Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st March 1948.

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Photo of Commander Harry Pursey Commander Harry Pursey , Kingston upon Hull East 12:00 am, 1st March 1948

I passed 1914, but I will refer to it again for the benefit of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey). I come now to 1936 and to the Debate on defence which took place in that year. The Minister replying to the second day's Debate was Sir John Simon, now Lord Simon, and still with us. He dealt with the ten years' rule, and said that in 1931, It was then considered that the country's gravest peril lay within its own gates and not without. The risk of national bankruptcy Baas greater and more immediate than any external risk."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1936; Vol. 309, c. 1991–2.] Today we have a similar position. We have a financial crisis, and the Government are taking the steps which any Liberal or Tory Government would have taken under the same conditions. Therefore, any argument that sufficient money is not being devoted to the Services is entirely beside the point.

We come to the question of the strength of the Navy in ships and men. The general opinion in the country is that we have practically no Navy. Less than three years ago on VE Day we had more naval ships than ever in the history of this country. They have not vanished into thin air. Moreover, only last July there was a Royal Review in the Clyde, and on view were 108 vessels from battleships down, and in addition there were the ships in the Mediterranean station which were fully operational. It is fantastic nonsense to say today we have not got the ships. Then there was an argument advanced by the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor), during his speech on the King's Speech, who said that a ship could not fire all her armament at once. That is nothing new. No ship in the training squadron would have a sufficient complement of men to man all her armaments. I was in a training squadron and I ought to know. The "Hood" from 1929 to 1933 could not man all her armaments at the same time. So much for the ships.

Taking the question of manpower, the Minister of Defence quoted the number of men given under Vote A, namely, 145,000. In 1914, as a result of the efforts of the First Lord, the right hon. Member for Woodford and also of other Members of the Liberal Party, the number was 146,000. Today we have got practically the same number of men under Vote A as we had in 1914 at the outbreak of war.