I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The Estimate which I am asking the House to vote this year amounts to £57,300,000, which is £700,000 less than the net Estimate of last year, and if you add to the net Estimate of last year the Supplementary Estimates of £450,000 which are now before the House, it will be seen that the Estimate I am presenting to-day is £1,150,000 less than the amount that was actually spent last year. For the Supplementary Estimates of £450,000 this year, I think the House will have been more or less prepared by what I said on the subject last year. I then explained to the House that we were making a considerable allowance for the "shadow cut," an expression which will be understood by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—indeed, I am not quite sure whether he did not invent it—but it is the percentage deduction that is made from the gross Estimate to allow for possible delays in the programme.
There has always been more or less discussion between the Admiralty and the Treasury, and up to last year the Treasury were always right. Therefore, I felt obliged to say that, owing to the experience of the past, I must accept their shadow cut, but I ventured to think they were putting it rather too high, because the recovery in industry, after the stoppage of the year before, was likely to have a reactive effect, and to accelerate production rather than retard it. That is what actually has happened. In the year 1926, when the coal stoppage and the general strike took place, the delivery of materials for use by the Admiralty was retarded to the extent of £957,000, which had to be surrendered to the Treasury. The Treasury that year could not possibly have anticipated that owing to the stoppage the production that took place would be actually so low, and this year, owing, as I say, to the reaction, £450,000 of that lag has been made up, but for the two years it will be seen that the shadow cut was justified.
Therefore, I am asking now for a sum which is a reduction of £1,150,000 as compared with what was spent last year, and it has been a very hard task to achieve that economy.
In addition to that, I have had to face, on the credit side, a loss of £1,208,000 odd in Appropriations-in-Aid, and what this amounts to really is, that you must of necessity economise to the extent of something like £2,000,000. I have got to save the equivalent of what I have lost in the Appropriations as well as the £1,150,000.
The only considerable item which I have in my favour this year is the fact that there will be only 52 pay days as against 53 last year, which means a saving of £375,000. As far as additions to expenditure are concerned, I do not know that I need call attention to anything special, except perhaps the addition of £198,000 for the Fleet Air Arm, which is to provide new flights of aircraft to be carried in the "Glorious" when she is ready for them. The hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan), in his speech on the Air Estimates, suggested that money was never saved on the Army and Navy but always on the Air. If he will look at the figures, he will find that that is not justified for the last two years, and he must also remember that the Fleet Air Arm is now charged to the Admiralty instead of to the Air Service, and our principal item of additional expenditure is upon the Fleet Air Arm. Therefore, so far from starving the Air side, we are making additions there when we are cutting in other directions.
The addition to the Air Arm is in the air. We are not adding machines which are going under the sea or on it, but we are adding to the Air part of the Service. If you compare to-day's figures, leaving out the Non-effective Vote, you will find that for the Effective Services the total of £48,000,000 corresponds almost exactly with the sum for the Effective Services in 1914, but when you come to calculate what we should have had to pay if pre-War prices, rates of pay and wages existed now, you would have to make a deduction of £18,000,000. Therefore, on that calculation of a comparison between what we are paying now with what we paid before the War, there is a saving on the Effective Services of 37.35 per cent. I would also like to remind the House that when the programme of Reconstruction was agreed in 1925, the Estimates for that year stood at £60,500,000 and the hope was then expressed that, in order to balance the additional cost of new construction, the Admiralty would endeavour to make such economies that if possible an increase over that £60,500,000 would not be required. We said we would do our best to effect it. We were derided by hon. Members opposite arid by those below the Gangway opposite. As a matter of fact, we did better than our word. Instead of producing the figure of £60,500,000, which, it was anticipated, must be the figure all the time during which that Programme ran, we are actually producing a figure of more than £3,000,000 below that amount, and I do feel that the staff at the Admiralty deserve very considerable credit for having succeeded in effecting so extensive an economy.
There is a habit—I do not know where it grew up, but it is a very inconvenient one, I think—that in producing the Army, the Navy or the Air Estimates, the Minister in charge is always expected to issue some Paper in advance of this interesting event. It is not only very advantageous to those who wish to criticise it, but it takes away all the pleasures of anticipation which the Minister would be able to raise if he had not to disclose facts already known to his listeners. Therefore, I think I need dwell at no very great length upon the points which are so clearly, I hope. brought out in the White Paper which accompanied my Estimates. As far as economy is concerned, it is not a path which lies in very beautiful country, and it does not lend itself to picturesque description, so I am afraid that, although I hope to pick out one or two points that may interest the House, I cannot profess to be able to provide a very entertaining afternoon, or to say anything which is not more or less generally known already.
There is one event of very great value and of very great interest, and that is that New Zealand has made a most generous contribution of £1,000,000 in eight instalments towards making the dock at Singapore, and has also offered to maintain another cruiser more than before. At the last Imperial Conference most of the delegates who attended were very much impressed by the weight of the burden of defence which fell upon the Mother Country, and a contribution like this is very satisfactory proof that in some parts of the Empire that is not only being realised in thought but carried out in action. Some already make very considerable contributions, notably Australia and New Zealand. I venture to hope that all over the Empire it will be recognised that the weight of this burden on the Mother Country is a heavy one, and that this contribution which we have had from New Zealand, although the latest, will not be the last.
I should like to refer with satisfaction to the work which the Navy has been able to do in China during this very disturbed time. They have been able to provide, to some extent, security for people, some of our own nation and some belonging to other nations, who were in great peril at various times during the last year or so. As far as I have been able to gather, their behaviour has been admirable.
I am sure that not only in China, but here, they deserve thanks, not only because they were there, and able to get there in a very short time, but for the help they have given in preserving order and saving life in China. I am very glad to think that the health of those engaged there in the Navy has been very satisfactory in very difficult Circumstances and in a very trying climate.
It is always a matter of very great regret, and one of the most painful experiences of economy which we go through, to have to discharge men from the dockyards, especially at a time when work is not too plentiful elsewhere and at a time when they have been working so well and so loyally as they have ever since I have had the honour to hold the office that I now hold. I have always aimed at trying to get some kind of stabilised numbers of employés in the dockyards, and I hope that we are getting somewhere near to that now. It is not very easy to do so, because work comes in—you never know exactly when some sudden requirement may arise—and we require to take on extra men. Some accident or something may necessitate immediate repairs, and you cannot avoid a certain amount of fluctuation. I hope that that fluctuation will be reduced to a minimum, and that we shall be able now to provide sufficient work in the Royal yards so as not to require any very considerable number of further discharges. This year we are proposing to build both cruisers which are in the Estimates—
No, it does not necessarily mean that at all. You cannot have every man in the dockyards established. What I meant was that we shall try, if possible, to keep the numbers where they are. There may be wastage, as there always is, but I shall be very happy if I can give enough work there to employ those who are there now, and for any reduction to rely merely on the annual wastage.
Well, I said how painful it was and that I hope to arrive at a more stabilised position in the future. To obtain that, the building of two cruisers to be laid down this year in the Royal yards, and one submarine at Chatham will be a very great help to those employed there.
And I am trying to do it this afternoon. The proportion of work in the Royal Dockyards as compared with outside yards very much exceeds the proportion before the War, and this year it is slightly in excess of last year.
There is another novelty to which should like to refer for a few moments, and that is the Imperial Defence College which has recently been started. It was always said that, if you were going to co-ordinate satisfactorily the three fighting Services, one of the first steps to be taken ought to be a Joint Defence College. That has now been going for about a year, and the experience of it is, on the whole, very satisfactory. Naturally, in the first year an experiment of that kind cannot be fully tested. The first year's work must be empirical to some extent, but I have no doubt that as experience ripens the good results that we have already had will become more and more valuable. There is one thing which is quite certain, even with the knowledge of only this year's work, and that is that the will and capacity of officers in the three Services to work together has already been proved, and each has obtained very much valuable and useful information from contact with the other two branches of the Service.
I have never been satisfied until now with the accommodation for some of the boys in training. The old hulks in which they were trained were to my mind very unsatisfactory for them, the accommodation becoming less satisfactory as time went on. I am very glad that this year we have been able to accommodate boys in the old Forton Barracks at Gosport in very comfortable surroundings and with plenty of opportunities for recreation as well as very good accommodation, which, I think, ought to contribute very greatly to the health and comfort there. The establishment has been opened under the name of "St. Vincent" after the name of the old boys' training ship which was moored near there for a good many years.
I had not forgotten there was an Admiral St. Vincent—I had even got it written down in my notes. The character and career of that distinguished Admiral is a useful reminder to boys training for His Majesty's Navy. There is another training establishment which is now in process of undergoing what I hope will be a clearly beneficial change, and that is the Mechanical Training Establishment for the artificer apprentices at Portsmouth in the "Fisgard." The hon. Gentleman opposite will remember very well that that old hulk did not provide spacious accommodation. It was cramped and dark, and the work was done under very unpleasant and depressing conditions. It was only through the great energy and spirt of both the teachers and the apprentices that they were able, I think, to be contented and carry on their work as they did. Now we have already met the difficulty in part by allowing some of the older boys to complete their training in the Training Establishment at Chatham.
This year we are asking for a small amount towards making the Detention Barracks at Chatham suitable for the reception of these boys in the future. The sum is small this year, but it will amountt to a considerable total before we finish the work. I hope that Members of this House will not be alarmed at the idea of putting boys into detention barracks. It sounds very alarming, but anybody who has been to see some of our detention barracks that were built comparatively recently, in those spacious days when money seemed to be no object—and I should be glad to see it repeated—will agree that they are magnificent buildings. The theory upon which they were built—and I do not deny that there is a good deal of force in it—was that you should not make a place of punishment too depressing and too uncomfortable, that the curtailment of liberty was enough for, certain kinds of offences, and that there should be amenities which should soften the character and improve the intentions of those undergoing punishment in the future. The result is that at both Devonport and Chatham there are extremely comfortable detention barracks where one might be glad to spend a week-end. They have a splendid gymnasium, and altogether the amenities are delightful. Nobody would believe, except from the fact that there is a wall all round the buildings, that they have been detention quarters. With the expenditure of a fairly considerable amount of money, we can make the barracks at Chatham suitable for the "Fisgard" boys, and I am quite sure that their health and opportunities for doing their work will be vastly improved by being accommodated there instead of in the old "Fisgard."
Now that I am on the subject of punishment, it seems appropriate to call attention to what is a very satisfactory thing in His Majesty's Navy. I cannot make any more recent comparison, as I have only the figures up to 1926. That the moral is high and the condition of those who are serving in the Navy is satisfactory will, I think, be very clearly-borne out, as also the good relations between officers and men, by a comparison of the figures with those of earlier years. I take the pre-War year of 1912, and I find that the punishments—most of them were small—were 117,000. Of course, there were rather more men borne on the list then than there are now. In 1922, 10 years later, the 117,000 had gone down to 65,000, and in 1926, the last year for which I have the complete figures, the number had gone down still further to 45,147, and, out of that 45,147, 42,700 were minor punishments. If you take courts-martial and compare 1912 with 1926, you find that courts-martial in 1912 were 127 and in 1926 only 14. Of offences against superior authority there were 102 in 1912, and in 1926 there were only four. Therefore, taking roughly the numbers borne, there was one punishment for every one man, counting all the minor punishments, in 1912, there were about two punishments for every three men in 1922, and now there is very little more than one punishment for every two men. When you consider that the offences against superior authority have gone down from 102 to four, I think it is a very clear tribute to the way in which all ranks in the Navy are working together and doing their best.
I shall not satisfy the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) if I do not say a few words about general naval policy. He has always taken me to task for not dealing in general terms with our naval policy. As I have to explain, the change in the programme of construction adopted in 1925, and also from a very natural desire to please my hon. Friend in any way that I can, I will avail myself of the opportunity of saying something about our programme and our general naval policy. I have to explain, first, the change in the 1925 programme which was laid down for a period of years. The policy then was a policy of replacement. It was initiated by the party opposite, I would remind the House, and I do so with great pleasure, because I think great credit is due to hon. Members opposite for having initiated that policy. They have had the credit of initiating it, and I have had the pleasure of finding the money for the five cruisers which they authorised.
For the five cruisers which they laid down when they were in office, I have had to find almost the whole of the money, and I am glad to have done it. I am continuing the policy of replacement at a reasonable rate. That is our general policy. I will now explain the changes which have been made in the 1925 programme. Last year, we cut out four motor launches and added two sloop-minesweepers. Last year we dropped one "A" class cruiser and one "B" class cruiser. This year we are dropping one cruiser out of three, and we are inserting a further four sloops. There are only 23 sloops now maintained in commission, and 19 of them are doing work which could only be done by cruisers if the sloops were not there to do it; duties such as patrolling the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf, or showing the flag in other parts of the world.
I will explain that. I was, first of all explaining the addition of the sloops. I will come back to the question of the cruisers. Many of the sloops now in commission will very soon have reached an age at which it will not be economical to effect repairs or to give them any considerable extension of life. The same may be said of our minesweepers. Therefore, what we are doing is to proceed with a new programme of sloop-minesweepers for the same purpose, and four of them are being laid down this year. Destroyers are not serviceable for this kind of work. When you can get at least 12 of these sloops at a cost of one cruiser, it is clearly wise to build these new sloops to do work which could not be done except by cruisers. In regard to cruisers, we dropped an "A" and a "B" cruiser out of last year's programme. We are dropping one cruiser out of three this year. In the two years, 1927 and 1928, instead of laying down six new cruisers we shall have laid down three.
So far, we have not any idea of altering next year's programme. That will come to be considered when whoever stands here next year has to present the Navy Estimates. I would remind the House that this being a programme of replacements it would be a very risky thing to go further than we have done in postponing replacements, because in future years we shall have a more rapid obsolescence in cruisers and, therefore, more necessity to spend money in replacements, and that will come at the same time as the possible necessity for replacing battleships, at the expiration of the period of the Washington Convention. We have not dropped the three cruisers because we are not satisfied that this country has done her full part in naval disarmament. This country has done far more in the direction of disarmament in fact than any other country, and it is not because we think that we have not done our full share that I am making this proposal.
We all know that at Washington, America made a very generous contribution towards limitation. They scrapped something like 500,000 tons of ships, either built or building; but it mast not be supposed that nobody else did anything like that. Before the Washington Conference, we had voluntarily scrapped tonnage amounting to 1,300,000 tons, and since then we have scrapped about the same amount as the United States. Since the Armistice we have scrapped 1,538 ships—and that does not include trawlers and drifters and other craft brought into the Navy—with a total tonnage of 2,139,515. Therefore, comparing the contribution of the United States of 500,000 tons and our own of over 2,000,000 tons which have been scrapped, no one can say that we have not done our part in the direction of disarmament. I do not think that it is quite sufficiently understood how large a part we have played in this matter. We are the only nation dependent for its very existence on the free passage of the seas, and for that reason our contribution is all the more remarkable.
Take the number of our ships in July, 1914, at the Armistice and in February of this year. In July, 1914, we had 644 ships; at the Armistice 1,887, and to-day 405. The tonnage in July, 1914, amounted to 2,276,000 odd, at the Armistice, 3,136,000, and now 1,329,000. These are very remarkable figures of reduction. Of course, there have been in other Navies as well as our own certain replacements since then, but the figures of reduction which I have quoted are very remarkable and they are figures which we may justly claim as showing that we have done, at least, our share and more than our share in leading the way towards disarmament. Perhaps I might make another comparison, although I do not think it is quite so striking. I will take the naval expenditure of other countries and this country. Our present naval expenditure is 7 per cent. of the total Budget of the country, as against 24.5 per cent. before the War, and as compared with 8.5 in the United States now and 14.9 per cent. In Japan. That shows that compared with the total expenditure of the nation our expenditure on the Navy is very economical.
The further reduction which I am proposing now is not due to our feeling that we have not already played our part. It is due partly to a desire to assist the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a time of very great stringency, and partly on account of the position as disclosed by the Conference at Geneva. I do not know whether all hon. Members present will recollect that at Geneva we made a proposal that the "A" class cruisers of 10,000 tons, with 8-inch guns, should not exceed in number 13 for ourselves, 13 for the United States, and eight for Japan. We also offered there that if the United States and Japan would agree not to build any more of these large cruisers of 10,000 tons, with 8-inch guns, we would not build any more "A" cruisers until the United States had caught us up. That was a proposal which we made at Geneva, amongst many others. I recall the proposal of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) on this occasion last year, when he said that the way to get agreement was to lower the maximum size of the ships, as you cannot do away with them altogether. I remember it well, because I knew then what we were going to propose at Geneva, although I was not in a position to say anything, and I was very much struck with how very closely it coincided with what the hon. Member said.
Unfortunately, we were not able to obtain the concurrence of the United States in this plan. They said that they wanted to limit us both to a certain total tonnage for cruisers, 400,000 tons for themselves and for us. They also said that out of that they wished to take 250,000 tons for large cruisers, that is 25 cruisers of 10,000 tons, and to arm the rest with 8-inch guns instead of the 6-inch guns which we desired. This proposal, that they were to have 25 large cruisers if we were to have the same number, would have left us with only 150,000 tons for the rest of the cruisers that we wanted. We wanted numbers rather than size; they wanted size rather than numbers. Our ideas turned out to be incompatible, and we could reach no formula which would satisfy both our requirements. What is more, if we had come to an agreement and accepted that, proposal, it would not have been a limitation but a very considerable increase. We were called to attend that Conference for limitation, but to have agreed that we were to build about twice as many of these large cruisers as we have now would not have been limitation but a huge addition. For that reason it was quite impossible to accept it.
While I am speaking of this, I should like to refer to a statement that has often been made both in this country and across the Atlantic, and that is that we made an unqualified demand for 600,000 tonnage for cruisers. That is constantly said. I never said anything of the kind, as anyone can see, because the remarks that I made are printed and made known to the House. But this error is very frequently repeated, and I have no doubt that it arises from a genuine misunderstanding. This is possibly how it arose: Possibly in some of the minor discussions, when we were discussing large or small cruisers and the need that we have, it was pointed out to the United States delegates that if all were to be 10,000–ton cruisers we should only get 60 of them out of a tonnage of as much as 600,000. We never said that we must have 600,000 tons. What we said was that "If we know we are to have, and everyone is going to have, a considerable number of smaller ships, then we can agree to a much smaller tonnage." But we never fixed any final limit of tonnage. All we mentioned was the numbers that we wanted, the smaller cruisers that we wanted, and that if everyone would agree to that we could agree to a much smaller tonnage, but that if the cruisers were all to be of 10,000 tons, we would be obliged to have 600,000 tons. We never made any unqualified demand for 600,000 tons, but owing to some misunderstanding many people here and elsewhere seem to have thought so.
There were several different proposals made, and I do not think it is necessary for me to go through the whole history of the matter. Whatever we asked for was a maximum,I think we said, roughly speaking, 70, and in the last proposal which was put up we were asking that ships of a certain age should be counted as outside the number, and that would have made the 70 into some thing considerably less. I cannot remember the figure at the moment, but, roughly speaking, it was 60 or 70. Whichever it was, it is obvious that if they were all cruisers of 10,000 tons a very high total tonnage was necessary.
There, again, I cannot answer without notice. The figure was somewhere about 110. Having made that offer—that we would mark time if we could agree to limit the A class cruisers to 13 each—we felt last year that, while the American programme was under consideration, it was only right that we should not put down another A class cruiser and so increase our number, so that if they were still willing to accept the proposal they would find us still with 13, at which number we had offered to stop at Geneva. We dropped an A class cruiser out of last year's programme and we dropped another of last year's and we are dropping one for this year. That is, first of all, to meet the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but also to show that anything that happened at Geneva was not going to drive us suddenly into a great naval building competition with America or anyone else. Now we learn, as far as we can hear, that they are proposing in their programme that 15 of these large cruisers should be laid down. It is not yet very clear over what period of years they are to be spread. I do not think that it is right while the matter is still under consideration there, that we should enter into any details, because the information I have, although it might be right now, might be reversed by some decision yet to be taken on the other side. Therefore, I do not think that we can go into very great detail.
But supposing it is 15 of these large cruisers that are to be laid down, they have got authority already for eight, and that would make a total of 23, if the 15 are completed. That, as a matter of fact, is two less than they said they wanted at Geneva. It is said by them that these cruisers are required for the purpose of defence, and that is the principle on which we started the discussion at Geneva. On the very first day of the Plenary Session I said: "Cannot we come to an agreement on what we each want for our own defence? Cannot we put aside all aggressive ideas and come to an agreement on what is wanted for defence?" This programme is stated to be what is required by America for her own defence. As such, we have no just ground whatever for complaint about it. We know what we want for our defence and we said what we wanted at Geneva. There is no more reason to suppose that the American Fleet is going to be used for purposes of aggression than there is for thinking that the British Fleet is to be used for such a purpose.
Therefore, I think rather too much stress has been laid on the failure of the Conference at Geneva and on this particular programme. It does not seem to me very different from what the Americans proposed to us at Geneva. To my mind it certainly is not due to the failure at Geneva that, this programme has been laid down in America. It is actually less than what they put before us there. But, of course, I admit that no one was more disappointed than I was that our proposals, which I think would certainly have been generally approved in this country and were very far-reaching, were not accepted. I do not for a moment hold the view that, because they were not accepted, harm was done by holding a Conference or that there is no prospect of getting any considerable agreement in future. We found a great deal of common ground at that Conference. It was only on this one question of cruisers that there was any substantial difference. That was a very great achievement. We had many exchanges of opinions with them, and it was very gratifying to find how very little difference there was on anything except on this particular problem of cruisers—a problem which it is very difficult for us or America or Japan to solve, because the requirements of the three countries are so utterly different.
It is not a fact, I think, that the failure at Geneva has led straight to this naval programme at Washington. Mr. Wilbur, the Secretary of the Navy, made this quite plain in his speech on 6th March last, when he described the United States programme as
drawn up in 1922, shortly after the adjournment of the Washington Conference, and not hastily arrived at as a result of the failure to reach further agreement as to naval limitation.
If I am right in thinking that we need not look with any great despair at the opportunities that may come in future for limitation, I hope that Members of the House, on whichever side they sit, will not suggest that the failure has led to any strained relations between us and America, or that there is any shouting of bellicose words across the Atlantic
from one country to another. It is not the case. It is necessary that we should be perfectly calm and take this thing in its reality and not get into a panic about it. I shall quote what I said at the last meeting at Geneva, when we
broke up, not as a result of any quarrel or in a warlike spirit, but simply because we could not find a formula. This is what I said:
All three Powers have most certainly had the same goal in view. In attempting to reach it we have travelled sometimes together in pairs, sometimes all three on the same track.
At other times we have sought different roads—and the examination of those different routes will have contributed towards the final selection of the right one which perhaps may, after all, be one that has not yet been discovered by us.
But if it is now found impossible to agree upon a formula which is acceptable to all parties, that would not indicate a spirit of antagonism between the three Powers; still less would it mean that we intended to enter upon a competition in new construction. We shall not then disperse in a spirit of bitterness or despair. The peace of the world does not depend so much upon a comprehensive form of words and mathematical tables suitable to the various needs of each Power, as on the friendly and peaceable spirit of the great nations. No formula could succeed in ensuring peace, if the spirit of peace was not present, and no failure to find a formula is disastrous if the nations concerned still hold fast to the will for peace and the detestation of aggression, to which I am convinced all present to-day adhere as steadfastly as we did before we met.
That is the proper attitude for us to take. There is no desire for war. There is a desire for peace in this
country; let us, therefore, go forward in that direction.
The President of the United States in December last, in a message to Congress, said:
We are ready and willing to continue the preparatory investigations on the general subject of limitation of armaments which have been started under the auspices of the League of Nations. We should enter on no competition. We should refrain from no needful programme. It should be known to all that our military power holds no threat of aggrandisement. It is a guarantee of peace and security at home, and when it goes abroad it is an instrument for the protection of the legal rights of our citizens under international law, a refuge in time of disorder, and always the servant of world peace.
These words we might very well apply with equal truth to the British Navy
and British naval policy. I find great encouragement to believe that the traditions of both countries, the interests of both countries and the common sense of both countries, will lead us before very long into a further consideration of the limitation of armaments.
With regard to this programme, I must once more call the attention of the House to the fact that, because we have dropped these three cruisers, we might be open to the charge of some critic that we are not putting on to these two years their proper share of the burden of general replacement; that we are pushing it off to a future time when more cruisers will become obsolete and, therefore, more will have to be built, and to a time when, on the expiration of the terms of the Washington Conference, the replacement of battleships may become necessary. I think we are right to do it. We are right to take whatever risk there is, and the risk is not great, if, as I firmly believe, we shall be able before long to take further steps in the direction of limitation.
May I ask this question? Does that mean that they have decided to let go the Estimate that has been allowed for the building of the cruisers, that they do not intend to build the whole programme?
It is not intended to build them this year. I cannot pledge myself for the future, but it means that out of this programme, spread over so many years, we have cut one year's building out.
They would have the same burden as I have now; that is, the burden of five cruisers which the Labour Government. laid down. When they come in, if ever they do, they will settle themselves what the necessities demand. I am not going to pledge myself that we shall not build any more cruisers, but as far as the programme of 1925 goes the effect is to cut out of the two years, 1927 and 1928, one year's building.
That is provided for under the Washington Conference and we cannot reopen that until the period has expired. I have no doubt the hon. Member would be very glad to have one on the Clyde. I have said a good deal about disarmament and the Conference at Geneva because of the words of the Amendment which is to he moved from the Opposition side. I want to show that although we do not go quite as far as the Amendment the proposals we made at Geneva do embody a considerable amount of what is in the Amendment and a considerable amount of the advice given us by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) last year. I cannot conclude without one reference to an important change that has taken plane at the Admiralty during the year. Lord Beatty, who had held the office of First Sea Lord since 1919, has retired, and I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my deep sense of the gratitude which I and the Admiralty and the Navy and the country owe him for his long and devoted services. His brilliant career at sea is well known and I need not recapitulate it, but few people realise the full measure of the services he has rendered in administration during a very trying time. It began in 1919 when it was necessary to reduce and go on reducing everything. He carried out his duty in that difficult time with extreme fairness and skill—a very unpopular task—and with the least possible amount of friction.
When I was first appointed to the position I hold now my acquaintance with Lord Beatty was very slight. When I looked at his very active appearance, his keen eye and great activity, I wondered what sort of a man he would be to work with in an office. Owing to the fate which led me into political life at an early age, I have seen more than one generation of civil servants pass away. I have worked with a great many of them and generally got on fairly well, but I have never found anyone better and easier to work with than Lord Beatty. He never magnified trifles, and he never missed an important point. He had a wonderful faculty of explaining his opinion with the greatest lucidity and brevity and in the frequent discussions which took place between one Department and another, and particularly between the Admiralty and the Treasury, he was an extremely good debater across the table and very often was able to hold his own with such a champion as the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. Naturally he was keenly alive to the requirements of his own Service, but he took a wide and statesmanlike view of large questions as well. I think it should be known that not only had he a brilliant career at sea but that he was a wonderful administrator during his long period as First Sea Lord. It is said that there are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it; and there are good Admirals to take his place. We have now as First Sea Lord a man who is fully able to live up to the high traditions of the position. All who have worked with Lord Beatty will remember those years with very great satisfaction. It has been a privilege to work with such a very efficient and cheerful colleague.
The House, generally will be ready to disabuse the right hon. Gentleman's mind of any doubts be may have as to whether his speech has been as pleasant and as interesting as on former occasions. He has been as interesting as usual. Irrespective of policy on matters concerning the Navy everyone will agree with him in expressing their praise and appreciation of the services of the great Admiral who has just laid down the office of First Sea Lord. I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on two very excellent steps he has taken during the past year. First, in regard to the better accommodation for the boys in training and, secondly, that the artificers are to find better accommodation than they have at present in the old hulk they have to use. He paid a modest tribute to the Labour party for having initiated the naval policy which he is now carrying out. While it is true that they did lay down five cruisers, a fact for which I have never expressed any regret, it must be remembered that they picked up from the preceding Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a very distinguished ornament, a large naval programme and cut down considerably the number of vessels proposed to be built.
Before coming to questions of policy I want to touch on two matters of detail which the Parliamentary Secretary, I hope, will answer when he replies. I should like to ask what the Admiralty proposes to do with regard to the report of the Estimates Committee as to the necessity for a reduction in the Admiralty staff? That Report was drawn up after a great deal of care and an examination of the high officials in the Admiralty, and they made a very definite recommendation as to what they think should be done. Let me quote one or two examples. In the Admiralty pre-War Staff the Naval Assistants cost £4,056; to-day the charge for these same gentlemen amounts to £15,979. The secretariat in 1914, consisted of a secretary, two assistant secretaries, seven principal clerks and nine assistant principal clerks. To-day, it consists of a secretary, a deputy-secretary, two principal assistant secretaries, seven assistant secretaries, 15 principals, and eight assistant principals. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was First Lord, raised some troubles at the Admiralty, which he has not to face in these days and in his present position. It was he who forced upon the Admiralty of that time certain arrangements with regard to the Naval Construction Department. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, then First Lord, created some new departments, principally the Naval Equipment Department, which cost in 1913 only £208. In 1914 however its cost had risen to £3,785 and it now costs £11,034. These are one or two of the points which led the Estimates Committee to issue a report on the necessity of reductions in the Admiralty staff, which seems to the ordinary observer unnecessarily large in relation to the present size of the Navy as compared with what it was in days gone by. I would also ask what is exactly the relationship and the degree of co-operation with the Dominions in naval matters. I understand that the "Diomede" was loaned to New Zealand in connection with the Samoa dispute.
I wanted to know if the whole charges had been carried over to the New Zealand Government from the Admiralty. We would also like to have a little more information as to the work of the Navy with regard to the slave traffic and kindred matters, such as the suppression of piracy. Last year, from this side of the House, questions were raised with regard to the development of the air arm and the necessity for co-ordination in the staff colleges regarding this matter. Has anything been done in that direction? Has any consideration been given to the feasibility or practicability of such a suggestion, if only up to a certain point? Would such a step not result both in increased efficiency and some real saving? We should also like to know how far research work has been coordinated between the three Services. On page 11 of the White Paper, a reference is made to certain prizes given to naval officers on the attainment of a certain standard of work. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman or the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some information as to the nature of these prizes. We should also like particulars as to the cost per head of students in the cadet colleges. Some time ago, a question was raised in this House as to the heavy cost—amounting to about £400 per annum—for a pupil in Dartmouth College. We should like to know if that cost has been reduced.
Coming back to the 1924 building programme, we should like to know how far has the right hon. Gentleman proceeded. Are all the cruisers now in commission, and has that programme yet been completed? I also wish to raise a matter of high policy which, on two or three occasions, I have raised in these Debates. We have had during the last week or so discussions on the Estimates for the Army and the Air Force, and we are now considering those of the Navy. In every one of these Estimates we find references to air forces, and it is extremely difficult for ordinary observers, or even for students of these matters, to find out exactly what is the expenditure on our air forces and what is the division of the cost.
The question once more forces itself to the front in this connection, of the necessity for co-ordinating the Services, and, at least, considering the possibility of appointing a Minister of Defence. The position has changed even since the last War. Should such an unfortunate calamity as war again descend upon the world, aerial conflict on a large scale is a certainty. We have, practically, three separate Air Services and one or two questions arise which compel the attention even of those who do not claim to be experts on the subject. What would happen, for instance, in the event of a combined attack by the Royal Air Force and the Air Arm of the Navy? Who would take charge of operations and assume responsibility. It is no good waiting until the event comes. If we are going to have controversy about these matters, it is better to deal with the subject straight away. I do not suppose one could expect the Government to give an answer right off on the question of establishing a Ministry of Defence, but I would ask them if they are prepared to examine this problem, and to put their views on it before the House. It is in a time like this, when there is comparative calm, and an opportunity of reviewing the situation, that we should give consideration to this problem so that if the need ever arose for it, the machinery would be in proper working order.
Turning to the reductions on which the right hon. Gentleman has laid such stress, I would like to offer some criticism of his remarks. If there is one art in which the right hon. Gentleman excels—apart from his many other good qualities—it is in the art of camouflage. He, better than anyone else, knows how to lead Members of the House away from the main purpose of their investigations. I do not think he can take all the credit that he claims for the reductions in armaments, which he has set out, as having taken place since the Armistice. Reductions were bound to follow, when the need no longer existed for a Fleet of the size which had to be called into being for war purposes and when the extra number of men called up for war service had returned to their homes. We welcome the reductions for which the right hon. Gentleman has claimed credit, but suggest that those reductions were not part of any deliberate policy on his part, but were such as were bound to follow in the ordinary course on the conclusion of hostilities. One is prepared to admit that a great deal of misunderstanding has arisen about our position in relation to the Geneva Conference. The right hon. Gentleman and his Government contributed a great deal to that misunderstanding. Their action placed this country in a wrong light before the other countries of the world and gave rise to misunderstanding both here and in the United States. That misunderstanding need not have arisen, had they made their position clear and definite from the outset. It was only after considerable bungling, that the policy of the Government gradually emerged and we failed to reap even that credit which was due to this country.
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that on the occasion of a similar Debate last year we pressed upon him the advisability of deferring his building programme in a time of peace. We asked him not to call for Estimates for new ships but simply to go on with the completion of the ships already on the stocks. To a very large extent that is the policy which has been followed out during the past year, but we would have been in a much better position with the other countries of the world when we went to Geneva, had that position been frankly and openly accepted. Another matter which might be considered—and this is an opinion shared by those who can speak with an expert knowledge to which I do not pretend—is the position of the capital ship in the future. Having regard to the development of air forces and of high-speed, heavily armed cruisers, it is considered by many that the capital ship is obsolete and is merely providing, at a tremendous cost, a splendid target which could soon be made a casualty—resulting in terrific loss of money and tremendous waste of human life.
A great saving could be made it any further suggestion for the building of capital ships were deferred until full consideration had been given to the matter. It has been argued that the day of the capital ship is past, and that it is sheer waste of money to continue pouring out £5,000,000 to £7,000,000 on the construction of each of these big machines. While the right hon. Gentleman has indicated certain reductions—in so far as the building of certain cruisers has not been carried out, but has been deferred to a future date—one cannot help noticing that he is building a number of sloops which were formerly not allowed for at all. Really, in effect, the right hon. Gentleman, by a side wind, is getting authority to build a larger number of ships—although he may defer the construction of some of them—than was at first contemplated. There is a considerable set-off to any saving, in the four sloops which are announced as part of the new programme. On page 6 of the White Paper there is a reference to the Geneva Conference:
Nevertheless, though much common ground was found it was unfortunately found impossible to agree upon a formula acceptable to all parties and to our regret, the Conference terminated without arriving at an agreement.
I have already referred to the fact that we might have come out of that Conference with greater credit. I think I am right in saying that the agreement resulting from the Washington Conference comes to an end in 1932. This surely, therefore, would be the opportunity in which considerations and pour-parlers might take place with a view to approaching the next Conference with the idea of the consideration then of the question, not only of capital ships, but of the reduction of cruisers and the abolition of submarines. If we were to do that now and try to explore the ground in those directions, probably much good would be done. Let us face the fact that we cannot talk about very considerably reducing navies unless we are going to get some understanding and assurance
that other countries will act in a somewhat similar way, and I think we should be in a much stronger position if we were to intimate that we are quite willing to go into conference on the next occasion to consider a very much larger proposition than on the former occasion. If the United States were to agree to that, a great deal of good would be done.
Last year we discussed in this House, and there was passed, a Bill for the establishment of an Indian Marine. I think I am right in saying that that Bill has been thrown out by the Indian Parliament, and perhaps we could be informed later as to what is the exact position of that question now. Does that settle it entirely, or will it be re-introduced in any other way? To return to the question of Singapore, one regrets that the money is being poured out in the way it is in those mud flats, raising the possibility of having the same naval race in the Pacific in the days to come as we had in the North Sea in the days before 1914. I would like to ask whether we can be informed how far they have proceeded with the graving dock. I observe that the floating dock is to be towed out, and as the right hon. Gentleman admitted last year, that is rather a reversal of the policy that was originally laid down, when the graving dock was to have preceded the floating dock.
I would have fortified myself with the right hon. Gentleman's statement on that occasion if I had thought his memory would be as faulty as that. He said there was no doubt that a former Government did agree that the graving dock should precede the floating dock. He admitted that when we came to the Committee stage of his Estimates, and perhaps he will refresh his memory in the meantime. I would like to know whether the reason for what has occurred at Singapore has been because the borings for the graving dock have been unsuccessful. The House should be informed how much money is being expended in that connection, and that, I think, will give us some idea that the original Estimate is going to be considerably increased, as all of us on this side thought it would be.
In conclusion, I would like again to emphasise the point that I feel the Government have lost a great opportunity during the year that has just passed to have taken the lead and gained the moral leadership of the world on the question of disarmament, and not only have they missed that opportunity, but they have even lost the opportunity of getting any credit that was righly due to themselves with regard to the position which they did take up. Again, while grateful for the measure of reduction that was expressed by the right hon. Gentleman, I think it was possible to have made even further reductions and to have postponed a larger part of the programme. There are so many things in connection with naval warfare and, in fact, in connection with all warfare just now which change rapidly that one is hardly able to keep pace with them, and in these times of peace an opportunity might be taken to economise and to conserve our powers, to explore the possibilities of agreement with other nations for further disarmament, and to see whether we cannot effect even greater savings, particularly with regard to the questions of Singapore and of capital ships. I would refer also to the necessity for considering the co-ordination of the Services under a Ministry of Defence, with particular regard to the development of the Air Force and the difficulty of appreciating how the money is being expended in that direction. I hope even now that the Government will give consideration to these points and see whether they cannot make a gesture to the world which will show that we are in earnest about seeking peace and ensuing it.
I wish to touch upon one or two matters referred to by the First Lord of the Admiralty in his characteristically conversational and casual speech. The Admiralty prides itself upon its independence, and indeed its policy is as independent as a craft at the mercy of conflicting winds and changing tides. Nobody is now living, I suppose, who could give an answer to the question as to what is the international policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to the Navy. The plain, blunt fact stands out that there is no policy at all. The First Lord went to Geneva with a proposition to limit the size of ships and guns. If he had known anything of the United States mentality, he would have known that the last thing that a nation flushed with financial prosperity was desirous of doing was to reduce the size of anything at all, and as long as we proceed in this aimless manner, we shall never meet with success.
There has been no rational proposal put forward by the Admiralty at any time which will meet with the acceptance of other Powers. It would be rational to relate our expenditure upon armaments to our total maritime trade, and if acceptance by other nations of that proposal could be obtained, the day of racing in armaments would be ended. We should have discovered a formula which would entitle the nation with the largest maritime commerce to the largest navy, and within the total sum so allowed, it could build what class of vessels it desired. I do not say at all that my suggestion is the most desirable one that could be made, but it is at any rate a rational principle to fix the percentage to be spent on armaments, basing that percentage upon the commerce of the particular nation. At any rate, it seems to me that such a proposal as that is very much more reasonable than any proposal that was made at Geneva.
I have no more reason to suppose that it would commend itself to the United States than that the proposals put forward by the United States at Geneva would commend themselves to us. If the proposal has not been put forward, it is not possible to answer for the United States, but no Government genuinely desirous of peace would have the audacity to refuse a proposal of that kind, which would relate its expenditure to its trade borne upon the waters. I am not in a position to answer for the United States, but the proposal was never put forward. We know that the way in which our Government were proceeding was never going to lead us to success, because we have it on the authority of the Chancellor of the Exchequer
that the proposals put forward by the United States could never have been acceptable to us, and yet we went into the Conference without making any preliminary effort to discover what those proposals were. This is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said on that point:
Therefore, we are not able now, and I hope at no future time, to embody in a solemn international agreement any words which would bind us to the principle of mathematical parity in naval strength.
If the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Skelton) asks me if my proposals would be acceptable to the United States, I do say that the United States proposals are clearly never going to be acceptable to us.
Certainly not, but the hon. Member is now raising an entirely different point. I say that there could be no more rational policy than to determine your financial expediture on the Navy in accordance with your seaborne trade. I say that that is a rational principle, but a principle which fixes the size of ships or guns is not rational. You might just as well try and fix the size of policemen. There is no rationality in it; it is purely arbitrary and capricious. Neither is there any rationality in the fact that this country is called upon to bear so considerable a proportion of the expense of the Fleet which is destined to protect the whole of the Empire; and the First Lord made one or two observations on that point. I think the taxpayers of this country have very strong reason to complain of the fact that a small island the size of ours is called upon to support £58,000,000 of naval expenditure.
The Dominions, with whom our relations have become increasingly better, and who derive an increasing advantage from us by reason of the money we spend on propaganda for the purpose of increasing Empire trade, do not pay their adequate quota, and it should be the business of any First Lord of the Admiralty and, a fortiori, of any Government, to arrange with the Dominions that they should bear their proper quota in the future. I have called attention to this matter in previous years, and the figures continue to be astounding. It is extraordinary that the population in this small country should pay 25s. 6d. per head in order to support the Navy. The Commonwealth of Australia pays 18s. 5d.—that has gone up a little in the last year—New Zealand pays 9s. 4d.; and the Union of South Africa pays 1s. 6d. per head of the population. If Empire means anything at all, it must bring some advantage to the taxpayer in this respect.
I cannot say. I have not been able to get the latest figures, though I specifically asked for them, nor could I get the Canadian figures for last year, but I can say that in Canada they spend on the Navy 0.75 per cent. of their total imports and exports, which is the lowest percentage of any of the Dominions. I do press that upon the Admiralty, because we shall never get a reduction in Navy Estimates until the principle of Imperial responsibility is followed. If there be inconsistency and prevarication in the policy of the Admiralty abroad, and in relation to the Dominions, still more are they visible in the domestic sphere, in the Admiraty's treatment of those who serve. In 1925, a sum was inserted for marriage allowances for naval officers, which has been for many years one of the most insistent demands of the Service, and still is. That sum was actually included in the Estimates; it was carried by this House and subsequently withdrawn, and it makes no reappearance this year. Although it would cost only £350,000 to put the naval officers on the same footing as army officers, the Admiralty refrains from offering this small measure of justice.
The same inconsistency is observable in the pay of the Navy, which has been reduced, and there are now two scales of pay for similar duty of men working side by side. The First Lord referred to the reduction in punishment in the Navy. The reason that punishment has been reduced is largely because the pay had been improved, and there was a better class of men, with a better sense of responsibility; yet the Admiralty is embarking on the foolish undertaking of reducing the pay, not by direct means, but by creating two scales, one for new entrants and one for those who had engaged previously. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that we find the Government engaged on the disastrous policy of curtailing the political rights of men in the Fleet when they are in mufti. I raised this matter on the Adjournment, and all that the First Lord could say by way of defence was that my quarrel was with the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon). The hon. Member for North Camberwell then rose, and said that he had never seen the Order, which was issued by the Government; and, alternatively, that if he had seen it, it was represented to him that it was issued at previous elections. We know now that no such Order has been issued at any previous election.
I accept what my hon. Friend says. If any such Order were passed by him, it was passed on that understanding. His principal point was that he had not seen the Order at all. If you are to take away rights which the Navy has enjoyed historically, reinforced as they were by the Representation of the People Act, which enfranchised the sailors as such, you are in honour bound to come to Parliament before you curtail a democratic privilege that has been quite freely enjoyed up to the election of 1924, just two days before the polling. It is not surprising that the Government have taken these rights away, for they fear the retribution which will be visited upon them for having discontinued the marriage allowance of naval officers, and having reduced the scales of pay. It is rather remarkable that, the very day after the First Lord of the Admiralty said that the Navy had no interest in political matters, a Debate was held in this House on appeal tribunals for naval officers.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman will find it in the Navy Estimates, There are two scales of pay in force. I am sorry that my hon. and gallant Friend, who is a naval man, should not have sufficient interest to ascertain that fact, which affects his own Service. If I have had to complain about these matters which affect the Navy, still more do I have to complain of matters affecting those who build the Fleet. The First Lord of the Admiralty has said this afternoon that he hopes that the position will get better in the dockyards, and that he will be able to fix a proper establishment which will not be departed from, but the plain fact remains that these Estimates take power to reduce the number of employés in the dockyards, which have already suffered very unjustly. How the First Lord could suggest that things were getting better when the Estimates lay down that they shall get worse, beats my understanding. I wish the House would realise how unjustly the dockyards are treated. Nearly one-fifth of these Navy Estimates is to go into the hands of private firms. Nearly all the construction of the Navy, consisting of two cruisers, one submarine depot ship, one flotilla leader, eight destroyers, six submarines, one river gunboat and four sloops, is to go to private firms. Only two cruisers and one submarine are to be built in His Majesty's dockyards. What do we maintain dockyards for? Is it not obvious that their plant will decay, to say nothing of the disaster that will fall on the men who are discharged? Is it not obvious that these dockyards will get thoroughly out-of-date, and will not be in a position to compete with private firms at all?
What I have principally to complain of is that the dockyards have not even been permitted to tender this time. That is an entirely new practice. If the Admiralty desire to save the taxpayers' money, they might at any rate give their own dockyards, which work with plant provided and maintained by the taxpayers, a chance of undertaking the work of the nation for which they exist. I ask the Financial Secretary to tell me what the First Lord meant when he spoke of fixing an establishment? Has the Admiralty any intention of letting the workers in the dockyards know what their position is, and giving them the same security, which Army men have, of a definite period of engagement in the public service? I only pause to correct two statements made by the First Lord. He said that the dockyards were getting a greater proportion of the work than before the War. It must be remembered that the dockyards before the War had all the work that they could do, and, therefore, any surplus was quite justifiably given to the other yards. He said, secondly and erroneously, that the dockyards were getting a bigger proportion than they had previously received since the War. The fact is that two dockyards have been closed, and those that remain ought to be given a very much greater proportion. I ask the pardon of the House for referring to these domestic matters at the end of my speech, but the First Lord has created a precedent by referring to the dockyards in his speech in introducing the Estimates. These very important matters were hitherto neglected on this state occasion, and I am glad that the First Lord has been impressed by the necessity of saying some words of encouragement, which I hope will presently be carried into effect.
I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) on the skill and energy of his advocacy as a dockyard Member. Whether he will succeed in persuading the Admiralty to give further contracts to the dockyards is another question. The other day I raised the question of the incidence of tuberculosis in the personnel of the Navy, and I make no apology for returning to it, in order to impress upon the Admiralty, and upon the Government, the necessity for realising that it is a very serious matter. I repeat what I said the other day, namely, that the incidence of tuberculosis in naval personnel has been considerably higher for a period of years than it has been in the Army, and in the rest of the population. That statement speaks for itself. I said that it calls for immediate investigation and action in order to put the matter right.
There are certain other details to which I should like to refer on points that were raised by the First Lord. We
are constantly accused of not making sufficient reduction of armaments and of not taking the initiative in calling for a reduction. I propose to put one or two arguments to show, not only that we have done a good deal in the past, but that our intentions have been and will be good. I will quote from an American journal giving us great credit for what we have done in disarmament and the breaking up of ships. There is a Press campaign—perhaps no more than that—in the United States on the question of whether or not we have what is called been "putting one over" on the United States, either in regard to the Washington Conference or the Geneva Conference. This is what this important American paper has to say:
How in the world a nation that sacrificed one and one-third million tons of fighting ships voluntarily, and then followed that up by destroying nearly half a million tons of completed dreadnoughts, can be accused of 'putting one over' on a nation that has broken up only 498,192 tons of dreadnought and pre-dreadnought construction, is puzzling to the commonsense mind of the average layman.
They go on to say:
We hold no brief for the British or any other foreign navy, but we do hold a brief for incontrovertible truth, for fair play, and for good sportsmanship.
That is a very fair statement to make in regard to what we have done.
The "Scientific American." We have no cause to regret the agreement that was come to at the Washington Conference. At the Geneva Conference we made extraordinary concessions in order to bring about agreement. If that agreement had been carried into effect, the result would have been that we should have saved in the course of a few years no less than £50,000,000. We proposed a reduction in the size of ships and a reduction in armaments in all classes of ships; we proposed that the lives of ships should be extended, and, above all, the best thing that occurred at that Conference was the frank and clear statement on our part of why we wanted a Navy, and what we proposed to do with the Navy which we thought that we wanted. That is a thing which has never been done previously on so great a scale; in fact, nothing of that kind has ever occurred in any previous disarmament conference. With the spirit prevailing at the present time between ourselves and our friends across the water we have a right to hope and to expect that long before 1931 we shall be able to see our way to having a further conference and arriving at some reasonable and lasting decision which will prevent anything in the nature of competition in naval armaments.
One further remark, which is perhaps pertinent to the subject of the efforts we have made in regard to disarmament, and that is that at present our Navy is one-third less than it was in 1913 and the tonnage of the Navy has been reduced by at least 40 per cent. The Government and the Conservative party are constantly adjured to bring about international agreement of one kind or another in regard to naval armament. For the benefit of the Socialist party, I would like to point out how extremely difficult it is to accomplish anything of that sort. By reason of the activities of our ancestors, we find ourselves in possession of all the salient points on the trade routes very nearly all over the world, certainly on the way to the East; and I am glad that it is so. If one makes a journey, either in fact or otherwise, from this country, or from Holland, or from anywhere in the North Sea, all the way to the East one finds that it is not possible to call anywhere, either for provisions or fuel, except at a British port. Foreign nationals moving about the world have that fact constantly before their eyes, and it is natural that they should ask, "How is it that this nation is in possession of all these places?" That naturally makes it very much more difficult to arrive at any agreement.
It seems to me that it ought to be possible to arrive at something in the nature of an agreement but it will be done in one way only, and that is by the various nations whom we are asked to approach on the subject of naval disarmament being prepared to guarantee amongst themselves that their respective possessions in the world are to remain their own property and that they will undertake no aggressive action against another's possessions, and, further, that they will guarantee the same treatment for our possessions. That is an extremely difficult undertaking to arrive at, but it is worth the endeavour. One thing can be said for certain—at any rate I am prepared to say it—that at the present time I know of only one nation which is prepared to guarantee the integrity of the possessions of the other nations of the world, or, rather, to agree that it has no aggressive intentions against those possessions, and that is our own nation. Until we feel sure that other nations are prepared, amongst themselves and also as they stand in relation to ourselves, to come to such an agreement, it is not possible to arrive at any permanent and lasting agreement for naval disarmament on any large scale.
From time to time we are asked to consider the use or the abuse or the abolition of capital ships. It has been said many times, but it cannot be said too often, that capital ships are the outcome of the natural development of the fighting ships and that if we do away with the capital ship as we understand it today the only result will be—and very properly so—that the next largest or most powerful type of ship we were entitled to retain would ipso facto become the capital ship of its day. We might call it what we liked but it would remain the capital ship, that is to say, the greatest and most powerful type of vessel upon the sea. We have been asked to support the abolition of submarines, and I have no doubt we should agree if other nations would do the same, and that is not surprising when we remember that at the outbreak of the War we possessed no less than 20,000,000 tons of merchant shipping and that by actions which were definitely illicit and illegal we lost during the War no less than 8,000,000 tons, a very large proportion of it by submarine action. But quite apart from any selfish motives which might be suggested, it would be a right and proper thing for us to do away with submarines from motives of humanity, of expense and peace. I have no hesitation in thinking that the Government would welcome anything which tended towards the abolition of submarines.
There is on the Order Paper an Amendment which, at the end, suggests that a restriction should be introduced limiting the maximum tonnage of cruisers to what is necessary for police purposes. I am not sure what that means. I am not quite sure whether that refers to the maximum tonnage of each cruiser, or the maximum tonnage of all the cruisers taken together; and apart from that, the point I wish to draw attention to is the reference to "police purposes." It is a very attractive idea that the sea should be policed by ourselves, and perhaps by other nations, but I would like to quote one or two figures showing that the cost of police to the taxpayers of the country is by no manner of means small, indeed, that it is a very serious charge. I have looked up the cost of the police in this country over a, term of years in order to draw a comparison with the cost of the Navy. which is, of course, the insurance we pay for our shipping and our possessions. In the year 1900 we had 41,000 police in England and Wales, and the total cost of the police in that year was £4,250,000. In 1913–13 years on—the police force had grown to 54,000 and its cost had gone up to £6,500,000. From 1913 to 1926, another period of 13 years, with the War intervening and causing a certain alteration in the value of money, the number of the police force rose to 57,280—that is the figure for the year 1926–1927—and the cost rose to no less than £19,000,000 in that year.
One must suppose that the police exist in general to keep order and to protect us from the depredations of the criminal classes, and they have, of course, other duties to perform, but if the police have 57,000 men, costing £19,000,000 a year, it seems to be a fair contention that an expenditure of £58,000,000 on the Navy is not too large a sum to pay for the insurance of thousands of millions of pounds' worth of property overseas, the protection of 8,000 miles of trade routes and the protection not only of the property but of the people of the whole world. The expenditure on the police is for the most part, if not entirely, on the personnel of the Force. There is not a great deal of matériel—there are some horses and some horse and a few other items of that kind. In the Navy there are 100,000 personnel and battleships costing £8,000,000, cruisers costing £1,000,000, the upkeep of dockyards, and all the other tremendous expenditure on material. I wanted to make that point, because it is so often suggested that the cost of the Navy is an intolerable burden, but if we put up with an expenditure of £19,000,000 in order to be looked after as a set of law-abiding citizens, I think we ought to face with complete equanimity the expenditure of £58,000,000 a year on the Navy. Personally, I can pass a policeman without a flutter of the heart for an instant, and I have no doubt that all Members of Parliament can do likewise, and it seems to me a strange thing that we in London require 18,000 or 19,000 policemen to look after us. There must be something wrong with us.
Our Labour opponents in this House—I say it with all respect to them—forget sometimes what the Navy does in the world. The power and prestige of the League of Nations is very largely dependent on the efficiency of the British Navy. They rely very largely indeed, and I am glad to think it should be so, on the continued efficiency of the British Navy. Then I have no hesitation in reminding my Labour opponents that the vast majority of the smaller States of the world would view with alarm anything that tended to reduce the efficiency or the power of the British Navy. In my movements about the world I have found that to be so, and it is a point which ought to be borne in mind. Again I have to refer to the question of police. In peace time the Navy polices the seas, and polices maritime coasts of the whole world. Wherever it may be, it is always doing police work of one kind or another. Even if it is not active, the very presence of a British man-of-war always has a calming and soothing effect on the people who see it
Yes, even in Samoa. It has often been said, indeed it is almost a truism, that if you want to run the risk of breaking up this Empire the best and the quickest way of doing it is to reduce the power of the British Navy. It is sometimes thought that it is an easy thing to improvise a Navy and adopt a policy of reducing its strength in peace time, and building it up when a time of stress conies. Anyone who knows the naval history of this country is well aware that every time we have followed such a policy it has invariably brought disaster. Considering the complicated machinery of the Navy, and the time it takes to train efficient naval officers and ratings, I think we ought to be most cautious before we do anything to reduce the strength of the Navy, or the staff that controls the Navy and does its thinking.
Every hon. Member in this House has a great responsibility in this matter, and therefore we ought to be very cautious how we put down Amendments on the Order Paper which might tend to make people believe that we do not realise our responsibilities. We have to protect the teeming millions who live in India as well as our own people in the Dominions overseas, and, therefore, we should be most cautious in putting down Amendments which might make those people think that we were not considering our responsibilities towards them. We should not allow ourselves to be carried away by ill-digested plans and ill-considered idealism however excellent they may appear to be in some respects, because that would be a most dangerous thing to do. I sincerely hope that those Members of the Labour party who are going to speak upon the Amendment standing in the name of one of their Members will be very cautious how they press their claims for that Amendment.
would like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) upon his speech, because I am always very glad to hear an old shipmate of mine speak in this House. I regret that more Members of the Conservative party were not present to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech. It is a most remarkable fact that while the First Lord was making his very interesting statement, and while the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes was speaking, the Conservative Benches were very sparsely attended. Last Wednesday when the hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) moved his Motion in favour of doing justice to the sailors and soldiers who were dismissed because they were suffering from tuberculosis, the Conservative Members counted the House out before the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty was able to reply. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give his reply to-night, and I trust it will be favourable, because he must know that if a Vote had been taken last Wednesday a great many of his own party would have voted against him if he had given an unfavourable reply. A Member of the Conservative party called attention to the fact that there were not 40 Members present on Wednesday last, and I hope the welfare of the lower deck will not be neglected on this occasion. Of course I know that the Whips expect every Member of the party to vote blindly for whatever Motion before the House if the Government are in favour of it.
The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes does not believe in a limitation of armaments, and in that respect he differs from the First Lord, who has stated that he is very hopeful of a further limitation of naval armaments taking place. That is one reason why he has dropped the building of three cruisers during the last two years. The right hon. Gentleman has already said that he trusts to the good sense of the British and the American people to effect a further limitation of armaments. I would like to ask the First Lord if it is the intention to hold another Naval Conference before 1932 when the Washington Agreement comes to An end? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that there will be another international conference before 1932?
I would like to know whether that is in the mind of the First Lord, because the programme of 1925 was the absolute minimum, and there can only be one more building programme besides the present year's programme before 1930. We have another year to go after the present building programme is completed. Every time the First Lord of the Admiralty has introduced the Navy Estimates, he has said that no further economies are necessary or allowable, and when Members of the Labour party have dared to ask for further economies, we have been looked upon as doing a very unpatriotic thing. It is a rather strange thing that, after the Geneva Conference has failed, and after a very large building programme has been announced by the United States, the right hon. Gentleman finds that, in regard to this matter of reducing armaments, the Labour party have been talking sense and he has been wrong, because he has now concluded that a number of cruisers can be safely dropped.
That must be the case unless the First Lord has information that there is going to be another conference called by Japan or by our own Government. Of course, in that case there is justification for the point of view in regard to the dropping of three cruisers from our programme. If the right hon. Gentleman has that information, the House has a right to know it before passing these Estimates, and I invite him to tell us what information he has upon this point. If the First Lord has no information on this subject, as this is the Presidental election year in America, I hope he will induce the Foreign Secretary to visit Washington as soon as the election is over in order to examine carefully the whole situation there. I think the three or four weeks necessary to cross the Atlantic and explore the whole position would be time far better spent by the Foreign Secretary than indulging in these continual journeys to Geneva which lead to nothing at all in the direction of the limitation of armaments. If the First Lord has no information in regard to a new conference before 1931, I think he should induce the Foreign Secretary to go to America directly the Presidential elections are over.
The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes has drawn a comparison between the police force of this country and the Navy. The difference is that whereas the police force is maintained to arrest malefactors and prevent the commission of crime and acts against all classes and nationalities within their particular territory, the Navy, which in the days of the Roman Emperors and the Plantagenet Kings acted as sea police, is no longer an international police force. If we could draw the navies of the world together for police purposes to secure all trade routes against attack, then the hon. and gallant Member's analogy would be a correct one, but that is not the case.
I understood the hon. and gallant Member to say that the police control the criminal classes. I doubt whether there are 57,000 criminals, but there are 57,000 police. I know the police have plenty of other duties to perform besides that of controlling the criminal classes, and we must not forget that a large number of our criminals are shut up in gaol and need no police to look after them.
I know the police have many other duties to perform, but I do not wish to split hairs on this point. The police are not a fighting force, and their duty is to keep the peace. My point is that if you could have a system under which every State provided its quota towards a force which would be charged with the duty of protecting our trade routes from attack, then the peace of the world would be assured. It has already been pointed out that wherever a ship calls for fuel it is generally a port somewhere in the British Empire, and the fact that we have a predominant force at sea means that we can close the trade routes any time to every other nation, and that is the reason the Geneva Conference broke down. The First Lord of the Admiralty knows that very well. After the ship-building programme sanctioned by the Washington Conference has been completed, the American Navy will be equal to ours; in fact, it will be slightly superior owing to the greater number of modern ships.
I hope that we shall not hear in this Debate either Liberal or Conservative reactionaries throwing out the suggestion that America cannot man her ships. That is an extremely foolish idea to put about. and I do hope I am scotching a ridiculous assertion—
I had the honour of seeing something of the American Navy and their ships when they came over here. Their men are excellent, and their officers are devoted and skilled, and, if we hug the illusion that they will never be able to man their ships, we are living in a fool's paradise. That is exactly the mistake which the Germans made when they thought we could never raise an army, and the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) is a proof of the falsity of that, because he was one of the amateur soldiers who beat them at their own game. He talks of Devonshire sailors, but men who are their descendants are now living in the Eastern States of America. My own grandfather fought in the American Navy and he was a Scotchman. Do not let us hear in this Debate that the Americans cannot man their ships. Of course, they can out-build us because of their money, and they can get sailors, and it is quite a mistake to decry the virtues of other people.
The First Lord and the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes, who so ably supported him, spoke of our wonderful record of scrapping tonnage. The facts, of course, are these. Before the outbreak of war, we kept every ship that was fit to float, because we knew that it would he useful for some purpose, and some of these old ships did excellent work long after they were really obsolete. During the War, we naturally kept every sort of warship that we had, for it could perform some service. After the War, we very properly cleared our Navy List of all the old junk, and that is what makes up the millions of tons of scrapped ships. I do not say that we have not scrapped as much as other people, but the fact remains, and I am bound to admit it, that, when the shipbuilding programme was commenced after the Washington Conference, the Labour Government, having inherited the Estimates of the Conservative Government and being in a minority in this House, were over-borne by naval opinion. and commenced—
I was in the House, and led the attack upon them. The last hon. Gentleman below the Gangway who interrupted me took my attention away; I hope that the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. Crawfurd) will not do so also; I have a serious argument to put to the House. The point is that, when the programme of new ships was commenced, we bad a very large preponderance of cruising craft. In 1921, parity in capital ships, both cruisers and battleships, having been agreed upon at Washington, the fact that we led the way with our tremendous number of ships at that time naturally led to corresponding programmes in other countries, and I really think that the right hon. Gentleman does no good at all by pretending that we have led the way in disarmament. We have done nothing of the sort. We thought that we were going to be in a predominant position after the German Navy had been destroyed. We refused to discuss the second of President Wilson's Fourteen Points at the Paris Conference, and we refused to re-codify the sea law. That matter is going to be discussed on another occasion, and I do not want to enter into it now, but that is the real cause of the trouble to-day. This attempted predominance, this clinging to the shadow of sea power and the power to control the trade routes of the world, will only lead to disaster.
The attitude of the First Lord towards the breakdown at Geneva is, Oh well, this is only one more of those disarmament conferences; not much harm has been done; of course, we all parted good friends, and we will do better next time." When he takes that attitude, he must be unaware of the feeling that bas been aroused in America by that very breakdown. It has been most disastrous. I admit that the Big Navy party in America is very noisy and very active, and it has, of course, exploited the situation to the utmost. It is supported, of course, by the armament makers, just as our Big Navy party, our Blue Water School, the Navy League and the Blue Funk School in this country, are supported and encouraged by armament rings here. The breakdown of that Conference, for which the right hon. Gentleman has at any rate a partial responsibility, has created a great deal of suspicion and ill-feeling in America. I am going to quote some evidence given before the Naval Committee when this programme was being considered by it. They have a much better method in the American Congress; they have a Committee that can go into details and call evidence, and I wish we had that system
here; it would be very much more useful, and we should save a great deal of money which the Admiralty seem to be incapable of saving themselves. This is the evidence of Dr. William Howe, a leading educationist and religious leader in America. He is presumably a person of some importance, or he would not have been called by the Committee. He said:
If you gentlemen would only talk to American people outside Washington, you, too, would be amazed and startled by the hatred for the English people which is already flaring up under the stimulus of this proposal"—
that is with regard to the 25 cruisers. The anger was not against their own Navy party, or against their own administration, but against us. We were represented as being responsible; the blame for the need to spend this money on these cruisers in America was put upon us and upon the right hon. Gentleman.
I do not propose to quote from a speech made in another place, but I must draw attention to the statements that were made by the right hon. Gentleman's colleague, Lord Cecil, on his resignation, when he said that agreement was almost reached on two occasions. He said that agreement was almost reached in regard to the 7-inch gun, and the Cabinet vetoed it; and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) has pointed out, when agreement was nearly reached on another occasion, a telegram was received from Downing Street recalling the right hon. Gentleman and his noble colleague, who were kept hanging about here for 10 days, during which time a precious opportunity was lost. If it is really a fact that we stated that we could not accept mathematical parity with America in what are called auxiliary ships, that is to say, cruisers—and that is the statement which was made by the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—I think the right hon. Gentleman did an ill-service to the British Empire. For him to say, with a depleted Exchequer, with an over-taxed people, with unemployment and bad trade such as we are suffering from in this country, that under no circumstances would he—acting, of course, on behalf of the British Cabinet—accept mathematical parity with America, when America was asking for it, was bluff. His bluff has been called, and we have to "pay the kitty," if I may use a poker expression—a bluff with four cards in his flush, to use another poker expression. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman, in his unregenerate days, ever indulged in that questionable pastime. If he did not, perhaps it is a pity, because he met people at Geneva who have made it their national game.
May I put another question to the right hon. Gentleman? Why has there been this sudden change of policy on the part of the Admiralty towards cruisers and the size of cruisers? When certain hon. Members on this side of the House have ventured to suggest that the 10,000-ton cruiser with 8-inch guns was too large for its purpose, hon. Gentlemen on the other side, including the First Lord himself and the hon. and gallant Member for Western Stirling (Captain Fanshawe), who is closely in touch, I know, with Admiralty opinion, have always said that it is murder to send British sailors to sea in ships that are not as powerful as, or more powerful than, any other warships that they are likely to meet; that we must have 8-inch guns; that the 7.5-inch gun could not compete with the 8-inch gun; that we must have these 10,000-ton cruisers, because in a seaway you could not fight these guns in a small ship, and so on. Hon. Gentlemen who follow these Debates will know that I am speaking the truth; again and again we have had that argument. Now, suddenly, at Geneva, when the Americans declare that they want a certain number of these cruisers, a love is discovered by the Admiralty for a smaller type of ship.
Exactly; but those are the right hon. Gentleman's words; what about his deeds? Why were all the ships that he laid down armed with 8-inch guns? Why was the programme which the Labour party inherited—I was not in that party then, and therefore I can speak with detachment—for eight of these ships, and not five, which was the number that my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) had to defend when we gave him the time of his life while he was at the Admiralty? Why were eight of these ships on the stocks—I do not mean literally in the dockyards, but why had the programme gone up? [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman says that I know perfectly well. The Admiralty put it into the mouth of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that they were to replace the County class. The County class were armed with 6-inch guns. The point was that these new cruisers of 10,000 tons—actually 13,000 tons, because the water and fuel are not counted—were armed with 8-inch guns. That started a new naval standard, just as the original Dreadnought battleship started a new naval standard of fighting ship under the late Lord Fisher, and that has been the cause of the trouble.
Now the Admiralty, to suit their own purpose, suddenly make out that a cruiser armed with 6-inch guns is defensive, and a cruiser armed with 8-inch guns is offensive. That is an extraordinary stragetical theory. I do not wonder that the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) laughs. He does know something of naval strategy, at any rate. The "Emden," which sank 180,000 tons of shipping and did so much damage, although she was chased by no fewer than 70 ships, was only armed with 4-inch guns, firing 25-lb. shells. Was she a defensive or an offensive type? If she was defensive, what is a cruiser armed with 6-inch guns firing a 100-lb. shell? According to the Admiralty, she is defensive, and a cruiser armed with 8-inch guns is offensive. Then there is another theory, that the cruiser armed with 8-inch guns would reinforce the battle fleet. It is a most extraordinary argument that you can put these little cruisers—that is to say, little compared with battleships—armed with 8-inch guns, with very meagre armour protection, into the line of battle, and that they are going to reinforce the battle fleet.
In the preliminary skirmish at the Battle of Jutland, before the two main battle fleets met amid the smoke and mist and cordite fumes, two cruisers, the "Defence" and the "Warrior," were placed at the head of our Battle Fleet. They came within gun range of the German battleships, and in a few minutes, after only a few salvoes, the "Defence" was sunk with all hands, and the "Warrior" was forced to retire. Those were ships of 14,000 or 15,000 tons, with strong armour and well protected guns—armoured cruisers which, before the War, it was supposed would be fit to fight at the head of the line. To talk now of the 8-inch gun cruiser being a reinforcement of the Battle Fleet is to forget every lesson of the War and every lesson that has been learnt from the study of it since. The right hon. Gentleman talks of 70 cruisers as our maximum. According to the "Economist," 70 cruisers would cost £122,500,000, and their yearly cost of upkeep would be £13,500,000. Where is the money to come from? We want a little more information on these matters, and even the delightful, amusing and flippant speech with which the right hon. Gentleman introduced his Estimates will not satisfy the public outside, who are most gravely disturbed at the naval situation that has arisen owing to the breakdown of the Geneva Conference, for the blame of which they look to the right hon. Gentleman.
Two other matters I want to mention. Reductions are being attempted in the Admiralty personnel. I hope, while all the redundant civilians are cleared out, there will be no reduction of the naval staff itself—I mean the naval officers with sea experience—beyond the need of efficiency. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Davidson), the chairman of the Conservative organisation—hon. Members opposite ought to take off their hats when I mention his name, and those without hats should cross themselves—when he was Parliamentary Secretary, met some suggestion of cutting down the naval side of the staff. Speaking at Harpenden on 28th October, 1925, this is what the right hon. Gentleman had to say:
Did the public desire that we should go back to the days before the War when there was no naval staff to superintend the tactical efficiency and tactical operations of the Fleet? Did the public realise the disasters during the War that had resulted from the lack of a proper naval
That is only too true. We had no real staff at the Admiralty and no thinking department of any sort, and it is unnecessary for me to tell the House of the grave defects that existed in the Navy when we were faced with war. It is necessary to have officers from the sea at the Admiralty, and, above all, in the thinking department, the plans department,
which is not engrossed in day-to-day administrative work, but has the task of looking ahead, and thinking ahead, which is very essential, and I hope in any reduction that is made in the Admiralty that fact will be borne in mind. I am told they have to say what exactly they are doing, what forms they fill up, and what terms they make, whereas they are people who should be engaged in study, in drawing up plans for the future and in thinking out policy ahead. I hope there will be no penny wise, pound foolish policy of destroying the staff which only the grave dangers of the War called into being.
The other point I wish to raise is this. I asked a similar question of the Secretary for Air, and got no reply. I may have better luck with the Admiralty. Whose business is it in case of war to protect our merchant fleet from air attack? Just as the submarine was the great surprise of the last War, and sank 7,000,000 tons of our shipping, the surprise of the next war, if it comes, I believe will be aeroplane and seaplane attacks on merchant shipping. The Navy has a naval wing composed of fighters, observation machines, torpedo-carrying machines, etc. The Commander-in-Chief of the day will fight to the last to keep his aeroplanes, for tactical reasons, with the Fleet. Will it be the duty of the Navy or of the Air Ministry to protect merchant ships at sea from aeroplanes? Will it be done by aeroplanes flying from aerodromes or from carriers, or will it be done by the naval wing? There is as grave a lack of co-ordination between the three fighting Services as ever there was before the War, and amongst the people who can take decisions this matter has never been properly considered, I believe, because I see no signs of preparations in peacetime, when they must be made, to meet what may be in war-time a very serious menace which may succeed in injuring the country to an extent which even the submarine did not accomplish.
I did not mean to intervene in the Debate, but certain remarks have been made by the last speaker and by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) to which I should like to reply. The hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted me as having said—perhaps I did, though I de not
remember it—in some
former naval Debate that it was wrong to send our men to sea in small cruisers with 7.5-inch guns which might have to meet cruisers of 10,000 tons armed with 8-inch guns. I should have thought that was only common sense. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman had paid as much attention to his duties when he was a naval officer as he does to his duties in this House, he might have learnt more about the sea Service. He has quoted American opinion to us, so I should like to quote American opinion to him with regard to the breakdown of the Naval Conference at Geneva. I quote from an article in the "Scientific American" of December, 1927. It says:
The facts brought out in this article may serve to account for the failure of the Geneva Conference. Its futile ending is to be explained in large measure by the fact that the anti-treaty propagandists commenced their malicious work some weeks before, the Conference opened and continued at Geneva to carry it on most vigorously during the actual sessions. We know that this is the case because, before the Conference opened, we received from Geneva several articles from one of the most active anti-treaty writers, the burden of which was that the United States Navy was already below Treaty strength.
I also said that the big armament group in America and the big Navy group were very largely to blame. I admit that. As long as you have private enterprise in armament manufacture you will always have that.
Now the hon. and gallant Gentleman has side-tracked on to some question of nationalisation, where I will not follow him because I wish to be brief. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said the First Lord went to Geneva apparently upholding the 10,000-ton ship. The House knows that that is not in accordance with the facts. What the First Lord actually did was to limit the 10,000-ton cruisers, to put them into a special class and to arrange that that special class should die out altogether. I think that is absolutely accurate, and all hon. Members will agree with me when I say that.
One point at any rate on which I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman is with regard to the naval staff. I was one of those people who went to sea from Weymouth late in July, 1914, when we sailed in the first Fleet on our way to Scapa Flow to take up our war stations. We had then an immense Fleet with magnificent ships, magnificent officers and men and everything except that we had no directing brain in the Fleet at all. There was no naval staff—it might have started but I do not think so—then operating in the Fleet, and I believe it was not fully operating in the Admiralty either. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he went to the Admiralty, saw the absolute necessity of a naval staff and he is largely responsible for building up that naval staff. The hon. Member for Camberwell North (Mr. Ammon) knows that it would be suicidal in any way to impair the efficiency of that naval staff.
I know the hon. Member was doing that, but again I will not follow him, though it is a very attractive line. He draws attention to the increases at the Admiralty all round, but I do not think he wishes to limit the naval staff as such. I do not think he can, after having served at the Admiralty.
The only other point I wish to mention is the remark by the hon. Member for Devonport with regard to a certain Fleet Order prohibiting naval officers on half-pay taking a certain part in political activities. He said the Government bad taken that step because they were frightened of the consequences of having cut down naval pay. I know he did not want to be inaccurate. but it is rather a pity to put that sort of idea forward as the idea of the Government or of the great Service to which I belong. I do not think any naval officers mind the terms of that Fleet Order at all. After the War we had a Committee at the Admiralty, presided over by Admiral Halsey, which decided what new rates of pay should be given to officers and men. The men's pay was stationary and larger than they had before the War. The officers' pay was also larger, but it fluctuated on a sliding scale with the cost of living. The pay of many Departments was dealt with in the same way after the War. The pay of new entrants has been reduced, but no one has had his pay reduced while he is serving. I fail to see how anyone can say, when candidates come forward for any Service, that they have had their pay cut down. They come forward knowing the conditions, and, if they accept the pay as one of the conditions of service, how are they damaged in any way?
I do not propose to follow the professional officers of the Navy in their disputes, in which they generally appear to differ from each other so much, but, I want to refer to something that was entirely absent from the speech of the First Lord and to refer again to a question which I raised with him in the discussion of these Estimates last year. It is the question of the replacement of oil fuel in the Navy by pulverised coal fuel. When I raised this question last year, several hon. Gentlemen opposite, who at one time held high command in the Navy, poured some amount of ridicule on the suggestion, and I gathered from what they had to say that they rather found some difficulty in going back to coal with its dust and inconvenience and soiling of their quarterdecks in the coaling period. Since that time I have been reinforced in my opinion, and I would suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that he should deal with it in his reply, because last year the First Lord said not one word in reply. We are going to the other end of the world for oil fuel, when we have about 250,000 miners idle, villages and towns absolutely starving, tradesmen ruined, boards of guardians in tremendous debt, and people wondering whether their towns are going to continue in existence. We have the finest steam coal in the world, lending itself readily to pulverisation, and we are purchasing oil from abroad, which, in the case of another naval war, we might find much more difficult to obtain than our own coal. I see the First Lord has in his Estimates an item for oil storage at Ceylon which is estimated to cost £585,000.
When I spoke on this point 12 months ago, I suggested that it would be as easy to coal our naval vessels with pulverised coal fuel as it would be to take oil into their tank capacity through a pipe. I illustrated to some degree what I meant, and, among other things, I dealt with the effect on the boilers and fire boxes of the vessels, or on any other boilers and fire boxes consuming either oil or coal fuel, and I showed that they would last longer with coal fuel than with oil fuel. I illustrated the ease with which they would be coaled without putting a speck on the admiral's quarterdeck, and I pointed to the general saving that would result to this country through using our own fuel. Since that time I have been fortified in my opinion because pulverised coal fuel is now being used in the manner which I described. There has been published in a great London organ, only as recently as the fourth of last month, a diagram of a coal fuel installation. It shows, as I suggested last year, the coal fuel being conveyed through a pipe and the whole internal economy of the installation of pulverised fuel on a large vessel. It may be news to the Admiralty that already in this country there is being used on land about 40,000,000 tons of pulverised coal fuel every year. If it can be used in other boilers, it can be used in exactly the same way in our naval vessels.
I am again fortified by no less an authority than a gentleman who served the Government for many years in an official capacity and who is now a consulting engineer, Sir Richard Redmayne. He recently expressed the opinion that it would be cheaper to use steam turbines with powdered fuel than internal-combustion engines. Within the last few days, the steamship "Mercer," belonging to the United States Shipping Board, has made a very successful voyage to Amsterdam burning pulverised coal instead of oil. That is a proof of what I stated about the ease with which the conversion could be made. No alteration in the boiler was in any way necessary to bring this heavy vessel across the Atlantic on pulverised coal fuel. That being so, I would ask the hon. Gentleman who now represents the interests of the Admiralty on the Front Bench, if some further consideration can be given to this matter. I respect the knowledge of naval officers on naval strategy and tactics, although I am amazed whenever there is a Debate on naval affairs to observe how they differ, but I would not give place to them in knowledge of combustion and the science of fire.
If it is suggested to the Admiralty by their naval experts that there is some greater difficulty in raising steam or in the safety of life of the fire-boxes and boiler on our Welsh steam coal, I would point out that steam can be raised as quickly and maintained at the necessary head as easily on pulverised coal as on any oil in the world, whether crude or clarified. The boiler and the fire-box, the most expensive part of the boiler installation of a battleship, will last longer burning coal than burning oil. Every one who knows the science of combustion knows that the less smoke the better your combustion, and I have seen British liners and British naval vessels burning oil turning out smoke as badly as if they were burning crude coal. Therefore, there is no difference in that respect, if a fire is not properly used.
No, I was speaking of times when there was no necessity whatever for creating smoke. I am simply pointing out that both fuels would raise smoke if not scientifically and carefully handled. I am claiming for coal an advantage in the boilers as against the use of oil. Further, the quarter-deck would be clean and spotless for our meticulous Admirals, because, as I described last year and as has now been shown in actual fact, the coal would come into the vessel through a pipe in the same way as oil, and the decks would be quite spotless. The engine-room would be as free from coal dust as it is from oil. Lastly, I would again repeat what to me is a very cogent argument. If the consumption of coal fuel makes no difference to the cost of upkeep of the fire-box and boiler of the naval vessel, if coal can be handled as easily and the vessels can be coaled as easily and as cleanly, then it comes to a question of difficulty in war-time, and I suggest to the hon. Member that, if we have a future combination of naval power, it might be advisable for us to get our coal here in a pulverised form than to have to convoy oil from all parts of the world. It strikes me as suicidal to be always purchasing foreign oil—and I think we have sacrificed men in warfare to get control of foreign oilfields—when we have the finest steam coal in the world and when we have our miners unemployed, our villages, towns and countryside devastated. We would not do it in our homes or any ordinary business in which we were interested in any shape or form, but we do it to please old prejudices among people who want their quarter-decks clean.
The Admiralty last year could not even reply to the suggestion which I made with regard to examining its possibilities. I suggest, with all respect to those who want their vessels spick and span, that it ought to be of greater interest to this House, and to the Admiralty especially, to see that all our miners are employed, and that our own product is used rather than that we should use foreign oil when all the advantages are on the side of coal. I hope the Admiralty will give some further consideration to this matter. No change in the boiler or fire-box is necessary. The space required for pulverised coal fuel would be no greater than for oil. The only question would be some slight arrangement, so that, instead of the oil simply flowing to the nozzle which vaporises it into the fire-box, some steam or compressed air assistance would be given to convey it and to blow it into the fire-box in a finely powdered form. The fuel used in the vessel to which I referred was pulverised "as fine as a lady's face-powder", whatever degree of fineness that may be. That was the expression used to designate it. Having regard to the terrible position, the irrecoverable position in our own coalfields to-day, and having regard to the fact that there is no loss in fighting strength in general efficiency, the Admiralty ought to consider employing our own mine-fields, our own workpeople, rather than burning foreign coal which has no advantage beyond suiting the interests of some people who in the past induced them to adopt it.
We have had a most interesting Debate, and it would be advisable for me to try and answer now some of the questions raised. But, as a great deal of what has been said so far in this Debate applies more or less to the disarmament Amendment, which is coming on afterwards, my right hon. Friend the First Lord will deal with those matters which have been raised so far in this connection. I shall not attempt, in the short time which I intend to occupy the attention of the House, to make any criticism or remarks upon the high policy which was propounded by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) or the ingenious scheme which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) has for limiting armaments. My right hon. Friend the First Lord will no doubt deal with those points in the speech which he will make later on in the evening. A great many matters were raised by hone. Members, and it is quite possible I shall not be able to answer them all, because obviously time is an important factor to-night.
First of all, I should like, if I can, to allay the fears which, apparently, are in the minds of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) on the subject of the naval staff. No one can be more agreed with both these hon. and gallant Members than I, and no economies in reductions will be made which will in any way affect the efficiency of the naval staff. It is perfectly true what the hon. and gallant Member said, that everything really depends for naval efficiency in war upon there being a thinking staff at the Admiralty in time of peace. There is no intention whatever on the part of the Board of Admiralty to reduce the efficiency of the naval staff.
The next question to which I propose to turn is the question of the dockyards, because it is a matter upon which I think a good deal of misapprehension exists. I notice that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport, after making his attack, has retreated, and therefore will not have the advantage of hearing what I have to say. He has made so many statements with regard to our policy in the dockyards that it is high time, I think, that we should really examine more closely what he says. The great allegation which he always makes is that we do not give sufficient work to the dockyards in comparison with the work which we give to the private yards. The argument is—I do not think he used it in the House to-night but he continuously uses it outside the House—that most of the material used in the Royal Dockyards is purchased from contractors and that in the course of a year the Admiralty pays large sums to the contractors for goods other than hulls and machinery of ships, and if these sums are included in the allocation of work to contractors the total payments to contractors are large in comparison with the expenditure in the dockyards. In other wards, that when we give work to the dockyards, we increase the work given to contractors. He seems to be surprised to find that the construction of a warship at one of His Majesty's dockyards necessarily entails correlated expenditure in other parts of the country. As a matter of fact, the labour charges incurred by the yard are the only ones that yard officers really control, as, obviously, you have to get materials, armour, gun and other machinery from specialist private firms. It is quite clear that even when you do build a ship in the dockyard a great deal of machinery and equipment must come from elsewhere. It seems unbelievable to me that anyone should announce as a great discovery that the expenditure on shipbuilding and ship repairing at the dockyard is not as great as the expenditure on all naval services. The point of the matter is, that during the last few years we have given more work to the dockyards than in the past, and it is the policy of the Board of Admiralty to do everything it can to prevent the discharges which are taking place as a result of there being less work to do.
When the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport suggests that we are not to give our work elsewhere because these dockyards should get all the work that there is to be obtained, he is making a claim which it is perfectly impossible for the Government or the Board of Admiralty to entertain. In the distribution of work we have to consider the fact that there are great private dockyards which are essential to the interests of this country, and which must be kept up. We give as much work as we can to the Royal Dockyards, work which they are capable of undertaking economically, and other work which they are not capable of undertaking we have to give elsewhere. As a matter of fact, if you examine closely the wages that have been paid at Portsmouth, Devonport and Chatham during the three years 1924 to 1926 you will see that there has been a steady increase, and that has been during the life of the present Government. At Devonport, for instance—and I am sorry the hon. Gentleman is not here to hear this—the amount of wages paid was £1,709,385 in 1924; it was 1,749,384 in 1925, and £1,817,830 in 1926, showing that there was a steady increase in the amount of wages paid during that period. This increase in wages paid was due to a variety of causes, one of the more important being the system of payment by results which has been adopted by the Admiralty. All that I can say is, that the charges that have been made against the Admiralty for neglecting the dockyards seem to be without foundation. When the hon. Member makes the statements that he does both inside and outside this House he is considering the dockyard town which he represents in the most admirable manner, but he is not always strictly accurate in his facts, and he is certainly not accurate in the deductions which he draws from them.
He again made an attack upon the Admiralty for not paying marriage allowance. He knows perfectly well that if it were left to the Admiralty the Admiralty would be only too anxious to do so. In these days of economy it is amusing to hear the hon. Member, because almost every suggestion he makes is a suggestion which will hardly bear out the policy of his party, which is, I understand, economy—[An HON. MEMBER: "With efficiency!"]—and economy at the expense of the fighting services. Every suggestion that the hon. Member made would most certainly lead to greater expenditure. The hon. and gallant Member alluded to what he called the reduction in the pay of the men. This is not absolutely true. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Western Stirling (Captain Fanshawe) very truly said, this decrease does not affect the men who were in the Service before it was brought into effect; it only affects new entries.
The majority of the questions of the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), I think, can really be dealt with by my right hon. Friend, the First Lord, but there were certain questions on which I should like to say a word or two. He asked what was the decision with regard to the Indian Navy. I am not able to state the exact position in regard to that Navy at the present moment because obviously it is a matter which has passed out of our control. I take it, that its future depends really upon the decision of the Indian Government. But I understand that the Indian Marine remains on the same footing as formerly and that the Indian Government have not decided yet as to what steps shall be taken as a result of the decision of the Indian Legislature. With regard to Singapore, it is no use discussing the matter of policy because that is a matter upon which there will always be two opinions but we are proceeding steadily with our policy and the graving dock is to be proceeded with later on.
They are still boring I believe. The preliminary work is not yet finished.
I will return to the question that was raised the other day when, unfortunately, the House was counted out.
The only thing that resulted as far as I was concerned was, that I did not make the speech which I had intended. I think now is a, good opportunity because as the hon. and gallant Member says, it is a matter in which the House is much in terested. The Debate the other day showed, I think, that all sides of the House felt that there was something wrong. I can assure the House that the Admiralty are watching this matter very closely, but there is a great deal of misconception, not only with regard to the actual facts that were adduced in that Debate, but also in the conception of what the results would be if the new suggestion were adopted and the question of deciding what is attributable and what is not attributable were transferred from the medical authorities at the Admiralty to some outside body. I think personally—and I have taken a good deal of trouble in examining the whole system—that my hon. Friend who initiated the Debate the other night was rather unduly pessimistic about the present procedure. I agree that from the psychological point of view there may be something in the suggestion that the officers and men themselves would be more satisfied if they had some kind of outside Board to which to go, but I would point out to the House that the independent tribunals which we know so well under the Ministry of Pensions were brought into existence to meet special circumstances arising from the War. It was then obvious that there were hundreds and thousands of cases in which the medical history of men could not possibly be ascertained in the ordinary way. Therefore it was probably quite necessary—indeed I am certain it was—to set up those special tribunals. But in the case of a Service like the Navy in ordinary times the medical history of a man is known from the first moment he comes on board and his whole history is kept throughout his career; every detail of his case is known, and the doctors who form the survey Board before whom his case comes in the event of his being brought forward for invaliding are men who are perfectly familiar with the kind of service he has had and are therefore better fitted almost than anybody else to judge whether the illness from which he is suffering is due to the service or not. I would also point out that in every way the man who comes before such a Survey Board has on his side, as far as is possible, the doctors, and is given every chance of stating his case and of calling witnesses, if necessary.
I did not want to trouble the House with too much detail, because there are a great many other questions which I desire to answer, but as this is an important subject and one which has aroused considerable interest, and as we could not have the Debate the other day, perhaps the House will forgive me if I give particulars of the procedure which is adopted for bringing forward a case for survey.
No, I think not, because many of the men, who joined the Army and Navy during the War, did so for the period of the War; many of them were conscripted, and so on, and nobody knew anything about them. There was quite a different position from that of men who go into the Navy as boys and serve their whole life in the Service. The medical history of men in the Service can be traced in a far easier way than that of the others. That is what, I meant when I referred to the peculiar circumstances arising in the War. Let me tell the House exactly what the Board of Survey does. When an officer or rating in hospital or serving in a ship or establishment is considered to be unfit for further service, he is brought forward for survey, with a view to invaliding. Medical Boards of Survey are held twice in each month under the authority of the Commander-in-Chief or Senior Officer present. The Board consists of the medical officer-in-charge of the hospital, who acts as president, and three medical officers, two of whom are senior medical officers of the hospitals and one a senior medical officer of the Fleet or depot. It has been suggested that there should be an executive officer on the Survey Board. This matter has been very carefully considered by the Admiralty, and the general opinion is that nothing would be gained by reverting to a practice which was abandoned in 1914. The questions to be decided are of a purely medical nature, and the presence of an executive officer would not strengthen the tribunal. He would either interfere with the medical officers in the performance of their duties or would be a mere figurehead and wasting his time.
If the hon. and gallant Member will wait he will see that this is provided for. The case is placed before the Board and the medical officer who brings the case forward appears before the Board in order that the surveying officers may receive the fullest information concerning the case. A complete history of each case is made out, showing the details of the onset, course and final state of the disability for which the patient is being surveyed. Prior to survey, each officer or rating is given a form to fill in, on which he is requested to state what, in his opinion, is the cause of his disability. The Board of Survey is required to investigate and record an opinion, whether the disability is attributable to, or aggravated by, service (prewar, war, or post-war), and, if not, to what specific condition it is attributed. These reports of the Board of Survey, with a statement by the officer or man concerned, are sent to the Commander-in-Chief, who is an executive officer, and who has all the facts before him, and he comes to his decision.
They also see the man's statement. The man can put forward such evidence as he likes. The case, having been settled by the Board of Survey, it comes before the Commander-in-Chief, and he then decides whether the man shall be invalided or not. Then the case is sent to the Admiralty. Every case is carefully scrutinised and investigated by the medical authorities at the Admiralty, who examine all the records bearing on the case. Here all the relevant facts are ascertained by reference to reports and records received from the ships or establishments in which the man has served. A complete record is obtained if considered necessary, of the individual's medical history from the date of his joining the Navy. Everything is straightforward.
I am trying to explain that this is a medical decision arrived at by medical officers on the Survey Board. It is then passed on to the Commander-in-Chief, who decides whether the man is to be invalided out or not. The question of attributability is settled by the medical officers at the Admiralty. After the survey the medical officers at the Admiralty have to make a decision as to whether the man is to be invalided and whether the disease is or is not attributable to or aggravated by service.
The hon. and gallant Member is always in such a hurry. What I want the House to understand is this, that if there is any bias in a case of this kind the bias is on the side of the man, as far as the judges are concerned. They belonged to the same service. It does not really affect them whether he gets a pension or not. It is clear that if they could give him a pension they would do so. The idea that seems to get about that the Board of Admiralty have a bias in this matter, and that the dice is loaded against the individual sailor or officer, is totally wrong.
I am not clear as to whether the attributability decided by the Admiralty is independent of the decision as to attributability made by the Survey Board.
Appeals for reconsideration of awards may be put forward either by the individual himself, or the British Legion, or a trade union, or a benevolent society, or a Member of Parliament, or anybody else. The regulations upon which the attributability or aggravation are assessed are set out in a secret and confidential memorandum to the surveying officers. These are rules which guide the doctors in deciding whether the case is attributable to service or not.
These regulations are based on the Report of the Post-War Disability Committee, and are applicable to eases arising in the Navy, Army and Air Force. As far as I know, the rules in themselves are not secret.
I did not say post-War disabilities only. As to post-War disabilities, I would beg hon. Members to remember that there are other diseases besides tuberculosis. In general, I would say that there is very little justification for the attacks that are made against the existing system. It may be perfectly fair to say that the rules by which these matters are judged are too severe, and that the doctors are not given sufficient latitude. That may quite easily be the case, and from the point of view of the people affected that may be hard, but to blame the existing authorities is not fair, and the charge that the Board of Admiralty is not the proper judge in the final resort in these cases has, I think, not been substantiated. It is very curious in regard to the cases of the year 1920 to which the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth North (Sir B. Falle) referred when he introduced this matter the other day, that the tribunal which turned them down was not the medical authorities at the Admiralty or the Board of Admiralty, but an independent appeal tribunal acting under the Ministry of Pensions. The truth of the matter is that, whatever the tribunal may be, it is the rules and regulations by which it is bound that must decide its judgments. It is the rules that are of importance, and not the tribunal.
There is also a good deal of misunderstanding as to what is exactly meant by the fitness of a particular man when he gets into the Navy. Some people seem to imagine that because a candidate is successful in getting into the Navy he must be absolutely healthy in every respect. I will not go into that now. It may or may not be so. It simply means that an examination, for what it is worth, has found nothing sufficiently wrong to make it impossible for that man to enter the Navy, but it does not in any way show that he is a good life for all purposes.
This is, however, a matter which the Admiralty agree requires the most careful attention. We are looking into it from every aspect. Not only is there a Joint Committee sitting now and examining the matter of attributability in all its aspects, but we have referred the whole question as regards hygienic conditions in the Navy to a special Medical Consultative Board of outside specialists, and we are awaiting the reply from those specialists to guide us to a certain extent in the policy that we shall pursue. We feel that the present system regarding invaliding, and the adjudication of attributability or otherwise, is a fair system, but we want to be perfectly sure—
What about the case I dealt with? How did the medical authorities arrive at the conclusion that a man suffering from Sandfly was suffering from what was of constitutional origin? The man died in the London Hospital, and the doctors there decided that he got the disease in the East.
Obviously I have already occupied more time than I ought to have taken. If the hon. Member will send me details of that particular case, I will certainly see if anything can be done about it.
Then the case has obviously been examined already. The point that I want to emphasise now is that we are seriously exercising our minds about this matter. We are examining it in detail, and we shall certainly do everything in our power to see that these cases are properly and fairly judged. That applies to tuberculosis as well as all other cases. We realise that the health of the Navy is of primary importance. It is very easy to exaggerate the facts about tuberculosis in the Navy. The truth is that the incidence of the disease seems to be rather less in the Navy than in civilian life. We know more about it in the Navy because the conditions of inspection are such that we find out the cases very early, whereas in civilian life they may escape observation for a considerable period of time. I can assure the House that we are fully alive to the situation.
Now with regard to coal fuel. What I am going to say will not entirely satisfy hon. Members opposite. This also is a matter which is being closely watched by the Admiralty. At the present time the opinion seems to me that, although, undoubtedly, pulverised coal as a fuel is being used in merchant ships and is being found satisfactory, it is not sufficiently developed to satisfy the requirements of the Admiralty. However, I can assure the hon. Member who raised this subject, that what he says about the desirability of using coal is fully apparent to me, and that I shall do my utmost to see that everything that can be done in the way of watching the development of this new fuel will be done in the Admiralty. Our experts are in close touch with the matter.
There is no prejudice in the matter at all. We are out for what we believe to be the best, and as soon as it can be proved that pulverised coal is the best, I shall be very much surprised if we do not adopt it. There is no other object in view but that.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has been exceedingly courteous and it is not kind to keep him longer at this late hour. When these experts bring their conflicting reports on the consumption of coal or oil fuel, will the Admiralty bear in mind the home consumption to the plight of our British coalfields as against foreign oil?
We are watching every kind of experiment that is being carried out, and the obvious desire on our part is to do everything we can to help the mining industry of this country.