§ 1. "That 99,095 Officers, Seamen, Boys, and Royal Marines be employed for the Sea Service, together with 888 for the Royal Marine Police, borne on the books of His Majesty's Ships, at the Royal Marine Divisions, and at Royal Air Force Establishments, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937."
§ 2. "That a sum, not exceeding £13,572,700, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Wages, &c., of Officers and Men of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, and Civilians employed on Fleet Services, which will come in course cf payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937."
§ 3. "That a sum, not exceeding £2,450,500, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Works, Buildings and Repairs at Home and Abroad, including the cost of Superintendence, Purchase of Sites, Grants and other Charges connected therewith, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937."
§ 4. "That a sum, not exceeding £3,400,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Victualling and Clothing for the Navy, including the cost of Victualling Establishments at Home and Abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937."
§ 5. "That a sum not exceeding £3,219,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray tho Expense of Non-Effectice Services (Naval and Marine)—Officers, which will conic in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937."
§ 6. "That a sum, not exceeding £5,276,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Non-Effective Services—(Naval and Marine)—Men, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937."
§ 7. "That a sum, not exceeding £1,229,700, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Civil Superannuation, and other Non-Effective Annual Allowances, Additional Allowances and Gratuities, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."642
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
While this Vote does not deal with the general question raised in the Estimates, it does deal with the most important part. There can be no Navy without men, and the Vote deals exclusively with the number of men who in the opinion of the Admiralty will be required to man the Navy in the next financial year. It can quite rightly be said that Vote A gives an indication of the tendency of the Admiralty concerning the strength of the Navy generally. In the very long Debate we had on Monday the point was not brought out that 1936 is not merely one of the most important years but is the most important year as far as Naval armaments are concerned, for at the end of this year we shall see the expiration of the only two Naval Agreements that we have been able to negotiate up to the present, the Washington Agreement which has been in operation for 15 years and the London Agreement which my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) and the then Government negotiated in 1930.
I think it can be said, as far as Vote A and naval expenditure generally are concerned, that the taxpayers of this country and in all countries which can be regarded as naval powers, were saved a considerable amount of money by those Agreements. Vote A, as I have said, gives an indication of the very large increase that is proposed. Of course it is not the most costly Vote; we are not dealing with money, but with men. But men are absolutely essential to the manning of ships and the Vote raises the whole question of naval policy. It represents the first stage of the race in naval armaments. The total Estimate for the Navy in 1932 was £52,000,000. At the present time it amounts to within a few hundred thousand pounds of £70,000,000. There we see an indication of the tendency of the Board of Admiralty in this matter, notwithstanding the fact that the Noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary, in his defence as far as personnel was concerned, said that these men were absolutely essential. My right hon. Friend, after that had been said, stated that if the policy of the Admiralty had not been changed, and that if larger ships instead of smaller ships were not built, in accordance with the London Naval Agreement, we could have carried on without this 643 very large increase. Is it realised that there is an increase of nearly 10,000 men compared with 1932?
I think it true to say that Vote A and the Estimates generally do not give a true picture of the position. The statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary as to the possibility of an increase in the personnel exceeding 6,000 by March, 1937, is an indication that even the provision made in the Supplementary Estimate and in the Naval Estimates is not a true picture of Admiralty policy; and we think it would be very much better for the Noble Lord now to indicate to the House the number of men in excess of the 6,000 increase which will be required for the manning of the ships. Let one thing be made quite clear. We on this side of the House do not object to suitable drafting arrangements for the men of the Navy. Nor do we object to sufficient shore leaves. I feel sure that the Noble Lord will not charge my colleagues who were responsible for the reduction in the personnel of the Navy which took place between 1929 and 1931 with being unmindful of the requirements of drafting and shore leave. This matter was carefully considered. We did discover a large number of supernumeraries, as has been said, and we are inclined to think that Vote A indicates that there is likely to be in future a number of these supernumeraries again.
To justify the action of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough and the Board of Admiralty in 1929–31 it is only necessary to mention that in 1932–33 the Board of Admiralty increased the number of the personnel by only a few hundreds. But to-day the Estimates provide for an increase of no less than 10,000 compared with 1933. It is fitting to give a few figures. I do not know that anyone will question the statement that we had a very efficient Navy in 1913. It was kept up to a pitch of efficiency then because something was expected. In 1913 the total number of officers and men under Vote A was 139,000. We had then 62 battleships and battle cruisers, 116 cruisers, 297 destroyers and 64 submarines. The Estimate that we are now considering provides for nearly 100,000 officers and men. But that is not all; we are promised more. Yet instead of having 62 battleships and battle cruisers, we 644 have now 15; instead of 116 cruisers we shall have by the end of March, 1937, only 54 cruisers; and instead of having 297 destroyers we shall have 169. Of course there are the seaplane and aircraft carriers and the sloops.
I should be the last not to recognise the changes which have taken place in the control of ships since that date. In 1913, of the 139,000 personnel some 40,000 were stoker ratings. Owing to the change from coal firing to oil firing the number of stoker ratings has been reduced from 40,000 to 16,000 or 18,000. That in itself accounts for a reduction of 22,000 in the personnel of the Navy. I do not want to go back only to 1913. Let us compare 1926 with 1936. In 1926 the number of Flag and commissioned officers was 5,008. In 1936 the number is 5,800, or an increase of 792. There is an increase in the number of subordinate officers from 629 to 970, and in warrant officers there is an increase of 48. The total increase of all officers is, therefore, no less than 1,191. An interesting fact is that the increase in the number of petty officers, seamen and so on, is only 1,400, that is from 74,500 to 75,900. That in itself makes us look at this question of the personnel with a certain amount of apprehension.
I am not going to make any charge against the Naval side of the Board of Admiralty, but it is very interesting to note that the May Commission in their Report said that they were not prepared to trust the Board of Admiralty in connection with the question of the desiging or cost of battleships and the Report definitely recommended that before proceeding with the replacement of the Battle Fleet or any increase in the Navy an independent commission should be appointed to go into the question of the design and cost of battleships. In the opinion of myself and my hon. Friends a committee of inquiry to go into the question of the personnel of the Navy would be well worth while. My hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Sir R. Young) put some very pertinent questions on Monday. The Noble Lord did not have time to reply to them, and we should be obliged if he would deal to-day with the points that my hon. Friend raised.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir ROGER KEYES
My hon. Friend the Member for 645 Aderdare (Mr. G. Hall) will always be remembered by the Navy with affectionate regard after his two years as Civil Lord but, if he were Member for North Portsmouth instead of Aberdare and had some hundreds of women constituents who spend the greater part of their lives in being grass widows, he would not be quite so hard-hearted. On this Vote I should like to refer to the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. It is an admirable Service, and Londoners whose business takes them along the Embankment pass the old sloop "President" flying the White Ensign which is the headquarters arid drill ship of the London Division. All the great seaports have similar drill ships—in Belfast Lough, on the Clyde, at Dundee for Edinburgh and the Forth of Firth, in the Mersey and the Tyne, at Bristol, and for the Sussex coast at Newhaven. There is immense friendly rivalry between the various divisions and people who live in their neighbourhood have good reason to be proud of the splendid young men who give up their leisure to at themselves for service with the Navy. The personnel is constituted on lines similar to the Royal Navy in regard to the proportion of officers and men, which is based on the complement of a cruiser or battleship. There is great competition to join this corps d'elite as officers but vacancies are few, and an enormous number of young men who have the call of the sea in their blood can only join by going to the lower deck, where they are trained to work the guns and torpedoes and carry out other services in men of war. Among these young men there are great numbers who take their leisure in their own or their friends' yachts who would be very willing to serve in the auxiliary patrol, but it does not appeal to them to go on to the lower deck for general Naval service. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) had this point in mind when he was First Lord and the matter was under the consideration of the Admiralty when the War broke out and thousands of men were wanted for the auxiliary patrol.
At the end of the War there were some thousands of Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve officers whose hardihood, seamanship and devotion had played such a great part in defeating the submarine menace. In the last year of the War I had under my command a hundred of 646 these officers drawn from all walks of life—architects, artists, stockbrokers, business men of all sorts. They were splendid young men whose one idea was to serve their country at sea. The crews of their vessels only numbered about 350—about seven men to two officers—and included wireless telegraphists, motor mechanics and seamen and petty officers. I mention this to show the disproportion between officers and men. The rolls of the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and the medals for conspicuous gallantry and distinguished service record the names of a great many of these splendid young men. After the War the Volunteer Auxiliary Patrol was disbanded. I suggest that the Admiralty might well consider the reorganisation of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve to include a good proportion of officers and men for service in the auxiliary patrol.
There is another question in regard to the Naval Reserves that I should like to mention. The Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve which was composed of fishermen who spend their lives in the cod schooners and sealing in the Arctic. They are splendid, hardy people, the finest small-ship seamen in the world. They did splendid service in the War. Many will remember the armed merchantmen of the Tenth Cruiser Squadron which were engaged in the German blockade and patrolled hundreds of miles from land in Mid-Atlantic. Their duties necessitated boarding suspicious vessels in all sorts of weather. These Newfoundland fishermen to a great extent formed the boats' crews who carried out this arduous and dangerous work. The re-establishment of the Newfoundland. Reserve would be of very great benefit to the Service and to Newfoundland which is going through hard times. It is our oldest colony and it breeds a splendid seafaring race. It would not cost very much to re-establish the force. It means only a small drill ship at St. John's and it is well worth considering. If, unhappily, we are ever at war again the seafarers of Great Britain will have to play a great part in defeating the submarine menace. Our fishing population is shrinking, and in this connection I should like to read a few words from a letter from a very distinguished naval officer who spends his leisure trying to help the Lifeboat Service:I visit the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland and find that most of the fishermen 647 are oldish men. They are not being replaced by their sons, whose educational advantages lead them to prefer shore occupations. They do not like the long hours at sea and they like to keep dry and warm.Every possible encouragement that we can give to seafarers who can stand wet and cold is all to the good, and I hope my suggestion will be favourably considered by the Admiralty.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I wish to raise a matter that does not bear directly on the Vote. I do not take any exception to the Vote itself because I recognise that we must have an efficient Navy. What I take exception to is that this document is signed by a number of gentlemen not one of whom is here to meet charges that may be made from this side of the House. I had a question to the Prime Minister to-day bearing on this point, but a grievance of this kind cannot be dealt with by a question and answer. To my mind it is a slight on the procedure of the House of Commons to have to discuss Service Votes without the chief man in charge being present in person.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
On the Report stage of a Vote we have to confine ourselves very strictly to the substance of the Vote itself.
§ Mr. TINKER
I shall be glad if you will tell me, for my guidance, if there is any other opportunity open to me to voice my protest?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member can take the opportunity on the Consolidated Fund Bill or on the salary of the Prime Minister.
§ 4.29 p.m.
The hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate referred to the increase in personnel. He realises, as we all do, the great difficulty when there is a shortage in personnel—wastage taking place at the top in petty officers and skilled men and new entrants at the bottom, boys taking five years to be trained before they are available as skilled men. The construction of the ships takes a much shorter 648 time than the training of the boys. There is already a serious shortage of personnel.
The right hon. Gentleman must know perfectly well that he is quite incorrect in that interjection and that there is a serious shortage of personnel. We are to have an increase in these Estimates and I would like to ask how many men of this number will be required to fill up the gap which already exists and to bring the total up to the figure required to meet the existing position. Further, how many of this number will be available for ships, the construction of which is being accelerated, and which will shortly be put into commission. I would also ask whether, when those claims have been met, there will be any left for further new construction. Another question which I put to my noble friend is whether he is aware that ratings are now being brought in from outside who are not active service ratings.
I was glad to hear my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) speak about the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and the men from Newfoundland who in the past have been among the best in the service. The men of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve have proved by their service during the War and at other times how excellent they are. Are any of them being brought into the service to meet the existing situation? If not, it might be worth while to consider that method of overcoming this very serious shortage. As regards the increase in the number of boys, can my Noble Friend tell me where these boys are to be accommodated and trained before they are sent to sea? Is there sufficient accommodation in existing establishments? As regards officers, I would also like to know whether all the officers who are being brought back into the service are ex-naval officers. There will soon be a shortage in the junior ranks. How is that shortage to be met? Will it be met by the increase proposed in these Estimates or will it be necessary for the Admiralty to bring back into the service some of the officers who have been retired under the various retirement schemes? If any officers are to be brought back, I hope we shall have an assurance that they will be ex-naval officers.
§ 4.34 p.m.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Lord Stanley)
It is like old times to find oneself replying to the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) on these Estimates. I assure him that in the part of my speech on Monday last which dealt with personnel, I suffered from an excess of frankness rather than from any insufficiency of it. It was not necessary for me to say that we proposed an increase which was rather larger than that in the White Paper but I desired to be perfectly frank and to let the House know of that difference between the proposals as shown in the White Paper and the proposals which we intend to carry out. I can also assure the hon. Member and his colleagues that there is, definitely, a shortage of personnel. We have had difficulties both in regard to the pool and in regard to drafting arrangements and it has also been found from experience that we require increased complements in the ships. Part of the increased number required is due to the fact that we have had to build larger cruisers. Instead of cruisers of the Leander class we have had to build ships of the Southampton class which need more men.
Have we no reserve on which we can draw to meet that situation? Have the numbers been so low that there has been no reserve to meet the case of the building of these bigger ships?
That is really beside the point. I am talking about the reasons why we want this permanent increase. It is because we want larger complements for the ships. I may take this opportunity of dealing with some of the other points which were raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor). He asked how many of the extra men in this Estimate were required to meet the existing situation. I said in my speech on Monday that the additional number for which we are now asking is required for ships that are either built or building. The number required for the new construction—for the increase in the number of cruisers—will partly be met by the increase which we propose to bring in as a Supplementary Estimate. My hon. and gallant Friend also asked whether any other men are being brought in. I gave him a full answer in the speech which I made on 650 the Supplementary Estimate for 1935. I then gave him details of the 3,500 extra men brought into Vote A at the end of last year.
But these new entries will not be ready to man the ships for another five years.
I think they will be ready in a much shorter time. I would again ask my hon. and gallant Friend to read the speech which I made on the Supplementary Estimate already mentioned and also my speech introducing the Estimates. If he still has any difficulty on the subject I shall be only too happy to discuss the matter with him. The main point of the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare was a comparison of the personnel in the years 1913, 1926 and 1936 with particular reference to the proportion of officers in each of those years. I do not think we need take the actual figures very closely because, unless we are all working on the same basis, our calculations are of course bound to differ.
I would say, however, that there is a very slight difference between the proportion of officers to personnel in 1926 and the corresponding proportion in 1936 and the figures which I propose to take are those relating to 1913 and to the current year. The figures for 1913 according to Vote A were 146,000, but that includes a large number of people like coastguards and various other services which are not included to-day. I am told that for purposes of fair comparison we ought to take a figure of 118,000 for 1913. The figure for this year would be 85,600. The main reason why we want more men in the present year in comparison with the size of our Fleet, than we did in pre-war days, is, largely, the fact that in pre-war days a larger proportion of the Fleet was in reserve and manned with reduced complements. A larger proportion of the Fleet was at home and therefore much smaller drafting margins were required. Then, as has been pointed out, the modern ships require larger complements than the ships of those days. The modern capital ship needs 65 per cent. more men than the old Dreadnought. Then there is also to be considered the greater amount and variety of equipment and the addition of the Fleet Air Arm.
When we come to consider the proportion of officers we find that the reason is, 651 again, largely the greater complexity of the equipment over which the officers have to exercise supervision. There are many more courses necessary now than used to be the case. Therefore it is necessary to have a higher margin for the pool. The hon. Member spoke of the reduction in the number of stokers. Although there has been a reduction in the number of stokers there has not been anything like an equivalent reduction in the number of engineer officers. The amount of machinery and the number of boilers in oil-burning vessels necessitates very much the same supervising staff as is necessary in coal-burning vessels. If there are any further points of comparison which the hon. Member would like to have, I shall be happy to give them.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) raised two very interesting questions. He referred to the desirability of enlisting the active sympathy of those whom we may call the sea-firers of the Empire. I assure him that we pay careful attention to every method of supplementing our reserves and I will look into the two points raised by him. I am afraid that some of the questions put to me in the course of the recent Debate were extremely complicated and I should like a rather longer time in which to deal with them. On the question raised by the hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young), all I would say is that there is no ulterior motive behind the change to which he referred. The only object which was in view when the alteration of status was made was the necessity of decreasing the number of chief petty officers in the Navy. With regard to the other points raised by him, I shall have careful investigation made and he will perhaps allow me to reply to him by letter. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) also asked several questions and was good enough to say that he did not require a detailed answer at once. As to a representative of the engineering branch being included in the Board of Admiralty the Civil Lord of that time went very fully into the question on last year's Estimates. He said that selection to the board was never made on the principle of the representation of individual branches and that it was advisable to select men from among those who 652 would ultimately have general command of squadrons and fleets at sea. There is nothing to prevent as officer in the engineering branch arriving at the position of Admiral Superintendent of Dockyards.
There is one other point, and that is where the hon. Member talked of observer's mate as a pseudo rank. It is very much the reverse; it is a considerable promotion, and it carries with it added responsibilities and a very considerable advance in pay.
I am afraid also, in answer to the right hon. Member for the Hillsborough division (Mr. Alexander), that I have not had the opportunity between the main Debate and today of going through the whole of the Bennett report. Many of the main features of that report were, I think, on a closer consideration found to be unacceptable and unworkable, but he will be interested to hear that the figures of the officers coining in by means of special entry in examinations this year have increased very considerably. I hope that, to a certain degree at any rate, that will meet the views of the right hon. Gentleman. I think that all the other points are points of detail raised either in the main Debate or to-day, and I shall be glad if hon. Members will be good enough to allow me to answer them individually after fuller consideration.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
We do not propose to carry this discussion further, and we are obliged for the Parliamentary Secretary's answer, but I think we had better give him notice, in regard to the last matter, that we should like a. much fuller statement made in the case of this naval year, because we shall have quite a major Vote on a Supplementary Estimate. I hope, therefore, we might get the information then as to what has happened to the discussion by the Admiralty of the Bennett report, which was found to be unsatisfactory. Will the Noble Lord bring to the Board's notice what we are pressing, which is that we should not continue to maintain what is very largely a class distinction in the method of the entry of officers, so as to keep them 653 within proper conformity with the widespread higher education provision that is now made by ordinary education grants to local authorities, and that there is no reason why Dartmouth should not be reorganised so as to make it possible for the ordinary matriculated boy from the secondary school to go into Dartmouth for a period of training. That is the point to which we want the Noble Lord to give special attention and to reply to on the Supplementary Estimate, and if that is understood, we shall not continue this Debate. One other point is that the Parliamentary Secretary has not answered our case with regard to the very heavy decline in the numbers of promotions to officer ranks from the lower deck. Let him not think that, because time is precious to-day, we shall let that matter slip.
With regard to that last matter, I told the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) that it was much too important a point to be dealt with at very short notice. I said I was disappointed myself at the number of promotions and that I wanted to make a very much closer and fuller investigation of the whole position. I also agree, on the other matter, that instead of dealing with it piecemeal, it would be better to have a broader and more considered statement at some convenient time in the future.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. G. HALL
There are two or three matters which we desire to raise on this Vote 10, for this Estimate, like all the other Estimates, shows a substantial increase and an increase that is not truly reflected in the Estimates which appear before us. These Estimates show an increase of some £250,000. Against that there is the falling off of the non-payment of £120,000 under the Annuities this year, that is, under the repayment of advances under the Naval Works Acts, 1895 to 1905, so that really the increase in 654 this Estimate, taking also into consideration the reduction in the amount of money to be spent upon the Singapore Dock, would amount to something like £500,000.
Much could be said concerning the question of expenditure upon buildings. I think the Admiralty, in regard to the provision of new buildings, is exceedingly generous, and again let me say that we who sit on this side of the House do not object in any way to suitable and adequate buildings being provided for the seamen of the Navy, but we find that in this Estimate a sum of £160,000 is set aside for new buildings. I can speak with some little experience, seeing that for a short time I was in charge of this Vote, and what I discovered in the Royal Dockyards was the reluctance of the heads of the Departments to come together to disclose any available accommodation which might be placed at the disposal of the Admiralty if it was required for some other purpose. Incident after incident could be cited to-day, but I do not propose to take up the time of the House, and I would ask the Civil Lord to take note and to inquire very much more closely into the expenditure upon buildings than he appears to have done in presenting this Estimate to-day.
I can say, as far as Vote 10 is con-concerned, that it is very largely a panic Estimate. I would like the Civil Lord to give to the House an indication as to the position concerning the Singapore base. I understand that the main contract has now been completed. That does not mean that the expenditure of money has been completed, but here is an expenditure out of Naval Votes alone of something less than £9,000,000, of which some £4,000,000 went to the contractor for what is regarded as his main work. There is still a sum of £2,500,000 required to complete the work. I think the Civil Lord would be very usefully employed in giving the House an indication as to the position of the Singapore base at the present time.
The main purpose of my rising to deal with this Estimate is with regard to the sum of money amounting to £325,000 which appears on page 215 and which is set aside for oil storage. I would like the Civil Lord to tell the House whether the Board of Admiralty is now going to increase the amount of oil storage. I think we might usefully ask 655 him whether he could give any indication as to whether this Vote, or a larger sum, will be repeated year after year. We are very concerned about this question of oil storage, and I would like the Civil Lord to give the House an indication as to where this storage is to be provided. Is it to be storage in steel tanks such as we see dotted about the countryside? At almost every place which we visit near the coast are these huge oil tanks, and whenever one goes down to the Thames mouth, one is very alarmed to see the very large number of oil storage tanks which are situated there.
I am not suggesting that the Admiralty is entirely responsible, but I want to bring home to the Board of Admiralty the question of the vulnerability of tanks of this kind. Can any hon. Member visualise what is likely to happen in the event of an aeroplane attack upon these tanks? I dread to think of it. An hon. Friend suggests that they may be put there to encourage one. They would be one of the finest targets, I should think, that an airman could have. Has the House contemplated the damage that could be done if those tanks were set on fire? The whole of the Thames dockside would be destroyed. I would like an indication whether this amount of money is to be spent for the further erection of steel tanks above ground or whether it is intended that it should be spent for the purpose of constructing huge underground reservoirs or oil wells. I think that is very important, and if it is the intention of the Admiralty to construct these huge reservoirs for the storage of oil underground, I should like the Civil Lord to give the House some indication of what the cost is likely to be. As one who has had some little experience in underground work, I know what it does cost to get underground, not only for oil storage, but for cutting coal.
I am not minimising the importance of oil. The Navy could not leave the Royal Dockyards if it was not supplied with the fuel oil which is really necessary. But it is a matter of some concern to us on this side of the House that the Admiralty has not changed its policy in connection with this very important question. Here we are with less than 5 per 656 cent. of the oil required by the Navy, the Air Force, the mechanised Army, and transport produced in this country or imported from British Dominions. Some 95 per cent. of the oil which is required for all those purposes has to be brought a distance of something like 3,000 miles. I am nut going into the question of convoy and its difficulties. I am sure the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, North (Sir R. Keyes) could tell the House very clearly what the difficulties were in the early days of the War, and right throughout the War, in simply convoying food ships into the ports of this country. But if the Navy is to be faced with the convoying of some 400 to 500 tankers to bring the necessary oil into this country, not only for naval purposes, but for all the alter purposes for which oil is now being used, then one can have some concern as to the real situation.
It cannot be said that we cannot produce a suitable oil from coal for naval purposes or for fuelling purposes in this country. That has been tried out. There are four very important elements in oil. The first is calorific value, then there is flash point, then there is sulphur content, and there is one other that I cannot call to mind. But, except with respect to one of those four, oil produced from coal in this country is almost as suitable as oil imported into this country. My point is that, in reply to a question from an hon. Friend on this side a month or six weeks ago, my Noble Friend said that all the oil produced at home and used by the Navy during the course of last year was 7,000 tons, an infinitesimal amount. Why does not the Board of Admiralty settle down to reconsider the whole position? I do not want to go to Germany for any examples, but the reports which have appeared in the Press during tie last six weeks or two months indicate that the German Government are now laying crown plant for the production nearly 1,000,000,000 tons of oil from coal.
I was interested to hear the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) asking the Board of Admiralty not to succumb to the pressure brought to bear on them by oil interests or coal interests in this country. Whilst, at the present time, it may not be possible to produce oil from coal as an economic proposition, 657 the House should inquire as to what the Board of Admiralty paid for oil during the last years of the War. It was not £2 or £3 per ton, but £14 or £15 a ton. If the emergency arose for which the storage tanks are provided, the Government and the Admiralty and the other fighting Services would put down this plant ad lib, irrespective of cost. Those of us on this side of the House definitely declare that if the Admiralty are now proposing to add to the oil reserves of this country, it would be better, in our opinion, rather than whatever sum should be set aside, be it £1,000,000 or £10,000,000, that even the interest upon that should be used for establishing this plant for the production of oil from coal in this country, thereby making this country, as far as possible, self-supporting.
I would ask the Civil Lord to give us an indication as to where this money is to be spent. Is it to be spent upon these ugly storage tanks on the surface or on underground reservoirs, and can he tell the House whether there are any experiments going on at the present time. Are the Admiralty encouraging these processes? Is the experimental station at Haslar still being set aside for these experiments, and can he tell us whether there are any experiments in dual fuelling by coal and oil? I come from a district in South Wales where we have suffered gravely as a result of this change from coal to oil. Tens of thousands of our miners are displaced and I feel sure the Government could render a great service, not only to the miners of this country, but to all the fighting Services. What is the use of a Navy if fuel is denied to them? I think the Board of Admiralty should take more concern about this matter than they appear to do in providing this amount of money for the storage of oil instead of dealing with what we regard as a matter of imperative importance to the nation as a whole.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I wish to reinforce the remarks which have just been made by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Hall) regarding the importance of storing oil in this country. He referred to the great desirability of developing the production of oil from coal and other sources in these islands. We all recognise that at the present moment we need to import for naval purposes a very large propor- 658 tion of our requirements. This is a matter of very great importance, affecting the whole of naval defence. I ask the Civil Lord when he replies to say what steps the Government are taking to provide facilities for the storing of oil. Many other hon. Members have been asking that question for some time past, but hitherto we have been unsuccessful in obtaining satisfactory or reassuring information.
We are being asked to decide this afternoon whether the provisions in these Estimates are adequate and suitable to meet our Defence requirements. I submit with all respect that it is not possible for the House of Commons to form that decision unless we know what duties are going to be placed upon our naval vessels. The present small Navy, even with the additions envisaged in the White Paper, can only hope to be adequate provided the Navy reduces to a minimum the convoy duties which will be placed upon it. The more oil we can store in these islands, obviously the less we shall have to import in time of war, and therefore the fewer vessels will be taken up in convoying tankers from overseas, and consequently the more naval vessels will be free to take part in ordinary and regular naval operations and the defence of our coasts.
Only a week ago I asked whether, in order to reduce the magnitude of essential imports in time of war, the Government are taking steps to provide facilities for storing large supplies of grain and oil in this country. The only reply I got was that I might rest assured that questions of this character received due consideration. I do think that this is a matter of such importance that we have a right and duty to ask for more specific information. I naturally pressed for further information and the Minister added that the matter with regard to oil was dealt with fully in an answer given by the Prime Minister to the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Maclay) on the 26th February. I imagined that that answer would provide me with the full information I required. I rushed to the Library and turned up the pages of the OFFICIAL REPORT and found this:There is a standing Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence on which all the Services, as well as the Civil Departments concerned, are represented, which is the central co-ordinating authority and keeps regularly under review the 659 matters referred to."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1936; col. 451, Vol. 309.]I was still as much in the dark as I was before. The Minister added, on the matter of grain that:With regard to grain the storage facilities are adequate.Unfortunately I would be out of order if I dealt with the question of the storage of grain, but I think it is most unfortunate that there is no opportunity to discuss, on naval affairs, the question of the storage of grain, because I do think that, reassuring as it may be to know that the storage facilities are adequate in the event of war breaking out to-morrow, it would be very little consolation to know that the storage facilities were adequate if, in point of fact, our granaries were empty. Having obtained no information on the question of storing of oil I felt obliged to raise this question on the Naval Estimates two days ago. The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) and the hon. and gallant Member for Cambridge (Lieut.-Commander Tufnell) also raised this question, as did other hon. Members, and we expected to get a reply from the Government. When the Civil Lord rose he gave us considerable encouragement that we were going to get the information for which we asked. He said that the question which was referred to by the lion. and gallant Members for Cambridge and South Paddington and the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) was that of oil: "I rather prefer," he added, "to take that question in the general argument I want to put before the House."
We all listened intently to the admirable speech of the Civil Lord, but not one word did he say about the question of oil in that general argument. Therefore, in these circumstances, I am sure that the House would expect me to make no apology for once again raising this important question in a final effort to obtain some reassuring information. This is probably the last opportunity we shall get for some little time, and therefore I appeal to the Civil Lord, on my own behalf and on behalf of other hon. Members who have been pressing this question, before he invites us to vote considerable sums of money to his Department to give us some specific information 660 and assurance on this important and, I think, vital aspect of naval defence.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. KELLY
I do riot wish to follow the last speaker on the point he has raised. It is evident that he has some doubt as to the people who compose the Government he is supporting, otherwise he would not be so disappointed at not getting an answer. The question of Singapore has been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) and upon this point we are anxiously waiting to be told whether we are to be informed of what is happening there at this time and whether the money spent on it has been spent to advantage. At Rosyth we are spending some £60,000 during this year for storage accommodation. We are expending, I think, £18,000 at Alexandria. May we be told what this represents? I would like to develop that point, but I do not want to take up the time of the House until we hear an explanation. Again, there is expenditure at Hong Kong of some £24,500, upon which I realise that we have some return from the Colonial Government there, but we surely are entitled to know upon what this sum is to be expended and why we are engaged on this considerable expenditure at this time.
I also want to refer to Halton Heath and the cordite factories. Those of us who have to deal with that particular establishment realise the difficulties of those who are employed there, and their constant danger. There is an item dealing with the replacement of certain buildings which have reached the end of their economic life, and I hope that we may be told in what state these buildings are. Has there been a recent examination of conditions at Halton Heath? If there are buildings there which have reached the end of their economic life, they are dangerous to the men employed in them. As to the replacement of bungalows by houses, does it mean that we are to get rid of the whole of the bungalows near the factory and to house the people adequately?
§ 5.16 p.m.
Several of our dockyards — Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham, Gibraltar, Malta—are particularly susceptible to attack from the air, and we are asked to vote large sums of money for the necessary extension, 661 repair and upkeep of these yards. It is of the utmost importance that we should be given some assurance that we are justified in spending the money upon these particular yards, and can be certain that there is reasonable security provided for defence against air attack. It is a fairly new form of attack to which the dockyards are liable in time of war, and it is a matter of the greatest importance at the present time. Will the Civil Lord of the Admiralty tell us whether, in these Estimates, any provision whatever is being made for the defence of those dockyards from air attack, and, if not, whether he is satisfied that the existing defences will give that reasonable security upon which we must rely, in order that these bases may continue to be the basis upon which our main Fleet has to rely for upkeep and repairs?
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. WATSON
A few nights ago I had an opportunity of putting in a word or two with regard to Rosyth, and as the matter has been raised again this afternoon, I cannot refrain from intervening to draw the attention of the representatives of the Admiralty and of the House to the facilities that Rosyth offers. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) raised certain points this afternoon. He dealt with the reluctance of different departments to lend buildings which are in the possession of Government Departments for other purposes than those for which they were erected. He simply underlined that to which I drew attention the other evening. Buildings which were erected for dockyard purposes at Rosyth are not now being used for that purpose, because Rosyth has been reduced to a care and maintenance basis. These buildings are being used as storehouses, and I suggest to the representatives of the Admiralty that they should be put to a much better use.
My hon. Friend also raised the question of producing oil from coal, and I am in entire agreement with him. As a representative of a coal-producing district, I am very interested in this matter as well, and I should like to see more coal being used for oil production than is the case at present. There is room for a very big development in that direction. When Rosyth was reduced to 662 a care and maintenance basis in 1925, I suggested that one of the uses to which the dockyard should be put was in connection with the production of oil from coal. We are right in the centre of a coal-producing area, and we have at Rosyth dockyard the finest oil storage accommodation in the world. That may be a big claim to make, but I should like to know whether the representatives of the Admiralty know of better oil storage accommodation anywhere than there is in Rosyth dockyard? It may be true that conditions have changed since that accommodation was provided. The probability of aerial bombs being used in the next war may have changed the position as far as safety is concerned. Is the oil storage accommodation at Rosyth being taken advantage of fully? If we are to he asked to spend more money on new oil storage accommodation, the tanks at Rosyth could be used for the purpose. If not, we shall be wasting the money of the taxpayers of this country. We ought to use the facilities and the accommodation now at the disposal of the Admiralty before we sanction the erection of new buildings or the provision of oil accommodation in any other part of the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) referred to the fact that £60,000 was being spent at Rosyth. I wish that were the case, but I think that the Civil Lord will be able to inform my hon. Friend that the money is not to be spent at Rosyth but at Crombie, which is not Rosyth dockyard. It is near to Rosyth, and is being extended, and considerable development is taking place there. While it is under the control of the Admiralty at Rosyth, it is not in Rosyth dockyard. There has been no improvement in the situation as far as the Rosyth dockyard is concerned, and the Admiralty retain the position which they took up in 1925, that the dockyard shall be maintained on a care and maintenance basis.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) referred to the possibility of air attack on the Southern dockyards. The safest dockyard in these islands is at Rosyth, either as regards sea attack or air attack. The hon. and gallant Gentleman apparently agrees with me. Here we have a dockyard which 663 would be perfectly safe no matter what country was attacking us, unless we in Scotland were to obtain Home Rule and we decided that we were to defend our own country. Then we might make an attack on Rosyth, because it would be very convenient. I hope that the representative of the Admiralty will give to the people of Scotland some encouragement as far as this matter is concerned. The re-opening of Rosyth dockyard would not merely be a local concern. The closing of Rosyth dockyard was looked upon as a national question, and the re-opening of the Rosyth dockyard would be regarded as a national question also. I hope that the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare will be given due consideration by the Admiralty, and that the facilities that Rosyth can offer will be used to the full before money is spent in other parts of the country to provide accommodation similar to that which we have at the present time.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. EDE
I will not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) in his suggestion with regard to Scottish Home Rule, except to say that it appears that his idea of Scottish Home Rule is that Scotland shall have the privilege of taking everything that costs nothing, and that England shall still have the privilege of paying for everything that costs something to keep up.
§ Mr. WATSON
A statement was made the other day, in reference to the Ministry of Transport and our getting more from the Road Fund than we were paying into that fund. If we are to make further comparisons my hon. Friend will find that Scotland pays more than a fair share of the taxation of this country.
§ Mr. EDE
I do not want to follow my hon. Friend in this matter because it would be obviously out of order, but he suggests that, in the event of Scottish Home Rule being granted, Rosyth might be rather badly knocked about, for I gather it would be left to the English to maintain. I do not want to go beyond that. There are two issues upon which I want to address a few remarks to the occupants of the Government Front Bench. As the representative of a coal-mining constituency, I wish to press very 664 strongly upon the Government the question of obtaining oil from British coal. They should make every effort to ensure that there is sufficient storage accommodation in this country to enable the fullest possible use to be made of any oil that can be produced from British coal. I also want to ask some questions with regard to the workmen's cottages to be built at Halton Health. I know the present bungalows very well indeed, and they have long outlived their economic life. If my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline wants to see an example of the way in which real economy is exercised, far beyond any frugality that would me practised by a Scotsman, he ought to see these bungalows.
§ Mr. WATSON
In Rosyth we nave the same sort of experience that my hon. Friend is now describing. He need not imagine that all these good things are kept for England. For a considerable number of years the same conditions have existed at Rosyth.
§ Mr. EDE
I am glad to know that the Admiralty apparently is quite impartial in the way it scatters curses as well as blessings over the countryside. These bungalows at the moment are a good example of the way in which people who have to live in them can make the best of a bad job. Anyone who goes from Poole to Wareham during the summer will find the whole place one mass of glorious rhododendrons. A short distance from Halton Heath there are terraced houses which have been built by a drain pipe manufacturer for his workmen, and they constitute a terrible blot on the countryside. I notice that only £1,000,000 is to be spent on these cottages. I hope the Admiralty in building these cottages will have some regard to the surroundings and will endeavour to set an example to other industrial employers in the neighbourhood in the way of housing workpeople. If these people can be supplied with separate houses in which they can take the same amount of pride as the inhabitants of the present bungalows, then the Admiralty will have done a good thing in this part of the world, which it should be their pride to preserve, in setting an example to other employers and enabling their own work-people to enjoy the delights which should come from such surroundings.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ The CIVIL LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Kenneth Lindsay)
I will deal first of all with some of the smaller points which have been raised during the Debate and then come back to the main points put by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) and others. I thought that the hon. Member for Aberdare exaggerated a little when referring to the Estimates as a whole. There is a reduction of £120,000 in advances under naval works, but there is also a reduction in receipts of £122,000. The Estimate itself is up about £250,000, arid £120,000 of that is for oil storage. The rest is for more or less normal routine works, but in so far as they are not I will make a reference to them later.
In regard to the point put by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) I have an old interest in Dorset and I can assure the hon. Member that I shall be going there shortly and will take the opportunity of seeing that the new houses which are to be erected do not upset the landscape. The figures given by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) have been completely corrected by the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson). The amount does not refer to Rosyth at all. In regard to what the hon. Member for Dunfermline said, the real issue is this: Rosyth is either employed as a full-going dockyard or else as a care and maintenance dockyard; there is no half-way house. I am just as keen as the hon. Member that this particular portion of Scotland should get its share. The district has been badly hit. Rosyth was created partly by the Government, and so far as storage is concerned the magazines and oil tanks are being fully used; in fact, extra tanks have been put there, and it may be that the time will come when Rosyth will get back some of its former glory. I cannot say any more than that at the moment. The expenditure in regard to Hong Kong referred to by the hon. Member for Rochdale is for the transfer of the naval armament depot, for which there is also a Colonial grant. There was one observation of the hon. Member for Aberdare with which I do not agree. It has not been my experience, and these Estimates prove it in two specific cases, that there is any wastage of buildings. The St. Budeaux 666 barracks are being used for the training of boys and the Sheerness Naval Depot is being used as barracks for direct entrants. I could quote several other examples, and I think it is unfair to say that the greatest amount of care is not taken to utilise as far as possible many of these delightful old buildings, which were erected for an entirely different purpose and in a different era of dockyard development.
The question of Singapore has also been referred to, and let me say in a few words what the position is. As the hon. Member for Aberdare knows, the total Estimate was round about £8,500,000, and Vote 10 is for something like £7,700,000. The provision in these Estimates is for £450,000, and it is simply and solely for a continuation of works under the approved scheme. There are no more contributions coming from outside Governments, the last contribution having been from New Zealand. The Vote includes a provision for the final payment of Messrs. Jackson's contract, and for the payment for steel superstructures, for workshops, the construction of water storage reservoir, magazines and other buildings, all ancillary to the main scheme. A very large proportion of this expenditure will be made in this country, and, as I have said, the base will be completed for general use in 1939. Messrs. Jackson's contract is finished now and the graving dock will be ready to function before the end of 1937.
The main question that has been raised is that of oil. I thought I should have had an opportunity on Monday of going rather more into detail on this matter, but actually I spent most of my time in dealing with a matter which is of vital importance to the Navy. I tried to prove that if oil does not reach these shores nothing else will. I was trying to make a case for the Navy being the predominant factor in our scheme of defence. It is not always realised that in view of the disposition of the Fleet and the fact that oil resources are world-wide, we are not necessarily in the position to which some hon. Members have referred, provided there is adequate storage accommodation available and that we have command of the sea routes. If we lose that command, oil, along with other equally vital commodities, also goes. As far as the Navy is concerned, I would remind hon. Members 667 that oil requirements and reserves have been closely examined.
§ Mr. SANDYS
The point which we tried to make is that we are more likely to be able to retain command of the seas by liberating as many ships as possible from convoy duty to take part in the operations.
§ Mr. LINDSAY
I realise that, and it is part of my argument. There are a number of processes, with which the hon. Member for Aberdare is probably more familiar than I, for producing oil from coal; the processes of low temperature carbonisation and hydrogenation. One or two hon. Members have implied that because certain experiments are going on in Germany and France, which seem to suggest that they are making themselves completely independent of outside oil supplies, it therefore should be the policy of Great Britain also. That does not necessarily follow. We are an Imperial country, and the policy of oil from coal and its storage has to be thought out in terms of Imperial defence. It is not quite fair, therefore, to compare our position with some Continental countries. I think also it is easy to overdo and exaggerate the claims for these experiments and researches in certain foreign countries. I ask hon. Members to believe that we are very much aware of these experiments and researches; and that they are taking place in this country as well. What we have to make up our minds about is at what point, on grounds of national defence and finance, is it worth our while to conduct great experiments at very large cost in preference to bringing oil from various parts of the world. I come to this problem as to some others with quite a. new mind and I can assure hon. Members that when the phrase is used by any Minister that this matter is being considered, it is an understatement of the case. I will leave it at that.
With regard to low temperature carbonisation, it must be remembered that nil fuel is a by-product. The low temperature carbonisation process and hydrogenation are not competitive; indeed they are complementary. There have been experiments from which a small amount of oil fuel has been obtained under the low temperature carbonisation process. Other experiments are going on. I would like to say, also as a general prin- 668 ciple, that we must not imagine that this is going to make as enormous a difference to the coal mines of this country as some hon. Members indicate. If we produced on a very large scale with a great many by-products, some of which would no doubt be useful, at very great expense and if we produced all the oil fuel by one or other of these processes, in the one case I doubt whether the increase in the use of coal would be very appreciable, and in the other case, as far as we know at present and as far as I am advised by experts, it would be rather Durham and Yorkshire than South Wales that would benefit at first. It is, however, quite impossible to say, because all these matters are at the moment in the experimental stage. As soon as they pass out of that stage into the commercial stage, the effects on the coal mines, whether in South Wales or in the North, will immediately be taken into consideration, and the whole matter will be put on a different footing.
§ Mr. HALL
May I point out that some 35 to 40 per cent. of the coal in South Wales is quite suitable either for hydrogenation or low temperature carbonisation—more of it for hydrogenation than for low temperature carbonisation—and that if, under the system of hydrogenation, which uses up all the coal, all the petrol required in this country were converted from coal it would put into employment between 50,000 and 60,000 miners.
§ Mr. LINDSAY
I think the last figures of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Hall) are an estimate, and that he would be the first to admit. I am content to leave the matter in this way: The Government are pursuing the research stage of oil from coal as assiduously as possible. It is their declared policy, as has already been shown by preferences and duties, to give every possible encouragement. They have already given concrete evidence that they are prepared to grant such a preference. When the matter comes out of the experimental stage and into the commercial stage, we shall have to balance the rival claims of heavy capital expenditure and vital national defence. To that extent I have a little sympathy with the right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), although I think he put for ward his argument rather on theoretical principles of Free Trade versus Protec- 669 tion, or the pressure of vested interests. I do not think those are things that matter.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The hon. Gentleman is going a little beyond what can be discussed on this question. He must restrict his remarks to the vote for oil storage and not go at length into the question of oil from coal.
§ Mr. LINDSAY
I apologise, but the right hon. Baronet raised the question of storage, and I wanted to refer to his remarks in the main Debate on the whole question of oil from coal.
§ Mr. LINDSAY
The hon. Member has almost answered the question he has put. I think I cannot say any more than that to hon. Members. The whole question of storage in this country, underground and above-ground, is not the sort of problem that can be very easily debated in this House. The hon. Member for Aberdare knows perfectly well—I consider I am very happy in my predecessors on both sides of the House—from past experience that it is not public policy to state in this House either what are the intentions with regard to future oil storage or the locations of that storage. Therefore, I cannot give him specific answers to those two questions. The whole question of oil from coal is being energetically pursued, and if at any moment it seems favourable to the Admiralty to use larger stores that will be done, bearing in mind my original point that strategically storage in different parts of the world and oil coming from different parts of the world are not so simple a matter as some hon. Members have inferred. In fact, there are some positive strategic advantages in not having all the oil produced in this country. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) raised a question concerning the defence of the dockyards. All I can say is that measures are being prepared and that they include the training of the personnel in the use of gas masks, taking shelter and so on, and 670 that in some of the overseas dockyards far more concrete steps have been taken. This is not a matter which could be debated in this House or on which I could say to what extent complete preparation is to be made against air attacks on the main dockyards in the South of England.
It is, of course, very important that the men in the dockyards should have gas masks, but it is much more important that the dockyards themselves should be defended efficiently against air attack. That is my real point.
§ Mr. LINDSAY
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will know that co-operation between the military Air Force and the civil authorities is the right method of dealing with that particular question, and it is one that could hardly be brought up on an Estimate such as this. There is one thing I would like to say in conclusion. A certain amount of publicity has recently been given to small acts of sabotage. I would like to say that the spirit in the dockyards of the country at the present time, and the relations between the Admiralty and the various unions on the council, are just as happy as when the hon. Member was in my position, and I hope that may long be the case.