§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Churchill)
The foundation of naval policy is finance, and the only credit that can be claimed by a Board of Admiralty is for keeping the requirements of the Navy at a minimum consistent with public safety, and for securing the utmost possible development of war power from the funds entrusted to them. If the country is of opinion that the needs of the Navy have been well and amply provided for, it is to the House of Commons and not to the Board of Admiralty—to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not to the First Lord—that their thanks and gratitude are due. It is necessary that this should be recognised, and it is right for me to say at this point that the great scale which our naval armaments have been forced to assume has only been rendered possible (without additional taxation or recourse to borrowing) by the wonderful fertility of the great Budget of 1909, for which my right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will be long and variously remembered and increasingly respected. The financial aspect of the Naval Estimates is not cheerful. All the world is building navies, and everything connected with every navy is constantly increasing in size, complexity, and cost. Naval finance cannot be conveniently studied on the basis of a single year. Annual Estimates, however useful they may be for certain purposes of Parliamentary control, do not give the House of Commons a fair chance of understanding or of measuring naval expenditure. Capital ships affect the Estimates of three successive years. The 1550 Estimates I present to-day are almost entirely governed by what was settled last year and two years before, and the Estimates and war strength of two years hence will be mainly decided by what is determined this year by the House of Commons. So far as possible, I have tried to look ahead, and the effect of every measure which I shall propose to-day has been and is being worked out on the various Votes for three, four, and five years ahead. It may be, though of course I do not make any pledge on the point, that during the course of the present year we shall find ourselves able so far to forecast future naval finance as to be able to present in the House of Commons next year the Estimates not of one but of a series of years. For the present, however, my study of this immense business does not enable me to go beyond certain general indications in regard to prospective finance which are given, and will, I trust, be taken strictly without prejudice.
Owing principally to labour troubles, which have involved delays in shipbuilding, there has been an under-spending on the Votes for shipbuilding, repairs, and maintenance of £1,600,000. The bulk of that sum has to be at once surrendered to the Exchequer, although the liability to meet which it was voted for Parliament still continues. In consequence the Estimates of 1912–13 are artificially inflated by £600,000, and those of 1913–14 by about £1,000,000. It has been found necessary, with Treasury sanction, to dispose of £300,000 of this under-spending, so as to provide for urgent services, and this has had the effect of relieving by that amount the Estimates of 1912–13. The extra burden on the Estimate of 1913–14 is, however, irremediable. Since it is most desirable, both for home and foreign services, that Naval Estimates should, if possible, exhibit a continuous downward tendency, apart from measures consequent upon new increases abroad, I have endeavoured to bring as much expenditure forward into the year 1912–13 as possible in order to lighten the burden of succeeding years. A rather larger proportion than usual of the new programme is to be taken in hand during 1912–13, and all reserves of guns, ammunition, and torpedoes are to be brought up to their full level. These measures, which are justifiable and even necessary on other grounds, will, I hope, have the effect of securing for Votes 8 and 9—the two principal index votes an naval finance—a continuous decline aggregating in the three 1551 years in prospect about £2,300,000. This diminution would continue to the extent of another £300,000 if the survey were extended two years further.
The progressive reduction and improvement in Votes 8 and 9 will be very largely counteracted by the growth of automatic and uncontrollable charges, charges which accrue on Votes other than Votes 8, 9 and 10. The Accountant-General estimates that even if no addition to numbers were necessary beyond the 135,000 expected to be borne on the 31st March, 1912, there would be an increase, through the mere maturing of obligations which the State has already contracted in pay, pensions, etc., of £250,000 in 1912–13, and £415,000 in 1913–14. If the numbers increase at the rate of 2,000 a year, which is the lowest possible increase which can be contemplated on the basis of the programme of other countries remaining as they are now disclosed, then the automatic augmentation of the Votes over which the Accountant-General provides, would in the five years I am taking into consideration amount to £1,700,000. The second source of certain and uncontrollable increase lies in the consumption of fuel, coal and oil. That is due to the rapidly increasing horse-power of the Fleet. Ships are joining the Navy of 70,000 horse-power, and, of course, they consume, for an equal amount of movement, a greater quantity of fuel than the vessels from 15,000 to 20,000 horse-power which they replaced. The increase due to the automatic augmentation of coal and oil consumption will not be less in the next five years than about £900,000 a year. Thirdly, there is the ever-increasing size and cost of ships of all types and classes, necessitating larger docks, wider dock entrances, and more complicated and extensive repairing plant. Lastly, there is the ordinary labour pressure in the dockyards and the general advance in prices. The House will see that the relief we may expect on one set of charges is likely, on the figures I have adduced, to be very largely neutralised by automatic increases upon other portions of the Estimates. The requirements of 1912–13, after all possible reductions have been made, including relief by expenditure of the surplus in 1911–12, present the following principal features: an increase of personnel of 2,000, an increase in the pay, non-effective pay and other automatic charges of £280,000, an increase in the cost of fuel of £125,000, an increase in the Vote 1552 for armaments and ammunition of £200,000, and an increase of the expenditure upon works due wholly to the execution of existing contracts at Rosyth and Crombie of £450,000, making a total increase of £1,055,000, against which I have been able to show a reduction of about £1,100,000 in respect of new construction, and of about £250,000 on other services under Vote 8. The nominal net decrease upon the Estimates is, therefore, just over £300,000, and the true decrease is £600,000.
I propose, with the permission of the House, to lay bare to them this afternoon, with perfect openness, the naval situation. It is necessary to do so mainly with reference to one Power. I regret that necessity, but nothing is to be gained by using indirect modes of expression. On the contrary, the Germans are a people of robust minds, whose strong and masculine sense and high courage does not recoil from, and is not offended by, plain and blunt statements of fact, if expressed with courtesy and sincerity. Anyhow, I must discharge my duty to the House and the country. The time has competition both nations ought to understand, without ill-temper or disguise, what will be the conditions under which naval competition will be carried on during the next few years. The cost and strength of a navy depend upon two main things: first of all, there is the establishment of ships and men maintained in the various scales of commission; secondly, the rate and amount of new construction by which the existing fleets are renewed or augmented. An increase in the establishment of great Navies like the British and the German Navies does not involve such heavy additions to the annual expenditure as an increase in the new construction. On the other hand, the cast of increases in new construction is confined to the years in which it takes place and names to an end with the completion of the ships, while increases in the number of men, although comparatively small so far as the cost is concerned in one year, involve charges in pay and pensions which recur year after year for a whole generation. Increases in new construction mean increased strength for fighting, through having better military plant. Increases in establishment mean increased readiness for fighting, through being better organised and better trained. It will be convenient for the House to bear these distinctions in mind.
Before I discuss the actual standards of new construction which we should take as 1553 our guides in the next few years, there are three general observations which I shall venture to make. The first is, that in times of peace we measure the relative naval construction of two navies by percentages, and that is perhaps as good a way as any other. In naval war, and especially in modern naval war, another system of calculation becomes dominant. Battles are not decided by ratios or percentages. They yield definite and absolute results, and the strength of conflicting navies ought to be measured, and is measured, not as in peace by comparison, but by subtraction. We must expect that in a fleet battle between good and efficient navies equally matched, tremendous damage will be reciprocally inflicted. Many ships on both sides will be sunk or blown up. Many more will sustain injuries which will take months to repair. Others, again, will not come out again during the whole of the war. Indeed, the more we force ourselves to picture the hideous course of a modern naval engagement, the more one in inclined to believe that it will resemble the contest between Mamilius and Herminius at the Battle of Lake Regillus, or the still more homely conflict of the Kilkenny cats. That is a very satisfactory reflection for the stronger naval Power. It will always pay the stronger naval Power to lose ship for ship in every class. The process of cancelling would conduct us, albeit by a ghastly road, to certain victory, and to a condition, not of relative, but of absolute superiority. Further, with a reciprocal destruction of the newer ships, the older vessels will rise swiftly in value. When the Ace is out, the King is the best card, and so on. We possess more "Dreadnoughts" than any other two Powers in the world today, and if all the "Dreadnoughts" in the world were sunk tonight, our naval superiority would be greater than it is at the present time. We cannot imagine the course of a naval war which would not tend steadily to increase the relative fighting value of the large resources we possess in pre-"Dreadnoughts," until, as time went on, quite old vessels would come out and play an important part. We are, therefore, keeping such vessels carefully in a material reserve, and arrangements are being perfected by the War. Staff to bring them into commission at the sixth, ninth, or twelfth month of any war. All this must be considered in judging the standards of new construction which are appropriate to our needs.
1554 The second observation which I would wish to make is this: It is very easy to make rapid increases in new construction, so long as you are not burdened by the expense of maintaining a great establishment. Our German neighbours have not yet begun to feel the weight of maintaining year after year a gigantic naval service. These charges mature slowly, but remorselessly. The expense of maintenance, apart from the new construction, must grow irresistibly with every year, and therefore it may be found that, as time passes, the very rapid rate of new construction which we have seen elsewhere may, to some extent, be abated by the deadweight drag of increasing maintenance charges. We have a very wide and long experience in the Admiralty. We know the forces that are operative upon the finance of a great Navy, and we are not yet convinced that they will not be found, sooner or later, to operate elsewhere. My third observation is this: It is wrong and wasteful to build a single ship for the Navy before it is wanted. Up to the moment when the contract for a battleship has been definitely signed, the vessel is the heir to all the expanding naval science of the world, but from the day when the design has been finally fixed, she becomes obsolescent, and she has become a wasting security. Nearly three years of her brief life have been lived before she is born. Before she is even launched, the vessels which are capable of destroying her have been projected. It is an ill service to the Navy and to the State to build a single ship before its time. We have to sow each year for the harvest we require two years later—as much as we require and no more. What I might venture to call "the more the merrier" argument is detrimental to efficiency as to economy. The only safe rule which the British Admiralty can follow is to maintain the minimum consistent with full security.
Having reviewed our existing naval resources in the light of the foregoing-observations, we are not prepared to recommend at the present time the two-keels-to-one standard in new construction against Germany. The time may come when that will be necessary, but it is not necessary now. I will, however, state precisely the standards which we regard as appropriate to the present situation. Before doing so, I should like to make it clear that, as a result of the measures, taken by my right hon. Friend the Home 1555 Secretary, there is no cause whatever for alarm or despondency. The Admiralty are prepared to guarantee absolutely the main security of the country and of the Empire, day by day for the next few years, and if the House will grant us what we ask for the future, that prospect may be indefinitely extended. I propose first of all to deal with new construction, and to leave the establishment of the Navy to the last. Standards of naval strength must vary with circumstances and situations. Adequate naval superiority is the object, and the standards which we adopt are necessary, though arbitrary guides for securing it. When the next two strongest naval Powers were France and Russia, and when those two Powers were also what one might call the most probable adverse diplomatic combination, the two-Power standard was a convenient rule, based upon reality, for us to follow as a guide. The passage of time and the rise of the Navy of a single Power to the first place upon the Continent has changed this. We have no longer to contemplate as our greatest potential danger, the alliance, junction, and co-operation of two naval Powers of approximately equal strength, with all the weakness and uncertainty inherent in such combinations, but we have had for some time to consider the growth and development of a very powerful homogeneous Navy, manned and trained by the greatest organising people of the world, obeying the authority of a single Government, and concentrated within easy distance of our shores. In consequence the two-Power standard, if applied to Europe alone, would be quite inapplicable, because wholly inadequate. On the facts of to-day, the Navy that we should require to secure us against the most probable adverse combination would not be very much greater than the Navy we should require to secure us against the next strongest naval Power. In order, therefore, to provide a reason for the necessary measures which have been taken during the last few years, it has become customary to extend the two-Power standard so as to include the United States of America, and thereby, I think, the two-Power standard has lost much of its good sense and its reality. The time has come to readjust our standards in closer accord with the actual facts and probable contingencies. The actual standard in new construction—I am not speaking of men or establishment—which the Admiralty has, 1556 in fact, followed during recent years, has been to develop a 60 per cent, superiority in vessels of the "Dreadnought" type over the German navy on the basis of the existing Fleet Law. There are other and higher standards for the smaller vessels, with which I will not complicate the argument, as they do not greatly affect finance.
If Germany were to adhere to her existing law we believe that standard would, in the absence of any unexpected development in other countries, continue to be a financial guide for the next four or five years so far, that is to say, as this capital class of vessel is concerned. Further than that it is idle to speculate. This, however, I must say. I must not be taken as agreeing that the ratio of sixteen to ten could be regarded as sufficient preponderance for British naval strength as a whole above that of the next strongest naval Power. Even if we possessed an Army two-thirds as strong as that of the strongest military Power, we could not agree to that. We are able for the present to adhere to so moderate a standard because of our great superiority in vessels of the pre-"Dreadnought" era, among which the eight King Edwards and at, least eight of the armoured cruisers are quite unmatched among contemporary ships. As these vessels gradually decline in relative fighting value, our ratio of new construction will have to rise above the 60 per cent, standard. Every addition which Germany makes, or may make, to the new ships she lays down each year must accelerate the decline in the relative fighting value of our pre-"Dreadnoughts," and, therefore, requires special measures on our part. Applying the standard which I have outlined to the existing German navy law without any addition, that is to say, two ships a year for the next six years, for that is what the law prescribes, and guarding ourselves very carefully against developments in other countries which cannot now be foreseen, it would appear to be necessary to construct for the next six years four ships, and three ships in alternate years, beginning this year with four. That is a little above the 60 per cent, standard, it is over seventeen to ten, but that is the least which will maintain a 60 per cent, standard, and that is what we have had in our minds when we framed the Estimates which are now presented to the House of Commons. If we are now, as it would seem, and as I fear it is certain to be, confronted with an addition of two ships to German construction 1557 in the next six years—two "Dreadnoughts—[HON. MEMBERS: "Annually?"] No, two ships spread over the six years, we should propose to meet that addition upon a higher ratio of superiority by laying down four ships in the same period, spreading them, however, conveniently over the six years so as to secure the greatest convenience in our finance. If, of course, we were confronted with three ships additional we should lay down six, and the forecast of new construction, which I now make under all reserve, would become four, beginning with this year, five, four, four, four, four, as against the German construction of two, three, two, two, three, two. So alternatively, if three were laid down by Germany in the six years, our construction would become five, four, five, four, five, four, as against the German alternation of three's and two's. It is clear that this number could be varied to suit the circumstances.
Let me make clear, however, that any retardation or reduction in German construction will, within certain limits, be promptly followed here, as soon as it is apparent, by large and fully proportioned reductions. For instance, if Germany elected to drop out any one, or even any two, of these annual quotas and to put her money into her pocket for the enjoyment of her people and the development of her own prosperity, we will at once, in the absence of any dangerous development elsewhere not now foreseen, blot out our corresponding quota, and the slowing down by Germany will be accompanied naturally on our larger scale by us. Of course both Great Britain and Germany have to consider, among other things, the building of other Powers, though the lead of both these countries is at present very considerable over any other Power besides each other. Take, as an instance of this proposition which I am putting forward for general consideration, the year 1913. In that year, as I apprehend, Germany will build three capital ships, and it will be necessary for us to build five in consequence. Supposing we were both to take a holiday for that year. Supposing we both introduced a blank page in the book of misunderstanding; supposing that Germany were to build no ships in that year, she would save herself between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000 sterling. But that is not all. We should not in ordinary circumstances begin our ships until she has started hers. The three ships that she did not build would therefore automatically 1558 wipe out no fewer than five British potential super-"Dreadnoughts," and that is more than I expect them to hope to do in a brilliant naval action. As to the indirect results, even from a single year, they simply cannot be measured, not only between our two great brother nations, but to all the world. They are results immeasurable in their hope and brightness. This, then, is the position which we take up, that the Germans will be no gainers, so far as naval power is concerned, over us by any increases they may make, and no losers for the basis I have laid down by any diminution. Here, then, is a perfectly plain and simple plan of arrangement whereby without diplomatic negotiation, without any bargaining, without the slightest restriction upon the sovereign freedom of either Power, this keen and costly naval rivalry can be at any time abated. It is better, I am sure, to put it quite frankly, for the Parliaments and peoples to judge for themselves.
As to the minor vessels in the new programme, I must say a few words. The programme of minor vessels is strictly within the limits of the normal expenditure on this class of ship. We ask the House to sanction the building of twenty torpedo-boat destroyers and to enable us to lose no time in pressing forward with their construction. Upon the information before me in December I thought it proper to send out the tenders for the whole of the flotilla this year, feeling confident that Parliament would approve of them when the time actually came. The tenders have been received, their examination was completed a few days ago, and we shall be able to locate the vessels for immediate construction as soon as the House gives us the necessary authority. Provision has been made in the Estimates for their immediate and continuous construction. We are asking about £700,000 this year for the construction of submarines. We do not propose to state the number, because that would indicate with unnecessary precision the type which these vessels would assume. Submarines are in a state of transition. We have in submarines an ample preponderance, and we can afford to lie back to the last moment so as to secure the very latest developments.
The only novel feature in the minor programme is the small cruiser. If we had repeated the programme of recent years we should have built four "Chathams," of about 5,400 tons, and one "Blonde." We have been considering, however, the 1559 cruiser problem as a whole. We observe that the "Chathams" grow larger each year, and that they tend, under the rivalry of type, to approach ever more closely to the armoured cruiser class of ten and fifteen years ago. This would be a very expensive development if it were to continue, and we are by no means satisfied that it is a development based upon a sound appreciation of naval tactics. Numbers also are very important in this sphere, and we propose therefore to hark back to smaller vessels and to build eight of these new light armoured cruisers instead of the four "Chathams" and the "Blonde" which have hitherto figured in our programme. I do not think the House would wish me to go too much into detail about the dimensions and qualities of these vessels—they are to be described as light armoured cruisers, and they will, in fact, be the smallest, cheapest, and fastest vessels protected by vertical armour ever projected for the British Navy. They are designed for attendance on the battle fleet. They are designed to be its eyes and ears by night and day and to watch over it in movement and at rest. They will be strong enough and fast enough to overhaul and cut down any torpedo-boat destroyer afloat, and generally they will be available for the purpose of observation and reconnaissance.
I have dealt with the programme of the year; and, before I come to the important question connected with the establishment which we should maintain, there are four topics connected with shipbuilding to which I must refer—docks, oil, aviation, and shipbuilding capacity. The docking accommodation available for the Fleet, actual and prospective, is not at all unsatisfactory. Indeed, I may say I was very agreeably surprised by an inquiry I undertook into it. We possess at the present time nine docks which can take "Invincibles," "Lord Nelsons," and all earlier ships, and five of these are suitable for our latest battle ships.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Well, one is at Haul-bowline. In a few months there will be two floating docks capable of taking the largest size of ships which exist at present, and these two floating docks will be put one in the Medway and the other possibly at Portsmouth. Early next year 1560 a new lock, capable also of being used as a dock, will be ready at Portsmouth, and another also of the largest size will be ready in January, 1914. In 1916 the three docks and the lock at Rosyth—four in all—will also be available. Meanwhile there are five private docks wide enough to contain the largest vessels ready and two others now in the course of construction. In addition to these there are four others which will take vessels of the "Invincible" class. That is, in the opinion of the Admiralty, sufficient provision for our needs at the present time. The question is being considered carefully whether pending the completion of the docks at Rosyth, one of our floating docks, when ready, should not be towed to Cromarty and used there as a subsidiary base with floating workshops, pending the creation of the large base which is being developed on the north-east coast. Therefore further provision for docks will be necessary in 1916 for the needs of 1920, because we have to look four years ahead in regard to docks. But there is no cause for anxiety or complaint so far as the immediate future is concerned.
The adoption and supply of oil as a motive power raises anxious and perplexing problems. In fact, I think, they are among the most difficult with which the Admiralty have ever been confronted. Oil as a fuel offers enormous advantages to ships of all kinds, and particularly to the smallest kind. In speed, convenience, cleanliness, economy, and in the reduction of personnel, oil is incontestibly superior to coal, and if internal combustion engines of sufficient power to drive warships could be perfected, as may be hoped for within a very reasonable time, all these advantages of oil will be multiplied, and some of them will be multiplied three or four times over. But, on the other hand, can we make sure of obtaining full supplies of oil at reasonable prices in time of peace and without restriction or interference in time of war? Can we accumulate and store a sufficient reserve of oil to meet our ever-growing requirements, and can we make that reserve properly protected against attack either by aeroplanes or sabotage? All these matters are receiving continuous attention.
So much has been said during the Army Debates in the last few days on the subject of aviation that I purpose only to make a passing reference to its naval aspect this afternoon. Early in November my Noble Friend the Secretary of State 1561 for War (Lord Haldane) and I agreed together that the War Office and the Admiralty should work together so far as possible in the development of this vitally important new Service. A sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence was set up, which, under the guidance of the Under-Secretary of State for War (Colonel Seely) has produced a bold, far-reaching, and carefully-considered scheme. The Admiralty are very much indebted to my right hon. Friend for the service he has rendered in this connection. We have now acquired some land at Eastchurch, adjoining that of the Royal Aero Club, who courteously gave us the use of their aerodrome for flying purposes. The buildings and sheds for a naval aviation school are in course of erection. A considerable number of aeroplanes both for training and experimental purposes have been purchased, principally in England, and some of these are being adapted to the special needs of the Navy. We do not, of course, require in the Navy to develop aviation on the same great scale as in the Army. We have already a certain number of good naval aviators, and we are going to increase them as rapidly as possible during the year, and I hope it will not be many months before regular nights of naval aeroplanes can be attached for ordinary service to the various squadrons and commands of the fleets. I can assure the House that the greatest importance is attached by us to a thoroughly good and effective development of this service, and money will not stand in the way of any necessary steps.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We have taken in the Estimates as much as we can spend. Although there is no money taken in the Estimates for the purchase of dirigible balloons or dirigible airships, it ought not to be supposed that that subject is not also engaging unremitting attention, especially the latest developments. Lastly, the House is entitled to be relieved of any anxiety which they feel in regard to the expansive power of the shipbuilding resources of the country. It is not possible to say whether our most prominent competitors can build as fast as we do. What is certain, is that they do not in practice do so, and it is also true, I am pleased to say, that we can build, arm, and equip great ships each year—and continue the process year after year—upon a scale largely in advance of any other single Power in the world, according 1562 to its present resources. The House may take it for certain, therefore, that there is absolutely no danger of our being overtaken unless we decide as a matter of policy to be so. I leave new construction and now turn to our establishment. Upon the establishment of ships maintained in full commission, and upon the number of active service ratings permanently available, depends our immediate readiness for war. The growing strength in the establishment of foreign navies, and the increases, actual and prospective, on which we must reckon in their personnel, makes it now necessary somewhat to strengthen the force which we keep constantly ready for immediate service in home waters. I do not think it would be particularly useful at this juncture for me to enter into detailed comparisons between the force which we keep immediately available and the forces which are at the disposal of various foreign Powers, and I hope I shall not be pressed to do so. I would prefer to pursue a general argument. We ask Parliament to assent to large margins of safety. That is not because we do not believe our Fleet man for man, ship for ship, would not acquit itself with credit and to the satisfaction of King and country. There is, however, a very practical reason which any layman can understand. We stand as a nation upon the defensive. It is inconceivable that we should make a surprise attack upon Germany or any other European Power. But apart altogether from the moral aspect, which I am not now discussing, what would be the use of it. We have no means of following up such an attack, even if it were successful, and no means of bringing the war to a speedy conclusion. Therefore, I say we are relegated to the defensive.
This entails certain obvious consequences. There is a considerable difference between the number of ships which are available any day taken at random throughout the year by chance, and the number which could be got ready for a particular date or period marked out in advance. For instance, if the House of Commons sent a Committee to Portsmouth to-night, and orders were given to mobolise all the ships in the harbour, we could produce a certain number, but if we were told privately that the Committee were going down to see how many ships we could turn out on short notice on 1st April or 1st May, we could produce from twentyfive to thirty per cent. more. That is a 1563 very important fact which anyone can appreciate. It is a fact which makes it necessary for us to have a sufficient margin to be able to meet at our average moment the naval force of an attacking Power at their selected moment. The second reason why we should have an ample margin is that the consequences of defeat at sea are so much greater to us than they would be to Germany or France. There is no similarity between our naval needs and those of the two countries I have mentioned. There is no parity of risk. Our position is highly artificial. We are fed from the sea; we are an unarmed people; we posses a very small Army; we are the only Power in Europe which does not possess a large army. We cannot menace the independence or the vital interest of any great continental State; we cannot invade any continental State. We do not wish to do so, but even if we had the wish we have not got the power.
These are facts which justify British naval supremacy in the face of the world. If ever any single nation were able to back the strongest fleet with an overwhelming army, the whole world would be in jeopardy, and a catastrophe would swiftly occur. People talk of the proportion which the navies of different countries should bear to the commercial interests of the different nations—the proportion of France, the proportion of Italy, the proportion of Germany—to their respective mercantile marines; but when we consider our naval strength we are not thinking of our commerce, but of our freedom. We are not thinking of our trade, but our lives. Nothing, of course, can make us absolutely safe against combinations which the imagination can summon up. We have faced combinations again and again in the past, and sometimes at heavy odds, but we must never conductour affairs so that the navy of any single Power would be able to engage us at any single moment, even our least favourable moment, with any reasonable prospect of success. If this is insular arrogance, it is also the first condition of our existence. I am glad to be able to assure the House that no difficulty will be experienced in making arrangements to maintain our relative positions in the near future, and to secure as quickly as we need them adequate margins of safety. I am glad also that these measures will not involve any excessive or disproportionate expense. We do not, of course, require 1564 to build any more ships other than those I have referred to under the head of "new construction." All we should need to do is to bring, as we require it, and no sooner, a larger proportion of our existing Fleet into a higher status of commission, and consequently of greater readiness. We propose also at the present time, in view of the increases which are in progress, tore-cast completely the organisation of the Fleet. Under the new organisation the ships available for home defence will be divided into first, second, and third Fleets, the whole three Fleets, comprising eight battle squadrons of eight ships each, together with their attendant cruiser squadrons, flotillas, and all auxiliaries. Each of these three Fleets will represent a distinct administrative status and standard of commission. The First Fleet will comprise four battle squadrons of fully commissioned ships, together with one Fleet flagship. It will be found as follows.
The battleships of the First and Second Division of the Home Fleet will become the first and second battle squadrons. The Atlantic Fleet will be based on home ports instead of Gibraltar, and will become the third battle squadron. During the course of the present year, as new vessels join the Fleet at the top of the list, this squadron, which now consists of six battleships, will be increased to eight. The fourth battle squadron will be formed from the battleships now stationed in the Mediterranean, which will step into the place of the Atlantic Fleet and be based on Gibraltar instead of on Malta. This battle squadron will also be raised ultimately, and, if necessary, to a strength of eight ships from six at which it stands at present. This fourth battle squadron will, from its strategic position at Gibraltar, be able to give either immediate assistance in home waters or to operate in the Mediterranean, should naval combinations in that sea render its presence necessary or useful. Its movements will be regulated by the main situation. These four squadrons, comprising in the aggregate, with the Fleet flagship, thirty-three battleships in full permanent commission, will constitute the First Fleet.
The Second Fleet will be composed of two battle squadrons with their attendant cruiser squadrons, on what is called the existing third division scale. I hope that the House will realise exactly what this third division scale means. Ships maintained on what has hitherto been called 1565 the third division scale, or in what will in future be called the Second Fleet, are vessels which have full complements of active service ratings always provided. They do not require any mobilisation of the reserve which is in civil life. Half of their crews, including a large proportion of special ratings, are always on board, and the other half, roughly speaking, are in the schools and barracks on shore, going through the courses of instruction, a regular crculation of which is essential to the good organisation and training of the Navy. Ships in the Third Division cost practically just as much to man each year as ships in full commission, so that no considerations of economy, but solely considerations of efficiency, have led to the adoption of this system. I hope that the scale of these ships will not be under-rated because they are called vessels maintained with nucleus crews. They are vessels for which full crews of active service men are constantly provided. The system has been adopted in order that the courses of instruction may be performed, and active service ratings may have in rotation a fair share of time on shore instead of always being engaged on service afloat. There is only one serious respect in which ships of the Third Division are at a disadvantage as compared with the full-commissioned vessels. It is possible that they might be cruising away from the home ports with only their half nucleus crews on board when the emergency came. Then they would have to go back to the home ports and take on the rest of the crew, who would be in the schools and barracks, and consequently some delay would at certain times of the year be caused in their readiness for active service. It might be two or three days. We propose to reduce, if not wholly to remove, this disadvantage by the following arrangement.
At present the Third Division consists of eleven battleships. We propose to raise the number to sixteen, and to divide it into the fifth and sixth battle squadrons forming the Second Fleet. The movement of this fleet will be so arranged that one of its two battle squadrons will always be present in the home port, and consequently one will always be ready to move as soon as steam can be raised. The other will usually be in that condition, and it will only be during a portion of the year that it will be cruising. The division of the Second Fleet in the two battle squadrons will take place at once, but the full strength of these squadrons will not be 1566 realised for several years unless circumstances render an acceleration of the process necessary. When the process is complete the First and Second Fleets will together comprise forty-nine battleships available at the shortest notice and completely manned by the regular active service ratings of the Navy. By the time that this is completed we may expect that the next strongest naval Power will possess twenty-nine battleships, ready immediately, without mobilisation, for war. Of these twenty-five will be in full permanent commission. At present we have only twenty-two battleships in full commission in home waters, even including the Atlantic Fleet. So it is quite clear, in view of these developments, that a very large expansion on our part is necessary. I hope that the House will realise the full scope and simplicity of the measures which we propose to take to give us the power which we shall need. The Third Fleet will also consist of two battle squadrons together with the remaining four Cruiser Squadrons. It will be manned on what is called at present the Fourth Division scale, that is to say, it will be manned with reduced nucleus crews, and on mobilisation there will be added an additional proportion of active service ratings, and the rest of the ships' complement will be made up from the mobilisation of the Reserves now in civil life. A proclamation is required in due form before the Third Fleet can in its entirety proceed to sea, and although every effort will be made to accelerate the process of mobilisation—I am having special inquiry made into that—a few days' delay will certainly be inevitable before the Fourth Division, as it is now called, or the Third Fleet, as it will be in future, can be ready for sea.
With a view to securing at any rate a portion of this Fleet in an emergency at very short notice, we propose to institute and develop a new class of the Royal Fleet Reserve to be called the Immediate Reserve. This force, which will be limited for the present to about 5,000 men, will be analogous in some respects to Section A of the Army Reserve, that is to say, it will be composed of men who volunteer for this service. They will receive 1s. a day reserve pay instead of 6d., and they will be liable to be called out on any serious emergency without the need of a general mobilisation. From the inquiries which we have been making, we have reason to believe that a very considerable proportion of the men of the 1567 Royal Fleet Reserve will be willing to give us their services and the House knows well that they are one of the most magnificent lots of men in the country, having all served in the Navy from five to ten years, and being, most of them, persons of the highest character and substantial position. A large proportion of these men will be drawn from those who are already in Government employment, in the dockyards, the Post Office, the fire brigades, and elsewhere, but it will be necessary, in order that real efficiency may be secured to the ships manned by a proportion of this Reserve, that the Immediate Reserve should go through twenty-eight days' training in each year upon the actual ship on which they 'will serve on mobilisation. They will not, as at present, be a large pool of Reserve men who are distributed anyhow through the Fleet according to the needs of a particular mobilisation. They will all know exactly what ship they will be allocated to and where they will serve on that ship in their annual twenty-eight days' training. They will know exactly what gun, what ammunition, or torpedo tube they will serve at and whom they will serve with. In future entries into the coastguards—that great and often cheaply won prize which is offered by the British Government at the present time to sailors—will be mainly confined to men who have given this special service in the Immediate Reserve. Then we shall have to rely upon the patriotism of the employers—who are not a very large number at all—and I am bound to say that very satisfactory replies have been received from many employers—to facilitate the development of a Reserve so necessary, and arrangements will be made, if necessary, and where desired, through the Labour Exchanges, to provide suitable and competent substitutes during the time the Reserve men are doing their annual training.
The Immediate Reserve men will enable us to mobilise and man the Seventh Battle Squadron, and another Cruiser Squadron, at very short notice, and we should expect that the standard of efficiency of these two squadrons will be far above the ships in the present Fourth Division scale. The present Fourth Division scale will now for the future only apply to the Eighth Battle Squadron and to the remaining Cruiser Squadrons, which will consist of the oldest ships which we have. We do not propose to provide crews for the Eighth Battle Squadron, 1568 even on the Fourth Division scale, unless it becomes necessary, until a better class of ship filter down in consequence of new ships joining at the top of the list. There is no use manning the "Royal Sovereign" and vessels of that class, they are better laid up; and vessels for which no crews are provided will be cast into the material Reserve, and can be taken care of and kept in readiness, so as to replace ships which will be lost in action, but whose crews are saved when the vessel is destroyed. Thus we assemble for the purposes of comparison a total mobilisable fleet of fifty-seven, or, if necessary, sixty-five battleships, as compared to the thirty-eight of the next strongest naval Power. This proportion of fifty-seven to thirty-eight would not be sufficient if numbers were the only test and measure of naval superiority, but it must be remembered that our superiority, ship for ship and squadron for squadron, can be traced all down the line, and that it is very great where the older classes of vessels are concerned. In proportion as our superiority in the earlier ships gradually passes away and as what, if the House will allow me to coin an odious expression, I may call the "Dreadnoughtisation" of other navies progresses, it may be necessary to raise not merely the quality, but the scale of our Fleet. But the new organisation which I have unfolded to the House would lend itself readily to any further requirement, and it would be quite simple, if need be, to increase the squadrons from eight ships apiece at first to nine and afterwards to ten vessels. This, however, is looking to a period beyond the four or five years which bound the utmost horizon of naval policy. Let me repeat, however, that, just as in the case of new building, we shall proceed in the development and perfection of this new organisation step by step, as may be necessary, and the rate of our development will be slowed down if we are convinced that a corresponding retardation has begun elsewhere.
With regard to the flotillas of torpedoboat destroyers, it will also be necessary to make some expansion. We are forming a seventh flotilla of twenty destroyers this year. We propose to form an eighth flotilla next year, and it may be that we shall have to form a ninth flotilla in 1915. These flotillas will be formed simply by maintaining the older vessels in commission with nucleus crews, instead of striking them off as new destroyers of each year are commissioned. In connection with the 1569 flotillas we propose to institute a new command. At present three flotillas manned by nucleus crews and certain submarines are provisionally assigned to the duties of coast defence. They are now placed under the control of the Vice-Admiral commanding the Third Division. With a view to their better training in peace, it is now thought necessary that they should be placed under a special admiral. In war they will be controlled through this officer directly by the Admiralty, so as to enable the battle fleet or fleets to operate with the utmost freedom and confine themselves to the prime business of defeating the enemy's battle fleet without being diverted by the necessity of protecting the British coasts from any minor raid or descent, whether naval or military. The officer in charge of this new command will be called the "Admiral of Patrols," and, of course, the vessels at his disposal will be available for all purposes besides those which I have indicated as being in the forefront of their most obvious duties. As I have already told the House, the immediate cost of these measures will not be great, though the charges will gradually augment and will be recuring. The principal item is the increase of personnel.
The rate of increase under the existing German Law is 3,500 a year. This year they have added 3,712 men. Against that we are asking now—I think the House will believe with great moderation—for an increase of no more than 2,000 men on the average, which means that we can recruit up to 3,000—in fact, by the end of the year. If there are any additional increases elsewhere we shall find it necessary, in order to man the war fleets at the various dates in the future, and to develop the Fleet organisation, to immediately ask a substantial addition. After the House has listened to these important proposals, a very few sentences will suffice to explain certain subsidiary points which will be entailed by them. It takes a long time to train men for the Navy, but it takes still longer to train officers. On the other hand, we require at once to have a substantial increase in the lieutenants' list. The pressure at the present time upon the officers of the Navy is very severe, and it is not always possible to allow them the full amount of leave to which they are entitled in the course of every year, small us it is; and with the development of the new Fleet organisation this strain will, in ordinary circumstances, be greatly increased. It is therefore necessary for us 1570 to have more commissioned officers, and to have them as soon as possible. I propose, therefore, to take two steps, which I hope will commend themselves to the House and to the Service. Everyone acquainted with the Navy must have been struck by the extraordinary high qualities of discipline and intelligence which are displayed by the best class of warrant officer. These are the days when the Navy, which is the great national service, should be opened more broadly to the nation as a whole. The question, as the House knows, is fraught with difficulties. We have thought them well over, and we are agreed in believing that there are no difficulties which, in the public interest, cannot be and ought not to be overcome. We propose, therefore, to select a considerable number of the younger warrant officers, by yearly instalments of twenty-five to thirty up to a total of 100, possibly more, for promotion to the rank of commissioned warrant officer, a rank which already exists and which is equivalent to that of sub-lieutenant.
After duly qualifying for their new duties, these officers would be appointed to ships, and be available for all executive duties of sub-lieutenants. They would, of course, be eligible for promotion, strictly according to their merits, to the higher ranks. As, however, they will start as commissioned officers some years later than those who enter the Navy through the naval colleges, it is probable that the great bulk of them will retire content with a career which will have carried them from bluejacket to commander. If this should in practice result from the departure we shall have made the necessary additions to the lieutenants' list without producing that block in promotion to the higher ranks which would otherwise be inevitable, and which would be deeply injurious to the Service as well as unjust to the individual. Such a block would produce aged captains and venerable admirals—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It would prevent men reaching what are, perhaps, commands of the most direct responsibility in the world while they are still in the prime of their manhood, and, otherwise, it would injuriously affect the efficiency of a fighting service. As the promotion of a number of the younger warrant officers may be thought to affect somewhat hardly the warrant officer of many years' service, it is 1571 proposed to concede to them what they have so long desired—namely, promotion to the rank of commissioned warrant officer after fifteen years' service as warrant officer, instead of after some twenty years as now, provided they are found fit, so that there are really two careers which the warrant officer can embark on, one of which will lead to promotion after fifteen years' service and probably employment on shore, and the other of which will carry with it much speedier promotion as warrant officers and continuous employment on fully commissioned ships. The details of this scheme are now being carefully worked out.
We have also been struck with the age and size of the senior midshipmen. I am strongly of opinion that a young gentleman of nineteen or twenty who has been trained for six years or more exclusively to the profession of arms, and who has qualified in every way required of him, deserves advancement to the rank of commissioned officer. We shall, therefore, allow midshipmen to qualify in navigation and seamanship at the end of two years and four months. It is better to split up the examination into two parts instead of giving them the long and exhausting three weeks' trial they are put to at the present time. If they are successful in qualifying in navigation and seamanship they will at once be promoted to the rank of acting sub-lieutenant, and will be available for all the duties of that rank. Eight months later they will have to pass in the remaining subjects of their course, and then receive their regular commission as sub-lieutenants. We propose to make a change forthwith in the system which now regulates the commissioning of ships. Under the present system of two-year commissions, the Admiralty has sought to keep the captain, officers, and men of a ship's company together, if possible, without any change, for the whole period of the two years. This has not, however, been possible in practice. Death, illness, retirement, promotion, the necessity for qualifying, or requalifying in ever more numerous courses of instruction, are always producing large and inevitable changes even during the short period of a two-year commission in every ship's company. On the other hand, there is a grave loss in efficiency and war power and a serious waste of human effort involved in the process of killing the live ship every two years, dispersing officers and crew far and wide and 1572 deliberately destroying the efficiency as a fighting ship which has been gained with so much trouble, and has now to be started afresh next morning under a completely new regime. We have come to the conclusion that it is far butter to keep the ship continuously in commission at the same high level of efficiency, and we therefore propose to revert to the system of continuous commissions which was in force before the two-year commissions were introduced, but to effect the change's in personnel more systematically and at regular intervals.
The system of continuous commission will be extended to all ships manned with nucleus crews. Up to now these ships have not only had to make themselves efficient with half a crew instead of a whole one, but they have had to hand over those nucleus crews on an average every eight months to a fully manned ship about to recommission and to start afresh themselves with a new half-crew selected from the barracks and schools. The system cannot, of course, be applied to ships on foreign stations nor to torpedocraft in home waters. Three-year commissions will therefore be adopted on foreign stations, and two-year commissions will remain in force for torpedo craft. Three inquiries into very important subjects of naval administration have been or are being held at the present time. The first has been into the gunnery of the Fleet, and into the methods of training and testing the officers and men in this, supreme and paramount service. That inquiry is now completed, and the results are being carefully weighed. It has been a conference as well as an inquiry, at which a large number of the best sea-going officers have been present. It is possible I may have to make a slightly larger request to the House for practice ammunition, and I shall not hesitate to do so if that is necessary. A second inquiry which is to be instituted will deal with the whole system of the entry and education of cadets and midshipmen. I must make it clear, however, that this inquiry implies no departure from, or reversal of, the policy of naval training instituted in 1902, but, rather, is calculated to give full effect to it. The House will be glad to learn that Sir Reginald distance has accepted my invitation to preside over this Committee, which will commence its labours at once. Thirdly, the time has come when there must be a full inquiry into the system of summary punishments 1573 which are now in force, including their consequential effects as regards pay, position, badges, and pension. It is of high importance to the interests of the Navy that the system of punishments should be physically and morally beneficial as well as corrective, and that they should be so devised in regard to offences where no dishonour is involved so as not to wound the self-respect of fighting men. I hope the House will discern from the account I have given the general principle of naval administration to which we adhere—homogeneity of squadrons; simplicity of types and classes; modernity of material; concentration in the decisive theatres; constant and instant readiness for war; reliance upon gun power; reliance upon speed; and above all, reliance upon 136,000 officers and seamen, the pride of our race, and bred from their boyhood up to the permanent service of the sea. These are the principles which we ask the House of Commons to approve. For the rest I have only a word to say.
The spectacle which the naval armaments of Christendom afford at the present time will no doubt excite the curiosity and the wonder of future generations. Here are seen all the polite peoples of the world, as if moved by spontaneous impulse, devoting every year an immense and ever-growing proportion of their wealth, their manhood, and their scientific knowledge, to the construction of gigantic military machinery, which is obsolescent as soon as it is created; which falls to pieces almost as soon as it is put together; which has to be continually renewed and replenished on a larger scale; which drains the coffers of every Government; which denies and stints the needs of every people; and which is intended to be a means of protection against dangers which have perhaps no other origin than in the mutual fears and suspicions of men. The most hopeful interpretation which can be placed upon this strange phenomenon is that naval and military rivalries are the modern substitute for what in earlier ages would have been actual wars; and just as credit transactions have in the present day so largely superceded cash payments, so the jealousies and disputes of nations are more and more decided by the mere possession of war power without the necessity for its actual employment. If that were true the grand folly of the twentieth century might be found to wear a less unamiable aspect. Still we cannot 1574 conceal from ourselves the fact that we live in an age of incipient violence and strong and deep-seated unrest. The utility of war even to the victor may in most cases be an illusion. Certainly all wars of every kind will be destitute of any positive advantage to the British Empire, but war itself, if ever it comes, will not be an illusion—even a single bullet will be found real enough. The Admiralty must leave to others the task of mending the times in which we live, and confine themselves to the more limited and more simple duty of making quite sure that whatever the times may be our Island and its people will come safely through them.
§ Mr. LEE
I need hardly say that I do not rise on this occasion for the purpose of attacking the Estimates which the Government have laid before the House, and, still less, of denouncing the right hon. Gentleman after the speech to which we have just listened. That speech seems to me to be the logical sequence to the speeches which the right hon. Gentleman has made on other occasions at the Guildhall and at Glasgow, in and conjunction with the Estimates they suggest to us that the present Board of Admiralty is determined to pursue a clear, steady, and resolute policy with regard to our naval affairs. Perhaps the House will excuse me when I say that it is the first speech by a First Lord of the Admiralty since the present Government have been in office to which I have listened with pleasure, and I am not sure that it is not the only speech proceeding from the Treasury Bench on any subject to which I have listened with pleasure for the last few years. At any rate, it has given a great deal of satisfaction, and when the words, the strong words that the right hon. Gentleman used, are translated, as I feel sure the right hon. Gentleman intends to do, into deeds, they will give great satisfaction to all of this country, irrespective of party, who recognise that our sea supremacy is our first and most vital interest. The right hon. Gentleman caused me some slight misgivings in the earlier passages of his speech. I do not wish to say much about his unfortunate reference to the Budget of 1909. Conscious, no doubt, of certain opposition that he has to face not from this side of the House but from the benches behind him, his exordium consisted of faint pious hopes that naval reduction in the future would be largely increased. He said that Naval Estimates should show constantly decreasing tendencies, and he 1575 spoke of the decrease in the Naval Estimates as being of importance. If necessary I should have been willing to follow the right hon. Gentleman into that suggestion, and to disagree with him, but it is not necessary. Those few remarks were only thrown just as a traveller would throw a bun to a pack of pursuing wolves when he knows that the wolves have no longer any power to hurt him. [Mr. CHURCHILL made a remark which was inaudible.] That is quite true. I wish to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman was not treating the wolves seriously.
The right hon. Gentleman proceeded from that point, in every single phase of his speech, to show that not only were decreases not possible, but that large increases in Navy Estimates in ensuing years were absolutely inevitable. We all have known for a long time that this must be the case. Hopes were held out to us last year by the First Lord of the Admiralty that there would be great reduction in the Estimates. The right hon. Gentleman, in order to save the face of the Government, and in view of the new circumstances, has produced a small nominal reduction this year, but he has made it absolutely clear to the House and the country that in the future there must be enormous increases in our naval expenditure. But I think the right hon. Gentleman has gone further than that, and has shown that those increases are absolutely necessary. No one, not even the maddest Jingo, wishes for expenditure for the sake of expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman has, I think, point by point proved his case that large increases are not only inevitable but necessary. I would only say with regard to the Estimates generally that, taken in conjunction with his speeches and with the announcements he has made today, that those Estimates must be taken as being on the whole satisfactory. They are admittedly provisional. There is no doubt about that. The right hon. Gentleman is looking forward, and in his subsequent remarks he has shown that, in the future and possibly in the present year, they must be open to considerable modification, because they are based all through upon the supposition that there will be no increase in the published programme of foreign Powers. He has shown, as regards Germany at any rate, that that supposition, that hope, is a very faint one.
I do not think he need have apologised for using the plain language that he did 1576 in facing the situation. After all, there is no one in this world who does not know what Power, above all Powers, we consider when, we are framing our naval policy. It must be the next strongest Power, and I think, in a case like this, plain, honest words are best, and, therefore, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for using them. They will not be half as much misunderstood or resented as language which is not plain, which ignores the obvious facts of the situation and yet by implication gives offence. I think the Government have been wise in stating clearly what the position is, how they intend to deal with it, and, coupling with it as they have, a fair and conciliatory spirit and an offer, a distinct offer, that if mutual reductions are agreed to, they will welcome them and that our naval expenditure will be modified accordingly. These Preambles, such as have, been attached to the First Lord's Memorandum this year, and, if I may say so, the far more provocative one, if they are provocative, to the German Navy Bill, after all are comparatively of small importance as compared with facts, and in dealing with foreign programmes, and especially in dealing with a great Parliamentary instrument like the German Navy Bill, we have got to bear this in mind, that we are not building against a perfectly definite thing which anybody could have understood from the first. We are building against an instrument which is indeed called by its authors—I think the words used were "fixed and immutable," but which, as a matter of fact, is the most elastic instrument that any human being could ever devise. When we consider that by the German Navy Bill, for example, when it was introduced it was accepted that the expenditure under it in the year 1911–12 would have been £11,000,000, whereas now it is £22,000,000, when we consider the great increases that have been made in the German programme, all within the provisions of that Bill, then it is more important that we should consider from year to year the facts of the situation and deal with them in the spirit which the right hon. Gentleman is doing. I noticed that his remarks were not received with any great enthusiasm from his nominal supporters below the Gangway opposite.
Surely the facts, the plain, international facts, of the last nine months, must have convinced even the most ardent pacifist that the very existence of our Empire depends upon our sea supremacy, and that without it we should live on sufferance, 1577 On this point the teachings of history are absolutely plain, and it would be indeed the greatest of great illusions to ignore them. We do not have to go back to ancient history in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman, in the peroration of his speech, bewailed the apparently demoralised condition of the civilised world at the present time. There has been no change whatever in the condition of the civilised world from the time of the flood. It has always been the same. We have it, however far back you go in history or however recent the illustration, and I will take the most recent, the case of Tripoli, which must be present to everyone's mind. From that illustration the civilised world has been reminded of three eternal principles. The first is that unreadiness for war does not secure peace. The second is that insufficient strength invites aggression, and that in spite of the theories of Mr. Norman Angell, great civilised Powers will still in this twentieth century of the Christian era go to war for the sake of gain, either of territory or of something else. The third lesson that we learn from that illustration is that the Power which commands the sea is itself immune from attack. These are very old theories, but they are ones which we must never forget. Bacon, three hundred years ago, said:—This much is certain, that he who commands the sea has great liberty, and may take as much or as little of the war as he will.Surely after the events of the last nine months, no one, however devoted to peace and the reduction of expenditure on armaments, can fail to read the lessons which have been put before us. Sea supremacy being so vital to us and our first care, I do not think that any reasonable man can suggest that we are overdoing it. Certainly it cannot be suggested that we are forcing the pace. The only doubt possible is whether up to the present and at the present time the basis of our naval policy—to use the right hon. Gentleman's own phrase—that it should be the bare minimum consistent with full security—has been sufficiently provided for. Three tests may be applied, namely, men, ships, and money. First, take men. The right hon. Gentleman showed—and I think it cannot be denied—the absolute necessity there is for a large increase in our personnel. The increase is to be 2,000 this year, and probably 2,000 in succeeding years. Our increase of personnel has been of the most moderate character during recent years. The German personnel has increased in the last ten years by no less than 95 per 1578 cent., whereas ours in the same time has increased by only 16 per cent. We are adding only 2,000 this year, while the Germans are adding nearly 4,000. It is clear that we are not forcing the pace in that connection. Next take ships; and for the purposes of this test I take only capital ships. Our present strength in ships of the "Dreadnought" era, as compared with that of Germany, is only three to two. Surely that is not excessive in view of our position in the world. Many of us think it is quite insufficient. Then take the test of expenditure. For the purpose of comparing our Estimates with foreign Estimates there are so many factors which enter into ours that have no corresponding factors in theirs, that the only fair test is to take the amount of money spent upon new construction and armament. Taking that alone, we have in the last three years spent £41,000,000, while Germany and Austria—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] An hon. Member asks why I take two Powers. You must for this purpose consider two Powers who are absolutely bound in an offensive and defensive alliance. Germany and Austria together have spent £40,000,000 to our £41,000,000, and the Triple Alliance have spent £46,000,000. Take the position in the spring of 1915, which is the point we have to consider, as affected by these Estimates, which will then mature. We shall have available in European waters only thirty-four ships of the "Dreadnought" type, as compared with twenty-seven possessed by Germany and Austria. That is a superiority of only five to four. Surely it is not to be suggested from that that we are forcing the pace or being provocative. If the hon. Member opposite still wonders why I should consider these other Powers, perhaps he will remember the words of one of the greatest of international authorities upon naval discipline and strategy, namely, Admiral Mahan, who I am afraid is more responsible than any other living man for the great increase in naval armaments all over the world. Only the other day in an article in reference to the position between England and the Triple Alliance, he said:—For the safety of the British Empire, it is vital that its naval force should be indisputably superior to that of the Triple Alliance.If we examine our position under any one of these test heads, I do not think that any reasonable man can deny that if the bare minimum consistent with security is maintained it is only just maintained, and that we, at any rate, are not the Power that is 1579 occupying a provocative position. For these reasons many of us have thought that the programme of shipbuilding for the present year should have been larger, but I am not prepared to press that in view of the forecast which the right hon. Gentleman has made in regard to future years. That, I think, was in many ways the most important and interesting portion of his speech. He told us truly that it was important that we should look ahead, and that we should consider, not only the present year, but what the general position would be over a considerable number of years to come. As I understood his speech, he laid it down that the policy of the Admiralty in future is to be that we are to maintain a superiority over the next strongest Power of 60 per cent, under normal circumstances. That is, if existing naval programmes are adhered to in foreign countries; but if there is any increase over those programmes our reply will be on the basis of two keels to one. Speaking of the present time, he said that a superiority of sixteen to ten in "Dreadnoughts" over the next Power is not sufficient. In an answer to a question only yesterday the right hon. Gentleman shows that next month—April—we shall have a superiority of only sixteen to eleven as compared with Germany.
I think I have made it clear that our minimum security is barely if, indeed, secured. Further, the advantage which we held for so many years in the matter of greater speed of building is by no means as marked as it has been in the past; and when we remember what has happened to our shipbuilding programme during the last twelve months; when we see that even Powers like Austria, who have not had great experience in building warships, expect to complete their first "Dreadnought" in two years and four months, it is clear that we shall not be able to rely on that superiority for any length of time to come. It is necessary to say a few words with regard to the delays in our shipbuilding programme during the last twelve months. There have been more delays in that period than at any other time in my remembrance. There has been a sum of over £1,500,000 voted last year unspent within the financial year. It is suggested that the conditions which have led to this state of affairs has been exceptional, but the exception has only been that there have been strikes. Does anyone suggest that we are likely to have 1580 fewer strikes in future? I am afraid we have always to consider the possibility of these delays. The delay has been increased by the Government themselves, at any rate in one case. I refer to the political coquetting that has been going on between the Government and the Thames Ironworks Company. Here is a case where, in regard to ships that are urgently needed, of a class that is perhaps the most urgently needed in the whole naval service, there has been a delay of over two months, and the question is still unsettled, because the Government is anxious to meet the wishes of the Thames Ironworks Company and the people of the district concerned. There may be social justification for that, but there are no justifications from an Admiralty point of view. The Admiralty has no right to inflict either upon the nation additional cost or upon the Fleet delay in building, and still less to become a kind of outdoor relief agency. I hope at a later stage the representative of the Admiralty will tell us what is going to be done with regard to the cruisers that have been held up for so long.
It must be remembered that this abnormal delay during the last twelve months will seriously affect our relative position, as compared with other Powers two years hence. It is true that there is an increased instalment of money for commencing the new programme in this year's Estimates. I saw that with great satisfaction. We now find, however, that that increase is for the purposes of the destroyers only, and that the battleships and cruisers in the programme are to be even more belated than usual. None of the battleships are to be commenced until 1913, and the two contract ships are to be so belated that they will really hardly be begun within the financial year at all. I think that for one "Dreadnought" there is about £2,000 provided for the next twelve months, or about a thousandth part of the cost. In addition to that, three of the five ships of last year's programme have not yet been commenced. They have been provisionally ordered. We know what that means—that they have not yet been commenced. Therefore I do not think the Admiralty can base its forecast of the future upon any hope of our greater rate of building as compared with foreign Powers. I think we have a certain grievance in this matter, because I remember very well two years ago the then First 1581 Lord of the Admiralty promised reform in this connection. He told us that in future the Shipbuilding Vote should be taken earlier, not merely for the sake of discussing it, but in order that the money might be voted and the programme commenced in the summer, instead of being put off until the early months of the following year. I think we are entitled to some explanation as to why that has not been done. I come to another point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech which was of surpassing interest and importance. That was with regard to the new distribution of the Fleet. His intention and aim, I understand, is to strengthen the naval force immediately available for war in home waters. That certainly is a most desirable object. He made a remark which I think will attract attention when he said that we have to consider, not merely a sufficient margin on the day which might be selected by us if we were going to attack a possible enemy, but an ample margin at all times, even on the day that a possible enemy might choose to attack us. I believe it is the case that under our institutions it would be practically impossible for any Government in this country, however bellicose, to take the initiative and make an unprovoked attack upon another Power. It is an impossibility. Therefore, speaking from a strictly military point of view, it is hardly possible that we should ever possess the initiative. That must lie in the hands of possible enemies. Therefore I do welcome most heartily that particular assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that we must have a margin which will be sufficient even on the day when another Power might think it desirable to attack us. There are seasons of the year in which many of our ships axe in docks. At such times, according to the right hon. Gentleman's policy, we are always to have a sufficient margin. That I think is a most important statement.
I do not propose on this occasion—it is impossible at such short notice—to deal in detail with the account which the right hon. Gentleman has given, of the redistributed Fleet; of its division into three great fleets, the first two of which may be called Active Service Fleets, consisting of forty-nine battleships, all manned with active service ratings, and a Third Fleet, which is in the nature of a reserve, and which as I understand it, is to bring up our total strength, if every ship should be mobilised, to fifty-seven 1582 battleships as compared with thirty-eight of the next strongest Power. That distribution marks, a great advance upon anything which exists at the present time. It will have to be most carefully examined, but speaking within a few minutes of hearing of it for the first time, I say that it is an announcement upon which I think the House and the country may congratulate themselves. I must pass on, for it is quite impossible, in view of the magnitude of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, to deal with the details as they will have to be dealt with before these discussions come to a close. I do not therefore propose at present to attempt to deal with the details of the shipbuilding programme for battleships, cruisers, destroyers, or submarines, because we shall have a better opportunity for that on the Shipbuilding Vote. I will only say, in passing, that I heard with great interest the outline the right hon. Gentleman gave of the new class of cruiser. This is to be small and cheap, and, above all, numerous, and is to be designed specially for service with the Fleets. There has been a great shortage of cruisers for service with the Fleets, and the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman in that particular is very welcome. With regard to destroyers, the action of the Government in laying down twenty at once is satisfactory, and it shows that we were more than justified in the protest we have made in past years as to the lamentably dangerous shortage that existed in that particular class of craft. We will be able to discuss the question of docks on Vote 10.
The right hon. Gentleman said something about aviation. I am glad to know that that is receiving attention, and that measures, if possible, will be taken, according to the Memorandum, but I have been unable after the most diligent search, to find any provision whatever in the Estimates for this. No doubt the provision is there, but everyone knows how difficult it is to find one's way about in the Estimates, even after many years' experience. I hope the representative of the Admiralty will tell us later exactly what is to be done. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of several Committees that he was setting up. There was one Committee on gunnery and one on naval punishments. This latter, if I may so describe it, will supply a long-felt want. I could have wished that he had set up a Committee also to inquire into the question of pay of the Royal 1583 Navy. I express no opinion at present as to whether it is sufficient or insufficient. The question, however, has reached a point when it requires investigation. I must say one word in regard to a point which is dealt with in the right hon. Gentleman's Memorandum, but about which he has told us nothing to-day. I refer to the appointment of the new Member of the Board of Admiralty who is to be called an Additional Civil Lord. This official, as we gather from the Memorandum, is to occupy the position of business manager at the Admiralty. Apparently all matters dealing with contracts, purchases, and negotiations with outside firms are to be conducted through him. Speaking with some little knowledge of Admiralty affairs, I should like to use the same phrase as I did a moment ago, and say that this appointment will meet a long-felt want. Although everyone at the Admiralty has done his best under every Administration to economise so far as was consistent with safety, there are still further economies possible. These will, no doubt, be discovered and acted upon by a man who has nothing else to do except to look after the business side of the financial business of the Admiralty. I will only give one illustration. I have always been impressed by the amount of money which has been spent not only under this Administration but under every Administration at the Admiralty upon the repairing of ships which are in reality obsolescent. Ships come back after many years' service, and enormous sums, £70,000 or £100,000, are spent upon them almost as a matter of routine to refit them for service. If we look back we find that in many cases these ships after refitment have never done effective service. That is a matter where economy might conceivably be usefully employed. I am surprised the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to the War Staff in his speech—although perhaps he was quite justified in view of what he had to tell us—and he could not deal with everything. It has been truly said—
§ Mr. LEE
As we are not, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say that I think rather too much has been 1584 made of this creation of a War Staff; it is as if it was some entirely new thing evolved within a few weeks by the unaided genius of the right hon. Gentleman since he went to the Admiralty.
§ Mr. LEE
It is not entirely new in the minds of men, nor is it an entirely new fact. But the right hon. Gentleman deserves great credit, no doubt, for having expedited a process of evolution which was gradually going on, perhaps going on much too slowly, but none the less proceeding. He has no doubt put the finishing touch to that process, and has told us all about it in this very interesting and characteristic Memorandum, which, perhaps he will allow me to say, has had such an excellent Press. The War Staff, as he describes it, consists of three divisions, two of which existed before—the Intelligence and the Mobilisation Divisions. The right hon. Gentleman has added to it an "Operations Division." He has co-ordinated the three, and has placed them under a Chief of Staff, who is an admiral. No doubt the work that he has done is very much needed, and ought to have been done some time ago. While I cannot perhaps share the opinion of my Noble Friend behind me that the whole thing is absolutely new, and is entirely new to the administration of the right hon. Gentleman, although I do think it was very much due to my Noble Friend's, efforts and persistency during the last few years, the great value of the staff, as I see it, is that it is going, for the first time, to make a real connecting link between the Navy and the Army. I will not dwell upon the rumours that we heard about the extraordinary differences of opinion in the course of last summer; I hope that under the new arrangement such differences of opinion will become impossible in future. There is one fly in the ointment with regard to the War Staff. I hope that on some future occasion the right hon. Gentleman will be able to reassure us in regard to a point winch has been considerably discussed. In his Memorandum, page 16, it is clearly suggested that naval staff officers in future will be a class apart, will be segregated from the general body of the naval service, will become what in 1585 my military days was the special bête noire of the military officer, what is called the brass-hatted brigade. They are a class of professional staff officers who, although they may go back occasionally to ordinary duty—for ever-diminishing periods in the case of the Army—are none the less necessarily out of touch with the Service and are looked upon as a privileged class, bound to get all the plums. I think it will be a very great mistake in the case of the Navy if anything were done that would have the tendency to discourage the ordinary executive officer, who, after all, is the backbone of the commissioned ranks in our Fleets. The right hon. Gentleman might explain exactly what is proposed in this matter at some future stage, when I hope he may be able to give the assurance which is much looked for by what I call the average executive officer of the Fleet. I will only say in conclusion that we listened with a great deal of satisfaction to the greater portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and I think it has come at an opportune moment. This country at the present moment is passing through a great phase of social unrest, of which I am afraid we have by no means seen the last as yet, and this internal disorder, with its accompanying paralysis of the Government and of our national and our international activities, is, as a matter of course, being watched by friends and foes in all parts of the world. There are, I hope, some who are grieved, but there are, I am afraid, some who might rejoice if this internal disorder developed to a point where we should be more exposed to perils from without. This being so, our Navy at the present time is of even greater importance to us than ever it was before. It is important that it is not politically concerned with any of our internal or domestic disputes, but, so long as they continue, it is our first paramount duty to secure ourselves against all possibility of risk from any outside embarrassment or interference. If the nation is divided against itself and is suffering from internal paralysis, then surely it is more than ever of vital importance that our Navy should be of overwhelming strength, that it should be more than ever watchful, and that it should be instantly ready at any conceivable emergency, and so far as we can judge from the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman, and particularly from his speech to-day, and so far as we can judge from the published Estimates, it seems to me that the Board of Admiralty is alive to the specially heavy responsi- 1586 bility which lies upon its shoulders to-day, and in that belief, and assuming further examination shows that belief is justified, we shall be prepared, I believe, on this side of the House, to support the Government in whatever steps it may be necessary to take to preserve the safety of the country from any perils from without.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
It is not my intention to enter upon any examination of the technique of the Navy, or to delay the Estimates now before the House. I rise in the name of those with whom I am associated to renew the protest we have deliberately made on these occasions against this continued enormous expenditure of such large sums upon the maintenance of the Fleet and upon the Navy. The fact that for three years in succession we have been estimating for and spending over £40,000,000 a year on the Navy as a whole, constitutes a great menace to our peace and national security. I know that the reverse is meant to be the case, yet anyone with experience of mankind is aware that the continual challenge which we throw out to other Powers is bound to be accepted by them, and may quite easily lead to an outbreak of hostility where no such need exists. And there is this further point; the growing expenditure not only of this country but of Europe generally, upon Army and Navy, is tantamount to a confession of failure of our whole diplomatic service, and of our statesmanship. The interest which now rules Europe evidently assumes that peace cannot be maintained unless each nation is armed to the teeth. We hold the old-fashioned or the new-fashioned ideas, whether behind the times or ahead of the times, that the business of statesmanship is not to prepare for war, but to make war, if not impossible, at least very unlikely, and every pound of increase spent upon either the Army or the Navy, is a confession of the failure of statesmanship to rise to the occasion.
One thing I think must have been obvious today, and that is that the tension between this country and Germany is not yet relieved. There is still an atmosphere of suspicion which darkens counsel and distorts vision, and one strong reason for that is so many interests both in this country and in Germany are concerned in maintaining the present tension, between the two countries. The great armour plate interest in our own country and in Germany have a direct interest in encouraging wasteful expenditure upon 1587 the building of ships. In Germany and here in this country, that interest owns newspapers or controls newspapers whose effort is to keep the public mind inflamed and alarmed. Behind this we have the clear mistakes and blunders of our statesmen. The last illustration of that is from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty at Glasgow, only a few weeks ago, when he seemed to go out of his way to accentuate the friction supposed to be existing between this country and Germany. He said:—The present estimated expenditure is being framed on the assumption that the existing programmes of other naval Powers will not be increased. In the event of such increase, it will be necessary to frame Supplementary Estimates both for men and money.Who are the other Powers there referred to? What other Powers had the right lion. Gentleman in his mind? What other Powers are prepared to estimate upon our Estimates now being framed? We heard his comment today on the Glasgow speech. Formerly the rule of this country in regard to naval matters was two keels to one. In a general way that was held to be a good working agreement, but no individual Power was singled out for special comment and special treatment.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the two keels to one against the next strongest Power would be the proper arrangement?
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
I am not arguing that. I am pointing out that hitherto the statement was two to one. To-day Germany has been singled out for special treatment. The opening portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was devoted to what Grmany was doing and to what we were required to do in consequence. We were told that the proportion which we must build to Germany was a sixty to forty.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
Then I want to ask why Germany was specially singled out for mention in this connection. We are not now building against Europe, we are building against Germany, and all through that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech there appeared to be a girding at Germany, which can only emphasise the difficulty between the two countries. I admit quite frankly that this 1588 country cannot afford to go too far alone, and I deplore the fact that Germany should be adding to its naval expenditure, but I would remind the House that if the German Government is pursuing that policy it is doing so at the cost of increasing loss of confidence of the nation. In the elections concluded the other day, the party which gained most and added 1,000,000 to the number of its voters, which increased its membership of the Reichstag from 57 to 110, was the Socialist party, which all through has been fighting against this increase in the German naval expenditure. Therefore the people of Germany, whatever its Government may be doing, are obviously not in favour of the policy which has been pursued, and therefore it is said we might well go much further than the First Lord of the Admiralty went to-day in giving Germany a lead in regard to mutual reduction of expenditure. We are to follow in the wake of other nations in reducing our naval expenditure. If Germany will issue an order wiping out the three ships she proposes to build, we shall wipe out our Jive; but surely in a matter of this kind, with so much at stake, the bold offer I submit should come from us, that for this year our "Dreadnought" programme would remain blank, which would have produced instantaneous effect in the German Empire. We always pride ourselves in being in the forefront of the world's programme. Why in this respect are we content to follow in the rear? Our position as an island demands a Navy, that is not in dispute, but we must not forget that Germany's position now as a great commercial nation also demands a Navy, if not for the protection of her home, at least for the protection for her commerce. The only question at issue is what proportion the two Navies should bear. I submit that had the Admiralty acted in the way I have suggested, they would have aroused enthusiasm at home and abroad, and would have given the cause of peace an impetus which might easily have led to an early and substantial reduction in the unnecessary, wasteful, and harmful expenditure which is now going on. Speaking on behalf of the Labour party, we once more enter our protest against this kind of wasteful expenditure of public money, and we shall join our forces, not with the Government of Germany, but with the growing working-class movement of Germany and other nations in terminating this expenditure, so that the national 1589 wealth may be used for better and more fruitful purposes than it is being put to at the present time. Armies and navies are costly monuments to the folly, ineptitude, and the incapacity of those who aspire to the title of statesmen and rulers. Fortunately the new spirit now coming into being here and elsewhere, which is manifesting itself in the unrest to which the last speaker referred, is a powerful message of peace to the whole civilised world, and if this country persists in spending money at the increasing rate which it has been doing in the past, far from that unrest being allayed, it will be increased and the progress of Socialism very much accelerated. We, at least, enter our protest, and we hope our comrades in Germany will maintain their anti-military attitude there, and we shall endeavour, as far as in us lies, to co-operate with them in bringing about the result which we and they alike have in view, not the armed peace of Europe, but a peace founded upon agreement and mutual understanding amongst the respective peoples.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I do not agree with that part of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie), in which he spoke about the nations not being properly armed. I think the fact of a nation being properly armed is more likely to secure peace than if it is not properly armed. The hon. Member suggested that we should ask Germany if we reduced our armaments would she do the same? The hon. Member only needs to look back to the year 1908, and he will see the effect of that policy. We did what lie has suggested in 1906, and Germany increased her navy law by six armoured ships, and in 1908 shortened the lives of all her battleships from twenty-five to twenty years. The policy suggested by the hon. Member has been tried, and has failed very miserably. With regard to the interesting speech which has been made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, some parts of it were eminently satisfactory and some parts I did not agree with at all. I think it will be better for me to point out first the parts which I think are satisfactory, and reserve my other criticisms for the latter part of my speech. The right hon. Gentleman said the foundation of naval policy was finance. Surely the foundation of naval policy is not finance, but requirement. Our life depends upon our Navy policy, and we are prepared to pay anything to protect our life, and finance is only a secondary con- 1590 sideration. I agree that we have to economise, but to economise, as the Government have been doing, means that later on you have to pay three times as much to get your defence back to its proper strength.
I do not quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman's cancelling process, and he seems to have based the whole of his idea of what is necessary for the defence of this country on the battleships. He appears to have forgotten our weakest part, and that is the trade routes. Cruisers are necessary for the defence of our trade routes, and we require a different strategy and tactics altogether. Our danger is starvation through not having our trade routes properly protected. The right hon. Gentleman speaks far too cheerily about the three "Dreadnoughts," and he must not forget that by the time he mentions, they will have deteriorated very much. May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it will be the first battle that will settle the action, and not anything that may come afterwards. We want a Fleet that will be absolutely certain of beating any Fleet we have to meet, and we cannot trust to our reserve of old ships. The First Lord's remarks about small cruisers were very excellent, but why he has only put down eight when he knows we want thirty-six I cannot understand. We may see something of this demand on the Supplementary Estimates, or in a larger Estimate next year, and if we do not see it we ought to. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about oil. He should not forget that oil is very easily destroyed, whether under the water in tanks, or whether it is in tanks above, and he must be very careful before he adheres to the doctrine that oil will supersede coal. The advantages he claims for oil are quite true. Then, again, the right hon. Gentleman's plan of putting the men in the Fleet Reserve is quite excellent, and I hope he will get all that he requires. It will be an immense improvement, and far greater than any other reserve in the country, if you get those men who have been in the Fleet and who know it while they are in the prime of their life.
It is very curious, but a good few of these suggestions are exactly those which I made myself before I had my flag hauled down. I suggested that the torpedo craft should be put under an admiral and properly organised. I brought that before the Admiralty in a most respectful manner, and it was also brought before 1591 the Committee of Defence, and had the Prime Minister been present I think he would agree that this was the case when he inquired into my letter as to the organisation of the Fleet. As for the two years commission the right hon. Gentleman has given an excellent reason why it should be done away with. I supported that Commission heartily at first, but I admit it has not been successful. My object was that these ships should be docked three times in two years, and then they would not run the danger of being hampered by a foul bottom. With regard to the necessity of altering the two years' commission and going back to three, I am not quite clear as to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. Will the officers and men always remain in one ship?
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
They will remain three years and two years for the torpedo-boat destroyers and email cruisers. I was pleased to hear the announcement about warrant officers being made into sub-lieutenants, for that is an excellent plan. That is a proposal which many of us have supported for many years. It is quite a reasonable plan. To say that you cannot find any officers among 134,000 seamen is ludicrous, and I have said so before in this House. As a matter of fact they will be received with open arms by the officers in the Fleet, who will welcome their friendship and good comradeship, because the warrant officers appreciate their great qualities. Therefore I am very pleased the right hon. Gentleman has taken that view. I am also pleased that he has not forgotten the older men whom it would not be possible to put into the ranks by giving them an extra rank. I will now turn to the general policy in this country with regard to the Navy. I shall confine my remarks to the naval policy and not to any details except such as are necessary to prove my case. First of all, I deplore the original paragraph in the First Lord's statement, where he says:—These Estimates have been framed on the assumption that the programmes of other naval Powers will not be increased.I regarded that as an indirect threat, and I believe I am correct in saying that the right hon. Gentleman could perfectly well, with his War Staff which is now created, have set out what was necessary for the defence of our Empire as a whole 1592 without mentioning Germany or any other country, and in that way he could have done exactly what he has done now without causing any irritation. The right hon Gentleman said these Estimates were not provocative. I say the language used by the right hon. Gentleman was very provocative, and it will bring about the state of affairs which evidently the right hon. Gentleman wishes to avoid. I do not say that he wished to make things disagreeable, but he went a long way in that direction. With regard to this irritation and the necessity for increasing our Naval Estimates, I maintain that the right hon. Gentleman has not acted in a statesmanlike way. I will read directly the effect of what he put in his statement. What the effect of his words to-day will be in Germany I do not know, but the whole thing could have been avoided if the right hon. Gentleman had made out his Estimates on the question of Imperial defence and loft Germany alone altogether. I have always said it was a mistake ever bringing Germany into such questions. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but it is our country that causes all the irritation in Germany. We begin it, and I will prove it directly. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] The right hon. Gentleman approached Germany with an olive branch in one hand and a sword in the other, but he took good care to keep the olive branch in his trouser's pocket, so all the Germans saw was the sword. I have always said, "Leave other nations alone; look after ourselves," and that is what the German Press has said over and over again. "Why cannot England make out what is necessary for her requirements without referring to us, and let us do the same." Surely that was the common-sense way of doing things without causing all this irritation that at present exists. The First Lord of the Admiralty has also put himself in a rather difficult position. Supposing he has to increase his Estimates, he will have to point out to his supporters what governments are increasing their Estimates, because although he says "other countries," he knows perfectly well it is Germany that is meant. He had much better have left "other countries" out altogether.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
Does the right hon. Gentleman want this irritation to continue with Germany? I want to stop it. He is going the right way to continue it. 1593 The right hon. Gentleman below me (Mr. Lee) says it was Germany who created the trouble, and that we did not. I will soon settle that. I have just got some German papers and taken out what the Press says with regard to the First Lord's paragraph. If he says the Press does not count, that is very unlike the sentiments of his own party. Here is what they say with regard to his initial paragraph:—They ought to know in London that threats have no effect upon us.This is your peaceful propaganda as exhibited in your original paragraph:—Britain's latest irritation to Germany.British threat.British irritation.Impudent British bluff.These are all different papers:—British naval ratio suggested, Two to one. Insulting to Germany.I will deal with that two-to-one programme directly. I think it has the support of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lee).The programme fixed by Great Britain would allow Germany to secure any estimate that she put before her country.Great Britain desires peace. She goes the wrong way to work by threatening.Germany has a right to build as much as England. She admits Britain has the same right; but why cannot Britain build what she requires and leave these threats to Germany out altogether?That is the point I wish to make on this question.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
Thirty papers. What is the result of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks on the Press of this country? They never thought of "any countries." The British Press made a bee line for Germany at once, and some of the papers made use of language that I consider far too strong. The basis of their contention is the same as what the right hon. Gentleman said tonight. If Germany increases by any ship or any proposal, or alters her Navy Law at all—which she has a perfect right to do—we will at once build two to one. I have always opposed the two-to-one proposition. I consider it insulting and irritating to Germany, and I am going to give the House my objections to it. First, it takes only one Power, and not Imperial defence as a whole. It is not nearly strong enough, looking at it from the point of view of Imperial defence. I must go back to 1909 When the two-to-one-men—I described them as wild men then, and I still think them wild men—were in a state of excitement bordering on insanity. They wanted 1594 us to build two ships for every "Dreadnought" that Germany was building or projecting. That was their proposal. Therefore, as Germany was to have twenty-one "Dreadnoughts"—
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
Then I misunderstood what the right hon. Gentleman once said to me. He told me he was strongly in favour of two keels to one. That was a private conversation, and I ought not to have mentioned it. I am very sorry. I am rather of the idea, however, that my right hon. Friend said so in public. I object to the two keels to one for that reason. They wanted to lay down eleven "Dreadnoughts" in 1910–11 and eleven "Dreadnoughts" in 1911–12. That is what they would have had us do to get the two keels to one by that period. That was absolutely impossible, as I pointed out at the time. It could not be done; it would have cost £20,000,000 more than the suggestion of a shipbuilding Vote made to the London Chamber of Commerce in 1909, for one class of ship alone, without any cruisers, men, coal, torpedo-boat destroyers, or anything necessary to make these ships effective. If that programme laid before the London Chamber of Commerce had been carried out, we should have had none of this competition; we should have had a Navy Vote suitable in all details, some of which, not very many, have been carried out since, although the necessity was denied at the time. We should have had our slips clear and the manufactures and all industrials ready, provided we wanted a new naval programme, which I pointed out might be necessary, in 1912–13. We should have stopped the competition, this irritation would not have been here, and we should have been in a proper position with regard to defence without the irritation and competition going on at this moment. We are 1595 always niggling at Germany. Instead of going ahead and looking after our Imperial defence we are making all this disagreeableness. It could have been avoided if we had gone at a time when money was cheap and trade booming. Now this irritation will go on, holding to this crabbing policy year after year just as we have been doing for the last five or six years, instead of putting down a big Defence Bill and showing Germany it was absolutely impossible for her to go on. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is laughing now, thinking he has shown Germany that. I will show how utterly wrong that is.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Please do not attribute that sentiment to me. It will do much more harm than the Noble Lord thinks.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I am merely saying the right hon. Gentleman has told Germany distinctly that he will lay down two keels to every one she does. Does he object to that? It will be read so in Germany and in this country to-morrow. Whatever Germany lays down from now, the right hon. Gentleman, as I understood him, said he would lay down double. If I am wrong, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will contradict me. That is what I understood him to say, and that is what I object to. I say that is a distinct threat made to Germany in this House, and that is not the way to promote peace and curtail armaments. If the right hon. Gentleman would base his Shipbuilding Vote and Construction Vote on what is necessary for us and let Germany alone, it would be a great deal better. On what is the Government policy of construction based? It has been based entirely on the German Navy Law. The German Navy Law was laid down in 1900 for the whole world to see. We, on this side of the House at any rate, had an Imperial policy. We did not pick out Germany; but the party opposite did pick out Germany, and, having picked out Germany and knowing the German Navy Law of 1900 perfectly well, the first thing they did was to reduce in 1906–7 the armoured ships from four to three. That was the year I pointed out that Germany increased her armament by six, after our reduction. In 1907–8 the Government reduced them from four to three again. In the year 1908–9 they reduced them to two, but in the year 1909–10 they laid down eight ships. If their construction was based on what Germany did, why did they 1596 lay down two one year and eight the other? Now I come to a point where I take issue with the Front Bench. The Government held up Germany as a bugbear—and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lee) laughs when I say it was our fault—saying that she did something she did not do. They were taken to task for that by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Germany had not then touched her Navy Law as far as additions were concerned. That is the way the great irritation began in that country. I know a great many distinguished Germans, and that is what they have told me. I believe them, and I have seen it in the German Press. What was the real reason? The public got anxious in this country; the Opposition called attention to the weakness that would accrue in two or three years, and they began singing, "We will have eight, and we won't wait." The Government saw they had effected false economy. What did they do? It is within the recollection of the House. I was at sea at the time, and I got it by wireless. I thought there would be war in a week. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and the First Lord of the Admiralty came down on that Bench and made scare and panic speeches. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. I thought we were going to war in a week, for they could not have made speeches of a stronger character. It was all based on what was going to happen in Germany. I maintain that Germany had not made any alteration whatever, and what happened was that the Front Bench suddenly made a discovery in connection with the Coventry works.
The Germans could have accelerated, but they did not accelerate—from May, 1908, till November, 1908, they did not accelerate their programme. It was that discovery that induced Members of the Front Bench to make those speeches. Otherwise can anyone tell me why those speeches were made? The real reason, as, I say, was that the country got anxious. This bench below me called the attention of the people to the fact, and that bench opposite came down and made these speeches in order to increase the Naval Estimate. They made them in the faith that the people would believe that Germany was the bugbear. I object altogether to that. I say that they are taking an un-statesmanlike attitude. We have no right to take these other countries in comparison. We are perfectly well able to make 1597 out what is necessary for our Empire, and we need not trouble and mess about these other countries.
I should like to call the attention of the House to the fact that we were infinitely superior ten years ago to what we are now. We were infinitely stronger ten years ago. Our Fleet was predominant all over the world. There were no other fleets near it; we had naval bases all over the world; we had guns and ammunition in every part of our Empire; our naval bases were well stored, they were properly garrisoned and gunned, and our trade routes were protected. But all that is gone. We have recalled our squadrons from abroad. We have twenty cruisers on our trade routes where we had sixty. We have reduced our garrisons abroad. We have dismounted a number of guns abroad, and, in addition to that, we have got a tremendous amount of "military shipping" produced by the other Powers mainly because we threatened them in the early stages of the "Dreadnoughts." It is no use hon. Members growling—this is the fact. I am making the statement, it is for the representatives of the Government to knock it out. One of them says he has not to do so, well it is lucky for him he has not to try it. But these are the facts, and I call the attention of the House to them. Can anybody deny we were predominant all over the world ten years ago, and that our naval bases were excellent? I saw two of them last year without any guns and with grass growing on the platforms; there were no troops there, machinery which had cost £58,000 had been sold, the spanners, the straps, and the bellows had been sold, and sold for nothing£[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."]£well I mean comparatively nothing. Was that a sensible thing to do? I can tell the right hon. Gentleman exactly to what extent Malta, Gibraltar, and other garrisons were reduced, and how many men and guns were taken out. Is it a sensible thing to reduce your garrisons? I tell you you will have a serious time if you get war. If you are strong enough you will not get war, but I say we were stronger ten years ago than we are now. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech just now spoke of "looking ahead." What is he looking ahead at? In January, 1915, Germany can have twenty-four "Dreadnoughts." [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] I am obliged to say Germany. I do not think it is inconsistent. The right hon. Gentleman based his argument on Germany. I object to that, but I want to 1598 knock out his argument, and therefore it is surely consistent for me to take this line. In January, 1915, Germany can have twenty-four vessels of the "Dreadnought" class, Austria can have four, and we can have no more than thirty, therefore there is a majority of two. Is that the margin involved in "looking ahead"? There is talk of the old ships coming out, but that is of no use, that does not help us in looking ahead. I further blame the right hon. Gentleman for not spending £1,600,000 which has to go back to the Treasury. Why did he not spend them? He could have spent the money perfectly easily. This was one of their economies.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I say it was economy. Why did you spend £18,000 more on the "Monarch" than you were allowed, and why did you spend £67,000 more on the "Hercules"?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We have endeavoured to spend during the year every penny of money voted by Parliament that we possibly could, for the purpose to which it was assigned. If we have failed to do so it was altogether beyond our control. We had no idea of saving the money. I wish to goodness we could have-spent it, for I shall have to get it again, from Parliament.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
That all sounds very well, but why was not the "Tiger" laid down? How is it you have fourteen ships, including four "Dreadnoughts," which ought now to be in commission, but will not be in commission till August? It is all very well for the representatives of the Admiralty to shake their heads and say it is the fault of the contractors. The facts ought to be explained to this House. The right hon. Gentleman's statement that he is "looking ahead" is not consonant with the facts. It is not looking ahead if we are only to have a margin of two ships in January, 1915, and if you cannot possibly have a greater margin than six ships by August, 1915. Is that the Navy in these days of modern ships upon which the safety and life of our Empire are to depend? I have made my statement. The right hon. Gentleman does not agree with me in any thing I have said. I do not want him to. I want him to prove I am wrong. He will have to prove it. I admit I have no sympathy from the benches on this side of the House—from the experts on this bench 1599 below me. I do not want it. I am only thinking of one thing. I have never taken a party line on these matters. I think we ought to have a Navy as strong as it can be. That may be a platitude, but we have to see that it is strong, and we can go into details on the floor of this House. I maintain that as far as details go the right hon. Gentleman will find when we come to the Votes in Committee we shall be able to make some of his remarks to-day appear not to be very clever. I am sorry I have detained the House so long, but I have to say a few more words in reference to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I have endeavoured to be fair. What he has done well he has done excellently, but I do not agree at all with his remarks about Germany. Read the German Press to-morrow and see if I am not right. He could have done everything he has done without mentioning Germany at all. As to my proposals, I am certain I am right. We have a War Staff now. It is necessary for the sake of the Empire to put all these things right, and I maintain that we are far from being safe at this present moment.
I am disappointed the right hon. Gentleman had not something to say about the pay and pensions of officers and men of the Fleet, and more particularly with regard to the case of the widows and children. I will not enter into details of that. I am sure the House will listen sympathetically to this point, which will be brought forward by another of my hon. Friends. The right hon. Gentleman might have cleared up the breach of faith affecting the engineering branch—one which created great dissatisfaction—and I hope that even now he will pay some attention to it. Then there is a long-standing grievance of Greenwich pensions. I hope he will look into that. There is, too, the general question of the pay of the Navy. The House may not be aware that the pay of the Navy has not been increased for nearly sixty years, at any rate so far as the men on the lower deck are concerned, and in the last sixteen years prices have risen 30 per cent. While other workers under the Government have had their pay and positions improved in recent years the Navy alone has stood still. It is a silent service, it is a loyal service, it never makes complaint, but that is no reason why it should not be perfectly justly and fairly treated. Then there are questions affecting discipline. 1600 am glad to think the right hon. Gentleman has come to a wise decision in having a committee on that point. There is no doubt that the punishments laid down are not suitable to grown men of the present day. I hope success will attend that inquiry. Then there is the leave question, and the kit question. I had made representations on these points to the Admiralty, and they have always received my requests courteously and have agreed to some of them. I hope they will look into these questions. The House will agree with me that our first question should be the efficiency of the Fleet and the fair dealing with and just treatment of officers and men. These matters should be looked into most carefully. There are questions that are causing unrest on the lower deck. They should be inquired into by the authorities. Let them remember that the Navy cannot give expression to its views. It is under discipline. It is loyal, and therefore it is all the more desirable that these matters should be looked into and that questions which are causing unrest should be put right.
§ Mr. ROBERT HARCOURT
The House has no doubt listened with the greatest delight to a very interesting passage of arms between the Noble Lord who has just sat down and the wild men upon his own side. This is the third year in succession that the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Mr. Lee) has got up in this House and defended himself against the charge of ever having advocated a standard of two to one. The Secretary to the Admiralty has, like myself in a more humble way, put him time after time through a cross-examination. I am sorry that I have not come down this evening prepared with actual passages, and I shall be perfectly prepared to withdraw this in a moment if the hon. Gentleman contradicts me, but according to my recollection, and I was reading the Naval Debates only the other day, the hon. Gentleman said that the two-Power standard would be best interpreted in his view as a twice one standard, and I believe he said it in this House.
§ Mr. LEE
My position is perfectly clear. I am in favour of two keels to one, and I have never denied that. When my Noble Friend stated that in the year 1909, when I was speaking on behalf, of my party, that I was advocating a two to one standard, I said I was not. I was then advocating and supporting the policy of 1601 the party in its full and generally understood sense of a two-Power standard. If anybody looks up the Debates, he will find that is so.
§ Mr. R. HARCOURT
I am glad to have the assurance once again that the hon. Member (Mr. Lee), and the Member for North Kensington (Mr. Burgoyne) are all thrown over by the Noble Lord. I am equally glad that the Government themselves have not given in to this new and extraordinary standard which is being pressed upon us from the outside. I am equally glad that the right hon. Gentleman in definite terms has for the first time—although this has always been the idea of the Liberal party—cut out America from the two-Power standard. The Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth (Lord C.Beresford) brought what I think is the most unfair charge that could possibly be brought by a man in his responsible position against His Majesty's Government. He accused them, as I understood it, of hostility to Germany, or at any rate of constantly bringing Germany into the discussion. At almost every word the Noble Lord himself was mentioning the name of Germany.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I had to do that to knock out the arguments of the other side. I never mentioned Germany in a speech of my own. I have always deplored it.
§ Mr. R. HARCOURT
Did the Noble Lord never mention Germany in the speech he made at the London Chamber of Commerce in 1909, when he went into the greatest possible particulars comparing the position of the two countries? In the interesting book, "The Betrayal," at page 134, he has gone into a long and interesting calculation of the ships laid down by Great Britain and Germany from 1906–7 to 1911–12. It appears to me that if my right lion. Friend is to be blamed that the Noble Lord is himself open to precisely the same charge. With all respect to his great authority, I think the Noble Lord was wrong in contradicting the statement of the First Lord that the Navy depends ultimately upon finance. If I may be allowed to say so, I think that my right hon. Friend made a perfectly right and proper observation. Speaking from this side of the House as one who has a certain sympathy with Chancellors of the Exchequer, I do not know whether my right hon. Friend remembers sitting under the Gallery with 1602 me—two boys in round collars—on either side of the present Colonial Secretary, listening to Lord Randolph Churchill and Sir William Harcourt when as Ministers they were faced with large charges for the Naval service. Lord Randolph Churchill invented the Death Duties and resigned his office. Sir William Harcourt passed the Death Duties and did not resign his office. The reason why I mention that is that I saw in the papers this morning something as to the resignation of a German Lord Randolph Churchill. One proposition seems broadly true; "no Death Duties, no Navy." Herr Wermuth's resignation is a notable fact. It reminds us incidentally that they have a Land Union in Germany which is powerful and, apparently, irresistible. The hopes for those who look for moderation in our shipbuilding are not the less to-day when we see German Minister after German Minister warned off the hen-roosts from which, in our opinion, this new construction can only be financed. There was a very interesting passage in the message from the Berlin correspondent of the "Daily Telegraph." He referred to the ships and the soldiers which at least a quarter of the nation desired if they could only be paid for out of somebody else's pocket. The policy "we won't wait and we won't pay" is not, happily, confined to a single country.
The First Lord made a deeply interesting statement this afternoon. It was certainly the ablest statement I have ever heard on Naval policy, and I have no doubt that those who are older in this House can date it back further still. I think it is the ablest statement we have had in this House for many years past. We heard a good deal last year about the economy of the "Dreadnought" type. I ventured to say something then about docks rather modifying that happy idea. The First Lord added something about the increasing cost of coal. He might have mentioned also the increased cost of the complement of these enormous vessels. We can scarcely lay the flattering unction to our souls that, although the ships have been built economically, they really in their upkeep result in any substantial reduction. The First Lord took a very novel course this afternoon when he outlined the programmes for a series of years. We used to hear a good deal about the Cawdor Memorandum, and this afternoon we have a kind of Churchill Memorandum, indicating the necessities for the future. 1603 It is an interesting departure, and speaking on the spur of the moment, I should be inclined to say it is of rather doubtful advantage. Hon. Members on the other side of the House have always been pressing upon us the idea of a fixed programme. The Noble Lord himself wanted a Naval Defence Act. I remember last year the point of a fixed programme was raised by the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. Eyres-Monsoll), and the Home Secretary made what I thought was a perfectly just reply. He said:—I rather fear that a definite programme would amount to this: that we should always build the number of ships contained in the definite programme as a, minimum, regardless of what foreign nations did, and if they increased their programme we should find it incumbent upon us to increase our programme also, and I hope the Committee, tempting as this method appeals, will not be misled by it.I think it necessary to put in that saving clause, because although it is interesting to know what may be the prospective needs of the country some years in the future, I think the proper broad principle is to stick to the Estimates for the year and to those alone.
I do not want to go into ancient history or to indulge in any sort of recrimination, but of course the Admiralty were wrong as to the number of German units which will be completed in March, 1912. What I think is important, and there is no harm in saying it, although they were not to blame for it, is that they were equally wrong with regard to the number of completed British units at the present time. The ships of 1911–12 are delayed and if we look at the supplement to the Estimates, which we only got a day or two ago, we find also in the case of the "Audacious" she was to be completed in 1912–13, but we are told there is to be delay, and that she will not be completed in that financial year. I believe that the Home Secretary last year rather unnecessarily minimised the value of the latest British types, and exaggerated the value of the contemporary German types. When he abandoned the idea of German acceleration, and still asked for the four contingent ships, he did so—and this is my cause for going into the question again—on the ground that the four German ships of 1908 and the two of this year's programme, although they would not be commissioned for three years or more, were of a greatly superior type, which must be answered. It seemed to be a necessary corollary to that statement that the "Neptune," the "Indefatigable," the 1604 "Colossus," and the "Hercules." were not a proper answer. I tried to deal with that last year, but I never got a complete reply. It is not a question of being wise after the event: it is a question of our future standard, when what we call the "Orion" type begins, and how many we have got in hand, and how many or how few Germany has in hand. If you take the existing: situation, if we say these German ships are the equal of ours, and that we have only one, whereas the Germans have four, we shall have in March only two, whereas Germany will have six. The Home Secretary told us last year that we must have six to six. On the other hand, I think it is perfectly obvious, having regard to our new 13.5 gun, of which the First Lord was properly proud in his speech on the. Clyde, and to the fact that not a single German-ship which has already been laid down carries that gun, that we have an incomparable greater weight of broadside in the ships we have completed. We have this year's six; in 1913 we shall have eleven, and in 1914 we shall have sixteen of these vessels, of which I believe Germany will not have the equal. The First Lord dealt this afternoon with the question of the rate of construction. Of course, you can only take a comparative rate. In the Admiralty statement of 1905 it was said that it must be remembered that, however formidable foreign shipbuilding programmes may appear on paper, we could" always overtake them in consequence of our resources and powers of rapid construction. The Noble Lord (Lord C. Beresford) quoted that in 1909, and he said it was then true no longer. I put a series of questions to the Admiralty on that particular point, and I remember a phrase used by the Home Secretary in the Debates of 1909. It was, of course, an interruption, and we have to allow for that. He certainly said the German rate of construction was almost, if not quite, equal to our own. I put a question to the First Lord the other day, and he made the very proper reservation that in his view the Home Secretary meant, not actual construction, but potential construction. I presume that is what he meant, though if I had him at that box, like Mr. Midshipman Easy, I might be inclined to argue the point. I presume the potential capacity rests upon some basis of realised facts, otherwise, after all, where would you get? I think it is fair to say that when the facts suit the advocates of a big programme, they are always emphasised and potentiality is only a second string. The Home 1605 Secretary was always trotting out the "Nassau" and the "Westfalen," saying they were built in two years and two months, whereas they belong to the programme of the previous year, and I believe a fairer period to take would be three years and six months or four years from the date of order to the final completion.
What I cannot get at is the actual period which the Admiralty think it necessary to take. The Noble Lord (Lord C. Beresford), in his book "The Betrayal," said it was an absolutely false date in the case of the "Dreadnought" to take the date of the laying of the keel, and that you ought to have allowed for the collection of material and so on. I quite agree. The very able young naval officer who was in this House for some time, the younger Mr. Bowles, said the laying of the keel is a meaningless date. There are only two dates which have any reality in the construction of ships, the date when the design is completed at the Admiralty and the first orders are given and the date when the ship hoists the pennant and is commissioned and is ready for action. I only want to get the comparative power of construction of the two countries. There is nothing offensive in that. If you take the "Rheinland" and the "Posen"—there is a period of three years. The "Von der Tann" was an exceptional ship—two years and six months, on the statement given me by the First Lord, which formed the subject of comment by the "Times" naval correspondent. That period was taken from the date of the laying of the keel. It was three years from the date of the official order. In the case of the last four which are complete, they seem to have taken three years and some months from the date of order to the date of trial and up to three years and six months for full commission. Of course, forty months may be a false date. Labour troubles may have to be allowed for, but there is surely a vital difference between forty months and twenty-six months, which we used to be told was the proper period to take for German construction. With regard to our own powers of construction, take the worst possible case of the fifteen ships that you have there—the "Invincible," three years and four months. I believe that is entirely an exceptional case, just as exceptional as the "Dreadnought" was in the other direction, but I think it seems to be fair to say, from the table furnished to me, that the British period is from two years and one month to two years and six months, 1606 whereas the corresponding German period would be three years to three years and six months. Surely that is of very vital importance, because if it is true it puts you back into the same fortunate position that you were in before.
Take, for instance, two ships in Germany and in this country. Take the "Ostfriesland" of the 1908 programme, which was ordered in April, 1908, laid down in October, 1908, and complete for trial in August, 1911, and commissioned in October of that year. The "Hercules," a British vessel, of the following year's programme, was ordered in March, 1909, a year later, was laid down in July, and yet was ready for trial in February, or about five months earlier than the German ship, which belonged to the programme of the previous year. Therefore it seems to me superficially, as a non-expert person, that we could be in a position, which would be an enormous advantage, to lay down our ships as an answer to the programmes of foreign Powers in the year after they were commenced in other countries. That may be right or it may be wrong. I know there is a great deal of mischievous stuff which is written by navy leagues in the two countries, though I should, like to make an exception to the vary able Navy League Annual, edited by the hon. Member (Mr. Burgoyne), which is both valuable in information and moderate in tone. I saw a statement in the "Daily Telegraph" that a very violent hostile publication had been issued by the German Navy League. I have not got it yet, though I intend to wade through it sooner or later, but I have read in the last day or two a very interesting book, by a German General, General Bernhardi, and it bears out a good deal that the Noble Lord said. It is not a piece of Jingo pamphleteering, but a serious military consideration of what the writer calls in his title, "Germany and the Next War." It is far more depressing than the worst Chauvinistic literature, because it gives a feeling of hopelessness in the unshakable conviction of a representative German that we are inspired by active and aggressive animosity against his country. I only take a sentence or two from that book. He says:—The Morocco negotiations of the summer of 1911 gave an irrefutable demonstration of the unqualified hostility of England against us. It was clearly shown that England is determined to prevent by force every real extension of German power. One can scarcely doubt that England is thinking in dead earnest of attacking Germany in certain circumstances.1607 He speaks of the increase of the English Fleet as a preparation for aggressive war, and he says:—It is impossible to regard the English preparations as merely measures of defence. The English Government knows well that Germany cannot think on her side of attacking England, because such an attempt is in itself hopeless.He points out that the entente with France is really a warlike alliance against Germany, and, as to a land war, he points out that probably Germany will be supported by Austria, though nothing is said about Italy, but he specifically says that in a sea war it is practically certain that Germany will stand absolutely alone, and he repeats again, writing, I presume, for the German public, that he regards an attack on England, as absolutely hopeless. That incidentally is not to prevent our continuing to build ships against Austria as well as against. Germany, as a deliberate policy, and we have a situation, which would be laughable if it were not so ruinously pathetic, of two great nations, each, as I believe, genuinely reluctant to assume the aggressive, not because they lack anything in strength or courage, but because each believes that even a successful war would bring utter exhaustion and barren victory, with 100,000,000 citizens in the two countries forced into a stale-mate of perpetual preparation and of unworthy suspicion. I do not go as far as the Noble Lord in his book, "The Betrayal," and say that since 1908 Great Britain has been the bully of the seas, but what after all has been the result of all these firm resolves and panic programmes? Have we frightened Germany out of building. Have we even convinced her of our sincerity? "We have only, apparently, unhappily produced the impression, false, as I earnestly believe, of bitter and unrelenting hostility. She is firmly convinced that we are forcing her deliberately into a position of isolalation. We shall vote these Estimates, the men, the money, and the ships, but I regard as more important even than that, the grave and just words which fell from the First Lord of the Admiralty at the conclusion of his speech as to this folly of the twentieth century. I believe in all this marching and counter-marching we are perpetuating a load of anxiety and strain, that some day perhaps a generation ignorant of warfare may think worse even than war.
Sir GILBERT PARKER
I can agree with one statement certainly that the hon. 1608 Member has made. I have been some years in the House and I am not in the habit of over complimenting my opponents, but I say quite sincerely that it was a pleasure to anyone who wanted a clear statement of policy to listen to the statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty to-day. That statement has many qualities which ought to commend it to this House, and particularly to the party opposite. The hon. Gentleman belongs to a party who, when they came into power, raised what the First Lord of the Admiralty then called the tattered flag of economy. I believe the party was sincere in desiring economy. I cannot imagine that the present Government would lay itself open to attack and unpopularity among those who support it if the logic of facts had not convinced them that the naval programme which they were and are pursuing, was absolutely necessary to the safety and security of this nation. It is a very popular thing to be economical on the part of Governments, and I remember when this Government came into power that Members of it like the Chancellor of the Exchequer were firmly convinced that our naval policy was the result of a desire for national aggrandisement. That the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the late First Lord of the Admiralty found it necessary two years ago to make the speeches they did, however late, however overdone, was at any rate a proof that the information which came to their hands from the inside was such as to necessitate doing that thing which was unpopular with their own party, and that is to make those speeches which the Noble Lord has condemned in such vigorous terms to-night.
The Noble Lord (Lord C. Beresford) enjoys a peculiar and a natural popularity in this country, but I do not understand his position. I do not know anyone who has stimulated me more to interest myself in naval policy than the Noble Lord. I do not know anyone who has impressed upon me more the necessity for having an adequate Navy than the Noble Lord. What has he to complain of if the Government has done what I believe the First Lord did properly to-day, and that was to make absolutely clear the reasons for their policy? Members who support the Government and Members on this side of the House have too often listened to mysterious speeches made by Ministers of War and First Lords of the Admiralty, 1609 vague general talk about what we ought to do, and what is necessary for the defence of the country, often portentous and sometimes pretentious. At any rate, whether the First Lord of the Admiralty is right or wrong, he has given the country reasons for the policy which he has advocated. The very Members who sit beside him would be the first to condemn him and any Government of this country who merely talked in general terms. Our naval expenditure is enormous. It is something to appal those who have watched its growth. I do not say it is not necessary. I think it is necessary, but I say that the day has gone by when the First Lord of the Admiralty can come down to the House, and, without giving explicit statements of the reasons for their policy, secure the confidence of the House as to the Estimates placed before us. The Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth (Lord C. Beresford) I am afraid hardly did justice to himself when he first condemned the Government and then afterwards put forward reasons for making our Navy strong.
If there are Members of this House who believe that the people of England, or the Government, have been aggressive in this matter of naval policy they have only to remember the German Navy Law of 1900. It is not possible for Germany to decide that this year she is going to reduce and next year increase her shipbuilding. She has a Navy Law, made in 1900, to regulate her policy in that matter. She knew then what our position was. Our position was one of unassailable superiority. What is she building for? We believe that she is building not only in order to protect her trade, but to give herself a greater position in the counsels of the world, in order to make herself a rival, or, if she wishes to be—that is a national ambition she is entitled to—in a position of superiority to this country in influence upon the policy of Europe. But to suggest that we stimulated Germany's naval programme is not in accordance with fact. At any rate, the Noble Lord, before the German Navy Law of 1900 was passed, said there was nothing of this aggressive spirit.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
The point I wanted to make was that until we began to build "Dreadnoughts" there was no irritation between us and Germany.
Sir G. PARKER
There seems to crop up out of this the Noble Lord's ancient opposition to the "Dreadnought."
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I never objected to the "Dreadnought." I objected to the advertisement of the "Dreadnought."
Sir G. PARKER
I was under the impression that the Noble Lord was quite satisfied with the type of ship which had already been built. But surely this country does not think because we build "Dreadnoughts," superior instruments of war, that that stimulates Germany into this extraordinary activity of building? The Noble Lord complains of our mentioning Germany. I can remember speeches the Noble Lord made more than ten years ago, when he was previously Member of this House, in which he talked often of France and Russia, and of the necessity of preserving the two-Power standard. He did not hesitate then to advocate a strong Navy. After all, France and Russia were rival Powers of ours, and we were contending with them. There were dangers then upon the borders of India, in Egypt, and in Newfoundland. These were questions of great acuteness, as the Noble Lord is well aware, and every word said in this House was quite as likely to stimulate France and Russia to unusual activity as anything said with respect to the two-keel standard or the mention of Germany constantly in these Debates is likely to stimulate Germany. I wish to speak about an aspect of naval policy which, I think, is neglected in the speeches of the First Lord, neglected by the Press, and neglected by Members of this House. I would like to see again in this House men like Sir John Colomb and Mr. Arnold Forster. They were men who not only took the view that the safety of this nation was a necessity, but who were keen to make the House and the country understand what was necessary in connection with our overseas Dominions.
I regret extremely that the First Lord in his otherwise remarkable and lucid speech should have omitted to say one word of an aspect of policy which I consider to be of as great importance as the building of "Dreadnoughts," and that is the co-operation of our overseas Dominions in our naval policy. I was never one of those who advocated a contribution. I believe you can only get a proper contribution to the naval strength of this Empire when they build their own navies under the direction of, and in sympathy and consonance with the policy of our Admiralty—navies not corresponding with the great central Navy as regards "Dreadnoughts," but small navies, such as Lord 1611 Tweedmouth referred to in his statement in 1908 when he said that you cannot take small craft such as torpedo boats and submarines across the seas, and that small flotillas provided by the Dominions would be an admirable means of coast defence, and for avoiding the dangers that might have to be met from cruising squadrons. You never would have been able to secure the support of the Parliaments of the overseas Dominions, since every Government is responsible to Parliament and the country for the money spent. As they have no control over what is spent by our Admiralty, the system of contribution could not have gone on for any great period of time, or been developed in a satisfactory manner. I welcome the scheme, which the overseas Dominions are carrying out. That policy was accepted by Australia and New Zealand, and Canada did, in fact, accept it, at all events, up to the time the last Government passed out of existence. I do not know whether the present Government of the Dominion accept it or not.
There will be within a very few years a contribution to the naval efficiency of this Empire, as well as to the naval strength, which cannot be over-estimated. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether in his reply he will not give the House some information concerning the position of Canada—whether he will state if the Government has any further information as to the intention of the present Prime Minister of Canada and his Government. We know what Australia is doing. It has accepted a scheme which involves practically a contribution to the Imperial strength of £600,000 a year. According to her commerce, she ought, to contribute £1,200,000, but £600,000 is a large sum in the circumstances. But if it were one-third of that amount, the policy itself is so full of hope for the future and suggests so strongly a sense of responsibility, that I cannot imagine any Member of this House or any citizen of this country being uninterested in the tremendous developments that are likely to ensue from that policy. The Australians are an island people, and they have the sea sense in a greater degree than the people of Canada. New Zealand is in the same position in that respect. The only way to secure a broad national naval spirit is to see that money is voted by the local Parliaments, and that that money is expended in the necessary armaments, dockyards, schools of instruction, and repairing establishments, and in the provi- 1612 sion of cruisers and small craft, such as torpedo boats. This is in order to make the people of the countries understand that their naval forces are the product of their own activity and the result of their own financial efforts. I had a feeling of intense disappointment when the First Lord made no reference to this matter. I need not assure the House of the interest I take in Imperial affairs. I say there ought to be always in any statement made by the First Lord or the Prime Minister of this country regarding the Empire a reference to the participation, co-operation, and alliance of the Colonies in the national and Imperial schemes of defence. It is that kind of neglect which in the past, if it has not alienated, has damped the spirit of the peoples of our overseas Dominions again and again. They know they are small; they know, perhaps, that in some respects they are crude in their developments, but that crudity, the paucity of their populations, and the smallness of accomplishment on their part, has nothing to do with the resources of the Dominions and the belief which these young peoples have in the great future they have before them. This Government, or any other Government in this country, will do well, when they discuss either the Army or the Navy, always to take into consideration what those Colonies are doing. If it is the Army, what their Militia or their Volunteers are doing; and if it is the Navy, what their navies are doing. Believe me, if you would give that importance to your discussions on these great occasions to the activities of the Colonies, you would get treble the result that you get now. It is owing to the feeling that they think their offerings are despised or held in slight regard—in the past it was so—that they have not given more, that they have not co-operated in a more active and more substantial form. I believe the time has now come when every one of these overseas Dominions, even the Dominion of Canada, with its one-third French population, has arrived at an understanding of the awful responsibilities that rest upon this country, of the burdens she carries, and of the struggle that some time or other, with the ambitions of mankind, she must face.
In the light of that fact, here in this House we should do everything that is possible to encourage that sense of responsibility. Every dollar, every pound, contributed to necessary defensive naval purposes in our Colonies will bring forth 1613 future further activity a thousandfold. And they are not in favour of national aggrandisement. They believe in conserving every ounce of energy and every pound and every dollar for industrial purposes, if it is possible, and when they awake to these responsibilities it is because a great Imperial policy has taken hold of them and a great necessity has induced them to become active and responsive, not to the demand but to the claim of Imperial responsibility and of the part which every portion of the Empire must play if the Empire is to stand in the future co-operative, taking advantage of the benefits which its various populations and the development of its resources have given. To-day has been, except for this one thing, a very satisfactory day. I am not going to enter into the slightest detailed criticism. Those who are experts will do that. But I do say that, if what the Government believe is true, and if the logic of facts is as they represent it, then this clear exposition of policy, vigorous as it has been, sweeping and illuminating as it was in every paragraph, was necessary for the people of this country to understand the necessities of this nation.
§ Mr. NORTON-GRIFFITHS
I wish to express agreement with the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir Gilbert Parker). I agree with what he said in the earlier portion of his speech, that it is not possible in the state of affairs which we have reached in naval armaments to avoid referring to the developments in other countries. From constant travelling in various parts of the world, I do feel sure that the clear, precise and definite statement by the First Lord of the Admiralty which we have heard from the Government Benches thin afternoon will go a long way to restore not only confidence in us, but also the general belief throughout the world that we intend to maintain the supremacy which is of such vital consequence to us. It is my good fortune to be constantly in many parts of our Empire and there is undoubtedly a belief in existence, perhaps because sufficient mention is not made of it here, that co-operation by the Dominions in contributing to our Navy is looked upon as a matter of very small consequence. I would ask the First Lord of the Admiralty—indeed, I would almost beg him—before this Debate closes, to make some clear statement that we do look to the co-operation of our Dominions, that we not only welcome it, but that we desire it. They are young 1614 nations, but they get very little news, and as far as one can gather in Canada it is very seldom that they hear of Debates that come on in this House; but if particular reference is made here to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and our other Dominions the Press agencies will then take particular pains to circulate it. References coming from such a high person as the First Lord of the Admiralty would be cabled out and would do a vast amount of good.
One often hears in Canada and elsewhere that if we desire co-operation with the Dominions they should have representation. It might be instructive to the House if I were to quote a headline from the "Montreal Daily Star," of 20th January. I was recently in Canada, and followed up very closely, as far as I could gather by personal intercourse, the views of various Members of the new Parliament, and the view generally held as represented by this headline:—Canada should no longer lie treated as a spoilt child, but should be told what is wanted and be accorded whatever measure of representation she desires.I have seen similar headings in nearly all the leading papers in Canada including the "Winnipeg Daily Telegram," the "Victoria Colonist," the "Toronto Daily Mail and Star," and others. They have all had words more or less to the following effect, I quote from the Montreal "Daily Star":—If Canada really means business she should expect the Admiralty to tell her exactly how Canada and the other Dominions may most usefully contribute towards the general security. Mr. Bourassa puts this point with emphasis when he says, 'it seems rational that before the self-governing Colonies are called upon to take any steps the authorities of the United Kingdom should express clearly what they want from the Colonies in the way of help, and what they are prepared to give in the way of control and authority.'Later on it says:—Mr. Bourassa declares that Canada, and especially French Canada, must demand an 'adequate proportion of authority and effective control in the event of the people of Canada deciding to co-operate cordially in defence of the Empire.'This is particularly interesting, because it quotes Mr. Bourassa, the leading nationalist of French Canadians, which shows how extremely Canada desires cooperation in a great Imperial Navy, if only she is accorded representation in whatever measure she contributes. I have another similar quotation with which I will not trouble the House. This question is of vital importance just now because it has been stated publicly that we shall have one if not two of the Ministers in the new Canadian Government in England within 1615 a few weeks. The Minister of Marine, and I believe the Minister of the Interior, are visiting this country to confer with the Government, and if they come, as I am sure that they are coming, with a firm intention of co-operating effectively—some of their papers have said even to the extent of three "Dreadnoughts"—if they could be sent back with a message that the Government of this country, the Board of Admiralty, want their co-operation and would give them some representation, it would make it much easier for them among their own people to get the whole country behind them to support them in contributing in the manner described. A few years ago I had the pleasure one evening of speaking to one of the Lords of the Admiralty, and I said, "Suppose the Dominions were to come to this country collectively and say we will contribute to this Imperial Navy on the one condition that you give us representation in proportion to the amount contributed, what would be your view?" His answer was, "We have many secrets great and important to guard, and we should have to be very careful." That implied that there was a danger in giving representation on the Board of Admiralty.
I do not believe that feeling exists now, and I think that that was an isolated case, but if that spirit did exist we should never get to the end which will do more to curtail the ruinous competition in building "Dreadnoughts," that was referred to this afternoon, than any other means. And that is the co-operation, as one country almost, of our Dominions with us in coming into line to make up our minds collectively as to the supremacy to be maintained of an Imperial Fleet. I am convinced, if we could only come to some working arrangement by which we could act collectively, that we should do more lo bring about the limitation of the building of "Dreadnoughts" than would be possible by any other step which you might take. Before leaving this question, I would like again to emphasise that the Dominions not only desire, as far as I can gather in my travels, but to my mind are entitled to representation, and I think it of very great importance indeed, in view of the fact that the representatives of the leading Dominions in our British Empire are coining as they are in a few weeks to confer with the Admiralty, that we should do everything we can to try and go one step further than the last Imperial Con- 1616 ference did. The general view of the Dominions is that the Conference did not go far enough; it did good work, but in these days everything inarches so rapidly that we cannot afford to wait for another three years for another conference. Some active steps should be taken perhaps by calling another special Naval Conference, asking representatives from the Dominions. Even now that could be done with reference to the visit of the two Canadian statesmen.
Some steps should be taken to call together the naval experts of our Dominions with a view to considering whether it will be possible to give them representation on the Board of Admiralty, or whether or not it will be advisable to organise a special Imperial Naval Defence Committee—I know there is a Defence Committee already—on which they would have representation. Such a conference of representatives of the Empire might lead to some definite working basis being established in connection with their contributions to the Navy. From that point of view this proposal is of just as much importance to them as to us. It is right that they should contribute; they have got beyond the state of childhood as communities; they are active and wealthy nations, and I believe they would joyously enter into combination with us to establish an additional squadron of "Dreadnoughts" and join with us in its control. One other point of importance which I have not frequently seen referred to: It is as to the supremacy of our Fleet and the influence which it has exercised upon our trade, in the past as at the present time. I think that anything running from 10 per cent, to 20 per cent, of the trade coming to this country has been influenced by the strength of our Navy. Last year I put a question to the present Home Secretary (Mr. McKenna), who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, at the request of very many people in South America, as to whether our Fleet should be represented by one of our most modern battleships at the Argentine Centenary, and whether a similar model battleship should visit Chili. I had the honour of an interview with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and afterwards with the then First Lord of the Admiralty on the subject of sending, if possible, a "Dreadnought" to South America. After the question which I put in the House, I received cables from 100 British merchant traders and British-speaking people in both Chili and the 1617 Argentine, asking me to press the matter for all I was worth.
But the answer which I got to my question was a very unsatisfactory one, I may say it was a brutal naval answer; that the Navy had enough to do, and that they could not consider such questions as sending some of our best ships to these countries. At any rate that is the inference I drew, though I have not the actual words which were used. However, I do not wish to harp upon that point, but I do submit that it is of vital importance to us to send a representative ship in the way which has been suggested. Germany and America have done so. Germany sent one of her most modern productions in shipbuilding to South America, and we should do so, too. The trade of this country demands it, and its effect would be extremely good. Our not having done so on that occasion offended the sensibilities of the Argentine people very greatly indeed. The point which impressed me at the time was that it was deemed inadvisable or inexpedient to allow a "Dreadnought" cruiser to go so far away. The reason why it did not go was obvious. At any rate, I may infer that one of our ships could not be spared. On the ground of the trade of this country with South America alone the Admiralty would be justified in building a special "Dreadnought" cruiser, because it is necessary that some provision should be made in this direction, in order to show foreign countries what we can produce in the shape of modern war vessels. The Americans have secured orders to the amount of £3,000,000 from the Argentine, and the idea of giving those orders originated wholly from the visit of the American squadron which went all round South America. I state that on very high authority.
Not only is the visit of a modern ship most advisable from our point of view, but I think it is necessary, because I have noticed right throughout South America that a belief exists there that the British Navy is not what it used to be. We know that that belief is founded on anything but facts, and after having heard this afternoon the most reassuring speech that has ever been delivered in this House we know that there is no foundation for that belief. Still, that belief does exist, and the visit of a modern war vessel to South America would do an enormous amount of good there, just as much good as the speech this afternoon will effect. I ask the 1618 First Lord of the Admiralty to go out of his way to try and devise some means by which we can encourage the Dominions to join us, and the only way in which we can encourage them effectively is to try and evolve some way by which they shall have representation on the Board of Admiralty, or on a special Imperial Naval Defence Committee if need be, or some step of that description, further and more far-reaching than that on which the Imperial Conference resolved. If something in that direction be done, you will send those two Ministers who are to visit this country back to Canada in a position to do far more than otherwise they would be able to accomplish. If you want their aid you must give them some form of representation, and if once you establish some such basis of common action you will have their whole-hearted co-operation, whether it be in the case of the present Government or one coming from this side of the House. It is by such means, that you will obtain in the most effective way the co-operation and support of our Dominions in the maintenance of a strong Imperial Navy.