§ Order for Committee read.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Churchill)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
After the outbreak of war my Noble Friend Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, had to create an Army eight or ten times as large as any previously maintained or even contemplated 920 in this country, and the War Office has been engaged in vast processes of expansion, improvisation and development entirely without parallel in military experience. Thanks, however, to the generous provision made so readily for the last five years by the House of Commons for the Royal Navy, no such difficulties or labours have confronted the Admiralty. On the declaration of war we were able to count upon a Fleet of sufficient superiority for all our needs, with a good margin for safety in vital matters, fully mobilised, placed in its war stations, supplied and equipped with every requirement down to the smallest detail that could be foreseen, with reserves of ammunition and torpedoes up to and above the regular standard, with ample supplies of fuel and oil, with adequate reserves of stores of all kinds, with complete systems of transport and supply, with full numbers of trained officers and men of all ratings, with a large surplus of reserved and trained men, with adequate establishments for training new men, with an immense programme of new construction rapidly maturing to reinforce the Fleet and replace casualties, and with a prearranged system for accelerating that new construction which has been found to yield satisfactory and even surprising results.
I would draw the attention of the House in illustration to only three particular points. First of all, ammunition. If hon. Members will run their eye along the series of figures for Vote 9, in the last five or six years, and particularly during the latter years, they will see an enormous increase in the Vote. In time of peace one gets little credit for such expenditure, but in time of war we thank God it has been made. Then, Sir, oil. Most pessimistic prophesies were made as to the supply of oil, but no difficulty has been found in practice in that regard. The estimates which we had formed of the quantity of oil to be consumed by the Fleet in war proved to be much larger than our actual consumption. On the other hand, there has been no difficulty whatever in buying practically any quantity of oil. No single oil ship has been interfered with on passage to this country. The price of oil to-day 921 is substantially below what it was when I last addressed the House on this topic. Indeed we have found it possible to do what we all along wished to do, but hesitated to decide upon, on account of all the gloomy prophecies and views which were entertained—we have found it possible to convert the "Royal Sovereigns" to a completely oil fuel basis, so that this equally with the "Queen Elizabeth" class will enjoy the great advantages of liquid fuel for war purposes.
Then as to manning. No more widespread delusion existed than that although we might build ships we could never find men to man them. In some quarters of this country the idea was fostered that when mobilisation took place ships could not be sent fully manned to sea; but when mobilisation did take place we were able to man, as I told the House we should be able, every ship in the Navy fit to send to sea. We were able to man a number of old ships which we did not intend to send to sea, but which, after being repaired and refitted, were found to have the possibility of usefulness in them. We were able to man in addition powerful new vessels building for foreign nations for which no provision had been made. We were able to man an enormous number—several score—of armed merchantmen which have played an important part in our arrangements for the control of traffic and trade. We were able to provide all the men that were necessary for the Royal Naval Air Service which did not exist three years ago, which is already making a name for itself, and which has become a considerable and formidable body. We were able to keep our training schools full to the very brim so as to prepare a continual supply of drafts for the new vessels which are coming on in such great numbers, and over and above that we are able, without injury to any of these important interests, to supply the nucleus of instructors and trained men to form the cadres of the battalions of the Royal Naval Division which have now reached a respectable total and which have developed an efficiency which enables them to be counted on immediately as a factor in the defence of this country, and very 922 soon as an element in the forces which we can use overseas.
We have never been a military nation, though now we are going to take a hand in that. We have always relied for our safety on naval power, and in that respect it is not true to say we entered on this War unprepared. On the contrary, the German Army was not more ready for an offensive war on a gigantic scale than was the British Fleet for national defence. The credit for this is due to the House, which, irrespective of party interests, has always by overwhelming, and in later years by unchallengeable majorities, supported the Government and the Minister in every demand made for naval defence. Indeed, such disputes as we have had from time to time have only been concerned with the margins of superiority, and have turned on comparatively small points respecting them. For instance, we have discussed at enormous length what percentages of "Dreadnought" superiority would be available in particular months in future years, and we have argued whether the "Lord Nelsons" should be counted as "Dreadnoughts" or not. The House of Commons as a whole has a right to claim the Navy as its child and as the unchanging object of its care and solicitude; and now after six months of war, with new dangers and new difficulties coming into view, we have every right to feel content with the results of our labours.
Since November, when I last had an opportunity of speaking to the House on naval matters, two considerable events have happened—the victory off the Falkland Islands, and the recent successful cruiser action near the Dogger Bank. Both of these events are satisfactory in themselves, but still more are they satisfactory in their consequences and significance, and I shall venture to enlarge upon them and hang the thread of my argument upon them
The victory off the Falklands terminated the first phase of the Naval War by effecting a decisive clearance of the German flag from the oceans of the world. The blocking in of the enemy's merchantmen at the very outset, and the consequent frustration of his whole plans for the 923 destruction of our commerce, the reduction of his base at Tsing-tau, the expulsion of his ships from the China Sea by Japan, the hunting down of the "Könis-berg" and the "Emden," the latter by an Australian cruiser, were steps along the path to the goal finally reached when Admiral von Spee's powerful squadron, having been unsuccessfully though gallantly engaged off Coronel, was brought to action and destroyed on 8th December by Sir Doveton Sturdee. Only two small German cruisers and two armed merchantmen remain at large of all their formidable preparations for the attack on our trade routes, and these vessels are at present in hiding. During the last three months—that is to say, since Parliament rose—on the average about 8,000 British vessels have been continuously on the sea, passing to and fro on their lawful occasions. There have been 4,465 arrivals at and 3,600 sailings from the ports of the United Kingdom. Only nineteen vessels have been sunk by the enemy, and only four of these vessels have been sunk by above-water craft. That is a very remarkable result to have been achieved after only a few months of war. I am sure, if we had been told before the War that such a result would be so soon achieved, and that our losses would be so small, we should not have believed it for a moment. I am quite sure, if the Noble Lord whom I see in his place (Lord Charles Beresford), who has always felt, and quite legitimately, anxiety for the trade routes and the great difficulty of defending them—if he had been offered six months ago such a prospect, he would have said it was too good to be true.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Certainly the great sailors of the past, the men of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, would have been astounded. During those two great wars, which began in 1793 and ended, after a brief interval, in 1814, 10,871 British merchant ships were captured or sunk by the enemy. Even after the decisive battle of Trafalgar, when we had the undisputed command of the sea so far as it can be tactically and strategically attained, the 924 loss of British ships went on at a rate of over 500 ships a year. In 1806, 519 ships were sunk or captured—that is, the year after Trafalgar; in 1807, 559; in 1808, 469; in 1809, 571; and in 1810, 619. Our total losses on the high seas in the first six months of the present War, including all ships other than trawlers engaged in mine-sweeping—including losses by mines and vessels scuttled by submarines—our losses in the whole of that period are only sixty-three. Of course, we must always be on the look-out for another attempt by the enemy to harass the trade routes. Although the oceans offer rather a bleak prospect to the German cruisers, and the experience of their consorts is not encouraging, the Admiralty must be fully prepared for that possibility, and we shall be able to meet any new efforts with advantages and resources incomparably superior to those which were at our disposal at the beginning of the War. The truth is that steam and the telegraph have enormously increased, as compared with sailing days, the thoroughness and efficiency of superior sea power. Coaling, communications, and supplies are vital and constant needs, and once the upper hand has been lost they become operations of almost insuperable difficulty to the weaker navy. Credit is due to our outlying squadrons and to the Admiralty organisation by which they have been directed. It must never be forgotten that the situation on every sea, even the most remote, is dominated and decided by the influence of Sir John Jellicoe's Fleet—lost to view amid the northern mists, preserved by patience and seamanship in all its strength and efficiency, silent, unsleeping, and, as yet, unchallenged.
The command of the sea which we have thus enjoyed has not only enabled our trade to be carried on practically without interruption or serious disturbance, but we have been able to move freely about the world very large numbers of troops. The Leader of the Opposition in a speech which he made the other night—I do not at all quarrel with the moderate and temperate tone of his criticism—quoted a letter of a shipowner as applied to the Admiralty Transport Department, in which 925 the word "incapacity" occurred. Of all the words which could be applied to the Admiralty Transport Department no word could be more unsuitable than the word "incapacity." I am going to give the House a figure which has no military significance because so many uncertain factors are comprised within the total, but which is an absolutely definite figure so far as the work of the Admiralty Transport Department is concerned.
We have now moved by sea, at home and abroad, including wounded brought back from the front, including Belgian wounded, including Belgian and French troops, moved here and there as circumstances required, often at the shortest possible notice, with constant changes of plan, across oceans threatened by the enemy's cruisers and across channels haunted by submarines, to and fro from India and Egypt, from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, China, South Africa, from every fortress and Possession under the Crown, approximately 1,000,000 men without, up to the present, any accident or loss of life. If that is "incapacity" I hope there will be an inexhaustible supply of that quality. The credit for these arrangements lies very largely with the head of the Admiralty Transport Department, Mr. Graeme Thomson—one of the discoveries of the War, a man who has stepped into the place when the emergency came, who has formed, organised, and presided over performances and transactions the like of which were never contemplated by any State in history. Indeed, so smoothly and unfailingly has this vast business, the like of which has not been previously witnessed, been carried through, that we have several times been compelled to remind the soldiers whom we serve, and I now think it right to remind the House, that, after all, we are at war.
We are at war with the second Naval Power in the world. When complaints are made that we have taken too many transports or armed too many auxiliary cruisers, or made use of too many colliers or supply ships, I must mention that fact. The statement that the Admiralty have on charter, approximately, about one-fifth of the British Mercantile Marine tonnage 926 is correct. With that we discharge two duties, both of importance at the present time; first, the supply, fuelling, and replenishing with ammunition of the Fleets; second, the transport of reinforcements and supply for the Army in the Field, including the return of wounded. It must be remembered in regard to the Fleet that we have no dockyard or naval port at our backs, and that the bases we are using during the War have no facilities for coaling from the shore. We are not like the Germans, living in a great naval port at Wilhelmshaven, on which £15,000,000 or £16,000,000 has been spent. Rosyth is not finished, and will not be available for some time. Everything, therefore, required to keep the Fleet in, being—supplies, stores, and, above all, fuel—has to be not only carried but kept afloat in ships. What are called the "afloat reserves"—the great mobile reserves of fuel and stores maintained at the various bases used by the Fleet—are those which are fixed by the War Staff and approved by the Board of Admiralty after consultation with the Commander-in-Chief. When those amounts have been fixed the Transport Department have no choice but to supply them. It is necessary that there should be sufficient colliers to enable all the Fleet units at a particular base to coal simultaneously with a maximum rapidity twice over within a short interval, and extensive naval movements at high speed may at any moment necessitate this being put to the test. After two such coalings there must still be sufficient coal available for unforeseen contingencies, including delays in bringing further supplies through storm or foggy weather, or hostile operations leading to the closing of particular areas of water, or through the temporary suspension of coaling in South Wales, through damage to docks, railways, bridges, pits or other local causes.
We cannot possibly run any risk of having the Fleet rendered immobile. We must make assurance doubly sure. The life of the State depends upon it and it follows, having always to be ready for a great emergency, with all the Fleet steaming at once continuously for days together 927 —having always to be ready for that, it follows that during periods of normal Fleet movements the reserves of coal are often and necessarily turned over slowly, and colliers may in consequence remain at the bases for considerable periods. That is our system. The fact, therefore, that particular vessels are noticed by shipowners to be kept waiting about for long periods is no sign of mismanagement or incapacity on the part of the Admiralty, but it is an indispensable precaution and method without-which the Fleet could not act in a time of emergency. The position at every home coaling base and of every ship is telegraphed to the Admiralty nightly, and a tabulated statement is issued the same night. This statement is issued as the basis for comprehensive daily criticism, with a view to securing the highest possible economy compatible with and subject to the vital exigencies of war. So much for the Fleet and its supply and its coaling.
With regard to the Army, it should be remembered that we are supplying across the sea, in the teeth of the enemy's opposition, an Army almost as large as the Grand Army of Napoleon, only vastly more complex in organisation and equipment. We are also preparing other Armies still larger in number. I do not know on what day or at what hour the Secretary of State for War will ask the Admiralty to move 20,000 or it may be 40,000 men. It may be at very short notice. He does not know, until we tell him, how we shall move them, by what route or to what ports. Plans are frequently changed on purpose at the very last moment; it is imperative for the safety of our soldiers and the reinforcement of our Armies and the conduct of the War. We have at the present moment a powerful and flexible machinery which can move whole Armies with celerity wherever it is desired in a manner never before contemplated or dreamt of, and I warn the House most solemnly against allowing grounds of commercial advantage or financial economy to place any hampering restriction or impediment upon these most difficult and momentous operations. Careful 928 and prudent administration does not stop at the outbreak of war. Everything in our power will be done to enforce it and avoid extravagance. We shall therefore welcome the advice of business men on points where they can help us. Gradually, as we get more and more control of the situation, higher economy in some respects may be possible, but military and naval requirements must be paramount, rough and ready although their demands often are, and they must be served fully at the cost of all other considerations. I am afraid that I cannot hold out any hope of any immediate reduction in the tonnage required by the Admiralty.
More than a month ago, before these matters were at all ventilated in public, noticing the rise in freights, I directed the Fourth Sea Lord to hold an inquiry into the whole use of merchant ships taken by the Admiralty, including, particularly, transports, colliers and supply ships, but after the most stringent scrutiny and consultation with the admirals afloat, it was not found possible to make any appreciable reduction; and, indeed, since the 1st January the requirements of the Admiralty have actually increased. That is indeed only to be expected as the size of the Fleet and the general scale of the military operations both grow continually. I am going into this subject a little at length because it is, I understand, to be the subject of a Motion later on in the evening, and I would ask for myself the indulgence of the House to attend to other business of a pressing nature, and leave the conduct of that Debate in the hands of my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. To sum up, then, the retention of a large number of full colliers and ammunition ships in attendance on the Fleet is a naval necessity. The retention of a large number of troop transports is a military necessity. In either case ships may be, and have frequently been, required at an hour's notice for urgent service which might be vital to the success of our operations. Coal must be ready afloat for the Fleet and troopships must be ready for the men, and no amount of business management, however excellent 929 it may be, will get over that fact. It seems to me also, from reading the Debate which took place the other night, that the impression existed in the House that the requisitioning of vessels at the outbreak of War was done recklessly and without consideration of the results to the commerce of the country. The number of ships taken up on the outbreak of War was so enormous, the requirements were so varied, and the need so urgent, that every ship or vessel in port at the moment was taken. Discrimination, save in isolated instances, was therefore impossible.
It may be said that discrimination could have been exercised later. So far as possible this has been, and is being, done, but it must be remembered first that it is generally less disturbing to commerce to retain vessels to whose absence business conditions have been adjusted than to return them to their owners and take up fresh ships. Secondly, many vessels have been specially fitted for their work by the Government, and to fit others to replace them means delay and further congestion of docks and works. Also, while substitutes are being fitted, as the first ship cannot be released until the substitute is ready, two ships will be off the market during the period of refitting. Thirdly, it is militarily inconvenient to dispose of ships which the naval and military service have become used to handle, and whose officers and crews have learnt to do this special work. I can well understand that there may be some discontent among shipowners at present in consequence of Admiralty requisitions. Complaints are made that these requisitions are not fair as between shipowner and shipowner, and that all the tonnage of one line is taken and all the tonnage on another is left alone, and it is held to be a grievance when the Admiralty take the tonnage. But in other wars Admiralty business has been keenly sought after by shipowners. At the beginning of this War shipowners were only too glad to get their ships taken by the Government owing to the uncertainty of the naval situation and the possibility that ordinary cargoes would not be forthcoming. But now a change has 930 taken place. The naval situation is assured for the present and the requisitioning powers exercised under the Royal Proclamation have enabled the Admiralty to insist on rates of hire which, though they give a handsome profit to the shipowner, are very much less than can now be gained in the open market. The Admiralty rates are now a half or a third below the market rates, and cannot, of course, be expected to be popular with shipowners, although the market rates are enormously higher than they were at the time of the South African War. We are now paying 13s. to 17s. per gross ton per month compared with 20s. to 35s. so paid in the early part of the South African War. Hence these complaints, and hence this talk of incapacity in certain quarters. I feel it my duty to defend the Admiralty Transport Department. I must, however, say that the general body of shipowners have loyally met the Government and have been content often and often to-charter ships to us at rates very much below the market. The Admiralty is deeply indebted to the shipowning world in general for all the aid and co-operation which we have received, and we regard the closest union and good will between the Admiralty and the mercantile marine as indispensable at the present time.
I have said that the strain in the early months of the War has been greatly diminished now by the abatement of distant convoy work and by the clearance of the enemy's flag from the seas and oceans. There were times when, for instance, the great Australian convoy of sixty ships was crossing the Indian Ocean, or the great Canadian convoy of forty ships, with its protecting squadrons, was crossing the Atlantic, or when the regular flow of large Indian convoys of forty or fifty ships sailing in company was at its height both ways, when there were half a dozen minor expeditions being carried by the Navy, guarded and landed at different points and supplied after landing; when there was a powerful German cruiser squadron still at large in the Pacific or the Atlantic, which had to be watched for and waited for in superior force in six or seven different parts of the world at once, and 931 when, all the time, within a few hours' steam of our shores there was concentrated a hostile fleet which many have argued in former times was little inferior to our own; and when there was hardly a Regular soldier left at home, and before the Territorial Force and the New Armies had attained their present high efficiency and power—there were times when our naval resources, considerable as they are, were drawn out to their utmost limit, and when we had to use old battleships to give strength to cruiser squadrons, even at the cost of their speed, and when we had to face and to accept risks with which we did not trouble the public, and which no one would willingly seek an opportunity to share. But the victory at the Falkland Islands swept all these difficulties out of existence. It set free a large force of cruisers and battleships for all purposes; it opened the way to other operations of great interest; it enabled a much stricter control and more constant outlook to be maintained in Home waters, and it almost entirely freed the outer seas of danger. That was a memorable event, the relief an advantage of which will only be fully appreciated by those who have full knowledge of all that has taken place by those who not only knew, but felt, what was going forward.
I now come to the battle cruiser action on the Dogger Bank. That action was not fought out, because the enemy, after abandoning their wounded consort, the "Blücher," made good their escape into waters infested by their submarines and mines. But this combat between the finest ships in both navies is of immense significance and value in the light which it throws upon rival systems of design and armament, and upon relative gunnery efficiency. It is the first test we have ever had, and, without depending too much upon it, I think it is at once important and encouraging. First of all it vindicates, so far as it goes, the theories of design, and particularly of big gun armament, always identified with Lord Fisher. The range of the British guns was found to exceed that of the German. Although the German shell is a most formidable instrument of 932 destruction, the bursting, smashing power of the heavier British projectile is decidedly greater, and—this is the great thing—our shooting is at least as good as theirs. The Navy, while always working very hard—no one except themselves knows how hard they have worked in these years—have credited the Germans with a sort of super-efficiency in gunnery, and we have always been prepared for some surprises in their system of control and accuracy of fire. But there is a feeling, after the combat of 24th January, that perhaps our naval officers were too diffident in regard to their own professional skill in gunnery. Then the guns. While the Gel-mans were building 11-inch guns we built 12-inch and 13½-inch guns. Before they advanced 10 the 12-inch gun we had large numbers of ships armed with the 13.5. It was said by the opposite school of naval force that a smaller gun fires faster and has a higher velocity, and therefore the greater destructive power—and Krupp is the master gunmaker of the world—and it was very right and proper to take such a possibility into consideration. Everything that we have learnt, however, so far shows that we need not at all doubt the wisdom of our policy or the excellence of our material. The 13.5-inch gun is unequalled by any weapon yet brought on the scene. Now we have the 15-inch gun, with which the five "Queen Elizabeths" and the five "Royal Sovereigns" are all armed, coming into line, and this gun in quality equals the 13.5-inch gun, and is vastly more powerful and destructive.
There is another remarkable feature of this action to which I should like to draw the attention of the House. I mean the steaming of our ships. All the vessels engaged in this action exceeded all their previous records without exception. I wonder if the House and the public appreciate what that means. Here is a squadron of the Fleet which does not live in harbour, but is far away from its dockyards and which during six months of war has been constantly at sea. All of a sudden the greatest trial is demanded of their engines, and they all excel all previous peace-time records. Can you conceive a more remarkable proof of the 933 excellence of British machinery, of the glorious industry of the engine-room branch, or of the admirable system of repairs and refits by which the Grand Fleet is maintained from month to month and can, if need be, be maintained from year to year in a state of ceaseless vigilance without exhaustion? Take the case of the "Kent" at the Falklands. The "Kent" is an old vessel. She was launched thirteen years ago and has been running ever since. The "Kent" was designed to go 23½ knots. The "Kent" had to catch a ship which went considerably over 24½, knots. They put a pressure and a strain on the engines much greater than is allowed in time of peace, and they drove the "Kent" 25 knots and caught the "Nürnberg" and sank her.
It is my duty in this House to speak for the Navy, and the truth is that it is sound as a bell all through. I do not care where or how it may be tested; it will be found good and fit and keen and honest. It will be found to be the product of good management and organisation, of sound principle in design and strategy, of sterling workmen and faithful workmanship, and careful clerks and accountants, and skilful engineers, and painstaking officers, and hardy tars. The great merit of Admiral Sir David Beatty's action is that it shows us and the world that there is at present no reason to assume that, ship for ship, gun for gun, and man for man, we cannot give a very good account of ourselves. It shows that at five to four in representative ships—because the quality of the ships on either side is a very fair representation of the relative qualities of the lines of battle—the Germans did not think it prudent to engage, that they accepted without doubt or hesitation their inferiority, that they thought only of flight just as our men thought only of pursuit, that they were wise in the view they took, and that if they had taken any other view they would, unquestionably, have been destroyed. That is the cruel fact, which no falsehood—and many have been issued—no endeavour to sink by official communiqués vessels they could not stay to sink in war, can obscure.
934 When, if ever, the great Fleets draw out for general battle we shall hope to bring into the line a preponderance, not only in quality, but in numbers, which will not be five to four, but will be something considerably greater than that. Therefore, we may consider this extra margin as an additional insurance against unexpected losses by mine and submarine, such as may at any moment occur in the preliminaries of a great sea battle. It is for these important reasons of test and trial that we must regard this action of the Dogger Bank as an important and, I think I may say, satisfactory event. The losses of the Navy, although small compared with the sacrifices of the Army, have been heavy. We have lost, mainly by submarine, the lives of about 5,500 officers and men, and we have killed, mainly by gun fire, an equal number, which is, of course, a much larger proportion of the German forces engaged. We have also taken, in sea fighting, 82 officers and 934 men prisoners of war. No British naval prisoners of war have been taken in fighting at sea by the Germans. When they had the inclination they had not the opportunity, and when they had the opportunity they had not the inclination. For the loss of these precious British lives we have lived through six mouths of this War safely and even prosperously. We have established for the time being a command of the sea such as we had never expected, such as we had never known, and our ancestors had never known, at any other period of our history. There are those who, shutting their eyes to all that has been gained, look only at that which has been lost, and seek—they are not a very numerous class—to dwell unduly upon it. We are urged to hold a court-martial in every case where a ship is lost in action, and to hear the talk in some quarters one would suppose that the loss of a ship by mine or submarine necessarily involved a criminal offence.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Not in the quarters which the right hon. Gentleman frequents perhaps. One would suppose that it involves a criminal offence for which some- 935 body should be brought to book. The Admiralty have lately given careful consideration to this question. No doubt the precedents both in peace and war favour, though they do not enjoin, the holding of a court-martial when ships are lost or captured, but the circumstances and conditions of modern naval warfare are entirely different from all previous experience. In old wars the capture or destruction of ships was nearly always accompanied by an act of surrender which was a proper and very necessary subject for investigation by court-martial. But mines and submarines, especially submarines, create conditions entirely novel, presenting to naval officers problems of incomparable hazard and difficulty. In these circumstances a court-martial would frequently be inappropriate in our judgment, and often even harmful. Losses by mine and submarine must frequently be placed on the same footing as heavy casualties on land. They cannot be treated as presumably involving a dereliction of duty or a lack of professional ability. Thirdly, the speed and skill of modern operations, and the continuous demands on the attention of the Admiralty and on the services of naval officers, especially officers of high rank, make the actual holding of courts-martial very difficult and inconvenient. Energy ought not to be consumed in investigations and discussions of incidents beyond recall, but should be concentrated on new tasks and new difficulties. Nothing could be worse for the Navy or the Admiralty than for public attention or naval attention to be riveted on half a dozen naval causes célèbres which would give opportunities for most acrimonious and controversial discussions, and about which you may be perfectly certain two opinions would always remain at the close. When a clear case of misconduct or failure in duty can be presumed, a court-martial may be necessary. When technical or special matters are raised which it is desirable to elucidate with a view to precautions being taken to prevent similar accidents in the future, Courts of Inquiry have been and will be assembled, but in all these matters, I must respectfully claim, on behalf of the Board 936 of Admiralty, an absolute discretionary power with regard to holding Courts-martial, or Courts of Inquiry, or the removal without trial of officers who have forfeited the confidence of the Board, or the publication of particular information on particular incidents. I ask the House, on behalf of the Board, for their confidence and support during the War in this respect. I would especially deprecate anything being done which tends to make officers, whether afloat or at the Admiralty, play for safety and avoid responsibility for positive action.
Losses have to be incurred in war, and mistakes will certainly be made from time to time. Our Navy keeps the sea; our ships are in constant movement; valuable ships run risks every day. The enemy is continually endeavouring to strike, and from time to time accidents are inevitable. How do you suppose the battle-cruiser squadron of Sir David Beatty was where it was when the action of 24th January took place? How many times is it supposed that the squadrons of the Grand Fleet, the cruiser and battle squadrons, have been patrolling and steaming through the North Sea, always exposed to risk by mine and torpedo, before at last they reaped their reward? If any mood or tendency of public opinion arises, or is fostered by the newspapers, or given countenance in this House, which too much of our losses, even if they are cruel losses, and even if it may be said that they are in some respects avoidable losses, then I say you will have started on a path which, pressed to its logical conclusion, would leave our Navy cowering in its harbours, instead of ruling the seas. When I think of the great scale of our operations, the enormous target we expose, the number of ships whose movements have to be arranged for, the novel conditions to which I have referred, it is marvellous how few have been our losses, and how great the care and vigilance exercised by the admirals afloat and by the Admiralty Staff, and it appears to me, and it will certainly be regarded by those who study this War in history, as praiseworthy in the highest degree.
937 The tasks which lie before us are anxious and grave. We are, it now appears, to be the object of a kind of warfare which has never before been practised by a civilised State. The scuttling and sinking at sight, without search or parley, of merchant ships by submarine agency is a wholly novel and unprecedented departure. It is a state of things which no one had ever contemplated, and which would have been universally reprobated, and repudiated, before this War. But it must not be supposed because the attack is extraordinary that a good defence and a good reply cannot be made. The statutes of ancient Rome contained no provision for the punishment of parricide, but when the first offender appeared it was found that satisfactory arrangements could be made to deal with him. Losses no doubt will be incurred—of that I give full warning — but we believe that no vital injury can be done. If our traders put to sea regularly and act in the spirit of the gallant captain of the merchant ship "Laertes," whose well merited honour has been made public this morning, and if they take the precautions which are proper and legitimate, we expect that the losses will be confined within manageable limits, even at the outset, when the enemy must be expected to make his greatest effort to produce an impression.
All losses can of course be covered by resort on the part of shipowners to the Government insurance scheme, the rates of which are now one-fifth of what they were at the outbreak of War. On the other hand, the reply which we shall make will not perhaps be wholly ineffective. Germany cannot be allowed to adopt a system of open piracy and murder, or what has always hitherto been called open piracy and murder, on the high seas, while remaining herself protected by the bulwark of international instruments which she has utterly repudiated and defied, and which we, much to our detriment, have respected. There are good reasons for believing that the economic pressure which the Navy exerts is beginning to be felt in Germany. We have to some extent restricted their imports of useful commodities 938 like copper, petrol, rubber, nickel, manganese, antimony, which are needed for the efficient production of war materials, and for carrying on modern war on a great scale. The tone of the German Chancellor's recent remarks, and the evidences of hatred and anger against this country which are so apparent in the German Press, encourage us to believe that this restriction is proving inconvenient. We shall, of course, redouble our efforts to make it so. So far, however, we have not attempted to stop imports of food. We have not prevented neutral ships from trading direct with German ports. We have allowed German exports in neutral ships to pass unchallenged. The time has come when the enjoyment of these immunities by a State which has, as a matter of deliberate policy, placed herself outside all international obligations, must be reconsidered. A further declaration on the part of the allied Governments will promptly be made which will have the effect for the first time of applying the full force of naval pressure to the enemy.
I thank the House for the attention with which they have listened to me. The stresses and strains of this War are not imperceptible to those who are called on to bear a part in the responsibility for the direction of the tremendous and terrible events which are now taking place. They have a right to the generous and indulgent judgment and support of their fellow countrymen, and to the goodwill of the House of Commons. We cannot tell what lies before us, or how soon or in what way the next great developments of the struggle will declare themselves, or what the state of Europe and the world will be at its close. But this, I think, we can already say, as far as the British Navy is concerned, that although no doubt new dangers and perplexities will come upon us continuously, and anxiety will make its abode in our brain, yet the dangers and anxieties which now are advancing upon us will not be more serious or more embarrassing than those through which we have already successfully made our way. For during the months that are to come the British Navy and the sea power which 939 it exerts will increasingly dominate the general situation, will be the main and unfailing reserve of the allied nations, will progressively paralyse the fighting energies of our antagonists, and will, if need be, even in default of all other favourable forces, ultimately by itself decide the issue of the War.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Let me first get put of the way the reference which the right hon. Gentleman made to some remarks of mine with regard to the employment of some of our ships by the Admiralty. I am very far from complaining of the reference which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman. He is not generally peaceful when he is attacked, and I recognise that the temper in which he approached it to-day is significant of the general frame of mind with which the House approaches all these questions, and I personally am not going to introduce heat whore he has introduced none. The right hon. Gentleman, however, entirely misunderstood the whole basis of the case which I was trying to put before the House of Commons. The very last thing in the world which I should do would be to suggest that the servants of the Admiralty, or the Civil servants of any Department of the Government, are inefficient. I believe, as I have always believed, that our Civil Service is the best in the world, and that it is as good to-day as it has ever been. That is not my position. All my complaint was that to men work is given to do which from their past, I think, they are incapable of performing adequately, while there are others who might be available who would be capable of doing that work. I do not suggest that it has been incompetently done, from the point of view of getting the troops transported or the supplies carried. Every word of the right hon. Gentleman seemed to mo to be a confirmation of the kind of complaint which I made. They will take care that they will have the ships when they are wanted, but the real ground of complaint is that proper care, by men who understand the business, is not taken to make sure that more ships are not kept idle than are required 940 without any lessening of the efficiency. This is the first essential in a case of the kind. I am not going into this again, but I shall read one other extract from the "Shipowners' Gazette." The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in thinking that the shipowners are complaining because they are suffering. It is the other way. As a class they are gaining by what is happening, and they are gaining immensely. This is the case to which I have referred. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes I will give the name, but I will not state it here. It is in reference to a steamer which can carry 4,500 tons. It states:—This steamer has been lying about different places in the North of Scotland since the 8th November, and, according to our last communication received from the master, dated the 8th February, at that time she had still 1,100 tons on board.In other words, she had still on the 8th February 1,100 tons of cargo to discharge, of a total which did not exceed 4,500 tons. In other words, this ship had been lying about doing nothing for three or four months.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Really the right hon. Gentleman, if I may say so with great respect, does not understand the facts. The fact that the ship had been waiting about doing nothing does not mean that she was not usefully employed. She has been carrying a portion of the indispensable fixed floating reserve of coal which is kept continually available at the different bases. If she was not carrying it, some other ship would have had to be carrying it. The whole of these ships, coal ships, ammunition ships and supply ships, are always waiting about until a sufficient quantity of the commodity in question has been accumulated, and is maintained regularly in a floating position.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
With all respect, the right hon. Gentleman does not understand my position. Does anyone suggest that, if proper arrangements were made, a ship carrying 4,000 tons would be allowed to lie idle for three months, when a ship carrying 1,000 tons would equally have been available, and could equally have been taken and used for the purpose for which this larger ship was employed? There is no use in discussing the matter, but I am 941 perfectly certain that if the right hon. Gentleman, instead of doing what every man would do in his place and defending the action of his Department, would have a return taken of the actual movements of a certain number of these ships and of what they have been doing day by day since the Government took them, and if he would consult with some competent shipowner as a result of that investigation, and then try to remedy the defect, he would, without any loss of efficiency, save this country an immense sum of money. However, we are dealing with much more important subjects than that. To win the War is more important than to win it cheaply.
The right hon. Gentleman has made an extremely interesting speech, to which the House has listened with great satisfaction and with great sympathy. I remember the speech made by him towards the end of the first half of this Session and, as it seems to me, there is an entirely different atmosphere now surrounding the Navy from that which existed then. During the first period of the War there was a feeling not so much of anxiety perhaps, but of doubt and uncertainty, as to the Navy. That was due, of course, entirely to some isolated incidents which had not been favourable to us. I have referred to some of them before. Perhaps they may be referred to again in this Debate, but I shall not allude to them beyond saying this, that some of them—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me—when the proper time comes, must be examined and must be discussed in this House, and perhaps must be criticised. But that feeling of uncertainty was never shared by me, and I said so in this House at the time. In considering the work of the Navy, not from the point of view of its effect on the Government, but from that of the position with regard to the nation, we have to look, not to isolated incidents, but to its work as a whole, and perhaps the best way for us to realise how successful is that work is to do what was done by the right hon. Gentleman, to cast our minds back to the period before the War and to consider what were the dangers which then seemed 942 to threaten us in the event of an outbreak of war.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to them. There were two. There was the danger of interference with our commerce. I think everyone would have felt—I certainly did before the War broke out—that that was a very real danger, for if at that time we had received word that ships were being sunk or captured before we had the knowledge that our supremacy at sea was secure, it would have had an effect on the people of this country very much greater than similar incidents would have now. We are now threatened, as the right hon. Gentleman has reminded us, with a now form of this kind of pressure. I was pleased to hear that he is not alarmed. No doubt the attempt will be made. I think that if it could have been made effectively it would have been made already, and I do not think that we have any reason to be greatly alarmed; and I am sure of this, that if the result is to compel us to exercise more firmly our sea pressure on the enemy the result will be nothing but advantage to the Allies. The other great danger—and it was a far more vital one—was that, inasmuch as we all knew that when War came it would come unexpectedly to us, but arranged by our enemies, the German fleet, which is an extraordinarily powerful weapon, which was kept constantly in its full force ready for war, would catch us when we were divided, and, by fighting part of our Fleet, might do something to bring about a greater equality between the naval forces of the two countries. Both of these dangers, in my opinion, were averted by the promptitude with which the Admiralty mobilised our Fleet and placed it, I believe even before mobilisation was complete, in its war station, so as to prevent an attack upon our Fleet in parts, or even the escape of German cruisers to play upon our commerce. That is a great achievement, and must be considered by us in regard to the work that is done by our Navy.
But in this War, as in every war in which we have been engaged since sea power was ours, the work of the Navy is to-day silent work. The right hon. 943 Gentleman referred in a striking phrase to the silence of the Navy. It is indeed unbroken except by the guns of the ships and the pen of the right hon. Gentleman, both perhaps necessary, but especially the guns. There is something, as it seems to me, in the silence with which this work is done which ought to touch our imagination. For six months our great battle fleet, its movements, its very position, the hopes and fears of those who control it, have all been shrouded in obscurity. We know nothing of it. For a moment the veil was broken when the units of the Fleet swooped down upon the enemy in the South Atlantic and avenged—and more than avenged—the previous disaster in the Pacific. It was broken again in an action in the North Sea, and in both cases the lifting of the veil has not only given new confidence to the people of this country, but has shown that, when the time comes that the enemy are prepared to face our Fleet in part or in whole, the result will not be in doubt. As regards these raids they were not pleasant to the people of this country.
It was not nice to think that German battleships could come and bombard defenceless towns and get away again without being touched. The last time they found that that was a risk which carried some danger, and perhaps it will not be so soon repeated. But if the Germans had any object at all in these raids, beyond desperation and the feeling that they must do something to justify the existence of their fleet, it was to tempt us to divide our forces so as to give an opportunity of attacking them in isolated positions. Certainly it has not had that effect, and it will never have it. I remembered, and I turned up this morning a saying of Nelson which shows how completely in essence, in spite of all the changes, the problem of naval power remains the same. He said this more than 100 years ago—Our great reliance is on the vigilance and activity of our cruisers at sea, any reduction in the number of which, by applying them to guard our ports and beaches would, in my judgment, tend to our destruction.That is as true to-day as it was then, and the work of the Navy is to be ready for 944 the time when the fleet of the Germans is prepared to meet us. I should like to say a word or two about the subject of courts-martial. I entirely disagree, so far as I understood him, with everything the right hon. Gentleman said on this subject. I think he looked upon it entirely from the wrong point of view. It is the fact, as he has admitted, that during the whole of our past history courts-martial have been held. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that to hold a court-martial was to condemn in advance the officer who had done something. It really is nothing of the kind. The use of the court-martial is quite as much to defend the honour of the man who has done something as to condemn him, and I do not follow the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. He says that if an officer knows that he is liable to that sort of thing it will make him timid, and make him play for safety, and make our fleets cower under forts. What is the position under the right hon. Gentleman's arrangement? The officer is still subject to the arbitrary action of the Admiralty. That is just as great a danger, and it may easily be a far greater danger than open examination in court-martial. I really cannot understand the ground on which the practice has been abandoned. The right hon. Gentleman said, you cannot have a court-martial as to a submarine disaster with advantage. Why? If the damage inflicted by a submarine were an act of God which no precaution could guard against, then there would be something in the claim of the right hon. Gentleman. Courts-martial have always been held upon ships which run aground, and if it be true, as I believe it is, that the danger from submarines can be guarded against by proper precautions, then surely there is more need, rather than less, for courts-martial being held, in order to see whether every available precaution was taken to guard against the danger. There is something else I should like to say. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that in a time of stress the Admiralty must have absolute power to dismiss any man who they think incompetent, or even if they think they have a 945 better man, though the first is not incompetent, to dismiss him without giving any reason. In no other way will you get efficiency, and nobody, in my opinion, can be too ruthless in such a position, and I would be the last to condemn the Admiralty, even if they made a mistake and dealt unjustly with some man, provided I knew, as I do, that in making these changes their one object was to secure the best man to do the work required. That is true.
But how is that affected by holding courts-martial in such cases as I have pointed out? It is better to speak frankly in all these cases, but I think it is even in the interests of the Admiralty that these courts-martial should be held. Rumours have reached me—I give them no credence whatever, and they must have reached the right hon. Gentleman himself—that some of these disasters are due to direct instructions from the Admiralty itself, and it has even been said—I do not believe it for a moment—that this is one reason why courts-martial are not being held. I say let them return to the old custom, and they will get rid of that kind of thing. I am not going to speak too dogmatically about subjects which I admit I only partially understand. There may be reasons why this course should not continue to be adopted; but this I say, we have not got them yet. I said the other day that at a time like this the powers of a dictatorship must be given to the Government. I think that is right. That is the only way in time of danger that we can do the business of the nation. But with the best intentions dictators are apt to get to love their powers, and one of the evils of a dictatorship is secrecy. Where it is necessary let us have it, but if it is not necessary let us so far as possible stick to the old custom, where publicity has hitherto done no harm, and let us remember it was justified not only by the experience of years and years of peace, but was justified by experience in the Long War, which was as dangerous to this country as the war in which we are engaged.
946 What are the real problems which lie before us? I quoted the words of Nelson a short time ago, and anybody who thinks about this War must be struck by the resemblance between the conditions under which we are asserting our sea power today and the conditions under which we asserted it one hundred years ago. The problems are really the same. Sir John Jellicoe for six months has been doing the same work in precisely the same way as it was done by Nelson when he lay off Toulon. The Germans are fighting on the sea in precisely the same way as the French fought against us. They are fighting a defensive war, which must be very galling to them, for it is not their method of carrying on operations on land, and it has resulted in the loss of the whole of their commerce. It is a most difficult kind of war for us to deal with. It requires, above everything else, patience. It necessitates that so long as an immense fleet is in being, with its great efficiency in gunnery, the main duty of our Fleet is to keep itself together, ready to attack it the moment it shows itself.
The dangers are the same to-day as they were a hundred years ago. One of these dangers was the attitude of neutral Powers. Sea power inevitably irritates neutral States in a way that the exercise of military power on land never could do. That was a great danger to our ancestors. They faced it, even to the extent of having a league of neutral Powers against them in Europe, and to the extent, which can never happen to us, I believe, of being involved in a war with America. So far, in connection with that danger, we have been helped by the clumsiness and brutality of the methods of our enemies, for any neutral State which feels itself aggrieved has only to ask itself this question: After what we have seen of the way in which the laws of war by sea and land have been disregarded by the Germans, what would be the position of neutral countries if the case were reversed, and sea power were in the hands, not of Great Britain, but of Germany? We have got to think of all this. I do not suggest for a moment that we should not pay the strictest attention, and the strongest regard even, to the 947 interests and susceptibilities of neutrals, and we must respect their rights. But we are engaged in a life and death struggle. The weapon by which we hope to bring this War to a close is sea power, and no Government would be justified in giving up a single one of the rights which that sea power gives in the War in which we are now engaged. I think history may repeat itself again. Napoleon tried to delay the decision of sea power for I do not know how many years. He was driven by sea pressure to hazarding at last. The same reasons which compelled Napoleon to take that step will, I think, have the same effect to-day, and they are stronger to-day, for Napoleon had only pressure by sea and our enemies are feeling the pressure by land. I think it not only possible but probable that that pressure may ultimately, will ultimately, compel the German Emperor to risk his Navy in a sea fight. The sooner the better, and, though in this War there is neither a Nelson nor a Napoleon, I think if the opportunity comes there will be another Trafalgar.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty has made a most remarkable speech, and a speech well suited to a most remarkable crisis in our history. At the end of his speech the right hon. Gentleman called attention to a fact, about which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has also spoken, and that is as to how it would be possible to end this War as soon as that can be done. The suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman that the Government are considering whether they will not do away with all those treaties, such as the Declaration of London, the Declaration of Paris and The Hague Conference, so far as Germany is concerned, would no doubt put the economic question on a far tighter strain on Germany, both as to the right of search and as to examining goods in neutral ships. But if I may venture to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the best way to bring the matter about is to recognise that we have Allies. "We" is always stronger than "I." If we had a 948 Note sent from Franco, from Russia, from Japan, and Great Britain, to say that we who are all equally concerned in ending this War, and are all equally concerned in stopping any supply whatever that could benefit Germany, then I do not think that we should have any trouble with the neutral Powers. I do not think we should have any trouble with the United States where we do know there is a large section of Germans and Irish who dislike the English, and dislike the English having command of the sea, although that gives the freedom of the sea to all. I do think it would be a very excellent idea if we could present a Joint Note, all of us being equally interested to end this War, from the four Allies. I do not think that has been done yet, and I would recommend it to the right hon. Gentleman merely to think of.
As to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in his most interesting speech, I agree in the main with everything he said; nearly everything he said. The action of the Fleet has simply been magnificent. There they are with their silent vigil—they are always on the look out. Nothing could have been better than the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman of what the officers and men have been doing. There they are at sea always ready, engines always ready, bunkers always full, as far as they can be, and not one minute in which they may not be ordered out at full speed, and not one minute in which they may not be attacked. I say that the officers and men of the Fleet have maintained the splendid traditions of the past. With the forces they have had at their disposal they have saved us from invasion. They have maintained the freedom of the seas for everybody except our enemies, and they have spared us in this country all the agonies of France and Belgium. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that no Government has ever before, since this War has commenced, been so loyally supported as the present Government has been by the Opposition. We want to help the Government to help to finish the War. But the Prime Minister the other day, very wisely, I thought, invited criticism. I 949 propose to refer to certain accidents. The right hon. Gentleman himself has referred to them, but he does not take the same view of those incidents as I do and as a great number of other people do. They produced catastrophes involving loss of life of a very large number of officers and men. I hope in the remarks that I am going to make that I shall keep the subject within discreet and patriotic lines. Fair criticism is what I want to make. I think there are certain disquieting facts that call for investigation. The reasons for my criticism are as follow:—I maintain that the catastrophes that occurred, and I am merely speaking of submarine catastrophes and nothing else, were quite preventable, and I also say that most of the risks run that caused those catastrophes had no real, no definite, object in them whatever. My criticism is mainly to prevent a recurrence of them.
The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly right in saying that you must run risks in war. Of course you must. Either the Admiralty or an Admiral would be perfectly justified in losing a whole squadron of "Dreadnoughts" and sending them deliberately to their doom in order to win the action for the rest of the Fleet, and the officers and men would cheerfully undertake that order and do their best, although they knew it was certain death. We have lost by submarine attack the "Hogue," the "Aboukir," the "Cressy," the "Hermes," the "Hawke," and the "' Formidable." I only take those six ships because they are ships with large ships companies and ships that ought to have been defended by screens. The right hon. Gentleman rather astonished me by saying that we had lost over 5,000 men by submarines.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I took it we had lost between three and four thousand by submarines. Speaking of losses, the Admiralty issued an Order after three cruisers had been lost that other cruisers or ships in the vicinity were not to proceed to the rescue of the men who were lost in a ship mined or torpedoed. There 950 was some discussion about this matter in the Press. It seems an unnatural Order, but to seamen and men accustomed to the sea, it is a very wise Order. May I give the House an experience. There is not a captain hardly in the Service that has not a moment of intense anxiety as to what he should do in these circumstances. A man falls overboard in a gale of wind and you will always get volunteers to man a cutter, it does not matter what gale the wind is blowing. The question is, is the captain justified in manning the boat with twelve men, an officer and a coxwain, that is fourteen men in all, in order to try and save the man overboard when the chances are that it is almost certain he will lose the other fourteen men? It is a terrible moment, we have all experienced it, and you are obliged to sacrifice the other man. I think the Admiralty Order is perfectly right, that when a ship is in company with a vessel that is mined or torpedoed, that no company ships are to go to her rescue. I think that requires explanation in the country, because there has been a good deal of discussion about that Order.
With regard to the losses by submarines, I maintain with regard to those six ships that the losses were unwarrantable, avoidable and preventable, and that there was no adequate compensation or could not have been any adequate compensation for the risks run. It is due to the relatives and dependants that there should have been an inquiry and a court-martial. A court-martial ought to have been held to find out who was to blame for what they considered, and I consider, preventable disasters. I got a great number of letters from the relatives and dependants of those men lost by the submarine incidents, and the majority of them put this question, "We consider so and so was murdered as he had no chance in a fair fight and the accident was preventable." What does the Admiralty say about this? I find fault with the right hon. Gentleman and the Admiralty that all we have ever heard was that those ships were of no military value. Why put them in and why put officers in them? It is very poor consolation and, I think, an unfeeling 951 and unmerited remark. There was no sentiment of respect paid to the memory of one of those officers or men who went to their death under those circumstances. I think it would have been more in consonance—
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
The right hon. Gentleman says it is not true. I never meant to make an untrue statement, but I never saw in the public Press a single sentence with regard to the loss of those men except that the ships were of no military value. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell me what it was.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I am not only saying that. I have had frequent letters to say that that is all that anybody has received about them. In the remarks that I am making I hope nobody will think that I am going to criticise the Admirals. Nobody has a right to criticise the Admirals in any adverse way because remember they have no right of reply. We have every right to criticise the authority which must be paramountly responsible for anything that occurs to the Fleet. If such matters as I refer to are not cleared up there is no doubt that we shall be in danger of the officers and men of the Fleet losing their confidence in the authority which is absolutely necessary in wartime. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman also that on the occasion of the loss of the cruisers, the "Hermes" and the "Hawke," not one of us said a word of criticism on those occasions. We do not want to criticise, we want to help the Admiralty all we can, but when you get an occurrence such as the "Formidable," in which a whole squadron is risked, and one ship (the "Formidable") was lost and another was hit, and I am not saying anything of advantage to the enemy or anything that everybody does not know, when we get those occurrences it is the bounden duty of people in this House to call attention to those things, mainly with the 952 object that they should not occur again. What I want to know is this: Did the Admiralty, after the loss of the "Hogue," the "Aboukir," and the "Cressy," the "Hermes" and the "Hawke," give orders that no squadron or single ship should proceed to sea unless they proceeded at speed or had proper screens and torpedo boats? That is what the country wants to know. Remember this, that the submarine is considerably overrated, if what the right hon. Gentleman himself described as proper and obvious precautions and care are taken. If the proper care is not taken the submarine is a most fatal and novel weapon of naval warfare. A single ship or a squadron should go at speed at sea and both should be accompanied by the proper quota and units of torpedo-boat destroyers and small craft. I should like to explain why.
When a submarine comes up to the surface she has to look about. The first thing she will see will probably be a destroyer. It very often happens that the destroyer sees the submarine before the submarine sees the destroyer. The submarine has to look into its reflector, but the destroyer has most of its men on deck, and there are thirty or forty pairs of eyes level with the horizon. A cruiser has four, five, or six sets of signallers on the bridge. Directly a submarine comes up the destroyer signals to the cruiser, the cruiser alters her helm, zig-zags about, and goes off at full speed. The submarine, when it sees a destroyer, will go down for its own safety. The whole position is altered. It is not a very speedy weapon of warfare in getting its sight on a ship. It is most problematical whether it will ever get a ship at speed, and it will not get a ship which has its proper quota of destroyers and small craft. Let me prove that. We have dispatched hundreds of thousands of troops to the Continent; the water was full of submarines, the ships went at speed. We have had two actions off Heligoland; the water was full of submarines, and not only did the ships go at speed, but they had their full quota of small craft and destroyers. A more glaring example is the bombardment of Zeebrugge, where the ships were often stationary; the water was 953 full of submarines, there was the full quota of small craft and destroyers, and not one ship was hit. In manœuvres I have often been attacked by torpedo-boat destroyers. You can often see the torpedo fired, and you have only to put your helm over and you defeat the object of the man who fired it.
With regard to the orders of the Admiralty, I want to know why the squadron of which the "Formidable" was a part, disposed of the two great safeguards against submarine attacks. This is common knowledge. She went out: everybody knew where she was going and what she was going to do. She disposed of or sent back the torpedo-boat destroyers, which were her first defence. When she got out into the Channel she went at slow speed. The admiral would not have done that if the Admiralty had given definite orders, after the loss of the other three cruisers, that no ship was to proceed except at speed and with screens. That squadron proceeded to sea in an area of water that was known to be infested with submarines. I say that an explanation is necessary. We ought to know what was the Admiralty policy that brought about these avoidable losses. Either it was criminal negligence or it was crass stupidity, or it was dictated by what I may describe as amateur strategy. I have endeavoured to give the House these facts because the country is bewildered, the Service is uneasy, and the relatives and dependants of the gallant men who went down, from causes which were perfectly preventable, and from risks for which there was no obvious reason, have great cause for complaint. There is only one way to clear up the position, restore confidence, and prevent a recurrence of these events, and that is to stick to what has been the tradition and habit of the Service for centuries—have the survivors of ships that are lost in any way whatever tried by court-martial, and thus find out who is to blame, what was the reason for it, and clear up the matter before the whole world.
Why were these courts-martial not held? What the right hon. Gentleman said just now is quite correct. A court-martial 954 is not to convict: it is to free an officer from blame, and to make it clear to the Service and the public who was to blame. If you do not have courts-martial, it will be fatal to the confidence of the Service in authority, and it will eventually be fatal to the discipline of the Fleet. Let me point out to you the injurious results which may arise from having no courts-martial. There may be, and there has been, in an accident of this sort, a case of unjustly throwing or inferring blame on an officer who was not to blame. In another case an officer may be to blame, but if there is no court-martial he may be given another appointment, whitewashed, and be the subject of favouritism. To have no court-martial is unjust to the officer, bad for the Service, and more or less a danger to the State. Officers should have an opportunity of clearing themselves. The country should demand information.
By what authority have the King's Regulations, the Admiralty instructions, and the Naval Discipline Act been abrogated? Who did this? Courts-martial are not only a tradition of the Service; they are compulsory by the Naval Discipline Act. The country ought to know by whose authority this great Act has been abrogated. Such an autocratic proceeding is a danger to the State. If any hon. Member will go to the Library and ask for the King's Regulations, the Admiralty instructions, and the Naval Discipline Act, he will see that it is the custom and the order of the Service that courts-martial should be held in such cases. As it is, the Admiralty seem to think that the Navy belongs to them. The Navy belongs to the country, and the old traditions and requirements which keep things clear, and put the blame on the proper authority, should not be abrogated without the consent of this House. The First Lord of the Admiralty gave an answer on the 11th inst., and has repeated it to-day, which simply amazes me, and ought to amaze the House. He said:—The losses which take place owing to mines and submarines are quite different from any losses that occurred in former years. That has a bearing on the question of courts-martial.955 And he defended that in the House to-day. These points make courts-martial more necessary. They are a new element in warfare. What is to protect our officers and men if you have a captain or an admiral who says, "Never mind the mines; I'll chance them." Is he not to be tried by court-martial? What is to protect the officers and men if you have another admiral who says, "I do not fear submarines; I will get rid of my screens and proceed at low speed." Is not that a subject for a court-martial? It is the bounden duty of this House to see that no officer's or man's life is risked in any way whatever without a definite object in view, and never from a cause that is preventable. We owe it to our great Service to continue these courts-martial in every one of these cases. All the cases I have mentioned involved the loss, wreck, and destruction of certain vessels, and, worse still, the loss of officers and men, and courts-martial in such cases are specially provided for by the Naval Discipline Act, which, I repeat, has been abrogated by some autocratic authority at the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman said that courts-martial could not well be held without weakening the fighting line. There is a great Fleet somewhere; we do not know where, and if we did we should not say. But a court-martial does not take weeks; it may take only a forenoon. In the case of the "Goeben," the court-martial was held at Plymouth. There are plenty of admirals and captains to constitute a court-martial. It is perfectly easy to send up the witnesses. It might not take more than a dog-watch to try the case and find out who was guilty. The right hon. Gentleman's argument will not hold at all.
May I give an experience of my own with regard to a court-martial? When I commanded the "Undaunted" in the Mediterranean, I was unlucky enough to run her ashore. It was a question of shifting the buoys and the leading marks. My commander-in-chief, Sir George Tryon, one of the finest seamen we ever had in the Navy, when I went to Malta to be put right, said to me, "I perfectly understand 956 what happened; it was not your fault; it was nobody's fault. I will try you by Court of Inquiry, and the whole thing will be settled." I said, "I respectfully submit, Sir, that you should not do anything of the sort. I beg you to try me by court-martial. If I become an admiral someday, and a captain runs his ship ashore, if I try him by court-martial and he is found guilty, it may be in different circumstances, what will be said? It will be said, 'Beresford ran his ship ashore. I he was tried by Court of Inquiry. That is a secret Court, with no evidence on oath. Another man runs his ship ashore, he is tried by court-martial and found guilty.'" The admiral saw it at once. He said. "Certainly; I see your point; I will try you by court-martial." I was tried and acquitted. I mention that to show the importance that I attach to the question of courts-martial. A Court of Inquiry does not meet the case at all. A Court of Inquiry is generally held with the object of framing charges for a court-martial. It is a secret inquiry, no witnesses are examined on oath, nobody is obliged to answer any question, and, although official, it is not public like a court-martial. If hon. Members like they can buy the minutes of any court-martial in the Army and Navy. The court is sometimes closed for the reason that it may not be in the public interest to divulge the subject, but the whole of the minutes of evidence and the finding of any court-martial of either Service can be bought for a small sum of money. What substitute has the Admiralty put into force in place of these courts-martial? None whatever but an autocratic proceeding, in which the career and whole life of the officers of the Navy are entirely at the disposal of what I may call the freak or idea of the people at the Admiralty, or even the First Lord. That is all wrong—absolutely wrong. We must go back to the court-martial. I am perfectly certain that when the country knows the facts of the case they will insist upon it. I maintain that the Admiralty had no power in the world to do away with courts-martial. They had no power to do this, either under the Naval Discipline Act, the 957 King's Regulations, or the Admiralty's Instructions, without coming to this House. Why does the right hon. Gentleman shake his head? Does he claim he has the power?
§ The CIVIL LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. G. Lambert)
The Noble Lord is mistaken. It is not indispensable under the Naval Discipline Act.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
The right hon. Gentleman must really read up the King's Regulations. He will then find it is not only according to the custom and tradition, but it always has been the case.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
So far as I have spoken in this House now, I have endeavoured to put the case as clear as I can as to why you should not do away with courts-martial. I maintain it is the Naval Discipline Act. The wording of the Clauses point out that you have got to have a court-martial. You speak there of the officers and men who have lost their ship being kept on full pay until there is a court-martial. All the Clauses point out that; in fact, you have to have a court-martial when a ship is lost. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head again, but I still stick to my opinion. I consider the question to be one of paramount importance to the efficiency of the Service and to the maintenance of the Naval Discipline Act. It is one which really indirectly touches the safety of the State. Let me quote the article I have just referred to:—When a ship is wrecked or lost, until the court-martial shall have inquired into the cause of the loss or capture of such ship …That means that the officers and men are to be kept on full pay till it is done. There are several other Clauses, and I am sorry that I did not bring a copy of them. Article 616 says:—Immediately after the court-martial to inquire into the loss of a ship which has taken place …".and so on.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I do not think the Noble Lord quite follows me. He said that it made it obligatory upon the Admiralty 958 to hold a court-martial. I do not think that is so. Of course, he may be better informed than I am.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to this effect, that an officer sometimes thinks he is very aggrieved and he demands a court-martial. He has no right to demand a court-martial, and the Admiralty say: "No, we will not allow a court-martial." But I maintain that the loss of a ship, and the loss of the people in it, is quite a different matter. It has been the custom and tradition to hold a court-martial, and I maintain that is the law. However, I will not dwell further on that point, except to say that it is very important, both for the officers and the men of the Fleet, it is felt very acutely by the dependants of these poor people who have been lost. Nobody knows why they were lost or who is to blame for that loss. I again repeat—and I cannot repeat it too often—they were lost from causes that were preventable and from risks run in which there was no object whatever.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
The First Lord stated during the course of his speech—
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
That he had urgent business at the office, and therefore he might claim the indulgence of the House.
§ Mr. FALLE
He also told us that, as the House will remember, last year, and the next day it was found that he had been presiding at the banquet given to Dr. Sven Hedin or some other explorer. No doubt during war time it is necessary for the First Lord to be at the Admiralty, but I do say this is the one night of the year in which he might have been here. He has given us a wonderful speech which will be best described, I think, by the term the 959 Australians use—that is, "blowing." It was principally made up of "blowing." When he was not doing that he was sometimes inaccurate, as when he told us that the Australian convoy came across the Pacific. He was following his Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he told us that France was peopled with Celts. I have another ground for complaint—that is the little the First Lord has told us. I maintain that we have a right to the fullest information that the First Lord can give, and that we should not have to wait until that information is given to foreign newspapers, even though those newspapers be the newspapers of our Allies. We have the first right to the information which may come to the First Lord, and which he thinks it is possible to give to the people of this country. I think the First Lord was perfectly right when he said that the Navy was as sound as a bell. We are all quite sure of that. What we are not quite sure of is of what kind of metal the clapper is made! To the newspapers the First Lord talks freely. He talks, in my humble opinion, of those things which he may understand, and he also talks of those things which he may not understand. He has given us his views on the subject of rats and on the digging out of rats, while per contra he has given us his opinion on a matter which he certainly cannot and does not understand—that is baby-killing. If the First Lord can give us his views on the subject of orphan-making, it might have been more interesting, or on middle-aged Reservists, or on obsolete, antiquated ships that can hardly in some instances steam, much less fire a gun.
The country, I think, is agreed that it is Heaven's mercy that Lord Fisher is at the Admiralty. When the First Lord finishes with naval matters he apparently tells foreign newspapers that whatever happens, England will continue the War: whether or not the Allies break away from us and make peace, England will go on. By what authority does the First Lord speak in the name of England? He may have a right to speak in the name of Dundee, but he certainly has not the right to speak in the 960 name of England; nor does it appear to me that he has a right to tell the Burgomaster of Antwerp: "You need not worry, we have come here to save your city," and to carry out that boast by landing untrained, unequipped, and unequal forces of exceedingly brave men, who naturally could do very little towards defending that city. None of us objects to the fact that a force was sent to defend or to attempt to defend Antwerp. What we do criticise is that the attempt to do it was made with an untrained and an inadequate force. The First Lord has absented himself to-night, while at the same time the country knows that he is continually running over to France. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] He was there, I believe, last week. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman objects to the words "running over." Well, the First Lord was conveyed by train and by steamboat to the coast of France. I cannot myself say what is his object and what is the object of allowing the First Lord to go to France so frequently. It cannot be to hearten Sir John French. It cannot have anything to do with his Navy work. If the First Lord wants to go to France for the purpose of fighting, I am quite sure that nobody will say him nay.
I should like to make a few remarks on the first naval trouble that occurred. That was the loss of the "Pegasus." Here was a ship which was unable to steam, with guns obsolete, in waters where it is common knowledge that the Germans had a superior force. The First Lord tells us, and told us to-day, that at the outbreak of War we had a Fleet equal to all our needs. Why then was the "Pegasus" kept in Zanzibar waters so that she might fall an easy prey to the very first German cruiser that came along? When that German cruiser came along, it found the poor old "Pegasus" with her fires drawn and unable to steam, and the Germans; massacred her men and sank the ship at a distance from which the poor old popguns of the "Pegasus" could not make any effectual reply. Those men, as letters that have been sent to my colleague and myself show, in the opinion of their people, were simply murdered. Why were these brave men in ships of no 961 fighting value whatever, if it is a fact that the Fleet at the outbreak of War was equal to all our needs? We have had to send other ships now to Zanzibar waters to take the place of the "Pegasus." Would it not have been far better to have sent the ships at the beginning? The second matter is a matter which has been spoken of at some length by my colleague—the loss of the "Cressy," the "Hogue," and the "Aboukir."
Those ships were sent regularly into the danger zone, and they were sent without the small craft that were built for the purpose of accompanying the bigger ships, and guarding them from danger—built to be the very eyes and ears of the Fleet. Yet these three cruisers were sent without their accompanying smaller vessels, and, of course, were sunk. But that was not enough for the First Lord. He sent the "Hawke" without smaller craft, and it shared the fate, and her men shared the fate, of the "Cressy," "Hogue," and "Aboukir." What I should like to know is, what the ships were doing in those particular waters. Was it necessary for them to be there? That is to me the crucial question. The proof that they were not necessary there is that no others were sent to take their place. So persuaded were the men of the "Hawke" of the danger of being unattended in this dangerous zone that, positively, rafts were made on the "Hawke" and some few men were saved when the fatal day came. We think, at a great naval port like Portsmouth, that these men gave up their lives owing to the ignorance of the First Lord. There was another question touched on by my colleague—the escape of the "Goeben" in Mediterranean waters. That emphasises the absolute need of a court-martial. Here we have three battle-cruisers under an admiral and a certain number of battle-cruisers under his second in command, and, notwithstanding that, the "Goeben" escapes, with the result that the Turk, our old ally, is forced into a war against us.
§ Mr. FALLE
What I am speaking about is a court-martial. The "Goeben" escaped, 962 and the Turk, our old ally, was forced into a war against us, the cost of which we cannot yet estimate. What, I wish to know, were the orders that were given to the admiral in command in the Mediterranean? It was said in this House at the time, and, in fact, it was common knowledge, that the orders of the Admiralty were that His Majesty's ships should run no avoidable risk, and it was under that that the "Goeben" escaped from our Fleet. There was no court-martial. The senior admiral was brought home, and he submitted to a Court of Inquiry, and we were told that, as the result of that Court of Inquiry, he was exonerated from any blame. The fact remains that that gentleman, an Englishman and a sailor, is ashore. The second in command appealed for a court-martial, and he, holding a historic great service name, was triumphantly acquitted of any blame. I maintain that the senior officer should have been court-martialled just as much as his junior, on that the country should know on evidence taken on oath that he himself was blameless. It does not appear to me to be playing the game to give one man a Court of Inquiry and the other a court-martial. And how does that court-martial, which absolutely absolves the second in command, affect the Court of Inquiry, so far as it concerns the First Lord?
Then we got, saddest of all, the battle which was only touched by the right hon. Gentleman—the sea fight off Coronel. There we had practically obsolete ships. I, for my own part, absolutely refuse to believe that the Admiralty, where we find the keenest and the finest brains in the Navy, did not foresee the concentration of the German ships. I find it impossible to believe that they did not foresee that squadron, and that they did not devise means and methods by which that squadron should be met. I dare say every Member of this House has read that most pathetic letter which was written by the doctor of the "Good Hope," the last letter in fact which was received from the "Good Hope," and which appeared in the "Times." It was written, I believe, to his wife, and he said to her, "Pray that the 963 Germans do not concentrate against us; for, if they do, it is all up with us," and it was all up with them. They took an old ship, carrying two old 9.2-inch guns, against two of the finest cruisers of the German Navy, carrying sixteen 8.2-inch guns. The result was as certain as the sun shines. There was no fight possible, but I am told—I admit, of course, my information is not official, but only hearsay—that the admiral's orders were to get into action at the earliest possible opportunity, the direct opposite of the orders given to Admiral Sir Berkeley Milne. Of course, if Admiral Cradock had those orders he had no option but to seek out the Germans, and to fight, although he knew that his force was absolutely inadequate.
The "Good Hope" and the "Monmouth" went with their brave crews to the bottom, and I believe that they went there by the ignorance or obstinacy of some amateur authority at the Admiralty; they went there by the opinion of a man who was gambling on chances. There is one thing we ought to be grateful for, and it is that the poor old "Canopus" did not succeed in arriving on the scene of battle, or she and all her brave men would have gone to the bottom. I want the orders given to Admiral Cradock to be put on the Table of the House. I want to know if it were a fact that he was told to get into action at the earliest possible moment, and why those orders were different from those given to Admiral Sir Berkeley Milne? Did the admiral comment when he received those orders, and what comment did he make? Is it a fact that he knew his force was quite inadequate to meet the German force, and is it a fact he asked for another ship? I understand that he did so. I understand that he asked the Admiralty, and the Admiralty refused him, and he, brave man, had no choice but to go into action with an inferior and obsolete force, although we had been told that the Fleet at the beginning of hostilities was equal to all our needs. He had his orders; he had heard the melancholy fiasco of the "Goeben"; he saw his duty, and went for it then and there. The nation values 964 and appreciates his heroism and sacrifice, and the heroism of the brave men who died with him. But they will not forgive the man, or the men, who sent him and them practically bound hand and foot to their doom.
There was another small point about which I asked the right hon. Gentleman the other day. Five men were landed from the "Good Hope" on a small island off the coast of Chili. Those men were the only men of the "Good Hope" who were saved. The First Lord refused to give me their names. I cannot understand why, unless he thinks they would be hunted down by newspaper reporters, which is a very unworthy idea or suggestion. Of course, the names of those men, I admit, have been sent to their families, but the fact remains that there are a good many poor women whose husbands were signallers on the "Good Hope" who do not know this fact, and are hoping that their husbands are among these five. But the Admiralty, for some or other deep problem of State, refuses to give the names. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman who will answer—and I am very glad he will, instead of the First Lord—to give us, if possible, the names of these men, or, at any rate, afford us some reason why they should not be given, because I can assure him that there is a feeling among many women that, possibly, their husbands were saved, and they will not know otherwise until a pension is paid to them. After that miserable battle in the Chilian waters there came the blessed change at the Admiralty. Admiral Sturdee was sent out with two fine ships and three cruisers. Why could he not have been sent out at first? Why should the Admiralty have waited until two ships were lost, and the splendid complement belonging to those ships, all reserves of men in the prime of life—men who cannot be replaced? Why were those ships not sent out at the beginning, if it can be proved at the beginning of the War our Fleet was equal to all our needs?
Then we come to the loss of the "Formidable." I am told that the Fleet had been cruising for several days over the same ground, going every day within sight 965 of land, on a bright moonlight night, without catchers or small ships—that is, without any screen whatever—steaming, I am told, at eight knots, with the result that she was lost. There were, no doubt, ships of greater value in the squadron, but that they escaped is only a piece of luck for us. Whose is the fault? The admiral is a man known through the Service as a man of extraordinary ability. He was brought before a Court of Inquiry, a secret Court, at which evidence is not taken on oath. With what result? He is taken away from his squadron, but he is given one of the best possible billets ashore. That does not seem fair to the admiral himself or the nation, or to the great Service to which he belongs. Either he should be blamed or maintained where he was with the Fleet. He has the reputation of being the only man in the Service who was willing to do some work connected with Ulster. I do not know whether that has had anything to do with the Court of Inquiry, but whatever it is he should be court-martialled in fairness to the Service and to the nation. I think the First Lord will be called strictly to account for these matters when the War is over. We cannot bring him to book at the present moment, because there are many points which we cannot touch upon, but I think the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken if he imagines that the country does not want and will not require of him an answer to those points. The day of reckoning will come. For the right hon. Gentleman's attempt, as I believe, to run the British Navy on his own some reason will be required from him, and then he will meet with his fitting and proper reward. I for one do not think that reward will be the reward he either expects or thinks he deserves.
§ Mr. BARNES
I wish to draw attention to two small matters. First of all, the present position in regard to the training scheme for officers which is now in vogue in the Navy; and secondly, to the position of the new naval force in connection with separation allowances. I have spoken of my first point in this House many times during the last few years and, as the Secretary to the Admiralty knows, I am opposed 966 to it through and through. I believe it is a bad scheme, and I am glad to know that there are other hon. Members in the House of the same opinion. Unfortunately it has now been in operation so long that I suppose we must take it as a thing that has been brought into being and is going to remain. I want to refer to one little corner of this question and its position from last year, and that is the position of cadets entering Osborne and Dartmouth and the fees payable in respect of them.
A year or two ago the fees payable amounted to £75 for each boy and certain other expenses were payable over and above that amount. Up to last year there was always 10 per cent. allowed for the sons of Navy or Army officers, who were entitled to enter at the smaller fee of £40. Last year that 10 per cent. was increased to 25 per cent., and even that 25 per cent. was not to be exclusively made up of the sons of Army or Navy officers, but might be drawn from any class of the community. I understand from the Secretary to the Admiralty that there has been a little further relaxation in regard to the money payable after eighteen years of age. I should like to have a statement as to the actual position on this point and I wish to say, further, that if I am right as to the present position, it is one with which I am not at all satisfied. I believe that the only remedy for the present anomalous state of affairs in regard to the entry of cadets is to reduce the fees all round. At present we have 25 per cent. who are entering at £40 instead of £75, and I believe we have some remission of the money payable by the boys at a later stage of their training.
Under these circumstances I agree that the position is to some extent better than it was, but a system is not satisfactory which imposes upon a person because he is poor the necessity of going along to some authority and pleading poverty in order to get these fees remitted. I dare say there are some who go forward and plead that they are poor and are not in a position to get £75 a year, but I do not think you will get the best people to do that, and there are a large number of self-respecting people who would like to get 967 their sons into the Navy as officers who would never think of telling the tale to the Board of Admiralty or any other board. Therefore, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to use his great influence not to make distinctions between one class and another, but to reduce the fees all round so as to increase the area from which you may draw the boys for the future officers of the Navy. I am not making any charge against the officers of the Navy, and I am not saying a single word of a disparaging nature about them. On the contrary, I believe that they are very smart men, and we owe a great deal to them. But, good as they are, it would be a good thing for the nation to increase and enlarge the section of the nation from which these officers are to be drawn, because, after all, brains are not the exclusive possession of any part of the community, and the larger the area of selection the better is the chance of getting the best men.
With regard to the now Naval Division, it seems to me to be neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring; it is a sort of amphibious body which is to operate on land or sea and possibly in the air. There is one thing about it, however, which works out very unfairly, and that is the separation allowance. At present the separation allowance for the wife of a sailor is less than the allowance in respect of a soldier. The reason given for this is that the sailor gets better pay, and therefore it is presumed he is in a position to maintain his wife. I agree with that, but there are a large number of men in the Navy, including mechanics, who start at 4s., 5s., or even 6s. a day, and it would be absurd for the community to be charged with the maintenance of their wives. The scale of separation allowance for the Navy is based upon a less amount for the wife and the children because the sailor has more money. That, however, does not apply to the new body which has been created, because it is drawn from men who have either been in the Navy before or who are willing to join this new body, and they have to join at what is called the ordinary 968 seaman's rate, which is 8s. 9d. per week, or 1s. 3d. per day.
In the Navy proper the ordinary seaman's rate is a sort of sieve through which a man passes to the rating of an able-bodied seaman. I think the right hon. Gentleman told us that there were between 6,000 and 7,000 of these men, and therefore we may reckon the rating of an A.B., which goes up to about 14s. or 15s. a week, and take that to be the rating corresponding to the pay of a soldier in the Army who gets 7s. a week. Now the ordinary seaman in this new body gets 8s. 9d., and therefore there is a difference of 1s. 9d., but because of the generally higher pay of the Navy, the separation allowance for the wife of the sailor in the new body is very much smaller than I think it ought to be. Take the case of a wife with six children—and it so happens that I had such a case sent to me of a man who had joined this new force who had been in the Navy before and he was rated as an ordinary seaman. His wife gets 6s. per week, with allowances for the children, making the total 18s. per week. I want to compare the position of the wife of the man belonging to the now body with the wife of a private soldier. The wife of a man belonging to this new naval body with six children gets 18s. from the State—that is 6s. for herself and 12s. for the six children. Now take the wife of a private soldier; she gets 9s. a week for herself and allowances for the children, which bring the total up to 25s. 6d. I am not saying that she gets a penny too much, but my point is that the other woman gets too little. In consideration of the ordinary seaman belonging to the new force having higher pay his wife gets only 18s. per week, while the soldier's wife gets 25s. 6d. per week, although the higher pay of the man of the new force of the Navy is only 1s. 9d. more.
I put it to my right hon. Friend that that is not fair. It may be true that the general scheme of the Navy, taken as a whole, works out fairly well, but if you take that little corner of it which I have mentioned, it works out very badly, and I imagine that the man belonging to this new force will have precious little chance 969 of promotion. At all events, he is not going to sea or doing active service, and the probability is that he will be kept on shore doing odds and ends, and so long as the War lasts the probability is that the vast majority of these men will remain at 8s. 9d. per week, and because he is getting the higher pay as compared with the Army man his wife gets 8s. 6d. less than the Army man, although his larger pay amounts only to 1s. 9d. more per week. That is my point. I have put these two points very briefly. I should like to know the position of the cadets under the new training scheme. Whatever may be done in regard to the rearrangement of the fees will not be satisfactory unless it applies all round and places everybody on the same footing. I would like to have some assurance in regard to this new body that there will be either a rapid promotion of the men belonging to the new force, that their wages will be increased, or, if you like, they should be transferred to the Army, which seems to me the best thing to do with them. Then the pay would drop 1s. 9d., and the separation allowance would go up 8s. 6d.
§ Mr. HOHLER
His Majesty's Government have indeed done everything they possibly can to bring this War to a successful conclusion, and they certainly, so far as my knowledge goes, enjoy the confidence of the country. When my Noble Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Lord C. Beresford), who is entitled to criticise, has so little to say upon the subject, I feel that I should do best to address the House with regard to the interests of the men. I wish to call the attention of the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty to the position of the widows and children of the officers and men who lost their lives in His Majesy's ship "Bulwark."
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I have sent the hon. Gentleman a reply to a question which I think will cover the point.
§ Mr. HOHLER
I have omitted to see it, but do I understand that they will be treated upon a war footing?
§ Mr. HOHLER
Then I must raise the point, because it is of the greatest importance. I have had a serious point raised from a number of sources and from different parts of the country as to whether or not the widows of the officers and the widows of the men who lost their lives in the "Bulwark" disaster are to be dealt with upon a war or a peace footing. It is a serious and vital question, and we ought to have a definite assurance from the Admiralty that these widows will be dealt with as if the officers and men had been killed in war. It is far too narrow a view to take of the great crisis in which we are engaged to say that because a man is blown up in the Medway he is not killed in war, but that if he is blown up at sea by a submarine or a mine he is killed in war. There ought to be a broad principle that the widow and dependants of everyone, either in the Army or in the Navy, who is killed while serving the country for the purpose of the War should be treated as if, in fact, he had been killed in the War, and there ought not to be any technical distinction. There is no evidence to show how the "Bulwark" disaster was caused one way or the other. All we know is that these men were blown up. It may be—nobody knows; it is impossible to say—that it was the result of some defective machinery, but there ought not to be any pettifogging treatment of the question; there ought to be a broad line laid down, and the Pensions Committee—I regret there is no representative of that Committee in the House—should make it clear that every man while serving as a sailor or a soldier in the present War should be entitled, no matter where he may be killed, to have his dependants treated upon a war basis.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I do not know whether the hon. Member thinks that the widows and dependants of the men are not treated on a war footing. They are. The only question at issue is as to the officers, and, under the Order in Council, we have not yet been able, as I have explained in answer to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) to pay pensions and allowances under Scale A, but we will certainly make representations.
§ Mr. HOHLER
Of course that goes some way, but may I remind the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, with whom I have had correspondence on the subject, that his reply to me was that the widows of the men were being provisionally paid as if their husbands had been killed upon a war footing. That is a totally different thing from saying they are actually entitled to be paid upon a war footing. Do I understand that the widows and children of the men, at any rate, are entitled absolutely, and not merely provisionally, to be paid as if the men had been killed in war?
§ Mr. HOHLER
It is equally important that the widows and children of the officers should be so paid, but they are being paid provisionally as if the officers had been drowned.
§ Mr. HOHLER
Yes, as if they had been drowned. It is really very difficult to conceive anything more foreign to the truth than to say these men who were blown up were drowned. This must be wrong, and it is a most important point for the widows. I should like the Financial Secretary to explain why this distinction is drawn between the men and the officers. This House fights equally for both, without regard to any question of class, and, if the widows of the men are entitled to be pensioned as if their husbands had been killed in war, surely the widows of the officers are equally so entitled. I cannot understand the distinction.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The men are under the White Paper Scale, but the officers are under long standing Regulations. We cannot pay their widows and children on Scale A—the War scale—until we get the terms of those Regulations altered. We are bound for the time being to pay on Scale B, but I have said that representations will be made to get the widows of officers put under Scale A.
§ Mr. HOHLER
My recollection certainly is that the words used in the Admiralty Regulation in regard to the 972 widows of officers are similar, if not precisely the same, as those used in the pension form which has been recently issued, and with regard to which amendments have been proposed. I have, however, raised the point, and I hope that justice will be done to these people. I cannot understand why the widow of a marine officer is always treated as if she were worth from £40 to £80 less than the widow of an officer of corresponding rank in the Army or Navy. I can see no good reason for it, and I do ask the right hon. Gentleman to bring this matter and press it before the Committee which is dealing with this question of pensions, and before the Government, so that the widow of a marine officer may be placed in precisely the same position as the widow of a naval or military officer of corresponding rank. I ask him to do so all the more because I have communicated with the right hon. Gentleman who is a Member of the Committee, and he is under the impression that they have already done it. I can find nothing in the White Paper which has been issued, dealing in any way with the question.
Again, I can find no provision dealing with the case of a step-child. I believe there are more cases, but I have heard of at least one case of a woman who had been married previously, marrying a sailor and the sailor becoming liable to support her child. The sailor was killed on the "Cressy," and the Admiralty refused to recognise his step-child. They gave a pension to his wife, but wholly refused to recognise his step-child. I think that was entirely wrong. It was an obligation on the father to maintain the step-child, and why, if other children are recognised, the Government do not undertake the obligation of paying the children's allowance in this case, I am absolutely at a loss to understand. I have again written to a member of the Committee, and he tells me that the case has been dealt with. I have read and re-read the White Paper and the Amendments, but I cannot find that it has been dealt with in any sense or form. It is an exceptional case, I admit. There is no great number of these cases but still they ought to be dealt with for 973 obvious reasons. The case I have in my mind is that of a widow with one child by her late sailor husband, and one child by her first husband. She will get whatever pension is allotted—I think it comes to about 11s. per week for herself—and 4s. for one child, but she will get no allowance in respect of the other child; she will have to keep it herself, and the family will suffer. The case is clearly one, therefore, which ought to be dealt with. On this matter of pensions I want to ascertain from the right hon. Gentleman why it is that the widows of the men who were drowned when the "Pathfinder" was blown up do not receive the separation allowance and allotment for twenty-six weeks.
§ Mr. HOHLER
It is an injustice to those people, who have been killed in the War under the circumstances I have referred to, that they should not be put on the same footing as those who have since lost their lives. Why should the widow of a man who lost his life on the "Pathfinder" not receive the same allowance as she would have received had he been killed but a few days later. It is extremely unfortunate that there is nobody representing the Pensions Committee in the House at this moment. I asked one of the members why these papers had not been dealt with, and he replied to me that he thought they had been. I can only repeat it is a monstrous injustice if these women are not put in the same position as the widows of the men who have been killed later in the War. There is no rhyme or reason for making a big difference between them. I think nothing has been done in their case because the sufferers are comparatively few in number.
§ Mr. HOHLER
At any rate, I have now raised the question, and I hope it will receive sympathetic treatment at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman. The point may have been overlooked by the Committee, but that body has still to make a final report, and I hope before it does so these cases will have been considered. I 974 want to call attention to another case of very great importance. A widow is entitled to twenty-six weeks' separation allowance, plus the allotment that her husband made her in the event of his being killed. Of course, it is necessary the husband should have made the allotment. Unfortunately, owing to the sudden way in which disasters occurred shortly after the outbreak of War, there are several cases in which there is no reason to doubt that the husband, had he lived longer, would have made the allotment, but, owing to the fact that the allotment has not been received by the Admiralty, the Board hold that they have no authority to pay it. I fully appreciate the position they have taken up, but this again, I submit, is a matter which the Pensions Commissioners might have dealt with.
I could produce evidence which would satisfy anybody that men had for a number of years been in the habit of making allotments to their wives when absent for a long period at sea. I sent the right hon. Gentleman some cases to prove that. In one case, it turned out that the man came home to a port, and was employed on a vessel in a manner which enabled him to be constantly at home at week-ends. The result was, he found it more convenient, drawing his pay weekly as he did, to hand the money over to his wife personally, instead of making the allotment, although he had allotted money in her favour in the past. It is not impossible that the allotment paper went down with him in the particular vessel on which he was serving when it was sunk, but unfortunately, if he had made the allotment, it never reached home, and his widow has now to suffer. I submit that this woman ought to have the benefit of the twenty-six weeks' allotment, seeing that her husband has been in the habit of making an allotment in her favour. In these matters we ought to have some regard to the real facts, instead of being bound by stereotyped rules; there should be elasticity to enable us to deal with these eases. The human mind is not large enough to take in the curious set of circumstances when such facts do arise, and, therefore, I think there should be some elasticity 975 enabling the Admiralty to deal fairly with these questions, and to make proper provision for the widows, although the Regulations may not absolutely provide for it. I have had another case brought to my notice in which a man had never previously made an allotment. He had only been married six months; he had been at home during that time, and there had been no need for allotment. Now the widow gets none. I submit that that is entirely wrong, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take great care that all these matters shall be brought before the Pensions Committee in order that these wrongs may be put right. Then, as regards the amendments of the Regulations made by the Committee, it is to me a matter of regret that they have not dealt more generously with the Navy. So far as I understand the recommendations of the Select Committee, the Navy gets little or nothing. It may be a mistake, but it appears to me the recommendations do not apply to the Navy at all.
§ Mr. HOHLER
It may be intended that they shall, but I should like to see it in black and white. I find that Clause 9 of the Select Committee's Report only refers to Class 5, and Class 5 has nothing at all to do with the Navy. The classes which are enumerated as being affected are in the Army alone. It may have been that the Committee did intend to apply the increased pensions both to the Army and Navy, but, as a matter of fact, I think it will be seen that, strictly speaking, they have not done so. May I just add a few more words on the question of the Navy pensions? It must be remembered that all classes do not get the same scales as engine-room artificers; some of the classes are not paid nearly as well. The seamen get comparatively little. The Marines, too, are very badly paid, and it should be borne in mind that the seaman has to find his own clothes, although he gets a kit on entering, and he has likewise to provide a great number of things for messing purposes. What I want to draw attention to is this: In the original pensions paper the 976 pensions for widows proceeded on the footing that in the Navy the allotment was at the rate of 20s. per month. That was the minimum. In the Army the minimum was 3s. 6d. per week. When you come to the allowances for the children you will find that the Navy allowances are increased to 4s. for the first child, 3s. for the second, 2s. for the third, and 1s. for the fourth; but in the Army the scale is 5s. for the first, 3s. 6d. for the second, and 2s. for subsequent children. In the case of an Army man with a family of four children, the wife would get a separation allowance and allotment of 25s. 4d., while in the case of a Navy man with a like family the wife would only get 21s. That is wrong. I submit the greater consideration should be given to the Navy, and that the allowances for children ought to have been increased. I think no good reason has been shown why the original Government allowance for the seaman and Marine, who are the worst paid classes in the Navy, was only 6s., which, with the allotment of 20s. per month, secures 11s. for the wife, while in the Army, the allotment being 3s. 6d. only per week, the wife gets a total allowance of 12s. 6d. Why should they not be put on the same footing? I do not think that the Navy has been fairly treated in this respect, and, in my judgment, the Select Committee should have been more generous and put the soldier and the sailor on precisely the same footing.
I want to say a word or two in regard to the stokers training as mechanicians in the Navy. The War has disturbed the whole of the arrangements in connection with this class, and has stopped their training. Cannot something be done so that they may not lose the opportunity of advancement which was open to them? I should have thought it quite possible to put them to some test to qualify them as active mechanicians. Then, again, there is a point in regard to the officers of the engine-room artificers. It does seem singularly hard that the men who have been doing this work, instead of being promoted, should have others brought in over their heads. With regard to the Royal Marines, great dissatisfaction is felt also 977 in the matter of promotion. A number of quartermaster-sergeants were sent to France with the Royal Marine Brigade and the Royal Naval Division and there acted as officers. They have been brought home with the Royal Naval Division, and now a number of young fellows, without any experience and little or no training, have been put over their heads with commissions. Yet these men are still acting as officers without commissions. I think it is a great hardship. One ought to recognise that when a war comes it is the harvest of the soldier and sailor, and men who have been serving us for years ought certainly to be promoted to fill these positions, which would be a great advancement to them, instead of a number of young fellows without any training being placed over their heads. These men with years of service who have been acting as officers ought to receive the benefits of these commissioned appointments, instead of them passing to somebody else.
That is a grave injustice which creates the greatest dissatisfaction. I gather that the answer to it is that at the end of the War we shall have more lieutenants than we know what to do with. My answer to that is that they should be pensioned as lieutenants. They have served their time. They are entitled to what was promised them. When the men are wanted, will you fill their posts with men brought in from the outside? Nothing could be worse in the interest of the Navy than that. Another point I wish to raise is in regard to the National Reserve. The men in the Navy have a real grievance in that respect. They joined it on the faith that they would in time of war receive a £10 or a £5 bounty, depending upon whether they were in Class 1 or Class 2. I actually know of cases where they have been paid off and the promise not kept. A man in the Navy who has joined the National Reserve, and who, we will say, has rejoined the marines or another naval branch, has been refused the bounty which all the other men get. The men are greatly dissatisfied and feel they have been misled in regard to it. I have had cases before me where they were paid the 978 bounty and were subsequently told, "You must take that out in pay," and have had deductions made from their pay because the bounty does not extend to them. The Admiralty should extend the bounty to these men, as they do to men in the Army, because they are equally deserving of justice as the latter. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take some steps to secure that the men who have rejoined the Navy, who were under no obligation to join except from a spirit of patriotism, should receive the bounty as do the soldiers who join the National Reserve. There is another question of importance with regard to pay. I look for a clear statement as to what is proposed to be done in regard to the men who were entitled to their pensions at the time immediately before the outbreak of War, and the men who have become entitled to their pensions since the outbreak of War. It is quite clear that in regard to the men who became entitled to it before the outbreak of War—
§ Mr. HOHLER
Not necessarily. There were some who, although they were entitled to it, were not discharged for pension. I suppose there was some kind of inkling that the War was probable or possible, and that they were held up and were not discharged for pension. I believe that under a Statute passed many years ago, if a man unfortunately after the outbreak of war becomes entitled to his pension, all that he gets extra is 2d. a day, or something of that kind. If, on the other hand, a pensioner is called up, he draws the full pay of his rating and he also draws his full pension. That is quite right, but it is a great, injustice in regard to the men who were entitled to their pensions. All that I ask on their behalf is, and I am sure they will be quite content with it, that we may get an undertaking or statement from the Admiralty that at the close of the War those men who survive it shall receive their pensions, provided they were entitled to them, in addition to their pay. I notice the right hon. Gentleman laughs at that.
§ Mr. HOHLER
Well, he smiles at it; at any rate, he does not look sympathetic. The man who has served his time and is entitled to his pension is certainly entitled to more than 2d. a day for risking his life. It is not fair that he should merely receive the 2d. a day. If you are going to take a special Emergency Act to hold the marines to the Service, and say, "We have no right to retain you, but we, will pass a special Act for that purpose," you ought in honour to pay them on the footing they would have been paid. Every one of the men would have volunteered if they had been allowed to go back to their old ratings and get their pension and pay. You have taken them by Act of Parliament, and given them a niggardly 2d. instead of their pension. It is a very strong illustration of injustice. I call it very narrow treatment, and something should be done to place these men on a right and proper footing. It will not cost the Admiralty so much as they believe. I believe there were some twenty of them on the "Cressy" or one of the vessels that went down—I am speaking now of the seamen, not of marines. Surely these men for the risk they have borne and the horror they have gone through are at least entitled to their pay as well as their pension. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say what can be done to relieve these men and put them on a fair footing. There is one other point in regard to quartermaster-sergeants in the Royal Marines. They joined the Royal Fleet Reserve upon an express undertaking in writing, contained in a pamphlet issued by the Admiralty, that if they were to be called to the Colours to serve on active service they should rejoin in the same rating as that in which they left the Marines. These men are called up to serve in this War, and they are called up as, and only receive the pay of colour-sergeants instead of quartermaster-sergeants. What can be the justification for that? I submit that the Admiralty are bound to carry out their undertaking and put these men right, and to see that justice is done in response to the inducement held out to them.