Motion made, and Question proposed,
That an additional number, not exceeding 2,059 Officers, Seamen, Boys and Royal Marines, be employed for the Sea Service, together with four for the Royal Marine Police, borne on the books of His Majesty's Ships, at the Royal Marine Divisions and at Royal Air Force Establishments for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, beyond the number already provided in the Navy Estimates for the year.
The increase in the number of men required for the Navy this year follows in the main the proposals of the White Paper, and these additional requirements are reflected in the various Votes. I think it would meet the general convenience of the Committee if we discussed this increase in Vote A as part of the general discussion on the Navy Votes, and if that meets with the wishes of the Committee, I would defer any remarks I have to make to a later stage.
There is a little misunderstanding about procedure. I understood that we should dispose of Vote A and a number of smaller questions arising in order that we may have a general discussion on the main Money Vote. If it would be convenient to the Committee, we would like to allow Vote A to pass and then have a general discussion on the remaining Money Vote.
If I may differ from the right hon. Gentleman, I do not think that would be the most convenient course. If we begin the Debate on Vote A now and have some discussion on it, will references to Vote A be excluded from the second discussion which we are to have? If so, it would certainly be inconvenient. I am ready to allow Vote A to pass without making any comments, if it is understood that certain questions relating to man power may also be raised in the general discussion which is to follow.
May I raise a point of Order? It seems to me extremely important that on these Supplementary Estimates, of which this is the first, we should have the fullest possible discussion in the most convenient manner, and as your Ruling on this matter might to some extent affect your Ruling on similar occasions, when the Army or Air Estimates under debate, may I respectfully hope that you will be able to rule that what my right hon. Friend suggested will be in order?
I think the Committee fully realise that in the case of the Supplementary Estimates there is a rule which it is in the interests of the Committee generally should be followed, namely, that the discussion should be very strictly confined, except in cases where the Supplementary Estimate is for a new service, or is so extended or large as to amount practically to something which requires discussion equal to that on the original Estimate. In the case of Vote A, the Supplementary Estimate is almost trifling, being an increase of only approximately, 2 per cent. In the case of the money Vote the amount is so large that I have come to the conclusion that the discussion on that Vote must be practically unrestricted, and in those circumstances it seems to me that it would be impossible almost in discussing this big expenditure to shut out the comparatively small increase in personnel. Therefore, if it meets the wishes of the Committee generally, it would certainly be the most convenient course that Vote A should be disposed of with, I would hope, very short, if any discussion, in regard to that I should be obliged to confine the discussion within very narrow limits indeed. Then it would be understood that on the money Vote there would be practically, I think I may say, as free and full a discussion as would be permissible on the original introduction of the Navy Estimates.
In view of what has been said, I should be very happy to fall in with that arrangement, provided it is understood that we could refer to Vote A in the general discussion.
The Supplementary Estimate, as the Committee will see, follows very closely on the general lines foreshadowed in my speech on presenting the Navy Estimates some weeks ago. I told the House that at a later stage during the year further provision would have to be made for expenditure in continuation of the special measures arising out of the Italo-Abyssinian dispute, for making good deficiencies, apart from measures which have been started or approved in previous Estimates, and for the new construction programme of 1936. If the Committee will read the preliminary statement, they will see the lines on which these Estimates have been framed.
With regard to the first head, that of the continuation of the special measures, I do not think the Committee will expect me to say a, very great deal. The policy has been discussed on many occasions and, more particularly with reference to the naval side, was discussed when we presented the Supplementary Estimates for 1935. The policy that the Mediterranean Fleet should be sent to the Eastern Mediterranean has been approved, and, that being so, it is the duty and responsibility of the Admiralty to maintain that Fleet there in proper conditions of security. Therefore, we have to see that it is fully equipped with men, material and an adequate stock of reserves. But I may say once again that the expenditure of this money does not mean its vanishing completely into thin air, because those supplies which have been sent out and which are not expended will go into the general pool and entail in future years some reduction in the cost of making good deficiencies. Before I leave the question of the Mediterranean Fleet, I would like to say one thing. All hon. Members, and particularly those who have served in one or other of His Majesty's Forces, will understand the great strain of being kept in service for a long period at very short notice and will, I am sure, all wish to join with me in expressing our appreciation of the admirable spirit and bearing of all ranks of the Mediterranean Fleet.
The time has now come when it is absolutely essential for us to build up our reserves, and for that we have taken a provision of rather over £5,000,000 under the heading of "Other Services." Far the larger part of that sum is for building up our reserves. They have been allowed to dwindle since the War without any replacement, and this very large gap in our defences is a legacy that has been left to us by preceding Governments. In the years since the War, taxpayers have had the advantage of a series of low Navy Estimates. Now, unfortunately, they will have to pay the price and have the disadvantage of making good these deficiencies in a comparatively short time. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget speech, we must for some years get rising expenditure coming to a peak, and then, when we have built up our reserves, we shall be able once again to reduce the size of our Estimates.
From a study of the Estimates and of the statement at the beginning of it, the Committee will be able to see the main headings under which the expenditure falls. It is obviously impossible to discuss every detail of them this afternoon, but from the speeches which I have heard in this House and from articles which I have read, I feel that the items which will be particularly welcome by those who have the interests of the Services and of defence at heart, will be, first of all, the accelerated production of anti-aircraft guns, the accelerated building up of our oil fuel reserves, the equipment of the Fleet Air Arm with modern machines, and above all the increase in the number of men. As I have pointed out on several occasions, one of our most important deficiencies is in personnel. It is deficiency in personnel that takes a longer time to make good. It is very much easier to build up an oil fuel reserve or to make guns by the expenditure of money; you guarantee that that can be done in a comparatively short time. But when it comes to the training of men, no expenditure of money is going to shorten the period of training required. Therefore one of the first things we have to do is to start as many men as possible in their training this year.
I have given on previous occasions the reason why the extra men are required. We have to provide for the increase of the Fleet, the growth of the Fleet Air Arm, the necessary protection against aircraft, the increase in the peace complements of the ships which by experience we found to be too low. All these reasons mean that we require more men, and, as the Committee will understand when they look at the new construction programme, our requirements for men in future are likely to increase rather than decrease. I would say, however, that the increase this year, which is 6,672 over the total of 1935, is a particularly high increase. But this year we are taking in as many men as we can so as to relieve the immediate manning difficulties. This increase in men is reflected in Vote 10, where it will be seen that money is taken for the starting of a new boys' training establishment in the Rosyth area. There used to be three boys' training establishments, but they were cut down to two and now we find that number insufficient. We are, therefore, starting this new establishment, which will be situated in Scotland and will I think have the additional advantage of being an encouragement to recruiting in Scotland and the North of England.
There are only two items coming under the heading of "Other Services," that require any amplification. The first is the retention of the cruisers of the Hawkins class. As the Committee will see from the White Paper, these Hawkins class cruisers are armed with 7.5-inch guns and are therefore classed as 8-inch gun cruisers, and they would in the ordinary course of events have been scrapped as being in excess of the tonnage allowed to us under that category by the London Naval Treaty. It has now been decided to replace those 7.5-inch guns with guns not exceeding a calibre of 6.1 inches. This brings them into the lower category of cruisers and they are now going to be retained, but a corresponding tonnage of the smaller cruisers will have to be scrapped so as to keep us within the London Naval Treaty limits. The reason for the keeping of these ships is that we feel they are of a more satisfactory type than the others.
What does my Noble Friend mean by "a corresponding tonnage of smaller cruisers will have to be scrapped?" Does he mean that a corresponding tonnage of smaller cruisers will not be made use of or that the existing vessels will be scrapped?
They will have to be scrapped. If we maintain the Hawkins class cruisers we must bring them within the terms of the Treaty. The reason why we have chosen to keep these ships instead of the older and smaller cruisers, which we are to scrap is, first, that they are newer and of a more satisfactory type.
We want to be quite clear about this very important matter. Under which Treaty of London is this necessary? I understand that the maximum tonnage under the cruiser category laid down in the Treaty of 1930 can be exceeded under the Treaty of 1936. Which Treaty is the Noble Lord referring to?
I am referring to the right hon. Gentleman's own Treaty of 1930, by which we were limited in the tonnage of cruisers of the two categories which we were allowed to have at the end of 1936. If we turn these Hawkins class cruisers into lower class cruisers we have to scrap a corresponding tonnage. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten his own Treaty.
At the end of this year we are allowed to have only a certain tonnage under two categories, and the Hawkins cruisers would be in excess of that tonnage unless we scrapped some of the existing vessels. We feel it would be unwise to scrap the Hawkins class and we are keeping them, but are scrapping some of the smaller cruisers instead.
The further the explanations go the more I am bewildered. As I understood the programme for expansion of the cruiser category now proposed, it was to raise the limit of cruiser units under the London Treaty of 1930 from 50 to 70, and I thought the 70 would include 10 over-age ships. At the moment I am quite at a loss to understand what the Noble Lord means by scrapping the smaller ships because of the conversion of the Hawkins class.
This has nothing to do with any later Treaty; this is entirely according to the terms of the Treaty which the right hon. Gentleman himself signed, under which we are definitely limited by the end of this year to certain tonnage under the two categories. We have to get down to that limit. It has nothing whatever to do with the question of increasing in the future to 70 cruisers.
It is important that we should understand the matter. What is going to be gained by converting those ships which are now in the higher category down to the lower category, and scrapping the lower category cruisers? We have only to wait until the end of this year and we can do what we like. Why is this brought in now?
We cannot do what we like about it. We cannot exceed a certain tonnage of completed cruisers. We have come to the conclusion that it is better to put the Hawkins class into a lower category and to keep them rather than keep some of the smaller and older cruisers. In the course of the Debate hon. Members will be able to express their views and I shall see where their difficulties are, and then by quoting from the terms of the Treaty I may make the explanation a little clearer. Before I pass from this question I should mention that the fourth of the Hawkins class is to be kept as a training ship. At the present time the "Frobisher," which is a training ship, is due for a large refit, and we are going to take the opportunity to re-arm her with guns not in excess of 6.1 inch, and to demilitarise the "Vindictive," which will take her place as a training ship.
Another point that wants some amplification is the decision to equip the old aircraft carrier "Argus." Most Members of the Committee know that the "Queen Bee" is a wireless controlled aircraft which for gunnery practice is directed from a controlling vessel. Up to now that controlling vessel has been any cruiser which was available. All it meant was that you had to adapt her wireless apparatus for this special purpose. That method suited quite well when there was a very limited number of "Queen Bees" and very few practices. It was then quite easy to get hold of a cruiser and make her available for the purpose; but now, with the increase in the number of "Queen Bees" and the consequent increase in the amount of time that is taken up in this form of training, this practice has been found to be most inconvenient. It has therefore been decided to convert the "Argus" into a special tender for this purpose. She will not only carry and control the "Queen Bees," but she will also have on board an extra marking party and machines in addition for recording purposes.
We believe that these administrative changes will greatly facilitate training and will advance further the science of anti-aircraft gunnery. We shall now have a self-contained unit which may work with either of the Fleets and which will take away from the cruisers a lot of work which now devolves upon them and prevents them getting on with their proper function of training. One other point I should mention. With the increase in the Fleet Air Arm you obviously get an increase in the number of pilots who have to be trained. So as not to hinder the more advanced training which will be carried on in the cruisers, it has been decided that the "Argus" is to be fitted with modern landing apparatus and we shall be able to carry out in her the additional deck landing training of all Fleet Air Arm pilots.
Now we come to the new construction programme and, as the Committee will see, this is mainly to be built by contract. If they refer to page 16 of the Estimates hon. Members will see that the only ships to be built in the dockyards will be two of the smaller cruisers, one submarine and two sloops, but hon. Members for dockyard constituencies need not have any anxiety in this respect, as the men there will be kept fully employed in the large programme of repairs and reconstruction. One considerable change has taken place with regard to the new construction programme of this year. In previous years we have taken what has been practically a token vote of £100,000, which meant that if the Estimates, say, for the new construction programme of 1936, were introduced in the House of Commons in March or April, under the old scheme practically no work would be done on that programme for a year. On this occasion, we are asking for the much larger sum of nearly £3,000,000, which means that we can make a very considerable advance with this new construction programme during the current financial year. This has the great advantage, from the naval point of view, that our ships will be ready at an earlier date and from the economic point of view it will go far to help the labour situation.
Once again, I should like to stress the fact that an immensely high proportion of all the money which is spent on the Navy and particularly on the new construction programme, goes directly or indirectly in wages. I am glad to think that the effect will be felt chiefly in some of those areas where depression is at present most severe. The money which is being taken for new construction this year is not really a Supplementary Estimate. It is, rather, a delayed Estimate because up to date no provision has been made for new construction and, in announcing our programme, we are following the usual procedure of giving the whole of the Admiralty proposals for the year which, in this case, have already been outlined in the White Paper on Defence. As the Committee knows, the battleships cannot be laid down before 1937 owing to the Washington Treaty. The tonnage and armaments will be announced later, in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of 1936, by which time we shall have received the report of the committee which has been sitting, under my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, to consider experiments which have taken place or are proposed in connection with defence against aircraft and the vulnerability from the air of capital ships. I see on the Order Paper that the captain and most of the chief petty officers of the Liberal party propose to move a reduction by the exact amount of the cost of these battleships. I do not want, at this stage, to repeat my arguments in favour of battleships which I made on a previous occasion, but I shall listen with considerable interest to hear the grounds on which they found their disagreement with a policy which has been adopted by every other country which has a navy.
Will my Noble Friend then explain why he is asking for £500,000 to begin these battleships when there is no urgency for a few months and when that committee has not yet reported?
My right hon. Friend knows that it is the usual policy, when putting forward a new construction programme, to put forward all your proposals and, as I have said, there will be any amount of time to consider the report of that committee before the battleships are laid down, in the early part of 1937. By putting forward the whole programme of new construction, we give the House and the country a fair picture of what our intentions are, and I really cannot see the point of hon. Members opposite moving a reduction on this head when every other country is building battleships, realising that they are a necessity. I cannot see why the only country which is not building them should be our own, which has far greater responsibilities than any other and depends upon its Navy more than any other for defence, while the Navy to such a large extent depends on the efficiency of its battleships.
We must get this matter cleared up. Everyone has the greatest regard for my Noble Friend, but this discussion is in Committee and we ought to know where we are. Suppose the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence holds an inquiry which decides that aircraft can sink battleships. Then, I presume, the Admiralty would not go forward with the construction of the battleships. Why should that issue be prejudiced at this stage by this Committee being asked to vote money for battleships which are, admittedly, still subject to an expert inquiry?
I am sorry to be so insistent but why should we be asked to decide the question of principle by voting this considerable sum of money now, when, according to what my Noble Friend has just said, no final decision has yet been come to on the matter, and this inquiry is still proceeding?
I do not think that is the fact. The Admiralty proposals were put forward in the White Paper, and they included the proposal to build two battleships. It was then decided that a committee should be set up to go into the question of vulnerability but our proposals stand all the same. We want to put before hon. Members a full picture of the whole programme. If, as I said before, anything surprising comes out of the inquiry which is being conducted by my right hon. Friend, then we have ample time and opportunity for altering either our design or—
But does not the Noble Lord see that that is just the point about which we are anxious? We have to face an enormous expenditure on the Government's general rearmament programme and we ought not to be committed to waste, even if it is only £200,000 or £300,000. We ought not to be asked to vote this money until you have decided your battleship policy and all money spent on design, lay-out, and preliminary tenders should be money spent for ships and not for waste.
This money will not be wasted. I can say, frankly, that the Admiralty have all along been convinced that it is absolutely essential to start rebuilding our battle fleet at the earliest possible moment. Every other country has done so and we believe that it is the right policy. To meet the anxiety which was expressed that full enough inquiry had not been made into methods of construction, a committee was set up under my right hon. Friend. Should its report be an adverse one, there will be no wastage, because the money would not be spent in respect of battleships if it were decided that their construction should not be proceeded with.
That, surely, is for the committee to decide. If it says that further experiments are needed, then further experiments will be carried out, but one thing hon. Members can be sure of is that the money which is down in the Estimate to-day, will not be spent until we start on the battleships, and the battleships will not be laid down until the committee has reported. Coming now to the question of cruisers, within the terms of the London Naval Treaty we are only laying down, before the end of this calendar year, two cruisers of the Southampton class. The other three smaller cruisers which are mentioned in the programme are for fleet work, in which category we are short at the present time and one, at least, will be required for work with the destroyer flotilla.
Finally, we come to destroyers. There has been a certain amount of criticism in some quarters that we are not building enough destroyers. I cannot help feeling that critics of our policy are thinking in terms of the last War and I would merely repeat what I said on a previous occasion, that the lessons which we learned in the last War and the advance which we have made since, have greatly lessened the danger of the submarine menace. The people who are always reminding us of the large number of destroyers that were required for the work of the Grand Fleet in the War are under the same misapprehension. The destroyers working with the Fleet in the War were not, primarily, to guard the Fleet against submarines. They were with the Fleet to counteract the great number of submarines which were contained in the German Fleet but they were there primarily as a protection against our opponents' destroyers, and not so much as a protection against submarines. As, to-day, there is no potential opponent which has anything like the number of destroyers which the Germans had in the last War, our own need is not so great. I think we can retain a very considerable number of over-age destroyers if we wish to do so, and that they will be found to be suitable for antisubmarine work.
These Estimates admittedly touch every branch of naval activity. Whereas generally, in Committee on Supplementary Estimates, it is the custom to go at some length into every detail of the Estimates, I feel that on this occasion, if I did so, I should take up an inordinate amount of time. I have dealt with the main features contained in the Estimates, and, as the Committee knows, a further opportunity will be given to me to answer any questions and criticisms which may be made. I feel convinced that in presenting these Estimates, which are carrying out the first instalment of the policy laid down by the White Paper, nobody who has made a careful study of the international situation or of the rate of rearmament of other countries will grudge the contribution which was called for by the Budget towards the improvement of our national defence, nor do I believe that anyone can honestly deny that these measures are not only fully justified, but are in fact demanded by the great majority of the people of this country.
I think the Committee ought to have a little further elucidation of the question of these battleships. I was quite unable to find out what was the intention of the Admiralty. Either the Admiralty are going to proceed with the building of these battleships before the Committee's report or they intend to await the report of the Committee before proceeding with the battleships, but I was not able to gather the very first principle on which the Admiralty were going to work. Are they to make any irrevocable commitments in the building of the ships before the Committee reports, or not? If the Noble Lord had given us an answer to that question, we should have been able to address ourselves to the next question, namely, whether or not the Admiralty were right in that policy. I am very much afraid that the Admiralty propose to commit themselves to the building of these battleships before the Committee makes any report at all. If that is not so, why are they asking for the money now? There is no reason why the Noble Lord should not bring in Supplementary Estimates later. I should like, before proceeding with my speech, because I want to say something about the Admiralty's policy, to ask whether there are going to be any commitments for the building of these battleships before the Committee report.
That being so, why is it necessary for the Committee to be called upon so far in advance to vote this money? The Committee is extremely anxious, and so is the whole country, about the vast expenditure which is being incurred, and it is anxious not only that no unnecessary commitments, but that no premature commitments should be entered into. Moreover, if the House has already voted this money, I shall become very anxious as to the attitude of the Admiralty, whether or not the committee reports. We all know how difficult it is to prevent the expenditure of money when the House has committed itself to it, and the Admiralty will look with a very biased eye upon the report of this committee, if they know they have already got something in hand. Indede I am not satisfied that we shall get an impartial decision when the committee has reported.
Part of the Vote is for an aircraft carrier "Argus," which is to be constructed in order to give the Navy practice in shooting "Queen Bees." Is that to be the scope of the inquiry of the committee? I hope the Minister for Coordinating Defence will give me a little attention on this subject, because it goes to the very root of the whole question which he was appointed to investigate. The "Argus" is an old aircraft-carrier which is being converted, at enormous expense, to form a base for the launching of aircraft known as "Queen Bees," upon which the cruisers and all other ships of the Fleet are to get anti-aircraft practice. If that is to be the test of the efficiency of aircraft against battleships, I am very anxious about the whole position, because these "Queen Bees," if I understand the position aright, are obsolete machines which cannot fly at more than 80 to 90 miles an hour and which, although they can be more or less effectively manoeuvred by distant radio control, can in no way imitate the manoeuvrability of aircraft in actual combat; and if the Admiralty are to decide whether or not to proceed with the building of battleships on that test alone, I contend that it will be extremely inadequate. At any rate, we should have some further information.
What is the practical utility of a slow machine, radio controlled, and unable to imitate in any way the manoeuvres of fighting aircraft? Are conclusions going to be drawn from that test? At what speed can these machines fly? I undertake to say that it is already known that a machine flying level at 80 to 90 miles an hour can be brought down by anti-aircraft guns with the greatest of ease. It could be done 20 years ago. Flying level at 80 to 90 miles an hour, at 2,000 feet, they could be brought down with the greatest ease by the anti-aircraft equipment which we had then. Using the same test, if the Navy are successful in bringing down half-a-dozen of these "Queen Bees," they will go to the Committee which the Minister for Co-ordinating Defence has set up, and they will say, "The equipment of the Navy is effective against all aircraft attack." That is only an additional reason why we should delay the voting of this money until we have more conclusive evidence that it is necessary to spend it. I ask the Noble Lord to meet what is a very widely held view on the Floor of the House, and if he is going to take no irrevocable step, if no time is to be lost by awaiting the report of that Committee, as he has already said, then why not withdraw his proposal to this extent and come to the House for a Supplementary Estimate when he has the information before him as to whether or not it is necessary?
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
The hon. Member who has just sat down has pressed from a back bench a point which will have to be returned to during the course of the Debate, but it is in accordance with the expressed wish that now we shall have a general debate upon the whole position which is projected by the Estimates now before us. We are asked to vote £10,300,000, and this brings the Naval expenditure for the year, so far as we can tell at present, up to no less than £80,000,000. This is easily the largest Naval expenditure ever incurred by a Government in this country in peace time, with the exception of the two or three immediate post-war years, which might be termed War liquidation years, so that we are asked to face an enormous expenditure and, because of the present programme, a still larger expenditure in future years. It, therefore, behoves every Member of the Committee, on whatever side he or she may sit, to examine the Estimates with meticulous care, for whatever may be his or her views as to the requirements or otherwise of further defence, it is certain that unless the Estimates are examined with great care, there is likely to be considerable waste and danger to the taxpayer from that point of view.
We meet to discuss these very large Estimates in circumstances which must give great concern to us all. It is, of course, very difficult for an Opposition like that which I represent to-day to put the view that we want honestly and sincerely to put in the light of the present mood in world events, but we want to make it perfectly plain, when we refer to those world events, that it is our view that if there had been a sound and non-vacillating foreign policy pursued by the present Government and their immediate predecessors in the last Parliament, then probably the country would never have had to be faced with making some of the decisions they now have to make or to be called upon to pay the very large increases of taxation which they are now to be called upon to pay for naval and for military equipment. When we think, for example, of the present position, we have just come to the conclusion of a Naval Conference which has, to all intents and purposes, been a complete failure.
The Noble Lady shakes her head, but she cannot find anything relating to that Treaty which does not remove from all naval Powers in the world any ultimate limitation, provided they give notice to the other Naval Powers of what they are going to do.
The Noble Lady is very fond of the United States, no doubt, but we should place a great deal more value upon an understanding with them—an understanding which we would always welcome—if in the obtaining and maintenance of collective security they were really doing their part. [Interruption.] I hope the Noble Lady on this occasion will not be interrupting me every two or three minutes.
If I may return to the general position, I repeat that if a sound and sane foreign policy were being pursued, we should not, be faced with the position with which we are faced to-day. I know it is only fair to say that when one indicates that foreign policy must be largely responsible for subsequent naval policy, it is not only the foreign policy of our own country—I know that perfectly well—but it is also true to say that in the last four and a-half or five years our foreign policy has been so full of variety, first to the left and then to the right, then back again to the left and then again to the right, that it is not astonishing to hear it being said from the Continent to-day that perhaps the position which has arisen with regard to the Italo-Abyssinian dispute, in the view of many Continental people, constitutes the greatest diplomatic defeat for the British Empire since the days of Napoleon. It is in the light of that instability and vacillation in foreign policy that we have to examine the real need for the re-armament which is being put before us to-day at such heavily increased cost to the taxpayer. In the long run the policy of facing both ways is bound to be fatal. I wish that the people of this country would really understand, at least from my point of view, what these post-War years have really meant.
As I look back over the last 17½ years, I feel convinced that if the people of this country had been willing all the way through to support the attitude of the Labour party, of standing completely and firmly for the policy of support of the League and for justice to our ex-enemies in the War at the right time, instead of the policy which was pursued earlier, we should have been in a completely different world situation from that which we are facing at the present time. I believe that it is still not too late if this country will give a real and sound lead to the rest of the nations in the League. Everything depends upon the character of the lead which the Government are still prepared to give in moving for collective security. If the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence seemed to think just now that I was going too wide in the direction of foreign affairs—
I do not wish to do so, but I heard a reference to foreign affairs, and I felt that, as I was traversing foreign affairs channels, I should make my position quite plain. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, with his legal mind, will not object to that. Everything depends at the moment on whether we can save the situation by a strong lead from this country in the direction of collective security. I asked in the Debate on the main Estimates whether we had had any consultation with other League Powers as to what they considered was necessary either for them or for us to put into the pool of armaments for maintaining collective security. We never had an answer to the question and we are still without any information on that point. If the Government want to say to the Committee that they can get no support from the other Powers in the maintenance of collective security, let us have the truth. If they have had consultations and the consultations are without any result, let us know, but do not ask the taxpayers to go on paying and this House to go on voting large sums unless we know exactly what the position is.
This large new construction programme would be unnecessary in the light of the present strength of the British Fleet if the other Powers which are still in the League and giving lip service to the Covenant were prepared to do their part in the maintenance of collective security. I want to hear from the Government whether they have had consultations on this point, and whether we can place any reliance upon contributions from other countries. I have told the House before that the French and British Fleets alone cover over 2,000,000 tons of ships and would easily, properly manned and led, be sufficient to maintain naval supremacy in face of any ordinary aggressor against the rest of the nations of the League. The whole point is whether consultations have taken place. If the answer is that they have not, the Committee should be told before it is asked to vote these extra large sums.
I pass from these general considerations to the consideration of some of the details of the Estimates. I want to make the position of my hon. Friends on this side perfectly plain. We have not departed, and do not wish to depart, from the statements we made in our manifesto to the electors at the General Election, that we were prepared to maintain efficient whatever defences were required consistent with our membership and support of the Covenant of the League of Nations. That is our position still. We require to know from the Government what is the actual relationship with other members of the League in regard to their present naval and other military equipment, and we ask for an opportunity of considering the matter in the light of that information. I hope that before the end of the Debate we shall be given a good deal more information on that point.
I want to say a word or two about personnel on Vote A, but I do not want to take more than a moment or two about it, because I do not want to go beyond the Ruling of the Chairman of Ways and Means. On this particular section of the Estimate discussion must be fairly narrow. In view of the fact that it is proposed to increase the personnel of the Fleet between 1935 and 1936 by over 6,600 officers and men, I feel that we ought to have some better information as to what is being done on two points. It is obvious that with the heavy increase of personnel generally, there must be a larger number of officers and that in this and the two or three following years a larger number of people will be recruited for that section. I feel strongly that there ought to be a much more democratic entry to the officer ranks. We have raised this point several times, but we have not got satisfaction.
During the 1929–31 Government we had practically reached a point of agreement for the re-organisation of Dartmouth on the basis of turning it into an upper and lower school, and for an arrangement under which we should have been able to admit to the upper school ordinary qualified students who have matriculated at secondary schools. We should, therefore, have been making more use in the officers' training establishment of a part of the public money that we readily spend on higher education. At present the number who can be admitted from the section to which I refer is very limited. There is what is called special entry, and a certain amount of special training for it. In my view, at least one-half and even more than one-half of the officers ought to go from the public grant-aided higher education schools and be able to complete their training at Dartmouth. As we are now developing so rapidly in a growing personnel, I hope that we shall get some indication of the Government's long-term policy in that regard.
The other point I wish to raise upon Vote A is in regard to welfare. The Noble Lord was kind enough to send me after the last Debate a copy of the Fleet Order of last July dealing with changes in ascertaining the Fleet's wishes in regard to welfare. Since 1932 no conferences of the old type have been held. When I examined the Fleet Order of July 1935, I was a little unhappy because I did not feel that the men in the Fleet would have anything like the same opportunity for making their grievances known or their wishes for new developments available for consideration, as was the case before. There have been no welfare conferences since 1932. I can understand that under the new form of procedure and with the present disposition of the Fleet, it has been found difficult to hold conferences, but I am suggesting to the Noble Lord that if the Admiralty were to revert to the original form of calling welfare conferences, there is nothing in the way of calling them at once on the old basis.
I suppose that the happenings at Invergordon in 1931 somewhat coloured the minds of some people at the Admiralty as to what form the welfare conferences should take. My view of the British Fleet is that the personnel and crews are so loyal and sound at heart that you can always afford to trust them and take them into your confidence. I have never had any reason to think otherwise. The form that the new procedure has taken is, I think, a reflection on them, and the Admiralty would do well to return to the old form and to call conferences at once.
I do not want the Committee to be under any misapprehension. One of the main reasons why we made any change in the form of the conferences was that we wanted to expand their scope from being only for the men in the ports so as to include the men who were serving with the Fleet itself. That is why we do not wish to go back to the old method of procedure which existed in the right hon. Gentleman's time.
There seems to be no reason for holding up the conferences, anyway. As I read the Order, it is not as open now for the men to make their grievances known as it was under the old procedure before 1931.
The first question I want to put to the Government on the Estimates themselves is, what is being done from the naval end to carry out the Government's pledge that there shall be no undue profits made in the working out of the re-armament programme? The Noble Lord said, as if he were very proud of it, that the greater part of the new programme was to be put out to contract. What line are the Admiralty taking in regard to placing these contract orders? Are they asking for competitive tenders on every class of ship, or are they merely allocating different parts of the new work to different centres? Are they asking for competitive tenders?
It is all very well to say that the dockyards will be kept fully occupied with repair and other work. Whatever criticisms may have been levelled at the dockyards in the past they have been a very wholesome check not only upon repair costs but also upon new construction costs, and although the dockyards have had to bear considerable overhead charges, some of which might be regarded as not applying to yards which carry out mercantile construction as well as naval work, nevertheless they have been capable of very good work and are an effective check. At present we propose to lay down only two cruisers and some smaller craft in the dockyards. I should also like to have some further information as to the actual work to be carried out in the dry docks in Devon-port Dockyard. The object, I take it from the Estimate and the explanation, is to accommodate larger ships of the battleship class, having regard to their bulge as well as ordinary hull construction; but is it not possible to arrange for the building of these larger ships in the dockyards, as well as putting some out to contract? As we are now looking forward to a battleship replacement programme, is it proposed to build all the battleships in private yards, or are some to be given to private yards and some to the dockyards?
The right hon. Gentleman was not here when I began my speech. I said that the dockyards acted as a very effective check at times of heavy naval expenditure, and I am hoping that advantage will be taken of that fact. Next I should like a little more information about the anti-aircraft guns. The charge was levelled against me in the course of the General Election that I had said far too much about this new arm of the British Navy, but this form of defence had been mentioned before in the House and mentioned very specifically by the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes), and now we are told in the White Paper that a good deal of this money is being raised for the provision of new naval anti-aircraft guns. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones) referred to the efficiency of this type of armament. I can quite understand that at the time of which he was speaking, about 20 years ago, anti-aircraft guns were constructed to do certain things at 2,000 feet, but I can assure him that the anti-aircraft gun which I have in mind is capable of doing a very great deal more than the antiaircraft guns we had at that time.
I should not like it to be thought that I was guilty of so gross a fallacy as the right hon. Gentleman seems to indicate. My suggestion was that to make these "Queen Bees" the criterion in the matter of anti-aircraft defence was a mistake. I know very well that there has been great progress, but the degree of progress cannot be tested by the methods now proposed
We will wait and hear the argument about that. I should like to hear the answer of the technicians. I wish to know to what extent the ships of the Fleet have been provided with anti-aircraft guns. We are entitled to know how many battleships, how many cruisers, and how many destroyers are now equipped with these new guns. I am not at all sure, now that we contemplate the use of sloops for convoy work—I notice that the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) smiles, but he will see in the schedule of the Estimate that it is proposed to build convoy sloops—that they should not be fitted with these guns. I think we might be told how many sloops have been or will be fitted with the smaller type of the now anti-aicraft gun. I do not believe that it is in any way contrary to the public interest or to international peace to give this information. On the contrary, if this information is given it is more likely to impart confidence and is preferable to building up people's fears. The size of the sloops we have built in the past and the armament with which they have been supplied will certainly raise a question in many minds as to whether such vessels would be either fast enough or armed and protected enough to be effective as convoy protectors.
I observe that in the new schedule of definitions in the Treaty of London of 1936 there is no separate category for destroyers, but that there is a new "C" class in the light cruiser category for anything below 3,000 tons, and I take it that we are able to build any size ship up to 3,000 tons and with a gun of not more than 6.1 calibre. May I ask, therefore, that we may be told some of the special characteristics of the convoy sloops, whether they are to be built for high speed, say 20 or 25 knots, whether the tonnage is to be increased to 2,500 or 2,700 tons, whether they are to carry 6-inch guns and if they are to carry anti-aircraft guns? If we are to consider the policy of using sloops for convoy work we ought to know something of the type of sloop.
With regard to the anti-aircraft experiments it seems that there will be a considerable expenditure upon the "Argus," judged by the preliminary allocation in the Supplementary Estimate. She is an oldish ship and I think the expenditure will be justified, but we ought to have some information about the kind of experiment to be carried out. My hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen referred to the narrow value of experiments with a target control led in such a way as the "Queen Bee" targets are controlled. I am sure he will agree that in view of the difficulty we had in the past in getting any kind of controlled and directed target out of the Air Ministry the Fleet must count itself very fortunate in having got this far. It is an advance on the position existing when first I went to the Admiralty. Now we can to some extent try out anti-aircraft guns. I ask the Noble Lord to give us a little more information about the experiments which have been carried and the extent to which he proposes to carry them, how many targets of the "Queen Bee" type are to be provided and whether the cost of them is being borne by the Air Ministry or by the Admiralty.
I hope we shall get a statement from the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence as to what steps are being taken to prevent extravagance or waste in the expenditure on this very large rearmament policy. Judging by the operations in the City, it seems to be concluded there that some very good returns will be made, and judging by this Estimate a very large proportion of the money will be spent in contract yards and with private companies. There have been hints from time to time that approaches will have to be made to the trade unions with regard to the provision of the labour which may be necessary for the carrying out of this programme. If that is to be the position I beg the Committee to remember at the outset that the more we go to consult labour organisations on this point the more important it is that we should be able to show them that the other side of the question is being considered, and that the extremity of the nation, which, in the view of the Government, requires this very large rearmament programme, should not be made an occasion for the exploitation of the general taxpayer. The labour organisations will be quite entitled to turn to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, or whoever may have charge of the operations, and point to the utterances of Ministers with regard to national expenditure in other directions.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said of this rearmament programme: "Of course, we can find the money. There is no question about our finding the money." This year we are to spend on the Navy alone £30,000,000 more than in 1931–32. There is no difficulty about that; but when we ask for money for the Special Areas, or to relieve distress, or to provide employment in other directions, we are told either that such expenditure would be uneconomic, that that is the wrong way to do it, or else that we cannot afford the money. We have been told that again and again. If the Noble Lord was right this afternoon in saying that one of the recommendations in favour of this programme is that it will provide, directly and indirectly, a large amount of employment, we are entitled to ask that there shall be such a check upon contracts as will prevent exploitation of the people, and we shall expect at the same time that ample provision is made for the social services and for other things which we are now told we cannot afford. I hope we shall get some answer on that point.
I have devoted most of my remarks this afternoon to purely technical questions arising out of the Estimate, but I would remind the House that we have the responsibility of pointing out to the country the very grave state of affairs as things are at present. With every country in the world beginning to re-arm, and rearm heavily, we are in the same position as the countries concerned were in 1908 and 1909. Then we were told over and over again that the expansion of armaments was necessary as an insurance against war, but in the end we found that it projected the rations into the most horrible war the world had ever had to face. Unless we are careful, the kind of policy we are adopting at the present time will send this and every other large military nation to another hell not less terrible, but probably more terrible still, than the last war.
A good deal has, of course, been said, and will be said, about many other aspects of these Estimates, but my hon. Friends and I have tried to concentrate our criticism upon one point, largely in order to give other Members who may be anxious to intervene a better chance of doing so, and because we think it is the big point to which the Committee are asked to commit themselves this afternoon. That question is the construction of more big capital ships. In spite of the very skilful interrogatory of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who was far more skilful than I was able to be, I cannot help thinking that this question of the construction of capital ships has not been left in a satisfactory position by the speech of the Noble Lord. It seems to me that the policy of the Government in this matter is to decide first, inquire afterwards and commit the, House of Commons meanwhile. I do not think that is fair.
The Noble Lord stated that the decision had been taken in the White Paper. It was after that—I think only five weeks ago—that a question was asked by the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) as to whether any inquiry was to be held before expenditure was incurred, with regard to the effect of bombs and torpedoes from the air upon warships. We were then told that a Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence was to be appointed to consider the experiments that have taken place or are proposed in connection with the question. That was only five weeks ago, and we do not yet know whether the Sub-Committee has been appointed. Even if it has been appointed, there has been no time for it to get to work and to plan further experiments, which were clearly contemplated at that time. That work is only at its beginning.
As the Noble Lord explained, this is not a token Vote, as has been normal hitherto in the matter of ship construction, but the beginning of a substantive Vote. If this Vote be passed, it will commit us to further, and of course enormous, sums, up to £8,000,000, £9,000,000 or £10,000,000 per ship. This in the inception of it, and therefore we are being asked to take a very important decision to-day. We are not told some of the things which we ought to have in our minds and within our knowledge before we take that decision. We are not told, for instance, what the size of the ships is to be, yet the Admiralty are putting down precise sums such as £116,000 for contract work on the hull and £56,000 for machinery. Such estimates would not be formulated in detail in matters of this kind without a knowledge of the size of the vessels that were contemplated, but we cannot be told. This is a first-class matter of naval policy on which very great issues may depend, and upon which enormous sums of money also depend.
I think the Noble Lord is trying to have it both ways—unconsciously, I think. He said, in effect, that we need not bother about this matter, because nothing has been decided. The Admiralty would reconsider the matter when the sub-committee reports. If that is so, the Admiralty and the Government ought not to have brought forward the Supplementary Estimates, and they ought not to seek to commit us, as this Vote will commit us to-day. If we need not bother because nothing is to be decided until the sub-committee has reported, this part of the Estimates could be withdrawn. It is, as a matter of fact, a substantive Estimate, and after it is passed we shall lose all control, except in the later stages of these battleships. There is, of course, this to be said, that if the report of the sub-committee were a report to Parliament and one which Parliament could discuss, we should have some control, but reports of sub-committees of the Committee of Imperial Defence are purely private to the Committee of Imperial Defence and to the heads of the Government. Such reports do not come to the House of Commons at all. We may be told merely that the whole report showed that battleships were fairly safe but we shall have no opportunity of taking up the matter in any formal way. Our point with regard to the big capital ships must be made now, if it is to be made at all, and I shall try, as quickly as I can, to make it.
I asked a naval authority why it had been generally considered that large capital ships were necessary, and he gave the very definite answer that you must have them pretty big to give them a great radius of action and to enable them to carry the heavy guns which could be a match for similar guns carried by ships similarly armed. I would like the Committee to think about that for a little while. First, with regard to radius of action, what is the farthest-off sea in which we could possibly have to fight? It is, of course, the Pacific nowadays. Does anyone think that we should venture to send our largest capital ships out there, or that, if we did, we could venture to send them outside their naval bases? For those bases, would they have any useful advantage compared with land and aerial defence? Would they not, in those bases, act as very large and attractive targets to hostile aircraft?
Are we thinking of the Atlantic? I believe that war with the United States is unthinkable, but that is the only heavily armed American Power. If the unthinkable happened, should we ever send big capital ships across the Atlantic so far from any fortified base? I believe that the same reasoning applies to the Mediterranean, in these days of developing aircraft. I cannot think that even in the Mediterranean we would be willing to send any of the new type of capital ship which the Admiralty have in contemplation, to places like Gibraltar or Malta. Although the Admiralty tell us nothing about them, those ships may be of 35,000 tons. I saw this morning that they will be nearly as broad as the Parliament Building, if you take off the towers at the two ends and Westminster Hall. A target of that kind would be very visible and very vulnerable, and would not be sent to those waters. It does not seem to me that the reason for the big capital ship based upon radius of action can be justified nowadays, in view of the development of the new aerial weapon of attack.
Are the ships necessary as platforms for big guns? Can we venture to try to bombard a protected enemy base with big guns from battleships, in these days of aircraft? Could we seek out a hostile fleet, even across the narrow seas, and bombard it? How almost impossible that was found to be in the last War, when naval aircraft was in its infancy. To-day it is highly developed, and how much more difficult, if not impossible, it appears. If we cannot send our biggest ships across the seas to attack hostile naval bases or hostile fleets, are the enemy able to send their fleets across here? Would not our defence be by small craft rather than by counter-battleship? Surely, it would be. My suggestion is, therefore, that the Admiralty and the Government should not commit themselves, as they say they have done, to the building of two more large capital ships, but should consider questions of the kind which I have raised.
I go further. May not those ships become liabilities rather than assets in the development of war, as it is now being rapidly developed? If they are to be safe, with their great size and visibility, anywhere but in our waters, will they not have to be surrounded by small craft? Will they not immobilise, in constant defence of those enormously vulnerable targets, many squadrons of aircraft that could be used to better purpose elsewhere? Matters of that kind ought to be dealt with by a spokesman for the Government before the Government ask the Committee, as they are asking us to-day, to commit itself on the matter. When I made inquiries I was told that most of the admirals were in favour of large capital ships. Most chauffeurs would rather have a Rolls Royce than a Ford, which does not prove that four or five Fords would not be better, and far more useful to their owner, than one Rolls Royce. I do not know whether hon. Members have had time to read a rather interesting book by Major-General Fuller, about tanks. It has been recently published, and it shows how extremely unwilling our leading General in the War, Earl Haig, was to realise the eclipse of cavalry and to take up tanks. The writer says this:
The soldier is the most conservative creature on earth. It is really dangerous to give him an idea, because he will not adopt it until it is obsolete, and then will not abandon it until it has nearly destroyed him.
That is rather an exaggeration if applied to all soldiers but we know that tendency, not only in soldiers but in sailors. Every sailor, if he has a decent ambition, is apt to fancy himself upon his
own quarter-deck, and he likes to imagine that quarter-deck as big as it can possibly be built.
There is a real division of opinion. I would like to read one quotation from an admiral who has very carefully studied this matter. Before I do so, I would observe again that one would have thought we might have had some discussion of these matters before we were asked to commit ourselves. Sir Herbert Richmond, who has been President of the Royal Naval War College and Commandant of the Imperial Defence College said, in a recent letter to the Press, that the last ditch of the defenders of the big ships was that the great size was necessary in order that the ships might be proof against the bomb and the torpedo. That is the question which the Government have decided, are inquiring into, and are meanwhile asking the Committee to commit itself upon by this Vote. Sir Herbert Richmond went on:
If there is one strategical lesson more outstanding than perhaps any other… it is that, whether the ship be moved by sail, steam, or gas, it must, if it is effectively to control movements at sea, be able to take up and maintain a position close enough to its opponent, either at sea or in harbour, to ensure that that enemy cannot move without the risk of being brought to action. If that cannot be done…the Fleet becomes incapable of exercising control.
He concludes thus:
There, I would point out, is a perfectly plain test. Before the decision is made to involve the peoples of the world in this expenditure, let us have some assurance that the invulnerable ship which results from the expenditure will be able to take up those positions which will enable her to do that which she exists to do "—
that is to say, that she will be proof against attack from submarines and from aerial bombardment. As we all agree, we have had no sort of assurance on that matter to-day. A few weeks ago the House was very much indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) when he raised the question of a Ministry of Defence. He spoke with authority himself, and, in discussing this matter, quoted, without actually naming, another authority. I will read a few words from what he said:
If we set up a Ministry of Defence with a Minister over it all, I can imagine him sending for the chief of the Naval Department and saying, You want a large battle-fleet. Tell me how you are going to use a battle fleet when oceans separate you
from a hostile nation? I put that question the other day to a well-known admiral of very high scientific attainments. I said, 'How would you use a battle-fleet 3,000 miles from its base? ' He said, It would be impossible.' To be effective with your Navy you must work on to the enemy shore with your battle-fleet, and there you would be met by fast craft carrying torpedoes, mine layers and submarines dropping mines and firing the Whitehead torpedo, aircraft dropping bombs and the Whitehead torpedo. It would be impossible for the fleet to operate on an enemy coast."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1936; col. 1297. Vol. 308.]
I think I have said enough to suggest to the Committee that, in view of opinions of that kind, and in view of the fact that the Government themselves have set up a committee, that we shall not have any report from that committee, and that the Government can introduce a Supplementary Estimate at any time they like when they have made up their minds, it is entirely premature that we should be asked to commit ourselves this afternoon. Again I ask that, until these matters have been settled, and until the House can be informed of the result of the inquiry, this Estimate—which is a substantive Estimate for starting two capital ships, the size of which is unknown—should be withdrawn, and only brought forward when the Government have really made up their minds.
It is a great pleasure to have back in the House the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander), because I always think that his interventions provide a most refreshing life to our debates on naval subjects. It is very easy to see that the right hon. Gentleman, during the period when he has not been with us, but has been devoting himself to that co-operation which is not notable in his assistance to the Government, has not forgotten the affairs of the Navy, over which he presided with such dignity when he was at the Admiralty. I notice that his knowledge of the subject is still as deep as ever, although I think that perhaps the points which he emphasises are rather different. In alluding to the size of the total Navy Estimates for this year, he did not refer to-day, as he generally used to do in the case of his own Estimates, to the difference in the value of money in comparison with the pre-War period; nor did he point out the size of the ineffective Vote, which was another trump card of his that I remember him using with very great force and effect in introducing his own Estimates.
Nevertheless, in his speech to-day there is very little to be found of criticism of the Supplementary Estimate. I was surprised to find how little criticism he could bring to bear against it. He said, of course, that if our foreign policy had been different we should not need such a large Fleet, and he then proceeded to give a short adumbration of the vigour of the foreign policy which would be pursued by a Labour Government. Of course, we must not forget that the ability of a government to carry out its foreign policy depends to some extent upon the forces at its disposal, and in that connection we must also remember that the great pride of the right hon. Gentleman was that he had reduced Vote A by 10,000 men for years. Of course, there is a lag behind the programme that you propose and its fruition in the Fleet.
Supernumerary to the requirements of the Labour Government's idea, I agree, then. If there is any criticism of Vote A, I would point out that it is only now reaching the strength which it enjoyed before the Labour Government came into power in 1929; it is within a few hundreds of that figure. My right hon. Friend will be able to look that up, and I think he will find that I am right.
There are only two lines of attack on which this Supplementary Estimate can be criticised. It can be attacked on the political ground that a fleet of this strength is unnecessary for this country. It can also be attacked on the technical ground that, although a strong fleet is necessary, we have not in this Estimate taken the best steps to attain the strength that we ought to have—that we might have spent our money in a. better way. The first ground of criticism can be disposed of very quickly. It has not been taken seriously either by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough or by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland). I think they both admit that, in this time of international unrest. when successful aggression is stalking abroad in Europe and in the world, when the hopes that we had built upon the League of Nations seem to be at all events partially unfulfilled, and when our great efforts at disarmament have met with no proper response from other countries, we are driven to a position in which we must rely on our armed forces being adequate for our protection. Of course, it is only with reluctance that this rearmament policy has been adopted. The first policy of the Government was disarmament and negotiation by treaty, but we know that those hopes, in spite of the best efforts of all concerned, have been to a great extent unfulfilled. Our margin of safety is far lower than it was in the days before the War, when we had a two-power standard, and anyone who has studied the matter will agree that, as regards our margin of safety, we are in a much worse position vis-a-vis all the other naval countries.
There was one point of great interest in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He alluded to the collective naval forces of the League, and suggested that those forces would be so great that we need not adopt this policy of expansion. I would remind the Committee that we are infinitely more vulnerable to naval attack than any other member of the League of Nations. In 1930, an interesting table was produced by the trench Government in connection with the Naval Conference of that year, including figures showing the relative standards of naval need by which the countries could be measured. It took the need of Italy for naval defence as unity, and it gave that of Japan as 1.6, France 3.0, the United States 4.2; and the figure for the British Empire, or the British Commonwealth of Nations, as I suppose I should now call it, was 10.0. Our need was recognised to be as great as those of Japan, Italy, France and the United States added together. These were not our figures, and they were computed on the basis of area of territory, length of coast and communications, external trade, and seaborne traffic. I do not think that other countries can be expected to have the same interest in protecting our seaborne trade and in protecting our Colonies and our people abroad as we have ourselves, and we must never forget that the lifeblood of our Empire pulses through arteries thousands of miles long and that we are wholly de- pendent on what comes to us from across the seas.
Turning to the second line of attack—the technical line—the suggestion is that the measures to be taken under this programme are not measures that are best calculated to preserve the naval defence of this country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall addressed himself particularly to that point, and I shall hope to do my best to reply to some of the interesting remarks which he made. The first thing one must remember is that, if we, as politicians, abandon the first ground of political criticism and adopt the technical ground of criticism, we are not technical experts. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall criticised the programme on technical grounds, but those who have devoted their lives to the study of this subject—
That is quite true. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter), in the course of a long and very distinguished career in the Navy, always managed to be either under the sea or over it, and never on its surface.
I hope I shall not find myself between these two capital ships whose salvos are crashing over my head. As to Admiral Richmond, he is, of course, one of the greatest naval historians; in fact, I would say that he is the greatest naval historian to-day; but, much as I respect him and his very interesting writings and opinions, I do not think his opinion can weigh very heavily against those of serving officers in the Navy, on a subject which is altering from day to day, and against the opinion of the Board of Admiralty and its technical officers, who have considered this matter throughout its development. There is a most surprising atmosphere to-day in the House. Hon. Members keep on referring to the question of capital ships, and seem to think that, when this Committee was appointed, someone hurried down the long passages and corridors of the Admiralty, burst into the Sea Lord's room, and said, "Isn't it terrible? There are aeroplanes, and those aeroplanes can attack our battleships."
As a matter of fact the whole problem, as I have said, is a familiar one; it is, perhaps, the major problem of naval tactics at the present day, and it is occupying the time of all those whose duty it is to study such problems. We are not, in a desire to maintain a battle fleet, depending alone upon the technical views of those who are in charge of the Navy of this country. Anyone who has followed the trend of naval shipbuilding will see that, whereas when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough was First Lord of the Admiralty no battleships were being built at all, as far as I can remember, except small replacement battleships of 10,000 tons by Germany, at present there is no major Power unfettered by Treaty which is not already engaged in building battleships. We are the last to start because we have been tied up by engagements. We must always have some ships of the line to fight in bodies against the strongest forces of the other side. Of course, the argument which I can almost hear my Noble Friend putting across, and which he has put more than once, and which is the governing consideration, is that if you have a capital ship of such strength that no concentration of cruisers or lesser ships can hope to defeat it in open fight, the naval policy of the country is being fulfilled because, if you had all ships of the same size, we should be driven to dispersion, having a much longer trade route to defend, and possible opponents without this obligation would be able to concentrate their ships upon those that we were able to spare from purely protective duties.
To turn to the actual necessities of the moment, why is it necessary at this time to start building or replacing ing battleships The present position is that the battle fleet is rapidly wearing out. There are only 15 ships; two of them are modern, the "Nelson" and the "Rodney," one is semi-modern, 16 years old, and of the others nine will next year be over age according to the Washington formula. In the following year 10 out of the 15 will be over age according to the Washington formula. I have never heard anyone on the other side of the House who did not consider that 20 years of age was not a sound basis for the life of a battleship. The recent agreement of this year has, I agree, lengthened the over-age limit of capital ships to 26 years but that is going about as far as one can do, because at that age you may begin to get the actual hull showing signs of deterioration. If we are to keep our battle fleet even under that great age of 26 years, we shall have to lay down ships to do it by 1938. I do not think it is possible. We are bound to face up to the fact that, even with our replacement programme, we shall have battleships over age in 1942 when this great body of 10 ships out of 15 become over-age. Therefore, it is obviously essential to make a start now so that we shall not send our sailors to sea in ships which are not only out of date but worn out.
Then there is the question of the air. It is certainly in my opinion quite the most unfortunate development as regards the national defence of the country that has ever happened. It may be that air power could destroy us but we must remember that, if it could destroy us, it can never protect us. Air force has great offensive powers but its defensive qualities are hardly to be discerned. It cannot act on several days of the year. There are occasions when aircraft cannot go up. Aerial navigation is very difficult. It is difficult for them to find out where they are. Their range as an effective weapon of war is limited. Of course, hon. Members will not confuse the position of aircraft functioning in that capacity with aircraft setting out to achieve long-distance records. The endurance of aircraft is measured in hours and the endurance of ships is measured in days and weeks. If all the military aircraft in the world were at our disposal they could not protect our ships in the Western Atlantic. They would even be insufficient to protect even our trade coming up from the Mediterranean. In narrow seas, of course, the position might be different. Aircraft have an enormous power of indiscriminate destruction but, as to their power as precise weapons of war, the position is very much more uncertain. Of course, my hon. and gallant Friend will rely, as he often has done before, upon the experiment carried out by the American air force when, after days of bombing, they sank a large number of ships. He will be able to give the details when it comes to his turn.
Will my hon. Friend tell the Committee why the Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean took the fleet away from Malta when the ItaloAbyssinian crisis came to a head?
Because the best position was at Alexandria—for the same reason that the Commander-in-Chief in the last War took the Fleet to Scapa Flow, and that was before the days of aircraft. The position is almost exactly analogous. [Interruption.] My hon. and gallant Friend has got his answer and does not like it. If he would consider it, he would find the position very similar. Also let us consider how far we have any present-day experience apart from the purely experimental. Have we any practical experience? Two very interesting events have happened in the last few years. About a year ago a revolution was attempted in Greece. An old armoured cruiser, the "Georgios Avenoff," built before the War, was amongst the ships that had revolted and which had sailed out into the comparatively narrow waters that surround Greece. An enthusiastically air-minded Press announced that the ship was going to be destroyed by the Greek Air Force, which had been well trained by British officers, and which had remained loyal. Some of the more enterprising organs of the Press even produced pictures of this actually taking place. As a matter of fact, nothing of the sort happened. This venerable grandmother of the Fleet wobbled about the Aegean for days together reducing islands and, as far as I know, suffered no damage whatever from the attacks of the Greek Air Force in these narrow waters. There was another incident on which I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend will rely.
There was a mutiny in the Dutch warship "Zzven Provincian" in the East Indies, and the mutinous ship was actually bombed. She was actually hit and surrendered. It is a record because, although there are innumerable cases of aeroplanes aiming at ships and hitting the sea, this was the first occasion when an aeroplane aimed at the sea and hit a ship. The sea is a much more difficult object to miss. This was intended as a warning shot. As I understand those misguided persons, the mutineers, were not making any resistance, except perhaps a few threatening gestures. They were not, at all events, firing at the aeroplane but were grouped on deck watching its approach, so that the resulting explosion was not only unexpected but extremely unwelcome. Those are the only occasions when aircraft and ships have been opposed since the War. It is certainly a most serious factor in naval war. My right hon. Friend is doing his very best to provide for it by increasing aircraft ammunition and guns, and, above all, by the Fleet arm. It is a question to be studied not only from the defensive but from the offensive point of view. The Admiralty must study not only methods of defence but the potentialities of offence of this arm. No one can say at present that the Air Ministry could take over the responsibility of protecting our commerce. It is obviously the duty of the Admiralty, and surely, Committee of Inquiry or no Committee of Inquiry, the responsibility for the additional duties of the British Fleet and what they require to enable them to perform them properly must in the last resort rest on the Admiralty, or rather on the Government on the advice of those whom they think worthy of trust in that Department.
Of course, the 50 cruisers that we have had, and which we are now hoping to build up to 70, was only a temporary standard, and I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough would agree that 50 cruisers was only a standard for peace-time. I had not thought that we had meticulously to scrap the C class of cruisers, although, notoriously, they are getting rapidly past their work, being very old and small ships. I know how my right hon. Friend will answer that criticism. The Hawkins class are most successful ships, and in these days, when the big six-inch cruiser is becoming so fashionable, it is a class
in which we are obviously deficient at present, and I hope they will have many years of usefulness ahead of them. Of course, a lot of the sum in this Estimate is taken up for the replacement of fuel and storage and increased ammunition and stores. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough left the Navy in a very happy position as regards that, and I do not altogether blame him, because in 1931, when his colleagues in the Labour Government were in the full burst of Socialist spending and had just started well on the road to bankruptcy, it was difficult to get money for anything. Let me quote from what he said in introducing the Navy Estimates in 1931. Having pointed out the various reductions that have been made, he said:
Over and above these major savings, however, a very large sum in the aggregate remained to be found,
and one could sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman when he was faced with that position—
and has been found, by the rigid scrutiny of all items of expenditure proposed for inclusion in the various Votes, and by the omission or further retardation of many, some of them most important, services.
If it were possible or proper to go into the details of some of the items of this considerable Bill, I think that it would be found that many of them were things which, I am sure, the right hon. Gentleman would have done if he had had the money to do it. A fleet is of no use unless it is efficient. In our efforts to avoid the weight and burden of armaments and to achieve a peace by agreement throughout the world, we have got behindhand in the standard necessary for our own security. A country that cannot defend itself has never gained, so far as I know, by being in that position. We have made an offer to avoid the weight of armaments. We have for the present —not for all time—failed, and I see in the Supplementary Estimates an honest and sound endeavour to put our naval defences upon their proper basis.
Before I come to the two or three larger issues which I am anxious to submit to the Committee this afternoon, I have two minor suggestions of a constructive character which I should like, with great respect and entire good will, to offer to my Noble Friend, in the hope that he may, perhaps, bring them to the notice of higher authorities. They both properly belong to the Vote A section of our discussion, but the Chairman ruled that we could discuss Vote A topics in the general debate, and, therefore, I venture to refer to them now. The first is the re-institution of the Special Reserve. When I was preparing the Fleet before the War, I devised a plan with the aid of my very competent naval staff, by which about 3,000 men of the Royal Fleet Reserve received a special bounty, I think, of £5 a year—the total expense of the 3,000 men being not more than £15,000 a year, a very small part of Estimates of this size—in consideration of which they allowed themselves to be called up in time of emergency in advance of any general proclamation of naval mobilisation. Of course, this was a very great convenience to us when the crisis came, in the early part of the crisis.
I believe that it would have been a great convenience to the Admiralty during the recent trouble in the Mediterranean if they could have called up a small number of men who had voluntarily taken on a special engagement. You never can tell how a situation will arise. It may well be that foreign affairs may be in a delicate condition and a general mobilisation of the Navy might be prejudicial to the diplomatic course of events, and to have 3,000 or so men under your command who can be quite unostentatiously brought to the ships is a very great advantage. As I say, the cost is a bagatelle compared to the enormous weight of our Estimates at the present time. I hope that that may be considered. I was sorry to find after my inquiries last autumn that this system had been dropped, and I hope that it may be re-instituted.
I have one other point even smaller. Cannot my Noble Friend hold out some hopes that the training cruiser at Newfoundland can be re-established? In endeavouring to raise Vote A, here is a very fine seafaring population accustomed to the work of the small picket boats, sailing boats and fishing boats in the roughest weather. I am told that in the Great War the Northern Patrol of merchant ships which was essential to our blockade could not have been maintained but for the continued support of the Newfoundlander, who was extremely good in manning the small boats in very rough weather and getting from ship to ship. Newfoundland has fallen upon evil days. There is great unemployment and great privation, and, moreover, it is important to link Newfoundland to this country by every association which is useful and beneficial. If a training cruiser could be stationed there—perhaps one of those cruisers which my Noble Friend is going so improvidently to scrap in a few weeks' time—it would form a valuable recruiting centre and be a new link between Newfoundland, our oldest colony, and the mother country, and give us a stream of invaluable seafaring men for the additions we propose to make to Vote A of the Royal Navy.
Coming to the larger topics, I heard with disappointment the limits of the statement which my Noble Friend was permitted to make. Several very large questions were raised at the time of the Defence Debate a couple of months ago but I do not think that any adequate answers have been given to those questions. The Government have seemed to me ready to be content to leave serious criticism and valid points without reply, except such reply as is offered in the Division Lobby, very often by Members who are not particularly interested in the technical subjects under discussion. Two questions affecting the Navy were raised in March. The first was the number of destroyers which are being built for the Royal Navy at the present time, and the second was the question of battleships, about which we have already heard a good deal of discussion this afternoon. I thought that it was the general feeling of the House that we should build many more destroyers, and that we should postpone the final decision upon battleships until there had been a thorough and impartial inquiry. A good many weeks have elapsed and we see that the Government completely ignore these views. They ignore them, and they express no effective reason or argument why they should be brushed aside.
The destroyer programme is extremely modest and restricted. No attempt is made to utilise the very many smaller shipyards to give us the large numbers which will certainly be needed now that the Naval Treaty with Germany has authorised a very large building of submarines. I will not say that it is extremely probable, but it is undoubtedly possible, and even probable that very active submarine construction is proceeding in Germany, and the submarines can be rapidly built, as I said may be piece-meal, and assembled very rapidly. A serious responsibility will rest upon those who signed that Treaty, if one day in the next few years it is found that the German submarines are as far ahead of our anti-submarine flotillas as their Air Force is already drawing ahead of ours, in spite of the pledges of absolute parity which were given to us. What is to be done about the destroyers Are any more to be built beyond those nine we see here? What is to be done about the older destroyers which, under the Treaty, will have to be scrapped If adequate flotillas are to be built each year, what is to be done about the older destroyers? Are they to be retained or are they to be scrapped?
I should like answers to those questions from my Noble Friend. Everyone is most anxious to assist him with his task, but I am sure that he would wish to give answers upon these points. If these older destroyers are retained, they will, of course—I must point out this—under this unwise Anglo-German Naval Treaty, open new limits, some new construction to Germany. If, on the other hand, they are to be scrapped, we shall be throwing away vessels of real value for which the taxpayers' money has been used and which still have a most effective part to play in an emergency. Like the Hawkins class of cruisers, if they are kept they open a very large tonnage of brand new construction under the German Naval Treaty to Germany, and, on the other hand, we are now told, that, if they are to be kept, a number of other cruisers of which we could make good use must be scrapped. I should like to know whether the new escalator clause, if invoked, would not give us greater tonnage of destroyers, and also have the effect of preserving these cruisers, which, we are told, have to be scrapped.
I am most anxious to get an answer from my Noble Friend. I do not quite understand why, if he retains the Hawkins class, he has to scrap a number of cruisers of the "C" class. Surely, the 1931 Treaty runs out in a very short space of time and these vessels would be no longer in the position that they have to be destroyed. I also wish to know about the escalator clause. Will that not save them? Nothing can be more foolish and more unsatisfactory than that we should have sunk serviceable ships which might in emergency be of very great use in all sorts of minor raids, and, at the same time, save a very large sum of money in building five new cruisers year after year.
Really the cruisers and destroyers are not on the same footing at all. With regard to destroyers, we can certainly invoke the escalator clause, and I have suggested in two speeches already that we are retaining a considerable tonnage of the older destroyers. We need not come to any decision as to that until the end of this calendar year. I am afraid that I cannot tell the Committee anything more definite than what I have said already. But with regard to destroyers, we are in the position that we can invoke the escalator clause if we should want to do so, and if conditions are such that it is to our advantage, of course we shall have to do so. The cruisers are in a different category altogether. In the right hon. Gentleman's treaty it was definitely laid down that the completed tonnage in the cruiser category on 31st December, 1936, was not to exceed 339,000 tons. There is no escalator clause in that category. Therefore, if we are to keep the terms of the treaty, which everybody in the House will insist that we shall do, and if we maintain the extra tonnage of the Hawkins class, which were going to be scrapped, then we must scrap a corresponding tonnage of the smaller "C" class.
I am very much obliged to my Noble Friend for the very clear answer he has given, and it is very important also for the House to know that the escalator Clause will be invoked at the proper time in respect of destroyers. I understood the answer in that sense. As far as cruisers are concerned, I cannot think that that is at all satisfactory. You have just had a Naval Conference. Surely, it would have been possible at that Conference to arrange with the United States, with whom our relations are so satisfactory at the present time, that latitude should be given us to maintain these cruisers, the United States taking similar latitude to themselves. It is because this happens before the 31st December, 1936, that we have to scrap a number of our "C" class cruisers, which my Noble Friend has admitted he wishes to keep and which the Admiralty were ready to keep before they thought of re-arming the Hawkins class with 6.1 guns. It seems to me unwise that a number of cruisers, how many we have not been told, should have to be scrapped.
It seems to me unwise that five cruisers are to be scrapped which would not have been scrapped if the Admiralty had not made up its mind to re-arm the Hawkins class. When enormous Estimates are placed before Parliament, and there is every need to strengthen our Fleet, it is a very unsatisfactory position that we should, on the one hand, take out ships which are useful and sink them in the open sea, ships which are valuable from the economic point of view, and on the other hand build very expensive new ships.
Everyone will agree that we must keep our Treaty engagements, very strictly, but no one has inveighed against the London Treaty of 1931 more than I have. When we had a Naval Conference going on, why should it not have been foreseen that this inconvenience would arise? It would have been easy to approach the United States, who I will not say were hand in glove with us but were in the closest amity with us, and to have made an arrangement. I am afraid that it was overlooked.
Would the right hon. Gentleman press the other point that we might have from the Admiralty in this Debate the actual names of the ships in the cruiser category that are to be scrapped. It is not true that the escalator clause in the 1930 Treaty is confined to destroyers. The Noble Lord is very badly informed. The escalator clause was not confined to one category of ships, and I would not have consented to such a clause. The Government have announced a programme of 70 cruisers including 10 over-age ships. What is the difficulty?
We agreed to a reduced tonnage of destroyers on the condition that there was a reduction in the number of submarines to be built by other countries. That was how the escalator clause came into being.
We are up against a very practical point. We have to face gigantic Naval Estimates, for which we are prepared to vote, but we have to destroy five ships which have a, real value in them because, unhappily, it was not arranged satisfactorily at the recent Naval Conference that they should be preserved. I think it is a great pity. I agree, as far as I can remember, with the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander). I was not aware that the escalator clause was limited only to destroyers; I thought it related, at any rate, to a small class of cruisers. The result is that we have been conducted to a dead end and a very unsatisfactory conclusion. We have to find large sums of money for new construction and we have to take out, pole-axe and sink to the bottom of the sea, five vessels which until a few months ago the Admiralty were hoping to keep.
Perhaps I have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman. It is true that there are what one might call break clauses, both for destroyers and cruisers. So far as destroyers were concerned, it was on the ground of whether other countries were prepared to reduce the number of submarines which they were building. They have not been prepared to reduce the number, and therefore we could put the break clause into operation. You may call it a break clause or an escalator clause. In regard to cruisers, I understand that the abnormal building by a foreign Power of cruisers might have justified the invocation of the break clause in regard to cruisers, but as this condition has not been fulfilled it can hardly be said that the invocation of that break clause would be justified.
May I call attention to Article 21, of Part III of the Treaty arising from the London Naval Conference of 1930
If, during the term of the present Treaty, the requirements of the national security of any High Contracting Party in respect of vessels of war limited in Part III of the present Treaty "—
that is, cruisers, destroyers and sub-marines—
are in the opinion of that party materially affected by new construction of any Power other than those who have joined in Part III of this Treaty, that High Contracting Party will notify the other Parties to Part III as to the increase required to be made in its own tonnages within one or more of the categories of such vessels of war.
Therefore, it is possible to increase our cruiser force when the construction of any other Power renders it necessary. I would mention that the. French have already constructed 25 destroyers of such a tonnage that—
I thank my hon. and gallant Friend. Nobody can say what ought to be done. If the Treaty binds us so tightly that we have to commit this act of waste and folly before the end of December, 1936, we ought frankly to approach the United States Government and ask them whether they are willing to meet us in this respect and to take a similar latitude for themselves. If the matter has been overlooked, surely we can ask a friendly Government to consider it. As the Japanese left the conference, we have only the United States to deal with. I will not press the point further, except to say that it seems not a very satisfactory or reassuring feature of the statement to which we have listened.
Let us look at the question of battleships. If we build destroyers we can have them ready in the next two years, but if we build battleships and begin to build them at the end of this year, it will be four years, I suppose, before those ships will be commissioned, and many things may have happened in those four years. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) has made a strong plea for the battleship. I do not know that I disagree with him in that. I was convinced 20 years ago or 15 years ago that the battleship played an essential part in the life of the Fleet, and I have not changed my view upon that except in so far as new facts may be brought to notice. When we brought these matters before the House on a previous occasion the Government promised us an inquiry. There was a great deal of feeling and opinion behind the demand for that inquiry.
May I here say that I am glad to address my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence (Sir Thomas Inskip) for the first time in his new capacity. Perhaps he will allow me to offer him, I will not say my congratulations, because one does not always offer congratulations to a man when he sets out in a lifeboat to see what can be saved from the wreck. You reserve the congratulations until his return. I am, however, glad to offer him my most sincere compliments on the courage and public spirit which have led him to abandon the sedate, comfortable hierarchies of the law for the escalade of perilous and alpine military peaks. Any help that I can give him either on the Floor of the House or elsewhere is entirely at his disposal. We must all earnestly hope that he will succeed in bringing a very considerable measure of improvement into the present unsatisfactory position of our defence forces. My right hon. and learned Friend is to hold an inquiry. He is, I believe, already holding that inquiry. Is that not so?
My right hon. and learned Friend is presiding over an inquiry which has experts and Cabinet Ministers upon it. It is one of the Committees of Inquiry of the Committee of Imperial Defence, of which there are so many. He is prepared to take evidence and to hear the whole case deployed for and against the battleship. The inquiry has begun and is now being held. Why, then, are we asked to vote £428,000 in these Estimates, committing us not to the general principle but committing us to the detailed application of public money to the construction of battleships before the inquiry has finished?
It is very desirable that the right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind what the committee is doing and what are the terms of reference, because I am not sure that he did not state them more widely than is correct. The terms of reference of the committee, which is certainly proceeding, are:
To consider the experiments that have taken place or are proposed in connection with the defence against aircraft, and. the vulnerability from the air of capital ships.
The right hon. Gentleman will see that that is rather a more limited inquiry than an inquiry into the whole question of capital ships.
It would be a great pity if we made a mistake at this time in naval architecture because of the question of the legal construction of some terms of reference. The Government are masters of the terms of reference and can make them wide enough to embrace the real merits of the case. I do not see why my right hon. and learned Friend should feel inhibited by the terms of reference from considering not merely the vulnerability of capital ships to missiles dischargeable from the air but to torpedoes which affect the ship's vulnerability in war. If some new facts were brought up, surely he could enlarge the terms of reference to bring them in.
I read in the newspapers a statement by Sir Robert Hadfield, an important contractor to the Navy, that they now have a shell which would pierce 12 inches of armour and sink a battleship. If that be so, if the usual armour is no longer proof against this new type of shell, then it seems to me that that is a matter which would be relevant to my right hon. Friend's high and important task and inquiry, and I hope that he will not feel himself in any way prevented from taking such facts into consideration before he advises the House on what is a great matter of public policy. I was hoping that people like Admiral Richmond would be called. No harm is done in hearing what they have to say. I should like some of the extreme advocates of the air, those who consider that a battleship can be easily disposed of by bombs from the air, to be examined and cross-examined by the skilled experts of the Admiralty.
My right hon. Friend is addressing questions to me and it is well that I should answer them. He knows better than anybody else that before we can have outside experts to give evidence we must examine these questions with the help of those whose particular business it is to know what is being done, whose business it is to know the facts as nobody else can know them. We have nearly reached the stage at which we shall be anxious to receive the assistance of anybody who has information or advice to give or statements to make, and I hope that my right hon. Friend himself will allow us to have the benefit of his wide experience. We should welcome it, as well as the assistance of any hon. Member who has information at his disposal.
Any information which I can give I will gladly give. I do not pose as an expert in these matters but as one who is accustomed to judge the opinions of experts. But before I can attend any committee of that kind I should have to be sure that it is a real committee. The hon. Member for Londonderry has told us that the intention of the Admiralty is quite plain. The two battleships are set down; they have made up their minds and Parliament is to be asked to vote the money for them. It is very absurd. Surely this is like a curious reversal of the horse and cart, to which I drew the attention of the Prime Minister some time ago, when he did not appoint the Minister for Coordinating Defence until the Cabinet's defence scheme had been worked out in the fullest detail. Now, apparently, the decision to begin the building of battleships has been taken and yet an inquiry is being held to find out whether or not there is not some serious new danger from the air which will render them so vulnerable as to make it not worth while to construct them. That is unsatisfactory. I ask the Prime Minister: Does he not consider that it would be more reasonable not to vote this particular item this evening? We are not fighting a party question here; we all wish to do the right thing, and the Committee will support the Government to any extent for what they require for naval defence. I think there is very little doubt that the Admiralty will vindicate their case, and nothing will be lost. The money will not be required for some months to come.
We must treat the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence with proper respect and not prejudge his position by taking a vote for the construction of ships which may in two or three months be unable to swim the seas under the concentrated fire of aircraft. The reasonable thing is not to put this naval item in at the moment but to allow the inquiry to take its course, the experts to be examined and state their case, and before the Admiralty attempt to drive a rivet or lay a keel we shall receive from the new Minister a reasoned statement of the grounds which have led the Government to believe that further construction of battleships is an essential part of the Royal Navy. I hope we shall have an answer. We have not got answers to some of these points previously, but I hope that we shall have an answer from the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence or the Prime Minister.
There is one more question on which I should like to put a few arguments before the Committee. It was raised by the hon. Member for Londonderry—the disposition of the Fleet Air Arm. In the Debate on the introduction of the Naval Estimates I referred to this in conjunction with trade defence. I pointed out that the difficulty was in widening the radius of cruisers in the vast expanses of the ocean. If aeroplanes are flown off cruisers or small aircraft-carriers are attached to small squadrons, it becomes a far easier matter to find out where the potential attacker may be. The radius is tripled or quadrupled for which assurance can be given. On the flat surface of the sea every hostile ship can be discerned, I cannot think of anything more economical in regard to cruisers and finance than that the closest association of air reconnaissance and cruiser action should be maintained in our trade protection cruisers.
I am shocked and grieved to find the bitter dissatisfaction which is felt throughout the naval service, as far as I am aware, at the condition of the Fleet Air Arm and with the relations under which that Arm is now governed. The friction and anomalies of dual control are well known. They are very apparent even in times of peace. What would happen in time of war? The integrity of operational command is vital. Aircraft will play their part in all preliminary movements before a battle altering the whole fortunes of the battle, and they will play their part in trade protection. Ought there not to be a complete association of tactical and operational association between these two branches of the naval service, both essential to the life of the Fleet and also to the food supplies of these islands? We ought to establish the effective responsibility of the Admiralty for the efficiency and adequacy of the Air service. What would be said if Royal Artillery men manned the guns on board warships or if the signals of the Army were run by the Post Office? There is just as intimate a connection between the Air Force which is used from the ships in connection with the Fleet and the Fleet, as between these other two instrumentalities I have mentioned.
Who commands the naval aeroplane? The sea captain commands it on board ship. The Air Force officer commands it when it has landed at the shore aerodrome. But who commands it in the air? That is a moot point, one of those thorny questions which the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence will have to solve. There is a great confusion of seniority. Sometimes in the aeroplane there are three or four officers of different ranks and different seniorities, holding different Air Force or naval positions. As the aeroplane leaves the ship, flies over the water and alights on land all the relations of these officers on what may become matters of life and death are insensibly altered. I cannot believe that the last word has been spoken on this matter. In war everything is simple, said the Germans, but the simple is very difficult, and wherever you can smooth out these endless complications every effort should be made to do so. I am assured that the dual rank, the dual command, the reversion to another service, the relinquishment of these appointments and the general uncertainty which overly officers in the Fleet Air Arm have caused a great deal of discouragement.
Although there is an immense amount of good will, the difficulties and disadvantages are most plainly recognised. There are two departments which are largely antagonistic. There are Admirals who support the Air Arm and those who say that it cannot hurt a battleship at sea. There is a clash of opinion. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence is happily blessed with a strong muscular development; otherwise he might even find himself in personal jeopardy on account of this clash of opinion. All correspondence has to be duplicated, all decisions have to await the concurrence of both sides, all important new decisions involve inter-departmental communications which involve months of delay; all important routine matters involving interdepartmental committees involve weeks of delay. All orders for stores and supplies for the Fleet Air Arm serving with the ships very often get muddled, and the articles themselves are almost invariably late. The movement of the Fleet does not correspond with the movement of the stores from one particular shore air base to another. For instance, the Fleet moves rapidly, a new concentration has to be effected in any part of the world in a few weeks, but a far longer time is required to make the air organisation conform.
For instance, there is now a Mediterranean cruiser which has its aeroplane administered from Singapore, while another in the same squadron has its aeroplane administered from Bermuda. What are the results of this? And we must judge by results. Let me use a homely simile which will appeal to the Prime Minister—the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It is well known throughout the Service that most discreditable and alarming deficiencies were disclosed in the Mediterranean scare in the autumn. I have heard of a great aircraft carrier, sent out in haste on emergency service to Alexandria, which had neither proper numbers nor the proper type of wireless sets for the aircraft. Many of the aircraft were supplied at the last minute without having even bomb racks fixed or the bombing release gear fitted. Necessary spare parts were not available to make certain engines serviceable for many months. The aircraft of one whole squadron which were of a new type were still so inefficient that they had to remain ashore and be replaced by others of an obsolescent type, and only half a squadron of these were ultimately available. After that, it seemed that there were no spare aircraft for the Fleet Arm in the country.
We have heard a great deal of the wonderful qualities of British aircraft, but we know for certain that the Fleet Air Arm has no flying boats or bombers which bear any comparison, so I am assured, with those of leading foreign Powers. The flying boats which were sent to Alexandria recently have been described to me as laughable compared with those which are known at the present time to be possessed by Italy. I am informed that the design of the bulk of the aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm is out-of-date. It is complained that the Fleet Air Arm aircraft are designed in the Air Ministry by people who are not thoroughly informed about the practical conditions under which the Fleet Air Arm does its work. For instance, many of the single-seater fighters break their propellers very often on making a deck landing, and the new reconnaisance aircraft for the Fleet are so built that the rush of air in the large cockpits numbs the observer and the telegraphist to such an extent that they would die of cold in severe winter service, and even in the earlier stages of that condition would be quite incapable of responding to the wireless signals, of making proper observations and calculations, or indeed of firing the rear machine gun. This, I am told, happens in a class of aircraft which goes about half the speed which some of the fastest ones go and which is described as the eye of our modern battle Fleet.
No one will contend that the Fleet is supplied with aircraft comparable in numbers or efficiency with those of the United States. I do not say that there can be any rivalry with them, but we ought to learn. Is it not a fact, for instance, that the American Navy possesses 550 sea-borne aircraft, apart from 450 co-operating from shore bases? The Japanese Navy controls about 800 aircraft, whereas, even with the extra machines now being built under the programme of 1936, the aircraft of the Royal Navy win not exceed 217.
I am sorry to have to dwell upon these facts, but I think it is my duty to do so. It is far better to have these things while there is time to remedy them. And what is the remedy? I think the only remedy is the immediate transference to the Navy of the whole control of the Fleet Air Arm, which is now vital to its safety and to every form of its action in time of war, and above all to our trade protection and food supplies. I do not believe that what said about the increasing range of aircraft alters these conclusions at all. A fleet or scouting cruiser squadron cannot depend upon the operation of aircraft controlled by another Department operating hundreds of miles away from shore bases. I am certain that you would be well advised to entrust this matter to the Royal Navy.
I must ask the indulgence of the Committee for a few minutes more in order to close these arguments, which would be incomplete without what I now propose to say. Before the War we had these two services, and with the aid of my hon. and gallant Friend I developed and managed to control the development of the Royal Naval Air Service. Ultimately, it became a very magnificent force. I believe it comprised at the end of the War 2,800 aeroplanes and nearly 55,000 men. I must frankly admit, although it tells against my general arguments, that personally I consider that at the end of the War the Royal Naval Air Force did not contribute sufficiently to the general operations in the conduct of the War. However, that is a mistake which need not be repeated.
It does not seem to be so from the figures I have just quoted of the enormous force in the possession of the Admiralty at the end of the War. However, in those days there was a feeling in the Navy rather antagonistic to the development of the Air Force, and that is why I took the matter into my own personal hands and forced it through with my hon. and gallant Friend's assistance. But I think those days are done, and from all that I hear there is no body of His Majesty's subjects more air-minded and more keen upon the air than the admirals and officers of the Fleet at the present time. They are burning to get their hands upon this. They are sure they can make much more of it than is being made in the present circumstances.
I do not condemn the decision which was taken in 1933. I was not in office at the time, but I can see it was a very reasonable decision to take in the circumstances at that moment. Then the Air Force was small, working under conditions of economy, and the important thing was that it should be strong enough to stand upon its own footing. If the Naval Air arm had been cut away from it, it might well have been that the rest of it would have been given to the Army, and the idea of an independent Air Force and Air Ministry would have vanished altogether, which would have been a great disaster, because one can see now that the Air Force, so far from being a mere appendage of other services is perhaps going to swallow up many forms of war upon land and upon water. Therefore, I do not reproach those who were responsible for the decision which was taken in 1920 and 1923. But the whole condition has absolutely changed. In the first place, so far from being underworked, the Air Ministry is the most over-burdened Ministry in the country, and the Air Staff is the most over-burdened staff. They are doubling, tripling, quadrupling the Air Force as fast as it can be done. Heaven forbid that I should make any invidious distinction in this, but I must say I do not think there is any one of the three fighting Departments whose Staff and Ministry is more overweighted by the pressure of work upon them at the present moment than the Air Ministry and the Air Staff. Surely they should be relieved of this. Surely, you should hand over this complicated Service, with so many variations which differentiate from the Army or the Air Service, to the great, powerful, well-established Department which is longing to assume full responsibility, I am sure you will get a very effective, rich and rapid reward if you will take this step. After all these are matters in which the Navy have an immense interest. One of the reasons why I urge this course is that I believe it would add to the air power, would increase the general output and development of your power, and bring new resources of energy and organisation to the development of this new modern weapon.
I could not leave the topic without mentioning the question of supply, for otherwise my right hon. and learned Friend would say, "Look at the confusion which will arise in the aircraft factories when the two Departments are bidding against one another and overlapping in their orders and so on." That would be true, if the matter were left there, but I have advised my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the last six months—and I should have thought it was pretty plain six months before—that we ought to create a proper Ministry of Supply, not necessarily on the great scale of the Ministry of Munitions, but on the same lines. There ought to be a Ministry of Supply which would make a great many of the articles for the different Services.
Certainly when we come to a Debate on the more general Votes, I propose to address the Committee, with their indulgence, upon the details of a Ministry of Munitions and Supply, and show how essential it is to the proper development of our programmes at the present time. Therefore, in suggesting that the Fleet Air Arm should be transferred to the Royal Navy, I am also considering that as an essential part of it there should be established a Ministry of Supply to which both Services would give their orders, for which both Services would lay their requirements—both the Air Ministry and the Admiralty—and whose work would be co-ordinated under the Ministry, or another Minister, or a Deputy of his, in the way that it was done during the war. I am grateful to the Committee for having listened to me for so long.
I should like to express my agreement with regard to some of the criticisms that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has made of the naval construction programme and the refusal of the Government up to now to listen to criticisms of that programme. This question, on its technical side, is not a party question, and it is clear from the speeches that have been made in various parts of the Committee that there is a considerable concensus of opinion. When we come to the general policy of the Government, to the foreign policy aspect of this naval programme, we are on more controversial grounds which divide themselves on party lines, but on the technical side there is not so much a party question.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) made certain statements in his speech regarding the vulnerability of this country, and said that although we are a Member of the League of Nations we are at this time more vulnerable than any other Member of the League. I should have said that that is the best argument for seeing that the ships and arms of defence which we construct are not of the kind which will be vulnerable, but are rather of the kind which will aim at the defence of the vital interests partly of this country and partly of the League and those Powers which make up the League. What the hon. Gentleman said in fact seems to me very largely to bear out the criticisms which have been made in various parts of the Committee concerning the construction policy of the Government in the Supplementary Estimate.
What, may I ask, are the points which we ought to consider? What is the function and purpose of sea power? It has been laid down by writers on this subject from time to time that the function of sea power is to protect the trade and commerce mutes of the country by keeping open its economic life. I think the teaching of history is that British naval power has gradually arisen and grown out of these needs of protecting our trade routes and our commercial interests. Our strap les with the Dutch, the French and the Spaniards in past centuries have shown that naval power has arisen out of that. In the last War the German attacks upon our commerce by means of submarines was clearly nothing new. During previous wars, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, similar attacks were made. True, it was not by submarines but by privateers and the other methods of attack at that time. It was found in those times that the best weapon of defence against that kind of attack on commerce was not the big vessels but the small mobile vessel, and it was that which enabled this country to meet the attacks of those former wars. In other words, the creation of a small, quickly moving force was the method adopted in those days, and surely it is true even that the lessons of the last War showed that it was rather the smaller vessel which enabled this country and the Allied Powers to meet the menace of commercial attack than the big battleships which stayed the greater part of their time in port.
I understand that there are two methods of defence against this kind of commerce attack. One is to hunt down the attacking force and to sink it. In this particular aspect what use are the big battleships? They cannot go far away and hunt down these small cruisers, quickly moving fore's which are attacking the trade routes. So that that method of defence is not the most suitable. There is the other method which experience has shown was the successful method in the last War, the method of convoys, of massing your commercial vessels together and surrounding them by quickly moving forces which can bear off the attack of commerce raiders; in other words, to have a, swarm of hornets to beat off a swarm of wasps. But if you have a great, big bear to beat off those wasps, it is not going to be very successful. He is a big target, and he cannot destroy those wasps. Like the big bad wolf, he may huff and he may puff, but he will not blow them away. Surely that was the mistake which was made at the early part of this century, that we broke away from a tradition—a tradition of not putting a large amount of eggs in one basket and building big ships, but confining ourselves to the main interests of the country by supplying those ships which can defend the trade routes.
Early in this century a change came, and it was we who started out on this policy of building big capital ships, it was we who started the great race in naval competition with these huge capital ships. I am not an expert in these matters but laymen, especially we on these benches who represent constituencies where there are large numbers of working-class taxpayers who have to pay these bills, are very much concerned though we are but laymen. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nuneaton(Lieut. - Commander Fletcher) is an expert, but not all of us are experts. We are concerned, however, that the money which is spent shall be spent properly and in the best interests of this country and of the law-abiding countries which are members of the eague of Nations. But even among the experts there is a difference. I quote from Lord Sydenham in his Foreword to the book of Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond on "Naval Policy and Navy Strength." Lord Sydenham said:
The policy of Dreadnought building was a blunder and the best naval opinion of the time admitted it.
Further in the book there are passages by Sir Herbert Richmond which I feel entitled to quote to the House as being the opinion of a man who is not only a historian as the hon. Member for Londonderry said, but a man who also served on active service. He says:
The naval strength of the Great Powers has risen phenomenally in the last 40 years, but what dangers to which they
have been exposed have been removed by this expenditure? No nation has been made more secure, but all have paid vastly more for their sea power.
He goes on to show the dangers of dispersal of our protecting forces. I think it can be said with truth that the mere fact of there being a great battle fleet which must be protected by cruisers, destroyers and sloops, which must be protected against submarine and air attack, takes away from and disperses the forces which otherwise would be used for commerce protection and keeping open the seas. That, surely, is the great danger.
It may be said that we started the race, others have built and that now we must go on. On that point surely this Committee should await the report of the expert committee which is going into this question. Even if we assume that in the long run we must have a certain number of these big capital ships, is it really necessary for us to start to build them now? Are the Government true to their statement that there are gaps in our defences and that we must arm ourselves in order to enable ourselves to fulfil our obligations under the Covenant of the League? Here is a case in point. Assume that we must lay down more battleships. Is it true that we are now, or likely to be in the near future, very much outclassed and that other Powers are superior? That entirely depends on whether the Government are working out our naval programme in conjunction with other Powers of the League, or are just considering building against the whole world. If it is true that we must consider the capital ships now being laid down by friendly Powers, by Powers which are members of the League, then we must start on a huge programme of capital construction. When I read the White Paper some weeks ago there was no enlightenment there. One passage said that the Government were unswerving in their support of the League of Nations and in the promotion of collective security, and that collective security could hardly be maintained unless every member of the League was prepared to make a contribution to the whole. Is it true that we need to lay down these two new capital ships?
I wonder if the Noble Lady is considering a need to lay down capital ships in reply to the big ships of America? Does she wish to reply to the American programme? Of course she does not. Neither do I. Then we must pick and choose. I have here an interesting document called "Fleets," which gives the relative strength of the naval Powers of the world. If you look at battleships, projected and actually building, you see an interesting state of affairs. The United Kingdom has still the "Rodney" and the "Nelson," which were completed in 1927, and have presumably over 20 years of life. We have one capital ship which is only 16 years old and presumably has another five or six years more, and can be counted in the active service. France is laying down a battleship of 35,000 tons and is projecting another. Surely we need not consider the programme of France. We need not reply to that. France is a member of the League, and we hope that we are going to co-operate with her. We need not build against her. Italy is laying down two 35,000-ton battleships. We must consider that. Germany is not laying down any thing over 30,000 tons. She is building two 26,000-ton battleships and the German Admiralty, apparently, is not enamoured of the great big ship. When she was under the Versailles Treaty she made a virtue of necessity and perfected the pocket battleship idea with, I understand, considerable success.
I did not say anything against them. All I am saying is, let us await a decision of this committee as to whether we should build them at all or build them so big. The League Powers in Europe have five capital ships over 30,000 tons against two which Italy is now building. It is surely in these circumstances ridiculous to lay down two more at a time when experts themselves do not know whether they are as effective as some hon. Gentlemen say they are. That is my main point. I do not think, therefore, that the Government are either clear on this matter or sincere in their statements that we need these battleships and other naval armaments for the purpose of filling up the gap in our defences, or in carrying out our obligations under the Covenant. I agree that there is a strong case for increasing some of our naval air forces, our cruisers and destroyers for the reasons which I have already given. But if we pooled our forces with the other loyal members of the League, working for collective security, I do not believe that, even there, we should need so big a programme as that which is foreshadowed. My main criticism, however, is that the proposal to construct these two large ships shows that the Government are not sincere in the statement which was made in the White Paper that these ships are needed for collective security and for the defence of our obligations to the League. They represent, in fact, a return to the old power politics, to the old policy of the balance of power, which caused disaster in 1914.
This has been an interesting Debate, and it has shown how ardent the Government have been in the last four years in pursuit of peace. During this afternoon there have only been two real attacks on the Government, one from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) and the other from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who began by congratulating the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. On the one hand, the right hon. Gentleman congratulated my right hon. Friend, while on the other hand he gave "gip" to the Prime Minister, and we know what that means. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough said that this large programme was necessary because of the vacillating foreign policy followed by the Government for the last four years. My goodness! When I hear anybody on the other side say that we are having world chaos because of this Government's vacillating policy, I feel inclined to ask them to pull themselves up and to think. No country in the world has been more unswerving in its honesty in fulfilling its obligations to the League of Nations than this country. We can prove that to be the case because all the time that we were cutting down our armaments, what was happening among our great Allies? Why, France's armaments had become greater than Germany's armaments were before the War. We did not know at the time how Italy was arming, but we know now how heavily she was arming. What about Russia? Russia was arming too and what were we doing? We were fighting for the League principle and were disarming all the time.
When I hear talk about pooled security and collective action, I say honestly that I believe if we had not depended on the League of Nations, perhaps there would have been no war in Abyssinia. That is a terrible thing to have to say, but the reason is this. We depended on the League and we wanted collective action, but our Allies would not back us. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough asked what were the Government doing about collective action. I agree that sooner or later the Government will have to tell the truth about collective action. They will have to tell the truth about our Allies. This country cannot stand up and take the blame for the mess in Europe. We all know that if our Allies had acted with us honourably in the Mediterranean, at this moment there would probably be more peace in the world or at least there would be no disaster in Abyssinia.
I am a believer in the League. I fought for it long, and I still believe in the principle, but I do not believe only in the name of the League. If it is to be a reality, we must get the other countries to believe in it as we do and to stand up for it as we do. We hear talk of collective action under the League, but I think the country has come to recognise, now when the world is in such chaos, that it would be a crime not to have at least our Navy in the position of being one of tine strongest, if not the strongest, in the world. I am not going into "the battle of the battleships." I have complete faith in the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping on congratulating him referred to the fact that he had gone to sea, but no man is more able than the new Minister to undertake a difficult job. I am certain that he will not try to run the country into any unnecessary expense. I know that on the question of battleships there are two schools of thought, but it seems to me that as long as other countries must have battleships we must have them. Hon. Members opposite know perfectly well the requirements of this country, with its far-flung Empire, but I do not want to spend a penny more on the fighting services than is absolutely necessary.
I congratulate this Government and all Governments since the War on the fact that instead of spending money on the fighting services they have spent money on the social services. They may have been wrong. They may have trusted too much in the League. But at least they have been honourable and have lived up to their obligations and to those who are still talking about the League of Nations I would only say this, that they will have to do a great deal of honest thinking in the next few months if they want to save Europe from chaos. I believe that a certain section of the League of Nations people if they got their way would have got us into war and were almost pining that we should go to war. I say: Go to war when you are prepared, and when your Allies are prepared to go with you, but do not go to war alone, even for Abyssinia. A world war would be more disastrous to civilisation than a local war.
One of the tragedies of to-day is the complete failure of some of our Allies who have signed the Covenant of the League to act up to their obligations. Why, it was Italy which brought Abyssinia into the League and France backed her up and look at the mess we have today. As I say, I am a believer in peace and I have fought for it. I do not believe that we are going to have a world war because the masses of the peoples of the world desire peace. But we are not going to get very far by blaming our own Government, when anyone who knows anything about international affairs recognises that the failure has not been ours. It is the people on whom we depended who have failed us. There are Members going about the country talking about the failure of the Government to back up the League and pressing for sanctions when they know that, as the Prime Minister said, sanctions may mean war. If they believe that, they ought to be recruiting for the Territorial Army. Not only that, but they ought to join it. You cannot consistently have one foot in the League of Nations and in the sanctions policy, unless you have the other foot in the Territorial Army.
Then the hon. Member cannot have listened. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping deplored our naval agreement with Germany. I do not deplore it. I think it a good thing. At least it has controlled the German naval programme.
That is true, but it is some control and there is no other control in Germany except that agreement. I think the Government were right to make it and I hope they will go on making peace with Germany and getting into touch with Germany. Peace lies far more in that direction than in talking about collective action under the League of Nations when the others will not collect. I am perfectly unrepentant and I am prepared to go to my constituency and make these statements. I have fought long and hard for the League of Nations but I am not going to fight a day longer for a sham. It has to be re-organised and the other nations have to play the game or this country must know the reason why. We shall not get peace by crying "Peace," where there is no peace and the Labour party need not try to attack this Government on the ground of any failure of policy. This Debate shows clearly that, if our defences are in a bad way, it is because this Government loyally backed up the League of Nations and kept their agreement under the Versailles Treaty.
I am delighted with the Government. They have given a certain amount to the Royal Dockyards, and I wish they could have given more. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am amused sometimes at hon. Members opposite when we ask for more work for the Royal Dockyards. I wish some of the Members from the Clyde were here. When we ask for work for the Royal Dockyards hon. Members opposite make various criticisms and I do not blame them at all, but they are thinking about their own, constituencies. I know that the Government cannot give all the work to the Royal Dockyards, but I am glad to hear that a fair share of work and as much as they can absorb at the moment, is to be given to them. I hope that the Government policy will be to let the country know a little more. The time has come for a good deal more straight talking on our policy and on the condition of the world. I do not think we need be so anxious to spare the feelings of other people, but that we should educate our own people at home on the realities of the situation. I asked a German pacifist who had been five years in the Reichstag and who had gone to prison for his pacific views, what he thought about Great Britain's disarmament, and he said he thought it would be a danger to the peace of the world if it went any further.
I do not think anybody can indict the Government on the ground that they are bringing forward a big naval programme which is not needed. The present programme is badly needed and it is replacement not expansion. It is going to help, not only the dockyards, but the whole country and indeed the whole world and I think we ought to be grateful to the. Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said he would help the Government in any way he could. We remember that he declined to serve on the India Committee, but I would ask him, this time, to prove his loyalty to the Government by offering his services wherever they are wanted. That is going to be the test of his sincerity and the earnestness of his desire to help the country. He cannot stand back this time as he did on India, and I ask him to go to the Minister for Defence and offer his help. I congratulate the Prime Minister on the appointment of the Minister of Defence because the new Minister has two great qualities. He has no personal vanity. He does not think that he knows everything and that is a tremendous help. He has the capacity to sift and to weigh evidence and he has great courage. It is an extremely difficult job and I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, in his better moments, when he forgets what might have been and sees what is, will want to help.
The whole world looks to see what Britain is going to do. This is an important issue not from the point of view of this country alone, but from the point of view of civilisation. We may have to go through difficult and dangerous times, but I am still convinced that if we are strong, if we face the fact of what some of our Allies have been doing and recognise their failure, if we extend our influence more and try to get Germany in—I know the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping does not like that—there is still time to save civilisation in Western Europe. But you will not do it by weakening the Navy or allowing our defences to go low and certainly not by following the policy of the Labour party. The Leader of that party said the Labour party was the first party in England to put international loyalty ahead of national loyalty. I should like to ask the Labour party which international organisation they are going to be loyal to. The policy of the National Government is to be loyal to their own country, and then they feel there may come a higher loyalty on the part of all the nations.
I have never changed my politics. I have fought for the League of Nations, and I have never let my constituency get in the way of my duty. But the time has come to ask for more ships; the time has come when we have to come out and tell the truth, both about the League of Nations and about our Allies, and the Allies who have failed and those who have not failed. We have also to fight those people who would gladly get us into a world war for what they call collective action, when we are the only people who are collecting and who are ready to do anything. I hope I shall not be misunderstood, because I think it is a woman's job to be always on the side of peace, but I believe this time that a strong England means world peace. Russia believes that, and I hope the Communist Member in this House will get up and say that England must be as strong as Russia, because Russia is arming to the full. I hope the Members opposite will be as consistent as the leaders of their international organisation abroad. This Debate shows how extraordinarily peaceful the National Government have been, and how we can go on trusting them to take the middle and the wise course.
This is an Admiralty Estimate, and nobody is more fit and competent than my Noble Friend to answer any questions which belong to those matters which are the prerogative of the Admiralty to order. But my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) put certain questions to me in my new capacity, and the same questions have been asked by the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) and the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones). My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping is the only one of the trio who has waited to hear the answer to the questions, and I must express my gratitude to him. I come into it because I hold this position as Minister for Co-ordinating Defence. I should like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping most sincerely for his promise, for I call it a promise and not merely an offer, to give me all the help which he can give, and if my right hon. Friend will allow me to say so to the Committee, he has only repeated in this House what he was good enough to say to me privately on an informal occasion two or three weeks ago, and I am confident that he will help me. He will not think, and the Committee will not think, that at any time I shall resent criticism which sometimes he may feel it his duty to make of me, or questions he may think it right to address to me. I shall regard him as a helper even when he criticises, or indeed any hon. Member even when he criticises, decisions for which I may be responsible, but I want to give to the Committee a short and, I hope they will think, a convincing answer upon this question of the postponement of the Supplementary Estimate for the laying down of the two battleships.
It is the Admiralty's practice to submit at the beginning of the financial year the Estimates which outline the year's construction and programme. It is impossible for any Minister to submit Service Estimates of a balanced character unless the whole programme is put before the Committee at the same time. It is for that reason that the practice which I have mentioned has been followed. In the case of the Admiralty, as no doubt in the case of all the Service Departments, it would be a complete mistake to think that because a particular item, Whether it be a ship or a gun, is included in an Estimate, it necessarily follows that the Admiralty or the Service Department concerned at that point stops thinking about, the question. The Admiralty are perpetually, through their expert advisers and at the Board, considering technical questions which affect their programme or the design of the ships or guns for which they are responsible, and I hope the Committee will not think that, because at this time, on the 4th May, it is asked to pass a Supplementary Estimate for a considerable sum to be spent upon two battleships, that necessarily means that the Admiralty have now stopped thinking about the best design of these ships or the form which any particular piece of armament may take.
The right hon. Gentleman will perhaps address any questions of that sort to my Noble Friend, but it is entirely contrary to the practice to give that sort of information at this stage. The inquiry over which I have the honour to preside, the inquiry which was promised to the House on the occasion of the Naval Estimates, is an inquiry, as I told my right hon. Friend, of a comparatively limited nature in point of form. He made the criticism or the suggestion that I must not allow the Committee to be restricted in its inquiries by the strict legal interpretation of the terms of reference, and he may be sure that that mistake will not be made, but I should like to call the attention of the Committee to this—and I speak advisedly on this question—that if the terms of reference are limited, and if the Admiralty, and the Government, and indeed this House, have decided to lay down two battleships next year, it is because no person in a responsible position has yet suggested that we can dispense with battleships altogether.
Now let me just add, by way of a comment to that statement, that Admiral Richmond's name has been mentioned. If any Member of the Committee will refer to the article which Admiral Richmond wrote in the "Times" newspaper two or three months ago, he will find that even Admiral Richmond, who expressed doubts as to whether battleships were really necessary to the nation, went on to say that if other nations busied themselves with building battleships, we must build battleships, and battleships of the
same size as other nations. It is a fact which I believe no person familiar with naval strategy will dispute that a battleship is an essential part of the strategy of this nation, as long at least as other nations are building battleships. There are eight battleships building in Europe to-day. I say, with the full responsibility of such knowledge as I have and the position which I occupy, that although many questions may arise as to the design of certain parts of the battleships that may be laid down, no question now arises, or has yet arisen, as to whether the battleships shall be laid down. When the White Paper was before the House the House approved that part of the White Paper as well as other parts, and paragraph 25 declared that
it is intended to make a beginning early in the calendar year 1937, when two new capital ships will be laid down.
Then my right hon. Friend says, I understand, at this point, Why not wait for six weeks or two months until the Committee has reported, and then decide to lay down your battleships and ask the House for the Supplementary Estimate which would lie necessary? The objection to that proposal is simply this: Nobody who is familiar with all the work that is necessary for laying down a battleship can pretend that you can make a decision one day and lay down your battleship or place your order for it the next day. Nobody is more aware of that than my right hon. Friend, and I observe that in the Debate or the Navy Estimates he recognised, and indeed stated, that although the Government did not propose that these ships should actually be built before 1937,
no doubt some preliminary work will be done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1936; col. 103, Vol. 310.]
That is under-stating it. Not only is it a fact that some preliminary work will be done now, even though the ships are not to be laid down until the early months of 1937, but the ships will not be laid down then unless preliminary work is done, and begun, and continued from this time forward; and to delay a month or two months in obtaining the consent of the House of Commons to the expenditure of the necessary money upon the preliminary work of the laying down of the battleships in the early part of 1937 simply means that you will add a month or two or three months, whatever period
you now delay, to the period which must elapse before these battleships will be available. A delay of two or three months is a responsibility which the Government will not take. I do not believe that in any part of the House anybody will challenge the decision of the Government on that point. If these battleships are required—and the House, I think, has already decided that they are required, and required at the first possible moment—then the House, I am sure, will approve the decision to begin the preliminary work—it is not a question of days or weeks or months—which must be undertaken.
My right hon. Friend now says to me, "What is the object of the inquiry?" The object of the inquiry is to discover the extent to which the development of the power of aircraft and the ingenuity in inventing armour-piercing bombs will affect existing designs for battleships, and I should think that it is most likely that the report of the committee, when it has been prepared, as the result of the expert advice and the assistance that I know we shall get from those gentlemen who are prepared to come and give us the benefit of their experience, will be that the Board of Admiralty will take into consideration certain facts that have been proved or inferences that have been drawn to say whether or not the design of the battleships requires to be modified in any particular part, whether the defensive armaments must be increased, and whether the arrangement of the anti-aircraft gun armaments must be altered. The Committee will see that this procedure has the advantage both of getting on with the preliminary work which is necessary for the essential armaments of the capital ships, and, at the same time, it does not prevent the Admiralty and the nation obtaining the advantage of the information that may be forthcoming as a result of the inquiry into the effect of the bomb on the battleship and the extent to which the battleship of the existing design is vulnerable.
My Noble Friend will see that there are two positions which may arise in connection with this matter. You may make up your mind that the battleship is essential to naval strategy. If you arrive at that conclusion, you then take every possible step you can to make it the most effective instrument that is possible for its purpose. If, on the other hand, you decide that it is not an essential part of your naval strategy, you will not build an expensive thing like a battleship.
My right hon. Friend will not expect me to anticipate the evidence that may be elicited at the inquiry, but I do not think that I have ever yet heard anybody suggest that if a battleship is struck by a shell, whether from another ship or from aircraft, it is what he calls invulnerable. The question is as to how far we can get towards invulnerability, to state the question at its highest. Although we are accustomed to think of this controversy as one of bombs, meaning aerial bombs, versus battleships, the problem in some respects is not different from that involved in the consideration of the vulnerability of the battleship to gun-fire from another capital ship. The essential question which anybody who wants to think clearly on this point must decide is whether the battleship is essential to naval strategy. I believe that to be the fundamental question if you are to think clearly on this matter. When you have decided that question, whether by inquiry or research, you will seek to make the capital ship as little vulnerable to aircraft attack as possible. That is the nature of the inquiry upon which the Vulnerability Committee is engaged. I can certainly promise that no money will be wasted upon the preliminary work in connection with the laying down of these battleships if the Committee takes the decision today to approve this Supplementary Estimate; and the full benefits of the deliberations of the Committee inquiring into this question will be available to the Board of Admiralty, as they affect the design of the ships.
I pass to another question which the right hon. Gentleman raised. He asked what steps were being taken to prevent excessive profits being made. I have nothing to do with what speculative persons in the city may do. My Noble Friend has informed the House that the tenders for these ships are competitive and that the lowest tender, other proper matters being considered, will be accepted. He has further told the Committee that the experience of the Government in the construction of ships in their dockyards is available to check the prices offered and the tenders that are made. In addition to that, power is taken to examine in detail the books and accounts of the firms that make the tenders and get the contracts, and, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough knows, there is a very experienced and competent costings accountancy department in the Admiralty which will take full advantage, if necessary, of an examination of the books of firms to see that no excessive prices are asked or profits made.
I am aware of the facts which the right hon. Gentleman has put before me, but in a Government Committee on which I sit I gathered that there was a complaint at the War Office in regard to material because they could not get proper and adequate checks. It is my experience on that point which impressed on me the need for going into the whole question of the material used in this great re-armament programme and to insist, if necessary, that all the books of the firms should be examined.
It would not be proper for me to go into details, but I suggest, for the consideration of the Committee, that if you have competitive tenders, if you have the experience of our dockyards by which to check prices, and if you have power to examine books by competent and skilled costings accountants, you have almost all the conditions that anybody would think necessary to prevent the making of excessive profits. That is all I have to say on the question of profiteering—
I hope that my right hon. Friend is going to deal with the question of the inquiry into the transference of the Fleet Air Arm, which is a matter upon which, I understand, he would be the funtionary to adjudicate in reference to the differences between the two Departments.
I did not intend to say a word on the question which, as my right. hon. Friend knows, has a long history, but, as he has pressed me to say a word, I will say this. He made a very powerful speech in favour of a proposal to transfer the Fleet Air Arm to the Admiralty. I feel rather as I used to feel when I had heard a very powerful speech for the prosecution and wondered what the defence was. My right hon. Friend must realise that there are people of great eminence who would probably make, if they had his great gifts of oratory, as powerful a speech on the other side. The duty may fall to me of forming an opinion on this matter, and all that I should like to say, using proper reticence, is that it is a matter which fit the present time is the subject of certain conversations, and that at an early date it may be possible that a decision will be reached as to what form the inquiry into this very difficult question may take. My right hon. Friend may be assured that the two Departments concerned are not unaware of the necessity of arriving at a proper decision. My own belief is that it is a question which can be solved without any ill-feeling between the Departments, and that good will will go a long way to reaching a settlement of great difficulties. I can assure my right hon. Friend that the matter is not lost sight of and that every possible inquiry will be made as to the best solution of this question.
It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has really not answered the questions in a. satisfactory way. He has, however, shown that the inquiry to be held in regard to the effect of aircraft on battleships is not what the House thought it was. The general impression up to the present time has been that the inquiry would be as to whether, under modern conditions, battleships can float in view of the menace they will meet from the air. Apparently, the inquiry is only to take the form of seeing what kind of armaments are required on battleships to resist the attacks to which they may be subjected. It is interesting to know that, but it is not the kind of inquiry that the House had expected. My right hon. Friend naturally did not give a detailed reply to the case that was put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) with regard to the old question of transference of the Fleet Air Arm to the Admiralty. It is a hard-fought question about which strong feelings exist. I understand that he is going to look into it, but I hope that he will be exceedingly careful before he accepts the type of argument that has been put forward to-night. As he truly said, an equally strong case, which is made out by experts on the other side, could be put. I feel that the rescue of the air from the arms of the Admiralty and the War Office at the end of the War represented a great advance, and that any step which tends to reverse that and to hand back the new developments of the air into the hands of people who are naturally biased with the naval side of the question, will tend to hinder development.
I should like to call attention, in connection with the building of the two battleships, to a statement that appeared in the "Times" the other day with regard to the American programme. It was stated that the new programme included the building of two battleships, with the reservation that this was to be done only if another Power took similar action. It was further stated that the argument for permission to lay keels for two battleships was based on the certainty of the Navy Department that Great Britain would take similar action. I should like to know whether there has been any consultation between the Admiralties of the two countries and with other countries as to whether they might agree to delay building until the last possible moment. We have here a definite statement that the Americans are building because we are building. We are building because somebody else is building, and it is a vicious circle. Furthermore, it has been stated that Japan may be contemplating building a battleship of something like 57,000 tons. If that be so, the present situation will have altered and I suppose that the Admiralty will have to revise their plans.
I rose to refer to one aspect of the Vote which has not been touched upon, namely, the statement on page 3 of the Estimate which says that a certain sum is required for the continuance of expenditure necessitated by the Italo-Ethiopian dispute. The sum is £2,100,000. We are entitled to ask for further information about what is being done in regard to that, because I cannot help feeling that in existing circumstances, in view of what has been happening in the last six months, this great sum of money has been absolutely wasted. It is clear that the policy of the Government, however well intended, as I am sure it was, with regard to sanctions has met with a most resounding defeat. Therefore, it is clear that the money ought not to have been spent for that particular purpose. We are faced with an extraordinary situation. Great Britain, as a leading member of the League of Nations, has been defeated by Italy. Our prestige has gone down to the lowest point it has reached for a very long time. And we have been defeated without a shot being fired. The reason why we have so failed is that the British Navy was sent out to the Mediterranean with its hands tied, with instructions that it would never be placed in a position where it could be called upon to fire a shot.
I venture to say nothing has contributed more to the complete failure of the sanctions policy of the last few months than the decision of the British Government to place the British Navy in a position where it would never have to go into action. They made it clear that immediately any proposal they put forward was resented by the Italian dictator, or might lead to military action or an outbreak of war, we were going to call it off at once. If you were going to place the British Navy in a humiliating position of that kind, you ought never to have started the policy of sanctions at all. There is something to be said for avoiding sanctions, but nothing to be said for the policy of sending the British Fleet out there, at enormous expense, with a clear and definite understanding that it was not to be called upon to fight. Was Nelson ever instructed at the battle of Trafalgar that he was to take very good care not to get within range of the opposing fleets, because it was the policy of the British Government that the British Fleet was not to risk an action? The thing has only to be stated to show the shameful position in which the British Fleet was placed owing to the sanctions policy of the Government.
It may be said, "That is all very well, but other nations would not do anything; they would not cooperate with us." They were never asked. The question was never put to them, "Are you prepared at all costs, at any risk, to come in with us to take whatever action may be necessary to bring this war to an end?" I was one of those who said, many months ago, that if you really want to have an effective policy of sanctions you must cut off communications and close the Suez Canal. It was the only way if you meant to do it, and I venture to think it is the right policy to pursue at the present moment. If we are simply going to bring back the British Fleet and consider everything done with, it simply means that we are postponing action for a few years—possibly a much shorter time than that—when we shall be dragged into it on a much vaster scale, and the sacrifice of human life will bear no comparison with the risks which we might have had to run if a snore vigorous, a firmer policy, a policy more worthy of this great country, with all its traditions, had been followed during the last few months.
You do not avoid war you do not obtain peace, by always saying, "We are not going to fight; let us postpone it; let us keep out of action under all circumstances." If I may apply this analogy, it is necessary in order to avoid a fatal disease—in order to avoid smallpox—to undergo inoculation, to have a small dose of a much more dangerous disease. So I say it may be necessary in the interests of collective peace and collective order to have a small dose, and to face the implications of it, in order to avoid the certainty of an absolutely first-rate attack which is bound to come to you in due course. The policy of the Government represented by the Vote we are considering to-night has placed this country and the Navy—it is no fault of the Navy, they were ready enough to do their work—in the most humiliating position which this country has occupied for centuries, I should think. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rot."] It is no good saying "Rot," because it is the fact that all over the world, in Europe, in Africa and in Asia, our prestige, our name, has sunk to a very low level. They cannot understand how this country is prepared to let Mussolini do anything he likes and get away with it without making a single move.
Having made that point I wish to say that, of course, I do not propose to vote against this Estimate, because I recognise that it was an effort, if a misguided one and a very imperfect one, towards a sanctions policy. That it has failed does not alter the fact that the money has been spent—I suppose it was spent—with good intentions, in the right direction of collective security; and while supporting it I shall hope that on the next occasion when we are asked to play our part in the policy of collective security we shall say outright, from the very beginning, that we are prepared to play our part in a military sense, with all other Powers, to the full, in any direction that may prove necessary for preserving the peace of the world. In that way and that way alone can you maintain the peace of the world.
I am sorry that I did not make myself quite plain to my hon. Friend. The action which I contemplated was collective action—collective action all through. If it is said that other countries would not have come in, the answer is "You never tried." And until you do give them the opportunity of publicly refusing you are not in a position to say they would not have played their part in maintaining collective action.
No, Sir. The Government made it very clear throughout the whole of their policy that they were not going to be involved in military action of any kind. That was the statement made on every Conservative platform throughout the General Election, and they tried to involve others who did face the reality of the necessity of closing the Suez Canal in the charge of wanting to create a, war. The policy of the Government was quite clear. Some hon. Members opposite got an understanding from the Prime Minister before the General Election that the Government would not take part in any policy which ran the risk of involving us in military action.
I will resist the temptation to follow the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander) into a debate on foreign affairs, but I must go so far as to say that the policy of this Government, in connection with the League of Nations, has always been and was at the General Election, the policy of taking action provided that action could be collective.
Does my hon. Friend maintain—it is an interesting and important point—that the policy of the British Government throughout has been that they were quite prepared to go to war over the Italo-Abyssinian crisis provided other countriies would come in and play their part?
I am not on the Treasury Bench, but I am a loyal supporter of the Government in that policy.
To return to the details of the Supplementary Estimate we are considering I should like, first, to deal with the question raised, principally by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), as to the provision made for the construction of two battleships to be laid down next year. Exception was taken to this work being included in the Estimate before details of the construction of the battleships had been decided. I cannot agree with that view. I think it is very fortunate that the details have not to be decided until we know the result of the committee sitting under the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence. I think the House often makes the mistake of passing a Vote and then sitting back feeling it has done its job, quite forgetful of the fact that the ships voted may not be launched and ready for two years or more. I do not think the present condition of world affairs will permit of such delay by defence Departments.
My Noble Friend, in presenting this Estimate, said that one of the items which he thought the Committee would welcome most was the provision for the replenishment of supplies of oil. I would echo that statement. I welcome the item of £146,000 for the storage of oil supplies, and my only doubt is whether that figure is large enough. I should like to see the Navy have sufficient reserves of oil to be entirely independent of either imported oil or home-produced oil for at least six months and, if possible, longer. So long as we have command of the seas it will always be possible to import a certain quantity of oil, and, equally, if we lose command of the seas we have lost the war; but I submit to the Admiralty that it is perfectly possible to have command of the seas and yet to find it extremely difficult to convoy all the supplies we need. We found that to be the case during the last War, and only just managed, although we had a great many more ships, to convoy the supplies of food we needed. If we do not store more oil the Navy will be faced with the duty of convoying 300 or 400 tankers as well as other ships, and we do not need to raise the bomb versus battleship controversy to appreciate how vulnerable tankers will always be.
I urge the Admiralty to store oil now, and thus to reduce the possible demand made upon the Fleet in the case of emergency, and I ask them to think not only of their own oil requirements but to remember the heavy demands which will be made by other Departments. Our general consumption of oil has increased five or sixfold since the War, and now we not only need oil for the Navy but for the Air Force and the Army, for many industrial undertakings and for about 50 per cent. of the vessels of the Mercantile Marine.
I am afraid that the Admiralty are counting upon ear-marking a certain proportion of our home-produced oil, but that is just what they should not do. I hope that the quantity of home-produced oil will be considerable, and I am the last person to minimise the importance of producing oil at home, though until a reasonably economic process of getting oil from coal has been discovered there are limits to what the country can afford to spend upon that process. However much oil is produced at home, there will be a terrific scramble for it in the event of an emergency. One has no doubt that the Admiralty would be able to establish a case for preferential treatment, but I hope that they realise how great might be the cost to the general efficiency of the country of their taking oil from other people who needed it. It is easier for the Admiralty to arrange to store supplies of oil than for any other Civil Department, and probably easier than for either of the other Service Departments.
On the question of storing oil, the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) and other hon. Members drew attention, during the discussion of the original Estimate, to the frightfully vulnerable tanks than are dotted all over the seaside above ground, and especially near the mouth of the Thames. It seems madness, when the one form of attack that we dread is air attack, that we should store our oil in tanks which make perfect targets for aeroplane bombers. I urge the Admiralty to do what they are well able to do, to store their oil in reservoirs underground, to camouflage them from the air and connect them to the sea by pipe-lines. I would ask the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the Debate to give us an assurance on that point. I do not want him to tell us where the Admiralty are storing their oil, but I see no harm in his giving us a categorical answer to the effect that, as far as we can estimate the probable requirements in an emergency, the Admiralty have, safely stored, considerably more than six months' supply. An announcement of that kind from the Admiralty would reassure the people of the country, and would show people abroad that, whatever might be the means of beating England, starving us out of oil is not one of them. I expect to get a general assurance on this point, but I am asking that the assurance should be as specific as possible.
I would also ask the Minister who replies whether, in those stores, any provision is being made for the Mercantile Marine. If his answer be that that is not the job of the Admiralty, I would ask him whether he is satisfied that some other Department has the matter in hand. It may be that the Minister for the Coordination of Defence is responsible, rather than the Admiralty, but whoever it be, it is clear that, if war should come, the task of convoying that oil will fall entirely upon the Admiralty. I urge him therefore that whenever he meets his right hon. Friend the Minister for the Coordination of Defence, the one topic of conversation should be "Look here, the job of convoying in case of war will take us all our time. For goodness' sake get as many stores safely tucked away as possible while the going is good." Every step that we take to strengthen the weaknesses in our defence makes the shadow of the fear of war more remote, and for that reason I am prepared to vote for this Estimate.
I have no intention of going into details of foreign affairs, but I must point out that a naval rebuilding programme has to be based upon the foreign policy of the country. All Members who listened to the statement of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to-day on the Italo-Ethiopian dispute, must recognise that we are discussing this Supplementary Estimate to-night in the shadow of the complete breakdown of the foreign policy of our country. We are discussing it amid the ruins of our foreign policy, and until that foreign policy has been reconstructed and placed upon a firm and intelligible basis, there must be some atmosphere of unreality in such discussions as these. Another point which has some slight relation to foreign affairs is that we have heard from several speakers in the course of the Debate that this country has rendered a very bad service to the cause of peace by its polio of disarmament. May I again point out that in regard to naval armaments, we have never proceeded unilaterally but only in accordance with the decisions of international conferences on naval strengths?
Passing to naval affairs pure and simple, I would associate myself very strongly with the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) in regard to profiteering, and to the entry of officers being placed upon a much more democratic basis than that upon which it rests at present. My right hon. Friend also mentioned the Welfare Committee. In regard to that I would mention a recent development. I hope I may be allowed to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary in a matter which is of the greatest importance, and that is the recent appointment of special officers at naval barracks to deal with the domestic affairs of naval ratings. During my service at sea I had the very painful experience of letters being brought to me by sailors telling of the complete break-up of their homes. A word in time and in season in those homes would have saved the breakup. For that reason I welcome the appointment of these special officers.
I have asked many questions upon the subject, but I must refer again to the great uneasiness which is felt concerning the frequency of cases of sabotage in His Majesty's ships. If such sabotage continues and the Admiralty are unable to arrive at any satisfactory explanation of it, the Department will have seriously to consider if they ought not to proceed by way of fixing the responsibility upon the commanding officer of the ship concerned. The commanding officer bears full responsibility for the safety of his ship in case of grounding or shipwreck; the presence of the navigating officer or of a pilot does not acquit him of such responsibility. If sabotage goes on unchecked and without discoveries being made, some step fixing responsibility in this respect upon the commanding officer will have to be considered.
The main matter of debate to-night is the question of the battleship, and upon that question the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) made a valuable and thoughtful contribution to the discussion. I was not able to understand from his remarks whether he was attacking the capital ship qua capital ship or the excessive size of the capital ships, and I noticed that while he referred to the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, he made no reference to the use of the capital ships in home waters. In the Debate on the Navy Estimates this year the Parliamentary Secretary admitted, in the course of his remarks, that the man in the street—in other words, the man who pays for these capital ships—is extremely doubtful about their value; and, by way of reassuring the man in the street, the Parliamentary Secretary quoted the evidence of a Committee which sat in 1920, and spoke of the unanimous view of serving naval opinion. That Committee, however, is very old; it con- sidered this matter long before air power had reached its present developments—
Then I will refer no more to that point. As regards the other point, that serving naval opinion is biased, I think that naval opinion is always biased as to what sort of ship is wanted and what its size should be. A captain or an admiral would very naturally put forward a strong case for the battleship, whereas, if lieutenant-commanders were consulted, what we should want would be more destroyers, because it would fall to us to command them.
I have referred to the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary in the Debate on the Navy Estimates, but the Civil Lord also referred to the matter in his speech. I think that Civil Lords are unfortunate people. They work unhonoured and unsung, and, in fact, the Navy knows very little about those who are quite probably its greatest men. But I was interested to note that, on this very vexed question of the battleship, the Civil Lord said that he found the essence of the matter simple, even for a layman. I must say that I as a naval officer was rather abashed and mortified to hear that he found it so simple, because I myself have found it extremely difficult. But then, of course, I have to remember that the Civil Lord is associated with a society and a publication known as P.E.P. I understand that P.E.P. is a group of highly intelligent people, who are taking over the Universe in the very imperfect state in which it was left by its Creator, and are slowly and little by little getting it into something like decent order; and I feel that it is a very great advantage indeed to the Navy to have the help of this powerful and penetrating intellect in our problems to-day. To me it is almost frightening to think that we only owe the assistance of that intellect to the happy accident of those numerical calculations which the Prime Minister of a Coalition Government has to make when allotting posts in his Government.
To-day, however, this question of battleships has passed on to another plane. We are now told that a committee is dealing with it. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has given us some information about that committee. It is one of the innumerable sub-committees of the Committee of Imperial Defence, but I feel that the essential point to remember in connection with it is that it is not a sub-committee dealing with the value of the battleship qua battleship, but only a sub-committee dealing with the power of the battleship to resist aerial attack; the question of the real value and function of the battleship is not being discussed or deliberated upon by this committee. In fact, everything about the committee is extremely nebulous. We do not know how often it has met, or what witnesses it is calling. As the man in the street is doubtful on this question of the battleship, I wonder why we cannot have an inquiry into the whole question of its function and value and vulnerability to attack, presided over by some completely impartial mind. I remember the inquiry into the loss of the R. 101. We all know that in effect that inquiry was not so much into the cause of the disaster as into the advisability of continuing to build such airships, and the report of the inquiry, presided over by a layman, was, I think, accepted pretty generally in the country as a conclusive reason why we should not go on with the construction of airships. I should like to see a committee of a similar nature on this question of the value of the battleship. In fact, I think it is monstrous to go on until such a committee has considered the question and has reported. After all, why not reassure the man in the street, who has to pay for these ships and who is so very uncertain about their value? I fear, however, from the remarks we have heard on this subject today, that it is clear that the Government have already taken their decision to proceed with the construction of these enormously expensive ships.
I turn now to the subject of design. In some remarks that I made when the Navy Estimates were under discussion I ventured to raise this question of design, but I was able to get very little, if any, answer or reassurance on the question. This question of design, however, is of vital importance, and, if we reflect upon it, we shall see that the record of the Admiralty, in spite of all the advice that they have, is not altogether good on the point. Certainly, before the War, we had some cruisers which were dreadful ships. Every naval officer would agree that we had some cruisers of quite dreadful design before the War, and during the War we had evidence of what death-traps the battle cruisers were. They were ships of wretched design. The "Nelson" and the "Rodney," which have been quoted so much in the Debate to-day, look very magnificent and very imposing, but naval officers consider tint they are unsatisfactory in many respects; turrets and mountings have given trouble, and the ships are cluttered up with an enormous number of gadgets and contrivances. These ships, the "Nelson" and the "Rodney," have the enormous complement of 1,400, rendered necessary by the extraordinary wealth of gadgets and odd contrivances with which they are encumbered. The armour is badly arranged, too. The 10,000-ton cruisers may to some extent have been imposed upon us by the Washington Conference, but again they are ships of wretched design, and have, indeed, been named coffin ships. We have built destroyers which were no faster than destroyers built 20 years previously, and they were enormously expensive, although badly under-armed.
Coming to submarines, there was the "X.1." We spent £1,500,000 on that submarine, but the Naval Staff, when asked to define its functions were quite unable to do so. The three submarines of the "M" class, again, were enormously expensive, but were never of any use. The gun mountings of the "Leander" cost £420,000, which is more than the "Chatham" cost altogether. These facts, which I am quoting in complete good faith, and which I believe it is quite impossible to controvert or contradict, all go to show that we have good reason to address questions to the representatives of the Admiralty on this matter of design. Many naval officers have very little confidence in the designs of the ships which have been turned out in recent years. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) making a speech at the time when the post of Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence was in the market, and the burden of his speech was speed. The burden of any speech that I should make on that subject would be "simplify." In this question of design, think out the functions of the ship with which you are dealing. Put the gun first and cut out all these gadgets. With all respect to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter), I think the torpedo branch are responsible for the introduction of more gadgets into these ships than any other part of the Service.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows well that I regard torpedo officers personally as the finest of men, but collectively they form a trade union which is far too successful in introducing its cumbersome and expensive gadgets into our ships. I have re-read the speeches made by the political heads of the Admiralty on the Navy Estimates. I think the speeches went to show that the political advisers are obviously in the hands of the Sea Lords at present, and, from experience at the Admiralty, I know how very compelling the Sea Lords can be, and there are very few civilians who have the hardihood to stand up to them. Their uniforms and their titles and their doctrine of resignation which they have been known to use as a form of blackmail upon Governments, all combine to make the Sea Lords a very formidable combination indeed.
I think Cromwell once invited some people for a moment to consider that they might be wrong. I wish the Parliamentary Secretary and the Civil Lord would just begin to play with the idea that an admiral might be wrong. I have played with that idea myself and found it in the long run an extremely effective way of dealing with admirals. I am certain that the public are uneasy in this respect. I am sure they want the civilian heads of the Admiralty to stand up to the professionals, and so, really, does the Navy itself. In that speech of the Civil Lord he said that during the past six months he had moved about a great deal among naval officers, I gather rather in the spirit of a benevolent uncle assisting the youngsters with their home work, and he was convinced that the Navy had the utmost veneration, affection and respect for the Admiralty. I am a little doubtful. I think that the Navy is a little disillusioned with the Admiralty for two serious reasons. I think they are disillusioned because during the War the Board of Admiralty entirely failed to develop any policy of war which commended itself to the Navy as a whole, and I regret very much indeed that in his speech on the Navy Estimates the Parliamentary Secretary was at pains to endorse the doctrine that prevailed at the Admiralty during the War, when he quoted and gave his approval to a writer who said that Lord Jellicoe's duty was to defeat the German High Sea Fleet if he could, but his work would be equally effective if he kept the German Fleet bottled up in its home waters. It was that failure to develop a real war policy which has led to the Navy feeling somewhat shaken in its confidence in the Board of Admiralty.
I feel less confident than ever when the Parliamentary Secretary tells me that to have developed a real policy of war would have led to our losing the war in two years. I do not agree. Since the War undoubtedly another matter that has led to a certain loss of confidence on the part of the Navy in the Admiralty was the incident at Invergordon, when undoubtedly a very strong body of opinion in the Navy felt that the honourable course for the Board of Admiralty would have been the resignation of the board. Also there is this uncertainty which the Navy feels about the present policy of the Admiralty, and especially about the design of the ships. When we have such magnificent personnel in the Navy I sincerely trust that the political heads at the Admiralty will not accept, lock, stock and barrel, the opinions of their professional advisers on this question of construction and design, but will call in impartial minds to deliberate upon these questions and see that the Navy gets the best in construction and design.
I would remind my hon. and gallant Friend that "Vernon" trained men are the brains of the Navy. He would not appreciate it because he is a salt-horse officer. I am not at all certain that his remarks about the Board of Admiralty are not insubordinate. I hope whoever replies for the Government will chastise him for the dreadful things he said against the Admiralty, which I would not have dared to do.
I will not pursue it any further, but I think the Committee and the whole country will be grateful to the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) for concentrating on the question of battleships, because he raised the whole question with regard to their vulnerability and whether they can fulfil the strategic role that they used to occupy before the development of the air arm. At one time the capital ship had the freedom of the seas. She could go anywhere. But with the introduction of the Whitehead torpedo and its development, her field of operations became somewhat restricted and now, if a battleship operates on the coast of an enemy or in narrow waters where an enemy may be, she has destroyers armed with Whitehead torpedoes, fast craft armed with Whitehead torpedoes, mine layers dropping mines, submarines dropping mines and firing Whitehead torpedoes and aircraft dropping bombs and also Whitehead torpedoes all operating against her until her field of operations is so restricted that now she has only a slight potential value.
With regard to the vulnerability of battleships, we have heard a great deal about the American bombing experiment and the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair) said that in some of the information that I gave about it I had drawn the long bow. I can assure him that anything that I have ever said about the American bombing experiments came from General Mitchell, who was a very celebrated airman in the United States Army branch of the aeronautical service in charge of these experiments and he sent me all the photographs and all the information. I had correspondence with General Mitchell during his lifetime. Unfortunately he is not now with us.
Of course not. They were target ships to ascertain what damage could be done by aerial bombing, and General Mitchell showed not only the United States Navy, to their surprise, but the whole world, that aerial bombs could knock out battleships. It is no good hon. Members saying it occurred so many years ago, because since then aircraft have also developed. Instead of the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk saying that aircraft can carry only 2,000 lbs. of bombs for a short distance, why did he not tell us during this Navy Estimate Debate about the Boering heavy bombing machine of the United States which can carry 5,000 lbs. of bombs for 3,000 miles at a top speed of 266 miles an hour, and a cruising speed of 230 miles an hour? Indeed a formidable weapon of was developed by the United States.
Aircraft carriers indeed! I assume that, if we had any differences with the United States, to be effective, our battle fleet would have to operate on the enemy's coast, and they would not send their machines up from aircraft carriers when they could send them up from their own aerodromes. There is so much loose thinking about the whole question of bombing, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Norfolk must really study the subject a little more before he takes me on. He comes down to this House fully primed with Admiralty dope. I recognise it all, because I know exactly where it came from. He comes down primed to the full, and I will give the Committee one instance. He said that they had a wonderful ray now that would prevent the submarine from attacking warships, and so on. I am an old submarine man, and it is the first time that I have ever heard that a ray could destroy a submarine. Rays are used so that you can detect the presence of submarines, and not destroy them.
I never said that it would destroy a submarine. I said that if a warship came within a certain distance of an English ship, it would be in danger of instant destruction, which is quite a different thing.
How could she be in danger of instant destruction because of the ray? That shows that the submarine is in a certain locality. Really, that is not the sort of information the hon. Gentleman should give in this House. I would ask the Noble Lord a question, if he will give me his attention instead of talking under the Gallery. If he would prepare his notes outside and not so much inside the House of Commons, he might listen to hon. Members who are talking.
The Noble Lord has a private secretary to do that. I want to ask the Noble Lord—and I thank him for giving me his attention—whether he would advise the Minister for the Coordination of Defence to carry out a few simple experiments. Let an armour piercing bomb—not a bomb with a light case with which the Admiralty have experimented before—be dropped in the vicinity of the superstructure of a target battleship and see exactly what happens to the tripod masts and to the fire-control instruments. That is one simple experiment I would ask him to see done. I would also ask the Minister for the Coordination of Defence—and I am glad to see him in his place—to carry out another experiment. It should consist of a 2,000 lb. bomb dropped near the quarter-deck of a battleship. Let the delay action fuse be arranged so that the bomb will detonate some 20 feet under water, and then see what will happen to the propeller, the casing of the shafting, the shafting and the rudders. If he would only do that, it would settle the question once for all whether damage is done to the vulnerable part, which is the Achilles heel of the battleship. This is a simple experiment—the dropping of bombs near the superstructure by the tripod masts and also in the vicinity of the propellers.
Certainly, I should like to come, and perhaps even my limited knowledge might be of some use. But now I come to the question of the torpedo. The "Marlborough" at the battle of Jutland was hit by a German torpedo. I wrote a short letter in the "Morning Post" the other day to challenge the naval correspondent of that paper because he said that the "Marlborough" remained in the fighting line. So it did, for five hours, but then Sir Cecil Burney, Admiral in charge, signalled that the "Marlborough" could not remain in the fighting line because of the pressure of water on her bulkheads due to the injury caused by the torpedo. Admiral Jellicoe ordered the ship to proceed to port, and the damage done to her was so severe that when she got to the British side of the North Sea, it was found that she had some 10,000 tons of water in her, and also that one of the engine rooms was flooded. After I had written the letter to the "Morning Post," two Admirals wrote letters objecting to my saying that the "Marlborough" was a lame duck. Just fancy a battleship with 10,000 tons of water in her and one of her engine-room compartments flooded not being a lame duck! I wonder what they would like to call her. [An HON. MEMBER: "A lame drake."] She may be a winged drake, but if that is not a good expression to apply to a battleship like that during controversy I do not know what is. There is all this loose thinking about the damage done by bombs and torpedoes that I wish that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence would carry out these experiments. Let him order a submarine to fire a torpedo so that she will hit somewhere near the quarter of the battleship. The United States carried out experiments with smoke screens and torpedoes dropped from aircraft. They told the ships of the Battle Fleet to break up when the attack was made. This they did. These torpedo-dropping aircraft attacking the United States Fleet obtained 41 per cent. of hits with the Whitehead torpedo.
I do not suppose that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) has ever heard of the "Big bang party" in America, but I have. They are the people who advocate the battleships. I ask that this experiment should be made because the Whitehead torpedo dropped from aircraft is now a very valuable weapon of offence. At the present time the 21-inch torpedo is long and rather unwieldy but it is possible to have short 21-inch torpedoes designed like we had in the 18-inch Short torpedo of former days.
I now come to the strategic value of battleships, and that is that battleships now cannot use the ports with any reasonable safety. They cannot use Malta, and we had the Fleet moving out of Malta as soon as the Italo-Abyssinian crisis occurred. It is the same with regard to Gibraltar and the home ports, The commanders-in-chief of our Fleet ought to be given ports where they would be reasonably safe from air attack. With regard to the fleet of battleships, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall quoted my opinion about it where I asked a distinguished admiral whether they could use a modern fleet 3,000 miles from its base or where oceans separate the two nations that may be hostile to each other, and the admiral said that it would be impossible to do so. If modern fleets cannot operate off the enemy's coast where oceans separate them, what good are they? Another argument is put forward that we want a battle fleet as a screen, so that if enemy cruisers are chasing our cruisers they can shelter behind that screen. If fast enemy cruisers were chasing our cruisers and they thought our battle fleet was near, they would soon catapult an aeroplane up to find out where the battle fleet was. They would not rush into the jaws of death, but would alter course 16 points and get away from the battle fleet if it was sighted by the aeroplane. Surely, the battleship is not the right ship to chase fast hostile cruisers. The right ship is the high speed cruiser.
The whole question of the battleship needs to be looked into. We need the best brains in the country directed to the problem. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence said that if other nations were building battleships, we must do so. That is shirking the issue. Because they build battleships is no reason why we should do so, if they are no use. I would ask the Noble Lord to tell us, before the Debate ends, exactly how we are going to use a battle fleet 3,000 miles from its base. I hope that he will put up some considered arguments for retaining battleship construction. We are asked to vote nearly £500,000 in order to go on with the building of battleships. That is only the thin end of the wedge. It is starting a programme for replacing 15 battleships under the Washington Treaty. Fifteen battleships at £8,000.000 each means £120,000,000. That is w hat the Admiralty are really asking hon. Members to vote for in this Supplementary Naval Estimate. Moreover, they cost £500,000 a year for upkeep. Before one penny of this money is put into battleships, further experiments ought to be carried out.
The names of certain Admirals have been mentioned. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence mentioned Admiral Richmond. Let him go to the Admiralty and ask for Admiral Sir Charles de Bartholomew's report on battleships after the War and see what he said. There are plenty of Admirals who disagree with the building of these very large capital ships. I noticed the other day in the Press that Admiral Barry Domville referred to the building of "Monstrosities that nobody wants." There are many Admirals who have lately served in the Navy whose opinions on this subject ought to be obtained. We ought not to vote one penny until the whole question of the battleship versus the bomb has been settled.
I do not intend to follow my hon. and gallant Friend into all the ramifications of the strategical arguments which he employed as to the merits of the battleship, compared with other forms of craft. I am very sorry to have missed the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland). I should have been interested in hearing what he had to say upon this subject. As one of my fellow Members for the same county his views are always of particular interest. There has been a certain amount of loose talk in this controversy about battleships. So many speakers in this House and in public places outside and so many writers in the Press have had a great deal to say, but they have not gone so far as to say exactly what they mean by a battleship. Having served in the same service as my hon. and gallant Friend opposite and the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) I should to say that as far as I can recollect I was not taught a positive and absolute definition of the term "battleship" or "capital ship." Looked at from the purely common sense point of view—I claim to look at it from no other point of view, and certainly not from the standpoint of professional skill—I should say that a battleship is the most powerful ship that you have in your fleet and, if circumstances permit, no less powerful than the battleship of any other country. When I say "powerful," I mean efficient in its offensive and defensive powers for the destruction of other similar ships likely to be opposed to it.
In a battleship the primary consideration is not speed, although there are in the Fleet other classes of vessels where, as a matter of policy, you make speed the ruling factor and considerations of power a secondary one. It is interesting to note in this connection that we have in our Fleet at the present time a survival of an attempt that was made to combine speed and power in the same great vessel. The only example that was built of that class of vessel is His Majesty's Ship "Hood," which for a time was not only the most powerful ship in our Fleet but also the fastest, as well as being the most heavily armed. Owing to the War and necessary retrenchments that were made at that time no other vessels of this size were built, and the Washington Conference adopted restrictions in size which had the effect of causing a divorce once more between speed and power, and in subsequent battleships built under the Washington Treaty the primary consideration of power was the only one that was taken into account.
It seems to me that if my attempt at a definition is the correct one, we must by the very nature of things include in our Fleet ships of the most powerful kind that we can build. When it comes to the question of size we enter a. different field altogether. I believe that, traditionally, it has been the practice of our naval designers to submit at the request of the Admiralty designs for a ship to meet certain requirements laid down by the Admiralty as to gun power. There are cases where that process has been reversed and ships of a certain size were ordered to be built, such as the first post-war county cruisers. After the size had been decided upon, the naval designers were told to see what guns they could fit into the ships without exceeding that size. Fundamentally, size need not necessarily be the criterion of the power of the ship. That is why I should particularly like to ask my Noble Friend to give once more an assurance that the Committee which is inquiring into the whole question of battleships is going into the question of the size, and seeing whether it is not possible while obtaining the power that we desire to have a more moderate-sized ship than the last battleships that were built, in order to conserve our resources and make it possible to provide that class of ship in greater numbers.
The main attack on the battleship is not likely to be delivered from the air. It must be remembered that although air design has progressed since 1920, developments have also taken place in aerial gunnery to compete with air resign. To anyone who has been at close quarters with the Fleet during the 15 years since the War, it is quite apparent that the defensive power of the weapons employed against aircraft has enormoulsy increased and, therefore, in considering this question it becomes a matter solely of opinion, which only actual fighting will really test as to whether air power has increased more than defensive power against air attack. If it is true, and I think it is, that battleships are potentially more vulnerable to air attacks, so also is it true that all classes of ships are more vulnerable and, therefore, that argument is not one which detracts from the relative value of the battleship as against any other class of ship in the Fleet. It is an argument which, if carried to the extreme, means that it is not worth while having any floating Navy at all and, therefore, it must be dismissed on that ground.
The real attack which the battleship has to meet is that it is politically unpopular and for a very obvious reason. It involves in its provisions a much heavier burden of taxation on the people who are asked to provide it than any other ship, and, therefore, it is very easily made the butt of the attacks of politicians who are anxious to see the national resources used to the fullest advantage. I repeat, that as long as we have decided to have a floating Fleet at all, we must be logical and include in that Fleet some, not necessarily a large number, of the most powerful engines of destruction afloat; and that is what the battleship is.
The attack on the Supplementary Estimate as a whole by hon. Members opposite is on the general political ground that it is not consistent for the Committee to pass the Estimate and for the Government to carry out the principle of collective security. On that I would say that there is no country which has greater maritime responsibilities than the Empire, and the whole world looks to this country, which has more at stake than any other country, to provide full and fitting sea defence for the thousands of miles of trade routes which connect the nations of our Empire and are vital to our existence. I am glad to see the promptitude with which the Admiralty have asked the Committee to pass this Estimate, and I hope, with the advantage of the assistance of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, that the work will be proceeded with, and that when this programme has been completed we shall have made up some of the gaps in our defences.
I intervene for a few moments in order to mention one or two things which have so far not been referred to in the Debate. We have had, as usual, the battle of the battleship versus the aeroplane, and that battle I am prepared to leave to the experts. We sometimes get badly left by experts but, at any rate, we can form our own judgment after hearing them. It is interesting to know that a committee is considering this matter at the moment and that we may get some useful information and a decision after the experts have finished their job. I should like to express my satisfaction that Rosyth Dockyard is getting a little attention. I have complained on previous occasions that nothing has been done there, but I see in the Estimates that a beginning is being made at Rosyth. How far it will go I do not know. We are to have a training establishment set up. I am glad of that. When we are debating the fighting Services in this House the voice of Scotland is rarely heard. We do riot seem to have any particular interest in the fighting Services. We do not seem to play any part in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, but no one will deny that when men are required for any of these Services in war Scotland does not fail.
To-night we are discussing the Navy. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) suggested that a cruiser which it is proposed to scrap should be sent to Newfoundland for the purpose of recruiting the hardy, seafaring population of that Island. May I draw the attention of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. K. Lindsay), who is a Scotsman, to the fact that we have a large seafaring population who have been having a very bad time for some years. Men who have been trained to the sea and whose sons would like to follow the sea as well cannot find any remunerative employment on the sea. I hope that as a result of the training establishment at Rosyth we shall give Scotland a greater interest in the affairs of the Navy than it has had for a few years past. We had a little interest in naval affairs so long as Rosyth was kept open. It is one of the finest dockyards in the whole of Great Britain, but it was reduced to a care and maintenance basis and since then Scotland, for over 10 years, has had little, if any, interest in the Navy.
I hope that what appears in this Estimate is not the Government's last word so far as Rosyth is concerned. Following the setting up of this training establishment, I hope we are to have more work done at Rosyth than has been the case for a number of years past. In discussing the question of the advisability of having new construction work done in the Royal Dockyards, the Parliamentary Secretary said that repair and construction work would be quite sufficient to keep the Royal Dockyards busy for many years to come. May I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that if new construction is to be done in the Royal Dockyards, there is a dockyard at Rosyth which did a very considerable amount of repair and reconstruction work before and during the War and is still there for work of that nature if the Admiralty care to give such work to it.
I would like to ask the representatives of the Admiralty what other dockyards they have under their control which could do the things that are being done to-day at Rosyth—and not for the first time. To-day there has been docked at Rosyth another of these old German warships. We have had a regular procession of German warships from Scapa Flow to Rosyth Dockyard for breaking up. I wonder into what other dockyard under their control they could have taken these huge unwieldy vessels, bottom upwards, as they have all had to come from Scapa Flow for breaking up at Rosyth. That has been going on during the past four or five years, and there has never been the slightest trouble in taking these huge vessels into the dockyard. We wish to see Rosyth dockyard something more than a graveyard for Naval vessels and other vessels sent there for breaking-up purposes. We wish to see more Naval reconstruction work done there, because we believe it is the safest dockyard in the whole country.
I would like to remind the Government once again that there still remains at that place the little army of unemployed men which has been there since the dockyard was reduced to a, care-and-maintenance basis. They were not established men, for, it is true, the established men were brought back to southern dockyards when Rosyth was reduced to a care-and-maintenance basis. They were local men brought in as labourers in the dockyard, and when they were so unfortunate as not to be able to find work at shipbreaking, they became unemployed. I do not wish to delay the Committee, but I wish to express my appreciation of the fact that this training establishment is to be set up at Rosyth. I hope it will be developed, and I am certain it will be of considerable advantage to the Admiralty.
I am pleased at the line which has been taken by those who have spoken from these benches this afternoon in regard to the re-armament policy. I am glad it has been emphasised that this re-armament programme is necessary because of the breakdown of the Government's foreign policy. I wish to make my position quite plain with regard to this matter. When we were fighting the last General Election and had to consider the question of spending £250,000,000 or £300,000,000 on re-armament, I along with other Members of my party, maintained that if any part of that was necessary it was because of the foreign policy which has been pursued by this Government. Since the General Election the Government's foreign policy has not improved. As has been said more than once to-day we see in Abyssinia the disastrous results of the Government's foreign policy, and other illustrations could be given. I entirely agree with the party which sits on these benches that this re-armament programme is due to the disastrous foreign policy which we have been pursuing for years past, and now we have to face the question of being prepared to defend ourselves against one enemy or a combination of enemies. We do not know what will happen in the near future. Our Allies in the last War may be our enemies in the next one; we cannot tell. At any rate, evidently something needs to be done in order to put us in a good position at the moment.
In conclusion, while expressing my appreciation of this recognition of Rosyth—although it seems that not much is to be done in the present year and not a great deal of money is to be spent—I notice that there is a proposal to widen the Number 10 Dock at Devonport. We ought not to spend huge sums on dockyards the defence of which is a matter of doubt. It is still an open question whether these dockyards could be defended in the event of a war, and I do not see why the Government should contemplate spending huge sums of money and making alterations in docks which may be found to be absolutely useless in the event of another war. Before the Admiralty make large expenditure on existing dockyards, they should use the facilities that are in their control at this moment. I want to emphasise once again that at Rosyth there is a dockyard which does not require any alteration and can be used at any time. I hope that before we are asked to vote these huge sums either for widening docks or for anything else in connection with other docks, the facilities at Rosyth will be used to the full.
I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) in so far as he has put the case for Rosyth Dockyard. At the present time that dockyard is on a care-and-maintenance basis and is given up to rabbits and Valerian. It is a very pathetic sight. I am not at all certain that with the coming of aeroplanes and the seriousness of the attack which aeroplanes can make on dockyards, Rosyth dockyard will not be forced to come into its own again. As the hon. Member for Dunfermline said, it is true that of the dockyards in the United Kingdom, that at Rosyth is the furthest removed from the possibility of air attack and the danger of damage from such an attack. I think that one of the great problems which the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence will have to decide is whether the dockyards at Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham can be relied upon as bases for our Fleet in the event of a future war. There is not only the danger to the works in the dockyard from aircraft, but the dislocation of work which follows information of the approach of hostile aircraft. Immediately that is received the lights have to be put out and work is brought to a standstill, which causes serious reduction of the speed at which work in the dockyards can be carried out.
I part company with the hon. Member for Rosyth when he speaks of the present position in regard to the Italo-Abyssinian dispute as being the result of the breakdown of the foreign policy of this country, except in so far as our foreign policy has been limited, guided and constrained by our membership of the League of Nations. It is because the League of Nations, and the Covenant and the sanctions of the League, have completely broken down, that we are in the present position. One of the chief reasons for that breakdown has been the appalling weakness of the defence Services of this country, and one of the other great reasons has been that collective security has not operated in action. In theory it is a very fine thing. We had to honour our word and to give sanctions a, trial. But there has been no collective security in action. When we desired other nations to take collective action with us it broke down. France had not the slightest intention of taking military action with us in this dispute, and would under no conditions have done so.
The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) spoke for some time on this question. They went on talking about collective security, not from the ideal point of view but as if it was a reality. They must know that collective security has completely broken down. It is impossible for this country to rely on collective action for the maintenance of our security, and we are bound to increase our defence Services so that we can rely on our own strength and not on that of any other nation for our security.
The Debate has centred round the question of the battle fleet and its vulnerability to air attack. Many hon. Members who have spoken have lost sight of the fundamental fact governing the necessity for maintaining a battle fleet. That is the real crux of the question—whether it is necessary to have a battle fleet or not, not whether such a battle fleet is vulnerable to aircraft attack or any other form of attack. There is no difference of opinion regarding the necessity for every naval Power to maintain a collective fleet of ships. Whether you call them battleships or cruisers, you must have a mass of force. It is as the hon. and gallant Member for Camborne (Lieut.-Commander Agnew) said: We have to have a force of the heaviest ships which any other nation has. What is the function of this heavy ship Fleet? It has to be able to maintain the sea in all weathers and for a considerable period of time. It has to be armed with the heaviest guns which any other nation has. It has to be reasonably immune from attack by gun fire or torpedo fire, or attack by bombs from the air. It has to be reasonably secure from all forms of attack. It has to be in a position to cover the operations of the cruising forces on our trade routes. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) said he had asked a naval officer the function of the battle fleet and he was told radius of action and the attack of fortified ports.
Radius of action is only one thing. The Grand Fleet during the War fulfilled its functions when it way, lying at Scapa Flow by placing itself between the German Fleet and their objective. As long as it covered our forces and our trade routes, etc., it was carrying out its functions. The battle fleets in the time of the Napoleonic wars fulfilled their functions from time to time without a shot being fired in the Channel. Napoleon could not invade this country as long as our battle fleet was in being. Supposing instead of battleships you were to have cruisers. The argument that they would be vulnerable to air attack would have far greater force. If you follow it to its logical conclusion you might say that attack from the air has wiped out the Navy altogether, that no longer can any ship remain at sea because it is vulnerable to attack from the air. But that is a ridiculous argument. When iron ships were introduced they were poorly subdivided and were easily sunk, and the coming of the torpedo boats and the torpedo led many people to the decision that the torpedo would be the end of the iron ship. Not at all. What was obvious was that the ship had to be given whatever static defences were necessary in order to counter this new form of attack. The ships were subdivided, and in harbour were provided with static defences such as torpedo nets.
The war between the projectile and the armour is another example and is going on all the time. But we do not see articles in the newspapers or hear Debates in the House of Commons suggesting that because ships can be damaged by projectiles we must therefore do away with ships; because they are vulnerable to projectiles they are of no use. But that is the argument which is being used to-day, that because a bomb from the air, if it hits a ship, will damage the ship, therefore we must do away with the ship. It is a ridiculous and monstrnus argument. Compare the possibility of damage to a battleship in action by gunfire from other other battleships—very likely in a concentrated form by several ships at once—with the possibility of damage by the dropping of bombs from the air. There is no comparison at all. There would be infinitely more hits by gun-fire on a ship, in those circumstances, than there would be hits by bombs dropped from the air. But nobody in his senses has ever suggested that because a battleship is likely to be hit and damaged by gunfire in action, it ought therefore to be abolished and is of no further use.
I am very pleased to hear the hon. and gallant Member's argument, but, for information, will he state why the number of times that a battleship is likely to be hit from the air should be so limited? Is there any reason for it? I ask solely for guidance.
Gunfire is a very exact science and there are very intricate instruments and fire control to enable a ship to find and keep the range of the enemy. It is possible to get that range and to keep that range very closely, though I do not suggest that it is always possible to keep it within a yard or two. The gun itself is an accurate weapon, and if you have an accurate weapon, an accurate range and an accurate gun-layer there is a reasonable chance of a very good proportion of hits by gunfire. It is not so in the air. The target which the aircraft has to hit is actually very small. A battleship has considerable length but it has only about 100 feet of beam, and as a target, from the air, it is small. Then, control and accuracy of fire from aircraft are considerably more difficult than they are in the case of gunfire and the possibility of making a hit from the air is considerably less than the possibility of making a hit from a gun.
I will not shirk that question. I propose to deal with it later but I wish first to mention another point, with regard to the possibility of damage from the air. It will be agreed that there are limitations as to the weather conditions in which aircraft can operate and there is, of course, no chance of any hits from the air during certain weather because the aeroplanes cannot be there. That limitation does not apply in the case of gunfire. The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) has asked me whether, if the propeller of a ship was hit by a torpedo or a bomb, any damage would be done. I am surprised at a man of such great intelligence asking such a question. It really amazes me. I, at once, admit that if the propeller is struck by a torpedo the damage will be very severe.
I asked the hon. and gallant Member whether a gun could hit a propeller. He mistook my question altogether. Will he say whether the projectile from a gun could damage the propeller, the propeller shafting or the rudder? I said nothing about a bomb.
I must confess that unless the ship was very much down by the bow it would be very difficult for the most accurately-laid gun to hit the propeller. The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford suggested to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence that certain experiments should be made. He wanted an experiment in the dropping of bombs near a propeller to see what damage would be done. We all know that if it got near enough to the propeller it would do damage, and I do not think it is necessary to carry out any very extensive experiments of that kind. I imagine that the Admiralty already have some slight information as to the damage that would be done by the explosion of a bomb near the propeller or the side of a ship. I am sorry that my hon. and gallant Friend did not also suggest some experiments with the newest type of anti-aircraft gun, about which I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) speak so eulogistically. He described is as a magnificent weapon and a tremendous asset to defence against aircraft. I wonder why my hon. and gallant Friend did not suggest some experiments against aircraft to test the result of this anti-aircraft gun.
Because I knew of the great barrage at the front during the War in which every conceivable form of anti-aircraft gun was fired at the aeroplanes and yet most of them got through.
But anti-aircraft gunnery has improved enormously since. To hear some of the speeches made to-day one would imagine that when the aircraft attacked they would make 100 per cent. of hits. It is a monstrous and ridiculous argument. There is no ground for it whatever, in view of the static and dynamic defences which are being placed in our latest ships. It is obvious that the answer to aircraft is twofold. It is not to do away with the battleship, but to provide the battleship with such static defence as it is possible to give her, that is to say, to provide horizontal armour so as to localise the damage which will be inflicted provided she is hit, and to give her the necessary dynamic defence in respect of the latest anti-aircraft armament.
I am surprised to hear speeches made deriding the advice which has been given to the Government by the naval experts on this matter. After all, if the country is to pay little or no attention, as has been suggested in the Debate, and to have no confidence in the opinions of, the naval experts, that is, the opinions of officers who not only have passed 30 or 40 years of their lives in the naval Service, but who have studied naval history from every aspect—if the country is not to be satisfied that they are giving to the Government the correct advice, I suggest to the Committee that there is no other body of men in this country to whom the Government can go to get such advice—certainly not in the House of Commons, where there are innumerable hon. Members who have never been to sea at all and who know nothing about it whatever. It is a very common thing to deride the experts and to say they never give correct advice and know nothing about it. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George)—I am sorry he is not here—made a dreadful speech in this House some weeks ago on that subject, and I was surprised to hear him make it, but many other hon. and right hon. Members have done the same thing.
The hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) did the same thing to-day. He held up the Lords of the Admiralty to derision, and I do not think it is advancing the cause of the Service to which at one time he had the honour to belong to make statements of that sort in this House. Naval experts undoubtedly make mistakes, but I would ask this Committee if mistakes are confined to naval experts, if politicians never make any mistakes. I hope we shall hear far less in the future of this derision of the Service experts. The Service expert, after all, has the true interests of his country at heart, just as much as any hon. or right hon. Member of this House, and when he is asked for his opinion, he gives his opinion in the true interests of the country. I am sorry the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton, who has just come in, was not present to hear my remarks just now. I do not think he has done the Service any good by remarks deriding the Lords of the Admiralty.
As an ex-naval officer, I am very glad to have the opportunity of taking part in this Debate. I passed over 30 years of my life in the Service and not only take a great interest in it but have done my best to make a study of the whole question of naval strategy, tactics, and so on. I can only say that I welcome this first step which the Government are taking in order to reconstruct and to build up once more the naval Service to that strength which this country has the right to demand that the Government should give it. I hope that, on the question of the battleships, the Government will not be deterred at all by any contrary opinions, but will continue the construction of the battleships which they propose in these Supplementary Estimates. I should be glad in that respect to see the size of battleships reduced. They are far larger than is necessary.
I will say: In the past this country has always taken the lead in building such ships, whether battleships, cruisers or destroyers, as were considered necessary for the services which they would be called upon to perform, and other nations have followed our example. But since the era of yardsticks, formulas, and things of that sort, that whole policy has gone by the board. I would like to get back to that policy and once more give the world a lead in ship construction. The Washington Conference upset it. We were bound to build 10,000-ton cruisers with 8-inch guns simply because of the Washington Conference—the worst cruisers this country has ever had. We did not want them. They were far larger than we required, and they are the weakest ships we have ever had—rotten ships. Then we come to the London Treaty of 1930, signed by the right hon. Member for Hillsborough, who is so pleased with it. We have had some of the repercussions of that treaty to-day, and I would remind the Committee that it was originally to have been a Five-Power Treaty—ourselves, the United States of America, Japan, France and Italy. France and Italy refused to agree to the Clauses dealing with cruisers, destroyers and submarines, and they never signed the treaty as far as those categories of ships were concerned. That was most important, and I maintain, and I said so at the time, that we had no right whatever to sign that treaty when France and Italy stood outside it. We tied ourselves hand and foot by doing so, and in my opinion we betrayed the true interests of the country. We were allowed to have 50 cruisers; we were tied down to 91,000 tons of reconstruction in cruisers; and we were tied down to the tonnage of destroyers and submarines.
To-day the Noble Lord has had several questions put to him on this question of the cruisers. There is an escalator Clause applying to destroyers, cruisers and submarines, but everybody knows very well that that escalator Clause will never be put into operation. It is just useless, so far as cruisers are concerned. France, by not signing that treaty, built 25 destroyers, and she is building 12 more of 3,000 tons displacement, armed with 5.1-inch guns, which under the treaty would be classed as cruisers, and we have no answer to them, but it has never been suggested that we should utilise the escalator Clause because of that, though there is complete justification for using it. I am not satisfied with the answer of the Noble Lord with regard to this question of cruiser construction. Under that treaty we are allowed to lay down ships that will be over age in 1936, 1937, and 1938. Why should we to-day convert the "Hawkins" class to the lower class and thereby have under the treaty to scrap the smaller cruisers? Why not wait until the end of the year? Why this great hurry? If we wait till the end of the year we can retain these small cruisers, and then convert the "Hawkins" class and meantime we can lay down as much replacement tonnage as we please of those cruisers which will become over-age in 1936–7–8. That is allowed for in the London Treaty. I was surprised and disappointed with the statement of the Noble Lord, that it was not necessary to have so many destroyers to-day as formerly. If the War taught us anything, it was the absolute necessity for the abundance of small craft.
I think that the Noble Lord will agree with me that he does not suggest that he is an Admiralty expert, but that the Lords of the Admiralty are the Admiralty experts. I do not say that in any derogatory way of the Noble Lord, but to show that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) is wrong. The Noble Lord is not a naval expert. Therefore, the hon. Member's interruption was unfortunate. With regard to the question of destroyers, it may be true that the anti-submarine measures are so efficient now that the danger of submarine attack is more or less eliminated. That would be true so far as vessels of war are concerned, but they are not the objective of the submarine. The mercantile marine is the objective of the submarine, and that is where submarines will do their real damage. In that respect it is essential that we should have numbers of destroyers.
In addition to the attack by submarines, there is the intensive attack which can be carried out by aircraft on our mercantile marine. What vessel does the Noble Lord suggest is to be used to safeguard the ships against such attack? We must have masses of these small craft, whether they be called sloops or destroyers. It is numbers that we require, and if we have not got them we shall find that our mercantile marine, so far as the Mediterranean is concerned, for instance, will probably have to abandon that route in any future war—a very serious position.
Therefore, I was rather disturbed when the Noble Lord said to-day that there is not so great a necessity for numbers of destroyers as there was. I hope that he will amplify that when he replies. I trust that I have placed before the Committee some points in favour of the continuation of the heavy ship, and to show that we must view the question of the attack of aircraft on ships of His Majesty's Navy in the right perspective. We are losing our sense of proportion in this question of air attack, not only as regards ships, but as regards the shore. It is a new form of attack, and I hope the nation will realise that, just as there is this new form of attack, so those responsible for countering and meeting it are taking every possible means in order to minimise the damage which it can accomplish.
The Committee will have been interested and roused by the naval battle which has taken place between the two admirals on the back benches and by the vigorous broadside we have just had from the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I think that he does a little injustice to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher), who did not ridicule the Board of Admiralty but levelled at it a little well-deserved and rightful criticism, which this House is the proper authority for doing. There are Ministers who are the mouthpiece of the Admiralty here to defend the Board when it is necessary. Before I come to questions of larger policy, there are one or two questions I would like to repeat in order that the Noble Lord may give us information about them.
I would like to emphasise some points which my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) raised. One concerns the welfare conference. I understand that there has not been one since 1932. Although there might be some excuse for that, owing to the disturbed condition of affairs, there is no reason why it should be any longer delayed. The question of the officer class has been raised several times by this side, and there is a particular reason for it because there was put in train by my right hon. Friend when he was at the Admiralty a scheme whereby it was hoped that the caste system of recruitment might be broken down and advantage taken of the highly improved general system of education in the country, so that the most likely and promising and ablest lads could be recruited from our secondary schools and given the opportunity of going to Dartmouth to be trained as officers. In these days it is a short-sighted policy to restrict recruitment of any particular class to one section of the community, whether from the material or the patriotic point of view. If there be, as there are, able young fellows coming through our ordinary schools, we ought to give them every facility for entering into this Service.
Perhaps the Noble Lord would give us some information why there is this extra vote for Singapore. It is not long since that great dockyard was completed, and we thought that all necessary expenditure had been voted to make it fit for many years to come. Now nearly £2,000,000 more is required for it. Is that the answer to the capital ship? Is the capital ship to be based on Singapore and the Navy to be sent there owing to the hopelessness of being able to send it from this side if trouble should break out on that side of the world?
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) made a reference to my right hon. Friend boasting that he had brought about some reduction in the personnel of the Navy. I doubt whether it has ever been alleged that the efficiency or the equipment of the Navy suffered at all while my right hon. Friend was in charge. The reduction in personnel was made after long deliberations because it was found that there was tremendous overbearing of personnel in the Navy. There were numbers of people in shore establishments for whom there was nothing to do and there was no excuse for retaining them, and it was only on those grounds and after very adequate discussion in this House that the reduction was made. Although the hon. Member said he would put his trust in the technical experts, he proceeded to give us his own opinion regarding certain technical equipment, which shows that even he was not quite immune from the weakness which has been displayed by so many Members. Everyone who has sat through the Debate must have been bewildered by the rival opinions of the experts, and especially by the reviews we heard just now.
The hon. Gentleman has not got it quite right. What I said was that when hon. Members leave the political field and enter the technical field they, as amateurs, are setting their opinions against those of men who have given their lives to the subject. As to what he said regarding personnel, the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) prided himself on reducing the Navy by 10,000 men in four years. One of the great difficulties and hardships of the personnel was the fact that the numbers were so low at the time when the Labour Government broke up that those coming from the East and from other stations abroad could not get leave, and there was a constant shifting of personnel from ship to ship.
That state of affairs was not occasioned by my right hon. Friend, but was mainly brought about by the scrapping of certain battleships and the operation of the Naval Treaty and the overbearing of the personnel. As to his other point, the ordinary man of average intelligence must set himself to a certain extent to criticise the opinions advanced by the technical experts, and the Great War taught him the necessity of it, because some great improvements more or less sprang out of the minds of non-technical people who could look at problems from a detached point of view and were able to form sound judgment. Of necessity experts often cannot see the wood for the trees. A considerable part of the Debate has ranged round the appointment of a committee over which the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence is presiding. I was a little disappointed with his intervention, because it seemed to me that he made the position even a little more difficult than it was. His explanation evidently did not satisfy the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) nor did he explain why we should first vote the money and afterwards go into the consideration of various details of these ships, whether it be questions of their strength or their equipment. Surely it would have been far better for us to have the report before us. Then, when we were in possession of the fullest information, we could have been called upon to vote the money. I have the highest esteem for the right hon. Gentleman, but I was tremendously disappointed when he said one of the reasons why we should build capital ships was that other nations were also building them.
I did not say that. I quoted Admiral Richmond's article and said that even he, who was not very well disposed towards battleships, admitted that if other people were building them we must. I was citing Admiral Richmond's argument.
I gather, then, that the right hon. Gentleman was not of necessity agreeing with the quotation; or, if he was agreeing, then the effect is the same as I stated. I suggest that it is late in the day to say that we must continue building battleships because other people have them. There seems to be a consensus of opinion that the time has come to reconsider whether the day of the very large capital ship has passed, and whether the capital ship ought not to be one of a smaller tonnage. It is not necessary for one to be an expert to venture into that field of controversy. One has only to look round at the changing circumstances of the day, at the new inventions, for it to be borne in upon one that a case can be made out for the view that the great battleship is more vulnerable than it used to be, and although the hon. and gallant Member for the Camborne Division (Lieut.-Commander Agnew) rather countered that by saying that ships of every class were in greater danger, the danger increases with the size of the target.
Even so, the target offered by the smaller vessel is very much less than the target presented by the larger vessel. It does seem to me that such a case can be made out, and that this committee might give consideration to the problem and give its report to the House. But the fact is that the Government have decided, no matter what happens, to build these ships, and it is rather playing with Parliament to suggest, after having made that decision that a committee will consider certain things and present a report. The right hon. Member for Epping and other hon. Members have also criticised the scrapping of the vessels of the Hawkins class. I think there is an unnecessary waste of money in scrapping them. In the first place, it is not necessary to do so till the end of the year, and although it is said that we might be breaking an agreement, the United States have already announced that they are going to build 70 cruisers. Therefore, there is no reason why we should deliberately scrap ships of a good type before it is quite necessary and involve ourselves in tremendous expense in consequence.
I now come to what I would call the politics of the situation. An old Member of this House told me a little while ago that to-day's Debate reminded him of the Debates of 1913 because the speeches seemed coloured with the prospect of imminent war. That must be the impression upon any listener this afternoon. There has been no suggestion of attempting to find agreement with other nations, and the League of Nations appears to have been scrapped and collective security abandoned. If that is the position, why has there not been a fair and honest statement to that effect by the Government? We asked in a previous Debate whether discussion had taken place at the recent Naval Conferences as to the pooling of resources by the nations of the world in order to prevent war. That should be done in earnest. We should not go into the League of Nations, as we appear to have done, to make it an excuse to increase our armaments. We should find a way of pooling our resources so that individually we could cut down our armaments. It is astounding that we should be considering the largest Vote that has ever been asked for armament expenditure in time of peace, when there is an earnest desire on all hands that the Government should find a way of ending the folly and mischief of war.
The Government and others associated with the League of Nations have never entered into the idea of collective security in the full determination to realise that idea, but have taken into the councils of the League the old suspicions, fears and ambitions, and an unwillingness to yield one way or the other, except to find another means of bringing about the balance of power. There have been the same scheming and shifting and diplomatic moves, in order to maintain the position of certain nations, rather than an endeavour to reach collective understanding and to provide something like an international police force that could be called upon at the behest of any nation to keep the peace of the world. The absence of that note in the discussion to-day might well bring people to despair, having regard to the Election promises and pledges of the Government. We were asked to trust the Prime Minister, but from the very moment of Parliament being returned there have been uncertainty and indecision. Nobody has been able to take a stand with strength and confidence, and we therefore find ourselves in a worse relationship with other nations than existed in 1914. That position has coloured and clouded the discussion of the Estimate which we have been asked to consider.
We have put down the Vote in protest against that situation, and we shall divide against it. We recognise that, in the present condition of affairs, it may be essential to maintain the Army and the Navy, but we say that the Vote does not bear out the policy announced by the Government. There has been misdirection by the Government, which has brought about a condition of affairs which will put us for many years into a competitive race of armaments, and will burden not only this generation but generations yet to come with a tremendous indebtedness.
Before replying to the various questions and criticisms which have been made during the Debate, I would like to deal with two matters arising out of my own speech that seem to have led to doubt. I said that no money would be spent on battleships before the committee reported. What I had in mind was that none of the money for which we are asking in these Supplementary Estimates would be wasted by any decision that was come to by that committee. Of course, some preliminary expenditure on these battleships is inevitable, but that expenditure would have to be incurred, whatever the recommendations of the committee might be.
The Noble Lord is now going against the view that he so strongly expressed earlier this afternoon. It is not necessarily that we want to stop all expenditure on any battleship replacement that the committee find to be necessary, but what we protest against is passing the Vote for this expenditure before the committee has reported as to the type of ship. You ought not to spend a penny piece on any designs or any preliminary gadgets until you have the report of the expert committee.
We must spend money on the designs in order that the committee may have full information at their disposal. The other point was with regard to the scrapping of the "Hawkins" class. Some hon. Members appear to be under a misapprehension on that point. I cannot see on what possible grounds we could avoid scrapping a certain amount of tonnage if these cruisers are to be obtained. It is laid down perfectly clearly in the London Naval Treaty that, by the end of 1936, we can only have 339,000 tons of completed cruiser tonnage. These "Hawkins" class cruisers must come within the category of completed cruiser tonnage, and, as I have explained before, they will be in excess of the tonnage allowed us in Category A; while, if we were to arm them with smaller guns, they would become in excess of the tonnage allowed us under Category B; and therefore, to keep within the terms of the Treaty, it is absolutely essential that a corresponding tonnage of smaller cruisers should be scrapped. It has nothing at all to do with the future policy of the Government in building up to 70 cruisers; all that we are dealing with now is the fact that we are only allowed a limited amount of completed cruiser tonnage by the end of 1936.
The Noble Lord must give the House more information. We asked during the Debate, if the Government intended to scrap five cruisers of the "C" class, because they are changing the armament of the "Hawkins" class, what were the names of the ships they were going to scrap. If what the Noble Lord has just said is true, it seems to me that the Government will not have 50 cruisers at the end of the year. I am only speaking now broadly from memory, but, if the Government are to adhere rigidly to scrapping five ships for three larger ones that they are going to keep, as they have been launching larger "Leander" class cruisers of 7,000 tons odd during the last four or five years, they will not even have 50 at the end of the year. It seems fatuous to scrap ships when the Government have announced that among the 70 cruisers they will now get will be 10 that are over age. Why not keep these others instead, and save the money?
The curious fact is that the right hon. Gentleman is trying his very best to encourage me to break the Treaty which he made himself. I have explained the exact position, which is that we are only allowed a certain amount of completed cruiser tonnage at the end of the year, and it is inevitable that these others should be scrapped. It has nothing at all to do with our future programme of building up to 70 cruisers. I am sure that, if the right hon. Gentleman will read his own speeches, he will be able to convince himself.
A great many extremely interesting speeches have been made during the Debate, many of them delivered for the benefit of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, who, I am sure, has added greatly to his education this afternoon, and will take into consideration the points that have been raised. They deal principally with suggested experiments which his committee might consider with regard to battleships. We also had a very interesting speech on the necessity for adding to our reserves of oil and making quite sure that all departments of defence, including the Mercantile Marine, will be adequately provided for in that respect. Other speeches have been made for the benefit of the Admiralty, and I can assure those who made them that, while I cannot answer them in detail at this moment, they will be very carefully considered. The same applies to questions dealing with foreign policy which I think, without any discourtesy to those who made the speeches, might safely be left for a much fuller reply on the Foreign Office Debate which is to take place this week.
There have been one or two rare instances of lack of consistency. We find that the most bellicose speeches of those who are most anxious that this country should take up the most warlike attitude have been by those who have done the very least in past years to maintain our defences. I think there was a lack of consistency in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander). He took us to task for failure to hold conversations with other countries. He said we ought to get into touch with other countries and see what they are prepared to do in any given situation and pool our resources, and then we should know exactly where we were. On the only occasion where we tried to do that, when we got into touch with France with regard to staff talks as to what action we should both take in certain given conditions, we well remember the howl of disapproval that went up from the Opposition benches.
The right hon. Gentleman asked certain questions, which were repeated by the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), many of them dealing with questions arising under Vote A. The right hon. Gentleman asked what we had done about the proposals that he left at the Admiralty for broadening the basis of the entry of officers into the Navy. He was very optimistic in saying that when he left the Admiralty agreement had been reached. That certainly is very far from the case. I think he will agree that the Committee's report did not entirely carry out the point that he had in mind. He left certain skeleton proposals, but he was very far from getting agreement with the education authorities as to the possibility of their being carried out.
On the contrary, after personal conversations the Captain Superintendent and the Headmaster, the two people who really counted on the educational side and the training side, fully agreed and, when I left the Admiralty, it only remained to persuade the Board of Admiralty—perhaps a little difficult, but possible.
The personal conversations of which the right hon. Gentleman speaks have not been left on record at the Admiralty. We want everyone who wishes to go into the Navy as an officer to have the opportunity of doing so. We think a better way of dealing with it is by extending the system of special entry. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman—and I am sure that he will hear it with some satisfaction—that during the last year there has been a very great increase in the number of cadets who have been entered by that method.
He also raised the question of welfare. I gave the right hon. Gentleman not so long ago the full details of how it was proposed that the new system of welfare conferences was to be carried out. I regret as much as he does that we have not been able to put the new system into operation, but, as soon as conditions settle down, I can assure him that we shall make every endeavour to call conferences as soon as we can. The great defect of the old system of welfare conferences was that it only affected the men in the three Home ports. There was nothing in the procedure which enabled the views of men serving in the Fleet to be heard. We are trying under the new system to give every man, no matter where he may be serving, an opportunity of representing any adverse conditions which may affect him or any other points which he may wish to raise. In giving his views he will make use of the divisional system and do it through his own divisional officer, thereby bringing the officer into the scheme, which, I think, was one of the reasons why the old system was not a complete success. I hope that nobody will criticise the new system before we have had a chance of putting it into operation, but it has been tried out in the Australian Navy where it has been found to be a great success.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) also raised several points with regard to personnel, the principal being whether we should not set up again the Special Reserve for which he was originally responsible. I have no doubt that they would have been extremely useful if they had been in existence last October. We had to get the same men in a different way. We had to appeal for volunteers who had been in the Fleet and who were pensioners to come back and serve for a limited period, and that could have been more conveniently done if the Special Reserve had still been in existence.
I cannot give the answer straight away. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that it is impossible to say that you are going to bring a lot of men into existence without having the opportunity of consulting your advisers at the Admiralty. There was another point of very great importance raised by the right hon. Gentlemen and several other hon. Members, and that was the question of undue profits arising from our plans. It has been dealt with very largely by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. The right hon. Gentleman knows well that we have at the Admiralty an extremely efficient contract department, and I do not think that at the moment there is any necessity for taking any different measures. All our tenders are on a competitive basis. If we are dissatisfied we have access to the company's books, and we have also as a check the comparative figures of building in the dockyards. We have only a very small building programme in the dockyards this year, but that does not mean a change of policy. The reason why we are not building more ships there is because the men are employed in doing our repair work. We have the figures for building cruisers, destroyers and sloops, which will be very useful for comparative purposes, and if we find that prices are going up unduly and that we cannot get a check by ordinary methods, we are prepared to alter our plans and do something to ensure that no undue excess shall be incurred.
Nearly every other question that has been raised in the Debate has dealt with our new construction programme. The fight of the bomb versus the battleship has been waged in the Committee with very great vigour, and every man must judge for himself whether the number of those sunk or crashed has been the greater. I can add very little to my own defence of battleships, and the reasons which I gave for the replacement of the battle fleet which is so essential, which I gave in presenting the Navy Estimates. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence also made clear not only what is the actual duty of the Committee but what their terms of reference are and the procedure which they propose to adopt. I have been asked by several speakers for fuller information about the tonnage and armaments of the various ships of our new construction programme. I shall be forgiven if I do not give that information at the present time. It is not customary to give such details when you are announcing your programme. It is usual for them to be given only on the actual laying down of the ship. That is the procedure in accordance with the terms of the Naval Agreement.
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones) asked questions about the "Argus." I hope that on the "Argus" there will be at least eight Queen Bees carried for anti-aircraft practice. We should like at the Admiralty to see the type of Queen Bees improved upon, but I think it is a great feat to be enabled to have a flying target at all. It took a great deal of research work before it was possible to have one, but having got one we do not want to rest on our laurels. We are only too anxious to get from the Air Ministry the fastest and the most modern machines giving us the most up-to-date practice we can obtain.
The Committee has discussed at some length the question of destroyers. The difference between our position with regard to destroyers and any other class of ship is that the steady programme which has been carried out over recent years has given us a very fair percentage of under-age ships, and we feel that our position in that category is undoubtedly better than in any other. In view of the new construction programme which is to be carried out, and in view of the personnel which is available, we think that a steady replacement programme of one flotilla a year puts our destroyer strength on a satisfactory basis. An hon. Member asked for some details about Singapore. He seemed to be under the impression that the base has been completed, but that impression is a false one. Certain figures were given by the Civil Lord of the Admiralty in the last Debate and since then there has been an increase of £1,826,000, bringing the total under Vote 10 for the Singapore base from £7,700,000 to £9,526,000. This extra sum of nearly £2,000,000 covers a great variety of new buildings, such as naval armament depot, dockyard workshops, naval store buildings, torpedo depots and facilities of other kinds, and I think we can say that the expenditure of this extra money will turn Singapore from a dock used in peace time to a base which can be used in war time. I think I have dealt with the majority of the questions which have been put to me. I am glad that the subject has been so fully debated, and I hope the Committee will now agree to the Estimate.
We are grateful to the Noble Lord for the very careful and painstaking reply he has made to the great many points which have been raised in the Debate, and his conduct of naval affairs in this House is agreeable to the great majority of hon. Members. Nevertheless, he will not object if I say that if I vote to-night with the Government it is with considerable compunction on one or two matters. I do not think it would be a good thing for anyone to give a vote against the Navy Estimates, because the growth of the Fleet and the conduct of the Admiralty rightly command the confidence of the country and will I hope, receive the respect of the world. Nevertheless on all of the four points that have been the principal topics of discussion to-day, either there has been no answer or the answer has been very unsatisfactory. The first is the question of destroyers. I think it is deplorable that a greater effort is not made to consider how much the Admiralty have encouraged the danger of a submarine menace in the future by their Anglo-German Naval Treaty.
Then there is the question of cruisers. Nothing was said about that. Five perfectly good cruisers are to be taken out and scuppered in the open sea. For what? Not for any sense, any logical argument or any careful process of economic calculation. They are to be taken out simply because there has not been the foresight, or the care, or the mental energy and grip to arrange, as could quite easily have been done, with the United States for those cruisers to be allowed to continue in being. We are to pay for new cruisers and our Estimates are to be enormously increased while we squander vessels with a war value which would perhaps not be equated by £500,000 or £750,000. Then there is the question of battleships. Now we know where we are about that. There are to be battleships and there is to be a committee which is set up to see whether they can be made to float or not. That is the decision which has been given, which the House is going to accept, which the country is going to submit to, which the taxpayer is going to pay for—
I vote as I think fit, and if I thought it fit to vote against this, I would do so, and no question of apprehension of any reproaches which might be inflicted upon me by the Parliamentary Secretary would deter my action. Then there is the question of the Fleet Air Arm. We have not heard anything about that, except some extremely cautious and guarded phrases from my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. Apparently it is a subject almost too delicate to be discussed in public, an almost indecent subject, the sort of topic which if it were brought out in a theatre would cause the Lord Chamberlain to intervene, or if in a broadcast would cause Sir John Reith to switch it off. But it is a very practical matter, a very burning matter, and I submit to my right hon. Friend that in the course of the next month or two we ought to have a clear, definite and reasoned statement as to why he is so sure that battleships can resist the modern form of attack and what is the arrangement which is thought to be best suited to the project of the Fleet Air Arm. I have listened to this Debate, and I am bound to say that the Navy is not the part of our Defences which is thought to need the most anxiety. One does think, however, that even in the naval sphere there is need for a far keener and stronger development of mental energy in the taking of decisions which are bound to be controversial, which are bound to incur antagonism and bound to have an element of unpopularity attached to them, but unless they are taken, in this sphere as in every other, our public affairs will degenerate into a quagmire of incoherence.
While we are grateful to the Noble Lord for the answers he has given, he has not answered two or three questions in which we are interested. He has not told us anything at all about the quantity of anti-aircraft guns which have been supplied. We asked for categorical information as applied to battleships, destroyers, cruisers and even other craft. We have had no answer on that, and we should like an answer. The second point about which I should like him to say something will largely affect policy. You are putting into the Estimates for the first time the name "convoy sloop." We asked for information of what was meant by convoy sloop; what were to be their characteristics, and whether they were to be armed with guns up to 6 inches? If the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is not satisfied with the course of events after we have made our Parliamentary protest, perhaps he might like to rise at 11 o'clock and keep the Debate open for another date?
It was through no lack of courtesy that I did not answer some of the questions which have been put. As the right hon. Member for Epping particularly directed some of his questions to my right hon. Friend, and my right hon. Friend answered, I did not trouble him with any further answer from my Department. With regard to the number of anti-aircraft guns, I am sorry I did not give the right hon. Gentleman an answer, but it would not have enlightened him much had I done so, because it is information that we are not prepared to make public.
I must protest against that way of answering in order to get cheers. In the published lists of the British Navy every characteristic of naval armaments is included, every number of gun and every type of gun, even the anti-aircraft gun of the old type. What is the use of his coming with that sort of plea when the House of Commons is asked to pay public money for technical supplies information on which is available in the published lists?
There is a certain type of armament which is not included and which we are not prepared to make public. The right hon. Gentleman will not ask for anything that it is not in the public interest to disclose. I did not give him my answer with any discourtesy, but simply to state the fact that it was not in the public interest. With regard to convoy sloops, as soon as the information
|Division No. 160.]||AYES.||[10.55 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke||Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Paling, W.|
|Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)||Green. W. H. (Deptford)||Parker, H. J. H.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddi'sbro, W.)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Potts, J.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Groves, T. E.||Price, M. P.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'Isbr.)||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Hardie, G. D.||Ritson, J.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Banfield, J. W.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Barnes, A. J.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Rothschild. J. A. de|
|Barr, J.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Batey, J.||Hicks, E. G.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Bellenger, F.||Holland, A.||Shinwell, E.|
|Benson, G.||Hopkin, D.||Short, A.|
|Bevan, A.||Jagger, J.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Broad, F. A.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Brooke, W.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||Kelly, W. T.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Buchanan, G.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Cape, T.||Kirby, B. V.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Lathan, G.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Chater, D.||Lawson, J. J.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Leach, W.||Thurtle, E.|
|Compton, J.||Lee, F.||Viant, S. P.|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Logan, D. G.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Lunn, W.||Walker, J.|
|Day, H.||McGhee, H. G.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||McGovern, J.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Ede, J. C.||Maclean, N.||Westwood, J.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||MacNeill, Weir, L.||Windsor, W. (Hull. C.)|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Mander, G. le M.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Marshall, F.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Frankel, D.||Montague, F.|
|Gallacher, W.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham. N.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.|
|Gardner, B. W.||Naylor, T. E.||Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Mathers.|
|Garro-Jones, G. M.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Cross, R. H.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr, P. G.||Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Crossley, A C|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Crowder, J. F. E.|
|Anstruther-G ray, W. J.||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Cruddas, Col. B.|
|Ansley, Lord||Bull, B. B.||Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Burghley, Lord||Davison, Sir W. H.|
|Assheton, R.||Butler, R. A,||Dawson, Sir P.|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J.(Dover)||Campbell, Sir E. T.||De Chair, S. S.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Cartland, J. R. H.||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Carver, Major W. H.||Denville, Alfred|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Cary, R. A.||Donner, P. W.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Castlereagh, Viscount||Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Drewe, C.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Duckworth, G. A V. (Salop)|
|Belniel, Lord||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (Br.W.)||Dugdale, Major T. L.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Duggan, H. J.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Channon, H.||Duncan, J. A. L.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Dunglass, Lord|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Christie, J. A.||Dunne, P. R. R.|
|Belt, Sir A. L.||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Eales, 1. F|
|Bernays, R. H.||Clydesdale, Marquess of||Eastwood, J. F.|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Cobb, Sir C. S.||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Colville, Lt.-Col. D. J.||Edmondson. Major Sir J.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Cook, T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.|
|Blindell, Sir. J.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Elliston, G. S.|
|Bosom, A. C||Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Emery, J. F.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Craven-Ellis, W.||Emmott, C. E. G. C.|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Emrys-Evans, P, V.|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W.||Crookshank, Capt. H. F. O.||Entwistle, C F.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Errington, E.|
|Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Everard, W. L.||Lewis, O.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.|
|Fildes, Sir H.||Liddall, W. S.||Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)|
|Findlay, Sir E.||Lindsay, K. M.||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Fleming, E. L.||Lloyd, G. W.||Sandys, E. D.|
|Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Loftus, P. C.||Savery. Servington|
|Fraser, Capt. Sir I.||Lyons, A. M.||Scott, Lord William|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Selley, H. R.|
|Furness, S. N.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Ganzoni, Sir J.||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Shepperson, Sir E. W.|
|Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||McKie, J. H.||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.|
|Goldie, N. B.||Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Simmonds, O. E.|
|Goodman, Col. A. W.||Magnay, T.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Gridley, Sir A. B.||Maxwell, S. A.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Mayhew, Lt-Col. J.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, F)|
|Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)||Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.|
|Guest, Maj. Hon. O.(C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Spender-Clay, Lt.-Cl. Rt. Hn. H. H.|
|Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Spens, W. P.|
|Gunston, Capt. D. W.||Morris, O. T. (Cardiff, E.)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Guy, J. C. M.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Hannah, I. C.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Storey, S.|
|Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Morrison, W. S. (Cirencester)||Stourton, Hon. J. J.|
|Hardie, G. D.||Munro, P.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. H.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Harvey, G.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. G.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan||Palmer, G. E. H.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)||Patrick, C. M.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Peake, O.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)||Peat, C. U.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Holmes, J. S.||Penny, Sir G.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Percy, Rt. Hon. Lord E.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Hopkinson, A.||Petherick, M.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.|
|Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Turton, R. H.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Pilkington, R.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Hudson, R. S. (Southport)||Plugge, L. F.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Hulbert, N. J.||Porritt, R. W.||Wallace, Captain Euan|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Ward, Irene (wallsend)|
|Hunter, T.||Proctor, Major H. A.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Radford, E. A.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Jackson, Sir H.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|James. Wing-Commander A. W.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Wells, S. R.|
|Joel, D. J. B.||Ramsbotham, H.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon. S.)|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Ramsden, Sir E.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Jones, L. (Swansea, W.)||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Keeling, E. H.||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Wise, A. R.|
|Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Rayner, Major R. H.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Unlvs.)||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Wragg, H.|
|Kimball, L.||Remer, J. R.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Latham, Sir P.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)||Ropner, Colonel L.||Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert|
|Leech, Dr. J. W.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'derry)||Ward and Major George Davies,|
|Division No. 161.]||AYES.||[11.7 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt-Col. G. J.||Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle Thanet)||Bossom, A. C.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Balniel, Lord||Boulton, W. W.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Baxter, A. Beverley||Brass, Sir W.|
|Apsley, Lord||Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Briscoe, Capt. R. G.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Brocklebank, C. E. R.|
|Assheton, R.||Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Belt, Sir A. L.||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)|
|Astor. Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Bernays, R. H.||Bull, B. B.|
|Atholl Duchess of||Bird, Sir R. B.||Burghley, Lord|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Blair, Sir R.||Butler, R. A.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Blindell, Sir J.||Campbell, Sir E. T.|
|Cortland, J. R. H.||Gunston, Capt. P. W.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Guy, J. C. M.||Plugge, L. F.|
|Cary, R. A.||Hannah, I. C.||Porritt, R W.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Hartington, Marquess of||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Radford, E. A.|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Channon, H.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.|
|Chapman, A. (Ruthergien)||Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Christie, J. A.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Ramsden, Sir E.|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Holmes. J. S.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Cobb, Sir C. S.||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. D. J.||Hopkinson, A.||Rayner, Major R. H.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Ceurthops, Col. Sir G. L.||Hudson, R. S. (Southport)||Remer, J. R.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hulbert. N. J.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Hunter, T.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'nderry)|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||James, Wing-Commander A. W.||Ruggles-Brlse, Colonel Sir E. A.|
|Cross, R. H.||Joel, D. J. B.||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Crowder, J, F. E.||Jones, L. (Swansea, W.)||Sandys, E. D.|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Keeling, E. H.||Savery, Servington|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Scott, Lord William|
|Davies, Major G. F. (Yeovil)||Kerr, J. G. (Scottish Universities)||Selley, H. R.|
|Dawson, Sir P.||Kimball, L.||Shaw, Major P. S, (Wavertree)|
|De Chair, S. S.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Denville, Alfred||Latham, Sir P.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.|
|Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.||Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.|
|Drewe, C.||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Simmonds, O. E.|
|Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop)||Lewis, O.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Liddall, W. S.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Dugdale, Major T. L.||Lindsay, K. M.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Duggan, H. J.||Lloyd, G. W.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Loftus, P. C.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Dunglass, Lord||Lyons, A. M.||Southby, Comdr. A, R. J.|
|Dunne, P. R. R.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Spens, W. P.|
|Eales, J. F.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Eastwood, J. F.||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Storey, S.|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||McKie,.1. H.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Magnay, T.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Elliston, G. S.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Emery, J. F.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon H. D. R.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Maxwell, S. A.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Entwistle, C. F.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Errington, E.||Mills, Sir F. (Layton, E.)||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Everard, W. L.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.|
|Fildes, Sir H.||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Turton, R. H.|
|Findlay, Sir E.||Morris, O. T. (Cardiff, E.)||Wakefield. W. W.|
|Fleming, E. L.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Wallace, Captain Euan|
|Fraser, Capt. Sir I.||Morrison, W. S. (Cirencester)||Ward, Irene (Wallsend)|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Furness, S. N.||Munro, P.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Ganzoni, Sir J.||Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. H.||Wells, S. R.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Goldie, N. B.||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Wise, A. R.|
|Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Palmer, G. E. H.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Patrick, C. M.||Wragg, H.|
|Gridley, Sir A. B.||Peaks, O||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Penny, Sir G.|
|Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)||Percy, Rt. Hon. Lord E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Guest, Maj. Hon. O.(C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)||Petherick, M.||Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward|
|and Mr. James Stuart.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Compton, J.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'Isbr.)||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Harris, Sir P. A.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Day, H.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Ede, J. C.||Hicks, E. G.|
|Barr, J.||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Johnston, Rt. Hon, T.|
|Benson, G.||Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)|
|Bevan, A.||Frankel, D.||Kelly, W. T.|
|Bracken, B.||Gallacher, W.||Kirby, B. V.|
|Broad, F. A.||Garro-Jones, G. M.||Lathan, G.|
|Brooke, W.||Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Lawson, J. J.|
|Brown, At. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||Gratton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Leach, W|
|Buchanan, G.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Logan, D G.|
|Cape, T.||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Lunn, W.|
|Cherleton, H. C.||Gritten, W. G. Howard||McGhee, H. G.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon, Winston S.||Hail, G. H. (Aberdare)||McGovern, J.|
|Maclean, N.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Marshall, F,||Rothschild, J. A. de||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Seely, Sir H. M.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Oliver, G. H.||Sexton, T. M.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Paling, W.||Short, A.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Parker, H. J. H.||Simpson, F. B.||Westwood. J.|
|Potts, J.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Price, M. P.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Pritt, D. N.||Smith, E. (Stoke)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Ritson, J.||Sorensen, R. W.||Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Mathers.|
Original Question put accordingly, and agreed to.