exactly what would be the result, of putting this Act on the Statute Book.
I hope I may be permitted to reply briefly to the Debate, which has ranged over a very wide field. I do not propose to follow hon. Members over the whole of that field from Vladivostok to Chile, nor do I propose to traverse even the shorter space that separates the competitive voices from Portsmouth and Devonport. But I should like to say a few words about the note which was struck, in the first instance, by the hon. and gallant Member for Lanark (Captain Elliot), and which was followed up by one or two other Members. My hon. Friend complained that the Government had treated this matter in a spirit of levity, because this Measure had been introduced in a brief matter-of-fact speech by the Minister responsible for the particular Department most intimately concerned, and not by an array of all the talents of the Cabinet. Surely the real test of taking the matter seriously is whether you take prompt action. In this Measure.—small and un controversial as many think—we are taking definite action on the lines of the Washington Treaty and showing the world that we, at any rate, mean business. Surely a small, effective shell shot at the mark from a gun of minor calibre is very much more effective than many salvoes of blank ammunition from all the heavy ordnance of the Front Bench. My hon. and gallant Friend seemed not only to complain of the spirit in which we had dealt with this matter, but he also made a great mistake in attempting to belittle the results achieved at Washington. He suggested that they were governed by a mere spirit of economy, that the mere consideration of dollars and pounds sterling had led to the results achieved. I think that anyone who followed what was done at Washington will fully realise that, while the ultimate results were expressed in terms of battleships, they were, at any rate, well worth achieving, because, after all, the principle underlying, the foundation, was the establishment of a feeling of trust and mutual understanding between great nations.
My hon. and gallant Friend spoke of the Washington Conference as not really having relieved us of the necessity of completing four great battleships, because those ships were only bluff, and because we had no real intention of completing them. I can assure hon. Members that, as the position stood before the Washington Conference, we would not only have been bound to complete those four ships, but we should have been bound to build, at whatever cost, four other ships, and yet another four ships. And I, for one, would not have been prepared to recommend Admiralty Estimates to this House on any other basis had it not been for the immense practical results achieved by the Washington Conference. Of course, the Conference is only the beginning of the new policy. All practical work is done by steps. You cannot achieve all your ideas at one move. We succeeded in getting an agreement of immense importance between five of the most important naval Powers. There is no reason why other Powers should not join in the agreement. Indeed, there is a strong movement in the League of Nations for other Powers to accept the Washington pact, and if they do that, and implement it with the same sort of legislation as we have introduced into this House to-day, then the particular point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend, namely, the construction of ships outside the limitations of the Treaty in other countries, will fall to the ground. I could also give another answer to the objection that there is nothing in the Treaty to prevent ships being built outside the country bound by the Treaty. It takes a long time to build capital ships, and long before they could be completed the signatory Powers would be able to enter their protest. Moreover, the Treaty provides that under circumstances of that sort, there should be a fresh Conference to consider the new situation which had arisen.
I now come to one or two minor points. The hon. Member for East Leyton (Mr. Malone) wished to know how the agreement was enforced—how it was possible to find out whether it was being observed. In this matter we have relied upon the readiness of each Power concerned to enable the Naval attaches of the other Powers concerned to inspect the progress of work at private dockyards and elsewhere, and, substantially, to trust each other's honour. The hon. Member also asked for information with regard to the poison gas work that has been carried on at the Edgewood Factory in the United States. I understand that the work which is being carried out there is mainly work of a research character, necessary, in no small measure, in order to provide for anti-gas measures, in case at any time any of the Powers should not accept the conditions of the Treaty.
I can also give my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals the assurance that the undertaking we have given in the second Treaty, to make no use of poison gas, is a quite general one. My right hon. Friend, and also the hon. and gallant Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Sir R. Hall) raised the question of the punishment of those who violate the rules of war, and they both expressed the wish that the German officers who violated those rules in the submarine campaign had been more effectively punished. I should like to draw attention to one provision in this Bill, which alters the whole situation from what it was before the War. It was a commonplace, not only in Germany, but also in our own Manual of Military Law, that the orders of a higher authority were a defence to a subordinate officer for committing an act which was otherwise a violation of the laws of war. But, if hon. Members will refer to Clause 4 of the present Bill, they will see that it provides that
Any person in the service of any Power who violates any of the Rules contained in Article I … whether or not such person is under a governmental superior, shall he deemed to have violated the laws of war.
We are making real progress. We have armed ourselves with more effective powers for punishing those who violate the rules- of war than we had when the German war criminals were tried at Leipzig.
I think that that is all I need say on the Bill itself, but a number of hon. Members have raised the very necessary question whether we mean to proceed with the same policy in regard to other aspects of armaments. The only answer to that is that, as far as we can, we certainly mean to endeavour to achieve by negotiation and conference—as soon as other Powers are ready to confer with us—an extension of what we achieved
at Washington. We shall certainly still wish to secure the complete abolition of submarines, and generally, if it were possible, to secure effective limitation of armaments both on land and in the air. I should like to remind my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) that the question of the limitation of air armaments was discussed very fully by a special Committee of all the Powers concerned, at Washington. My hon. and gallant Friend will find, in Command Paper 1627, on the Conference, some 15 pages of a most interesting Report on the feasibility of such limitation, ending with this Resolution by the Committee:
The Committee is or opinion that it is not at present practicable to impose any effective limitations upon the numbers or character of aircraft, either commercial or military.
I should not like to say that this conclusion of the Committee represents the last word on the subject, by any means, but, at any rate, it docs show that this Committee, which examined the question with the best of good will, did come across immense difficulties in separating the functions of military and civilian aircraft, and were not able, at any rate at Washington, to come to a conclusion. That, I think, is all that I have to say, and I hope that the House will now give us the Second Heading of this Measure, which, though small in its immediate scope, is of immense significance as the first instalment of what may be a great world policy.
Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly answer my question as to the other three Treaties which are not included? Will this House have the opportunity of discussing those very important Treaties"
I would much rather that the hon. Member asked that question of the Leader of the House. I have been confining myself to the Bill, which is necessary to implement the provisions of two of these Treaties. All the other Treaties can be wholly carried out by ordinary executive action on the part of the Admiralty, or of the Foreign Office, as the case may be.