§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Duff Cooper)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I do not think the House will require a long explanation of the simple Bill which I bring before it this afternoon. The Bill is rendered necessary by the London Naval Treaty, 1936, and is similar to previous Bills which have been passed in connection with treaties such as the Washington Treaty of 1922 and the London Naval Treaty of 1930. Perhaps it would be well that I should refer to the terms of the Treaty, although hon. Members may be familiar with them. It was concluded more than a year ago, and was set forth in a White Paper at the time. In the first place, I had better say something of the genesis of the Treaty. The previous Treaty, of 1930, concluded by the Labour Government, automatically came to an end on 31st December, 1936, and steps have been taken to supplement it by another Treaty.
The Powers assembled, and one of the first demands that were made was that of the Japanese Government, who wished their rights to be recognised to have a Navy with a total tonnage equal to that of the Navy of the United Kingdom and that of the United States. Those two Powers were unable to meet Japan on that point, and to the universal regret Japan thereupon withdrew from the Conference. The Powers naturally realised how very much the withdrawal of Japan would weaken the efficacy of any agreement subsequently come to, but nevertheless they decided to go on with the Conference to conclude the Treaty which was eventually completed. The provisions contained in that Treaty are three: first, the qualitative limitation of armaments; second, exchange of information with regard to construction programmes; third, clauses safeguarding the interests of Powers who subsequently might find themselves in a position in which they could no longer, having regard to national security, be bound by the terms of the Treaty.
2002 First of all, I will deal with the Clauses which limit the quality of the various ships of the various fleets. The first and most important apply to capital ships, which are limited to 35,000 tons and guns of 16 inches. It was originally hoped, as will be seen by the terms of the treaty, to secure a limitation of big guns to the extent of 14 inches, but it was provided that if any of the Washington Powers gave notice before April of the present year that they were unable to accept the 14-inch limit, the 16-inch limit would be the one generally accepted. In March of this year Japan announced that she could not be bound by that 14-inch provision, and more recently the United States has announced her intention reluctantly of building ships with 16-inch guns. There is a further important limitation with regard to capital ships, and that is that none shall be built of less than 17,500 tons. That provision was put in in order to secure that there should be a zone of non-construction from 8,000 tons upwards to 17,500 tons, to guard against the possibility of some Power building super cruisers in the guise of small capital ships.
That brings me to the next limitation which affects cruisers. By the terms of the treaty no category "A" cruisers, that is to say, cruisers carrying 8-inch guns, shall be built during the operation of the treaty; further, no cruisers of sub-category "B," carrying 6-inch guns or less, above 8,000 tons, will be constructed during that year. Further limitations apply to aircraft carriers, the size of which is reduced from 27,000 to 23,000 tons, and the size of guns reduced from 8 inches to 6 inches. Submarines remain limited to 2,000 tons. His Majesty's Government renewed their efforts at this conference to secure the general abolition of submarines, but they were unable to obtain the consent of other Powers to their proposal.
With regard to the provision which ensures the advance notification and exchange of information, advance notification is a new feature in a naval treaty and very great importance is attached to it. It may be suggested that Powers when they undertake to give this full information will not be bound by the provision and may hold back some of their plans, but we must assume in this Treaty that nations will behave honourably and 2003 observe it; otherwise it becomes a waste of time to conclude treaties at all. The whole of social intercourse becomes impossible unless we assume that people mean what they say and intend to abide by the promises which they make. The actual terms of the exchange of information are that every nation at the beginning of each year shall announce its programme for the year ensuing. The initiation of that programme shall not commence until four months after the announcement has been made. They shall abide by the programme for the remainder of the year, and they shall give full information with regard to the dimensions, speed and guns of every ship that is laid down.
The importance of this provision is that it seeks to strike at two of the greatest dangers in international affairs—the dangers which come from suspicion and from surprise. If we could eliminate suspicion in international affairs, we should have gone far to eliminate war, and in so far as we can even diminish it we are proceeding in the right direction. Many events, many steps taken by nations, simply because they are taken without warning, without any previous announcement, sometimes even during periods of comparative quiet and even during a week-end—such events cause far greater consternation and far greater alarm among the nations than if exactly the same thing were done after a preliminary announcement, after calm discussion and after full explanation was given.
This Treaty applies only to certain Powers; so far it only spreads to a certain extent the area over which we shall in future have information; but in so far as any of that vast area of unknown territory can be mapped and charted, so far a definite advance has been made against that miasma of suspicion out of which emerge so many disasters of the modern world.
The third provision of this Clause refers to the possibility which may arise in which a nation will find itself unable, for perfectly sound and justifiable reasons, to abide by the terms of the Treaty. It is obviously a good thing to make such a provision in the Treaty. If circumstances arise which make it really impossible for Powers to abide by an undertaking, it is much better than that they should make an excuse and break the Treaty that pro- 2004 vision should be made in the Treaty itself for any circumstance arising which will make it inevitable for them no longer to be bound by the terms. The first of these circumstances is that a nation finds itself at war. One can hardly expect a nation fighting for its life to be bound by the terms of a treaty entered into in days of peace, when the horizon seems fraught with no imminent danger. Secondly, if a Power that is no party to this Treaty builds armaments which are not in conformity with its terms, then those Powers which have signed the Treaty shall, again after announcement and delay, have the right to depart from the provisions of the Treaty. Thirdly, if new circumstances arise which any Power considers endanger its national security, that Power again may, after consultation with the other signatories, after announcement and delay, consider itself no longer bound by all the terms of the Treaty.
The Treaty has now been ratified by the United States and by France, and it is high time that this country, which took the lead in bringing the Treaty about, should also ratify it. I will explain the reasons for the delay. Since the Treaty was signed it was considered desirable, if possible, to obtain the adherence to it of two other naval Powers, Russia and Germany (which has once again emerged as a naval Power in Europe). When those countries were approached they both declared their willingness to enter into negotiations. Negotiations have been carried on bilaterally between this country and Germany, and between this country and the Soviet Republic, and have at last reached their conclusion, and treaties both with the Soviet Government and with Germany were signed at the Foreign Office last Saturday morning. There are certain conditions in the terms of those treaties, now in the hands of hon. Members, which do not follow word for word the terms of the London Naval Treaty. I had better explain the reasons for the slight differences. The Soviet Government, for instance, pointed out that they have peculiar responsibilities which do not apply to other Powers in the same degree in the Far East, and as Japan is no party to the Treaty and is under no obligation to give information with regard to her naval preparations, it was considered only just by the other Powers that the Soviet Government, in so far as her fleet in the Far East was concerned, 2005 should be absolved from delivering information of its size and construction to other Powers.
§ Mr. Cooper
It is limited to those ships which they keep in the East. Anything they build in Europe they notify in the usual way. It applies to ships built and kept for use in the Far East.
§ Mr. Cooper
About ships that are built in European waters we shall have full information. The Soviet Government further made a stipulation with regard to the construction of guns in her cruisers. She decided some time ago to equip these cruisers with 7.1.-inch guns, and she is not in a position now to switch over to the construction of 6-inch guns; she has not the necessary plant and apparatus. Therefore, it has been agreed that she shall have the right to construct a limited number of these cruisers with 7.1-inch guns. The maximum number of such cruisers which it is contemplated they will build is seven, but it is hoped that Russia will not find it necessary to build the entire number.
So far as the German Government are concerned, the signing of this treaty was accompanied by an exchange of Notes in order to make it perfectly plain that the right of the German Government to build five 10,000-ton cruisers, which is granted to her by the quantitative Article in the Anglo-German Treaty, is not in any way affected by this treaty. Germany has, in fact, laid down only three of those cruisers and intended to observe a cruiser holiday by abstaining from building the remaining two cruisers. So far as we are aware it is not her intention to lay down those additional 10,000-ton cruisers. But she has a right to do so, which is acknowledged by the terms of the exchange of Notes. Finally, there is the Anglo-German declaration, which is annexed to the new treaty, and in which the opportunity of the negotiations with Germany is taken to settle certain small matters arising out of the 1935 Treaty.
So much for the terms of the various Treaties. I think a very few words are necessary about the Bill which gives effect 2006 to the new Treaty. Its only object is to give His Majesty's Government the powers required to carry out the terms of the Treaty, and it provides that, before the construction or adaptation of any ships for the purposes of war, the Admiralty shall be supplied with full particulars of the work contemplated. Power is also taken to enter any shipyard for the purpose of obtaining information where such construction is in progress. It would be easy to exaggerate the importance of these Treaties, and I have no intention of doing so; but when we reflect upon how disappointing and barren have been the results of the long repeated and sincere negotiations which have been from time to time entered into with a view to obtaining some agreed measure of disarmament, and when we reflect upon the atmosphere of pessimism which has gradually been created as to the possibility of international agreement, whether at Geneva or elsewhere, it is something, I think, upon which we may congratulate ourselves that five of the great Powers of the world are able to come to an agreement upon such an important subject as naval construction.
Hon. Members will, of course, be very conscious of the weakness of the present position. The strength of a chain is its weakest link, and the weak link in this case is the fact that two great naval Powers are not signatories of the Treaty. I will say a word or two about each of them. During the negotiations for the Treaty, the representative of Italy took part from beginning to end, and there was no participator in the negotiations who was more helpful or did more towards the conclusion of the agreement than the Italian representative. Unfortunately, when the time came for signature, the Italian Government were unable to sign. At that time Great Britain and France were actively employed with the policy of sanctions against Italy. We need not revive that old controversy now, but we can hardly be surprised and can hardly criticise the Italian Government for refraining from concluding a treaty with France and Great Britain at that particular period. But we do at least know that, when the Treaty was concluded, the Italian Government had no substantial objection to it, and we can at least hope that, when it has been ratified by the Powers concerned, the Italian Government will see their way to adhere to it or to 2007 form a separate agreement with us as Germany and Soviet Russia have done.
With regard to Japan, the position is admittedly more difficult, but there is no reason to suppose that Japan will do anything to make it impossible for the other Powers to keep to the pledges which they have given under the Treaty. After all, Japan left the Conference on the question of quantity, and not on the question of quality. The question of total tonnage, upon which the negotiations with Japan were abandoned, and other quantitative questions, are not dealt with in any way in the present Treaty, and Japan has given, through her responsible statesmen, repeated assurances that she has no intention of starting a competition in naval armaments. I think we really can rely to some extent upon the sound sense of a highly intelligent people not to initiate wilfully another competition and race in armaments, with all the vast and ruinous expenditure which it must impose upon all the parties to it—
§ Mr. Alexander
While the right hon. Gentleman is dealing with the quantitative issue, could he say a word or two at this stage about the 16-inch guns which have been adopted?
§ Mr. Cooper
So far as we have gone at the present time, Japan has said that she cannot be bound by any undertaking not to construct ships with 16-inch guns. Exactly what she is constructing at the present time I have no information to give to the House, but, as I say, I cannot think that she will wilfully start such a ruinous competition in armaments, which cannot be to her advantage any more than to that of any other Power.
§ Mr. Churchill
Is it or is it not a fact that the United States have decided to adopt 16-inch guns in consequence of the prospect of the Japanese advancing to that or to a higher figure?
§ Mr. Cooper
Yes. I have already stated that the United States Government have announced that they reluctantly consider themselves compelled to adopt the 16-inch gun.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn
Is not that evidence that the United States are convinced that Japan is constructing 16-inch guns?
§ Mr. Cooper
I think we may be fairly satisfied that Japan is constructing 16-inch guns, but we have no information that they are constructing anything larger. That is all I said. I might perhaps refer to the fact, which I consider a fortunate augury, that there is now going to Japan as our Ambassador Sir Robert Craigie, a member of the Foreign Office, who has done more than anyone else to bring these Treaties to a successful conclusion.
I do not wish to make any exaggerated claims for the importance of the agreements which this Bill seeks to implement, but they do represent something solid and practicable. If it is not the end towards which we are all striving, it is at any rate something in the nature of a beginning, a starting point, a foundation. It keeps alive in the world the spirit of co-operation and of communication between nations on the question of armaments. Although many of us would desire something better and more complete, something farther-reaching, I submit that this certainty is very much better than nothing at all. It has proved the possibility, even in these days, of great Powers finding themselves able to agree upon a matter so vital to national security as naval armaments, and it does provide a fund of encouragement which is sorely needed now, and a basis of hope.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander
I think it is incumbent upon me to say, in the first place, that we hope the First Lord will be happy and will be successful from the departmental point of view in the new Ministry for which this afternoon he speaks, I think, for the first time in an important sense. He is making his bow, if I may so say, in the important department of naval affairs, in circumstances which perhaps are not very favourable for him. He has to introduce a Bill to amend the Washington Treaty provisions, in order to ratify the London Naval Treaty of 1936, for which he was in no sense responsible, and which he partly damped down, towards the end of his speech, by saying that perhaps it would be possible to exaggerate the importance of the 2009 Treaty. I can well imagine that he does not find it easy to have to make his bow in a Debate which has to be opened in that sense.
I cannot help feeling that perhaps the only good thing that can be said about the Treaty we are discussing this afternoon is that it does show, on the part of those more directly in charge of naval policy and international negotiations, a desire to keep as far as possible in touch and in continuous negotiation with other Powers with a view to limiting the mischief that may be done by an armaments race. But when one comes to contemplate the actual details of the Treaty which the First Lord has dispassionately and coldly laid before the House in his very fair summary, one cannot help feeling that it is mostly paper, and that it means very little.
It would be wrong for us to oppose the ratification of the Treaty, if only for the reason that the good faith of the British Government in this matter may be demonstrated to other Powers, but, when one has said that, it would be a great mistake to allow this Treaty to go through without pointing out that it is in vast contrast to what was accomplished, in the previous period since the War, in the direct and effective limitation of naval armaments, to the great advantage of saving money to all the States concerned, and thereby improving the social conditions of the peoples within those States and very definitely preventing that atmosphere of almost immediate fear of the outbreak of war into which we have been launched in the last year or two. I think we are entitled, therefore, to say to the Government that, whatever there may be to be commended in the re-opening and continuing of negotiations with regard to the limitation of naval armaments, we can hardly compliment them upon the success they have secured in this particular connection. I think we are entitled to call attention to the fact that their own weak and inept foreign policy in the last few years is as much responsible as any other single cause for the position in which we find ourselves to-day.
Let me remind the House that, if you can get effective armaments limitation of the kind that was secured in the Washington Treaty of 1922 and in the London Treaty of 1930, there is a very substan- 2010 tial advantage in a financial sense. In the years from 1923 to 1934, the average naval expenditure—sometimes it was a little more, sometimes a little less—was round about £55,000,000 a year. It was done for that sum, although in the meantime we built the two largest and most expensive battleships we had ever built, the "Nelson" and the "Rodney"; although in that period we built 15 "County" class cruisers, averaging nearly 10,000 tons and armed with 8-inch guns; although in the same period we spent vast sums on modernising and remodelling our capital ships, and also started very effectively the replacement of our 6-inch gun cruisers as a result of the 1930 Treaty. I look at the situation today, bearing in mind what was done in those years, and I see that we are spending, not £55,000,000, but £105,000,000 this year, with the prospect of spending much more in the next three or four years, on the Navy alone. I think that is the measure of the melancholy position at which we have arrived by the failure to maintain that recognition of the effectiveness of quantitative limitation of naval armaments.
If one could be sure that the expenditure of that increased sum on armaments would actually provide the British Commonwealth and those with whom we have covenant commitments under the League with perfect security, I do not believe any of us would wish to withhold the money, but that is not what is happening with this Treaty. Mark what is happening. If you take the ratio of expense of ourselves and the other Powers in the last few years, you will see how steadily our expenditure has moved with theirs. At this moment we are spending £105,000,000 a year on naval armaments. The total expenditure of ourselves plus the United States, Japan, France, Germany and Italy is £354,000,000 this year. In other words, we are spending just about a third of what the other six Powers are spending. If we go three years back, those Powers were spending £191,000,000 and our share was £55,000,000—roughly a third. Twenty-five years ago, a period about which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) will know a good deal, the six Powers were spending £127,000,000, of which our share was £44,000,000—about a third. We have heard so much in the past, whenever there has been an effective reduction of British armaments by international agreement, 2011 about sacrificing our position, that it is very interesting to note, as we go back over history, that all the way through we have very steadily spent just about a third of the naval expenditure of the six principal Powers, never very much more and never very much less.
Look again at the first figure I mentioned, £354,000,000, of which we are spending nearly a third. How much more security does that give us? I hope the gallant Admiral the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) may be able to explain it. All the other naval Powers are building at the same rate and, if you look at the provisions of this Treaty, it is not worth very much more than the paper it is written on. I am obliged to the First Lord for the fair way in which he dealt with this. He stressed, I think, four separate points of escape by the Powers from the obligations that they entered into under the Treaty. They can escape in respect of any position of war in which they find themselves, and I think they can escape also under Articles 6, 25 and 26. Article 26 is so wide as to render it quite clear that, if a Power is bent upon doing what it likes in the matter, there is nothing to hold it whatever.If the requirements of the national security of either Contracting Government should, in the opinion of that Government, be materially affected by any change of circumstances, other than those provided for in Articles 24 and 25 of the present Agreement, such Contracting Government shall have the right to depart for the current year from its Annual Programmes of construction and declarations of acquisition. The amount of construction by either Contracting Government, within the limitations and restrictions thereof, shall not, however, constitute a change of circumstances for the purposes of the present Article.Having regard to the other parts of the Treaty, all you have to do is to notify that in your view the circumstances are so changed that you feel bound to make use of the escape. Therefore, every one of the principal naval Powers now can, subject to the exchange of this gentlemanly class of information, do almost what it likes. Indeed, I am rather interested to think of the value that has been placed in some quarters upon this provision in the Treaties. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs last night, when he was being pressed in all parts of the House for certain information with regard to armaments in Spain, 2012 some of them supposed to be a threat to Gibraltar, said it was not in the public interest to let us know in the House either what was the calibre or type of guns set up by the enemy or what were the actual detailed measures we were taking in order to counteract the threat. The main feature upon which we are asked to commend this Treaty is that it is in the public interest to exchange information as to how much you are going to exceed your naval programme this year over what it was last year. I commend to the Noble Lord to study the contrast between what he said last night—I do not know whether he "mugged" it up—to use his classic language—or not—and the commended principle given to us in the exchange of information in this Treaty. I, therefore, see no very substantial value in the Treaty at all.
I want to ask one or two questions, and possibly to make one or two suggestions. The First Lord said a word or two at our request about what is happening over the 16-inch gun. From time to time lately questions have been asked as to whether it would be the intention of the British Admiralty to follow the Japanese in their policy of mounting 16-inch guns in capital ships. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping has already drawn attention to the fact that the United States is following suit. I am well aware that some naval authorities in the House think it would not be wise to follow in this programme. It may be argued that, if you get the right content in your gun charge, you will have no difference in your range, and there will be no difference in your angle of fire if you maintain the 14-inch instead of the 16-inch gun.
Speaking for myself, if the other Powers follow each other in mounting guns capable of firing these 16-inch shells there is something even more to consider than either the actual range or the actual angle of hitting, and that is the morale of your personnel. I am not confining that by any means to the lower deck. It applies to all ranks. There is a vast difference, it seems to me, in the feeling of the men who are likely to serve guns of that kind if they are to fight with weapons of equal calibre and hitting power to those that are massed against them. Certainly it is no part of any policy that I have ever wished to support that the men whom we send to sea should 2013 be less well equipped to do their service to their country than may be the position with those with whom they may be brought into conflict. I think we ought to have something more from the Admiralty as to their actual policy in this connection. I deprecate entirely, with the First Lord, that any one of the Powers who are, or ought to be, signatories to this Treaty should begin to pursue a qualitative expansion, but, if that happens, I think we ought to see that our men, at any rate, are equipped with equally potent weapons of defence to those that are brought against them.
That leads me to another point in regard to capital ships. Although I have been very quiet about the general problem of the bomb versus the battleship, I have not been at all satisfied that the whole thing has been exhaustively pursued. I have felt in my bones that any fleet must have something upon which its fighting units may retire for protection and for maintaining the control of the seas by the fleet. What I feel is that just now, in view of the situation which arouses so much of the pessimism referred to by the First Lord, we ought not to rest content with saying, "If you build a 35,000 ton battleship and arm it with 16-inch guns, we will just follow it ton for ton and gun for gun." That is not the only policy to adopt. We have a very great reserve in this country of ours in sea experience, in engineering and in technical training and in research experience as well, and I should have thought that probably a more effective answer to the situation which seems likely to arise in this qualitative sphere of naval armaments would be for us to concentrate upon matching for ourselves the threat that will arise of a big growth in capital ships.
It is not sufficient merely to put capital ship against capital ship. We hear a great deal about the new danger from the air to the battleship. We have seen that the Admiralty has at least spent a great deal of time and money, and spent it with some success, in the last nine or ten years in providing expanded means of defence of the capital ship against the air, and I willingly pay tribute to what has been accomplished for the British Fleet from that point of view. But there are other ways in which research might be effective, to see what the antidote to this enormous growth of the capital ship and the large gun should be. I suggest 2014 that if you find other means, not merely from the tir but from beneath the water, of counteracting the effect of the capital ship, and if you tell the world that you have the antidote, you will do far more to stop this suicidal growth and this race in armaments than merely by saying, "We propose to follow you. We shall build ton for ton and mount gun for gun." I am not suggesting that we should not give our own men adequate protection in the meantime, but we should have a great deal more research in that connection.
I should also like to ask about the German and the Russian agreements which have just been arrived at. I entirely share the feelings that have been expressed from our benches that some special provision had to be made for the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics in view of their exceedingly difficult position in the Far East, as Japan is not a party to the Treaty, but it is a curious situation that arises in which you have a Power, however friendly, brought into an agreement with a twofold naval position, that is to say, it has one programme which is under the Treaty to be open to the light of day, and another to be entirely secret. I am quite willing to concede that some special allowance ought to be made for the Russian position in relation to Japan. I hope it is not then going to be argued, say, next year on the Naval Estimates, or perhaps the year after, that Japan says that because of the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1937, the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics building expands their navy in the Far East, and Japan decides to increase her fleet; and that, therefore, because Japan is increasing, Great Britain and the United States also should decide to increase theirs. There you have just the same old race all over again.
I should like to have from the First Lord a little more information as to the programme, as far as it is known up to date, of the Russian building in the Far East. It is difficult enough, but the technical position of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics places her in a somewhat different position from somebody else. I think that it is always a pity in this armament question when you have new categories of ships being introduced. Probably we never made a greater mistake—I do not know what the right 2015 hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping would say about it—when we seemed to introduce a new ship before the War which led to the pre-war race. And to have sandwiched in between the 6-inch "B" category class cruiser and the 8-inch " A" class cruiser, a new series of 7-inch gun cruisers is exceedingly difficult, because whoever has to match the 7-inch gun cruiser of the Soviet system will have to have a superior gun under the Treaty than that. Of course, I recognise that, as far as the written word goes, Germany has been reasonable in saying that she will not for the present lay down the two additional category "A" cruisers that she would have been entitled to do under what I am reminded was not a public agreement, but a secret agreement apparently between this country and the German Admiralty in July, 1935. At the same time, I shall be glad to know whether it is proposed to submit to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that there should be, as soon as may be—and I recognise their technical difficulties—a reversion from the special category of 7-inch gun ships to the actual qualitative limitations which are applied by the Treaty to all other Powers, to light surface vessels, category "A," "B" and "C" cruisers. It would then be very much more easy to arrange our relative strength.
I do not think that it is worth delaying the House very much longer on this matter from our side. As I say, we shall not oppose the ratification of the Treaty, because there is so very little in it. I think that it is true to say that at the moment the naval race is on, and that the naval race is likely to continue for all the words which are written in this agreement, unless this country, and certain other countries as well, will quickly change their foreign policy. I do beg of the Government that on this somewhat meancholy occasion of attending what are really the funeral rites of the limitation treaties, the effective limitation treaties of Washington and of London, and having nothing to put in their places but this string of words of the exchange of opinion, that they will see that what is really needed is to change their attitude to the whole foreign situation. Go all out for rehabilitating the League and the support of the Covenant, of Article 16, and whatever you do in the way of armament, 2016 have it on the collective basis to implement the real obligations of the nation under these Articles of the League. If you want to make it plain to the world that you and other important Powers in the world are united in such a League policy as that, then, I believe, you may once more get back to the basis upon which we found ourselves a few years ago in which we were not only able to negotiate but actually to enter into treaties which were effective in limiting armaments.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
I too join with the right hon. Gentleman in offering my congratulations to my right hon. Friend upon his appointment to one of the four or five great key offices of the State, and to express to him—I have known him for so many years—not only my good wishes for his success, but my confidence that his abilities will be found of distinguished service to the country in his new office. The matter which we have to discuss tonight has been thrust upon us at rather short notice. It is quite true that we are familiar with the 1935 Treaty, but the important Russian and German papers, which are very bulky and very technical, were only in the Vote Office at seven o'clock last night, and it is rather severe that Members whose duty it is to follow and take an interest in these matters should not have a little longer notice of the fact. However, as the Session is drawing to its close some of this telescoping probably is necessary, but these are very large and complex matters, and it is much better that publication of matters of interest to the British Government should be in the Vote Office at least a week, if it is possible, before the House is asked to adopt them. But I bring that forward in no captious spirit, because on the whole I have very little to say against this arrangement, as we now see it, and, having regard to all that has gone before, something to say in its favour.
I have always been an opponent of these naval treaties, except the Treaty of Washington after the Great War which was a Treaty for which I was partly responsible. But I have always been the opponent of the subsequent naval arrangements, particularly the Treaty of London, which inflicts an immense amount of inconvenience and injury upon the whole naval structure of our country, although I 2017 must in fairness say that it has, in the course of its working, ended the feeling of rivalry and friction which formerly existed with the United States. But judged from the point of view of the structure and formation of the British Navy, all these agreements have been very much to our disadvantage. I did not like the Anglo-German Treaty of 1935 and thought that it was a very unfortunate moment to bring it forward. It seemed to me that we then prematurely conceded a number of points which might well have been the subject of broader discussions than those into which any one Power should enter. However, that Treaty has become the law between the two great countries, and these agreements which we now have are supplementary to it, and explanatory of it.
I feel less critical of them for the very reason which has been opened to the House by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I admire their elasticity. I welcome the multiplicity of bolt-holes, of emergency exits, escalators and parachutes which are provided at every quarter and in every direction, because, when all is said and done, in these matters of such technique and complexity, it is very dangerous to be bound too tightly. It is far better to trust to general agreement on principles and to good faith and a friendly desire to give honourable effect to these agreements. But, broadly speaking, my view is that the injury done to the Royal Navy by these many arrangements, all at the expense of our naval freedom and initiative, is less in the set of papers now before us than in any before, and the final arrangements in respect of the Anglo-German agreements are a very definite improvement upon the original agreement.
I should like to remind the House that I repeatedly pointed out the great flaw in the Anglo-German agreement of 1935, namely, that it made no provision for our retaining our old vessels, and all our old ships were amalgamated for the purposes of the percentage with our newer ships, against which the German navy would be entitled to build entirely new vessels. I pointed out how much that harmed us. My hon. Friend and other Members will remember, in the first place, that we being the leading naval Power in Europe and the equal naval Power with the United States in the whole world, have a very large reserve 2018 which we can accumulate. We had a very great reserve before the War in material, which proved of very high value. In the second place we have reserves of technicians and of seafaring population and of sea experience in this country, which enable us to bring that material reserve into some reality perhaps more reality than some other nations could do who have rather recently started navies, and it is not right that we should be asked to give that all up.
Up to the present moment we have been in a difficult situation, when a ship has come to the end of its prime activity, of deciding whether we will cast it away and lose it for ever or whether, by keeping it on the list, we will open to the other party to this arrangement the right to build 35 per cent. of its tonnage. I am very glad indeed that that oversight in the Treaty of 1935 has been remedied, and let me say that I consider that the Germans, in meeting us upon the point, have shown their very sincere desire to work in naval matters with us upon a fair and square basis. It is a matter of great importance that we should be able to keep our old ships and not be clogged by that danger.
Then there is another aspect in which also, I think, we have no reason to complain of the attitude which the German Government have taken. I am talking now of what are called sub-category "A" cruisers. Sub-category "A" cruisers are 10,000 ton, 8-inch gun cruisers. That is the type which arose at the Washington Conference 18 years ago. We built a great many of these in the early days, three, four and five a year, and the Americans gradually became concerned and raised the question. There was a considerable controversy, as the result of which we have given up building any more of these cruisers, and now as the result of another agreement entered into after the last General Election, we have undertaken not to build any more of these 8-inch gun 10,000 ton cruisers until 1943. These are the most powerful cruisers which exist or which are contemplated at the present time, apart from the capital ships.
I should like to point out how very much we have suffered by the course which has been followed. In the first place, all these early cruisers that we built are very inferior in protection and 2019 in other qualities to the type of 10,000 ton cruiser which can be built now. The gallant Admiral the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sir R. Keyes) will bear me out in that. We have a considerable number of what are called subcategory "A" cruisers but they in no way compare with the latest construction of sub-category "A" cruisers in the United States—not that we have any anxiety about what the United States build, but rather the contrary—and they will not compare with the sub-category "A" cruisers which will be built and are building now by Germany.
Germany has the right to build five of these cruisers, while we are forbidden by the arrangements we have made to build any until 1943. Therefore, if Germany exercises her right to build the whole of the five cruisers under the Agreement, she will have five cruisers which will be superior to any cruisers we have in existence and which will be capable of meeting in a single ship action and fighting at great advantage any cruisers which the British Navy possesses or will be allowed to construct until 1943. Five cruisers is a great many. There were only five German cruisers loose at the beginning of the Great War, and every one of them not only raided commerce but destroyed an allied warship before it was finally brought to its fate. All these five cruisers are sub-category A cruisers, which if they are to be built by Germany will be in the water long before we are allowed to begin building a single one. Every one of those five ships will be eminently superior. They will be fighting ships of the highest class, ships of enormous capacity as commerce raiders and capable of resisting any vessel except a battle cruiser, by which they might eventually be brought to action. Therefore, I thought that that was a very serious and needless complication of our naval strategy and our naval position.
I am very glad that the Germans have assured us that it is their desire—it is not an absolute bargain or agreement—not to use their right to construct the whole of the five cruisers but to construct only three of them. Certainly, nothing could illustrate more the foolish tangle into which we have got ourselves than that we should have to sit down till 1943 and see these enormously powerful, 2020 potential commerce destroyers brought into being. It is very remarkable that the Germans should have agreed to that, having regard to the new complication in their own household in the Baltic, owing to the decision of Russia to build a surface Fleet. I am often thought to be a critic of Germany, and therefore I wish to make full recognition of what she has done. In spite of this Russian pre-occupation, which nautrally concerns Germany, because the Baltic is a vital strategic matter for German defence, they have been willing to give us an assurance that they will try their best to meet us. We hope they will take pity on the forlorn and foolish situation in which we have allowed ourselves to be entangled by our good-natured agreements, and will agree to reduce their construction of these cruisers from five to three.
I must congratulate the Government upon having obtained an agreement to bar out the intermediate type of cruiser, that is, the cruiser above the sub-category "A" cruiser, the cruiser between the subcategory "A" ship and the capital ship. There is a gap from the 17,500-ton ship down to the 10,000-ton ship. Considering that the United States and Great Britain have a considerable number of 8-inch gun 10,000-ton cruisers, it is very much to their interest that no class of vessels of 15,000 tons, mounting 9-inch or 10-inch guns, should come into existence and render their whole stock-in-trade obsolete. Therefore, it has become a matter of enormous importance to the unfortunate Admirals and naval authorities who have been entangled and trammelled in the provisions of the Treaties, to bar out this intermediate gap which would render their Treaty-constructed cruisers extremely out-of-date instruments of war. The proper way to throw them out of gear is the construction of 15,000-ton vessels, with 9-inch or 10-inch guns, but there is an agreement that that shall not be done. That is a very great advantage and I think we have been met in a considerate way on that point.
It is also highly advantageous that there should be an agreement in regard to the interchange of information. Nothing could be better than that. I am all for the fullest information being given on all occasions. Half the suspicions that arise between countries is removed when the full facts are laid 2021 before the world. I remember well before the War the scare there was that the Germans were building additional battleships in the boat-houses on the Elbe, and that concealed and secret Dreadnoughts were going to spring into existence. I pleaded then that we should have the fullest interchange of information. Certainly, the words that were spoken by Admiral von Tirpitz and the assurances he gave were in every respect true. I welcome the interchange of information. The more we know about these matters, the more we are able to say openly about them, the less harmful and dangerous will become the situation in which we live.
The subject that has caused me most anxiety in regard to these documents is the fact that we have definitely recognised that the other Powers concerned will build 16-inch gun battleships. They are entitled to do so. That would not have been stipulated for in the agreement unless they were determined to do it. Otherwise, there would be no difficulty in deferring to our wish to build 14-inch gun battleships. The position is that there will be 16-inch gun battleships built. Japan is doing it. The First Lord professes not to know, but the United States know enough about it to have taken their decision and to have announced the building of 16-inch gun ships, and they are pretty well informed of the intentions of Japan. If Germany, and Italy also, do it, there will be two of the principal European naval Powers with 16-inch guns.
We have already committed ourselves to the construction of five 14-inch gun battleships. These great weapons of war, each costing £8,000,000 or £9,000,000, which are to be the symbol of our right and our power to preserve our freedom and to intervene in world affairs, are definitely to be equipped with 14-inch guns. It is a highly technical discussion as to whether you should have 16-inch guns or 14-inch guns. All the Powers apparently are agreed upon the 35,000-ton limit, except Japan, and the question which naval constructors have to face and on which this argument turns is whether you can put 16-inch guns satisfactorily into a 35,000-ton ship. I have seen some statements about it which apepar to me to be by no means exhaustive of the topic. We are told that you must save the weights in order to 2022 protect your new construction against the new dangers from the air and so forth.
Anyone who looks at the well known and easily accessible figures can see what a very serious short-fall there is in the 14-inch gun as from the 16-inch gun. I elicited certain figures last year in reply to a question in debate, and therefore the figures which I am about to give are public property. Nine 16-inch guns in three triple turrets would fire nearly a 50 per cent. heavier broadside than the same number of 14-inch guns, and the additional cost would be only a few hundred thousand pounds. A 50 per cent. or even a 40 per cent. addition to a broadside is an enormous difference. But it does not stop with the amalgamated weight of the salvo and broadside. Not only has it got a greater crushing power, but the cubic content of the explosive is again lifted on a geometrical rather than an arithmetical scale.
Therefore, there is a great deal to be said for the heavy gun. The heavy gun has always been the traditional weapon upon which Great Britain has relied. It was the heavy gun which defeated the Armada. Our smaller ships had far heavier guns. In the construction of the Queen Elizabeth we went in for the heaviest guns in Europe, and I have no prickings of conscience in regard to it. These ships are among the most successful constructed for the Royal Navy. Observe, then, that nine 16-inch guns in three turrets would cost very little more and would weigh no more than nine, ten or eleven 14-inch guns in four turrets, because of the great weight of the turret in the gun-house. Therefore, it seems to me that we must not regard the problem of placing 16-inch guns successfully and satisfactorily in the 35,000-ton ship as beyond the skill of competent designers in the United States, or Japan, or Germany, or Italy. If they do solve the problem satisfactorily and make thoroughly seaworthy ships, ships which are in every respect well balanced and which can carry these much heavier guns, then in future years it will be something of a reproach in the Royal Navy that the first five great new battleships we built—in deference to setting an example to other countries and with an earnest and honourable desire to try to retard the pace of naval armaments—battleships costing £40,000,000, and being for 25 years the governing 2023 factor in the Battle Fleet of the Royal Navy, were constructed upon a basis and with a gun power which renders them definitely inferior to the contemporary vessels they will have to meet.
It is not only a question of material force—after all when you are building a battleship you are thinking of the supreme expression of material force—there is a great moral value also. We regard British battleships as symbols of naval power, but they are also the means by which we gain credit in the world for working towards a peaceful solution of many difficulties, and British prestige will not be advanced if it is found in possession of a large number of these extremely costly vessels which, however excellent they may be—and I do not for a moment doubt their excellence—will be considered as not the strongest vessels in the world, that is assuming that German, American and Japanese designers are able to solve a problem which we are assured by the Admiralty is insoluble.
I apologise to the House for dealing at length with these matters, but they are important and ought to be considered by the House. What I would say to the Government is this: The past is past, what is done is done, whether right or wrong. We are going to have five magnificent ships. I have no doubt that they will be magnificent ships, but suppose that the Japanese, the Germans, the Americans and the Italians solve the problem of mounting these big guns inside a 35,000 ton ship in a satisfactory manner—
§ Mr. Churchill
I am talking about the new programme. Suppose they solve the problem in a satisfactory manner, as they may do, then we must be ready to make a change. Do not let us be told that we are to lose another three years because we have not made our preparations. That is the point upon which I want to make an appeal. Will the First Lord now make sure that he begins the preparations for all the alterations to gun plant which will be required in the event of an advance to the 16-inch gun being considered necessary, and will he have constructed an experimental 16-inch gun mounting in order that everything may be 2024 in readiness? Then, it we find that other countries have solved this problem, which we have not, and we are forced to go forward with the higher guns, there will be no further delay. I make a strong appeal that this preliminary work should be set in train at once. In this matter, as in others, you can see how naval agreements and treaties hamper and cripple British initiative. It is true that if other people take steps which we hoped they would not take we have freedom to take fresh steps, but we have always waited for a year or two and then when an advance has been made upon us in cruisers and battleships by other countries invoke the escalator clause and take the next step.
We used to lead the whole world in naval construction. Other nations held back their programme to see what designs the British Admiralty brought out year after year. We have given this great advantage away, not for any unworthy motive but for most sincere and goodhearted motives. Nevertheless, I deplore the very great and marked cost to the strength of the Royal Navy and to the proper and economic realisation of British naval resources. I did not get up to make any attack or criticism upon the actual business which is before the House. On the contrary, I consider that this agreement greatly improves the existing Anglo-German Treaty. It is the least crippling and hampering of all the naval agreements into which we have entered in later years, and I welcome the clear practical understanding and co-operation which must have been forthcoming from British and German naval officers and experts before this highly technical instrument could have been brought to completion.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
I want to make only one comment on the interesting speech of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). He has always been looked upon in recent years as one of the foremost champions of the collective system of massing overwhelming forces against an aggressor, but I entirely fail to see how that system is going to he worked effectively if there must never be the slightest interference in any way with the British Navy. You must be willing to co-operate and work with other people, and it is no good saying that what the British say goes and that it does not matter what 2025 anybody else may say. May I associate myself with the congratulations to the First Lord on his attaining his present position? I hope he will make a great success, and that on the next occasion he will come to the House with a Measure of much greater importance than the one he has brought forward to-day. He does not himself pretend that it is a Bill which means very much. I think he feels it to be rather a poor little thing, but perhaps its smallness is the measure of the complete failure of the foreign policy of the National Government during the last five years. In my judgment the situation in which we find ourselves to-day is due to the weakness and folly of the British Government since the National Government came into office.
But working within the narrow limits of the world situation, the Bill has certain merits and it is one which we shall support, as we desire to see it passed into law. May I point out some of its merits which have not actually been mentioned? It means some advance, and it is better to have some advance than none at all. Further, throughout the whole of the negotiations I understand that there were the happiest relations between representatives of the British and American Governments. They understood each other, their views were similar, and at the close of the negotiations a letter was exchanged in which it was made clear that we regarded the American Government's idea of partiy as a fundamental part of British policy. Personally it seems to me that this is of enormous importance, and that we should always press that position. In parity with the American Government you have a potential doubling of the British Navy. I cannot conceive any situation in which they would come in against us, and if they are properly handled, and we pursue a foreign policy which will command their respect, they will come in with us on every occasion. In that way any increase in the American Navy is an increase of the British Navy.
The third merit of the Bill is that the Government have succeeded in producing an international instrument to which Germany and Soviet Russia are parties. That is a thing which nobody else has been able to do. It is true they have done it by rather indirect methods, but however much Germany may dislike it they are parties to an agreement to which 2026 Soviet Russia and other nations are a party also. I hope this will encourage them to go on and be willing to enter into agreements on a very much wider scale with all the important countries of the world. I feel that one of the most important minor merits of the Bill is the great advance in notification. That is a real improvement. A much more complete list of basic information is to be given and a more complete covering of ships' categories than ever before. I imagine that a provision of that kind, far in advance of anything in any previous naval treaty, will prevent such surprises as have occurred in the past by the sudden introduction of the Dreadnought and the Deutschland. In this connection it is interesting to see what are our actual obligations as to the exchange of information under the Covenant of the League. Under Article 8, Section 6:Members of the League undertake to exchange full and frank information as to the scale of their armaments, their military, naval and air programmes and the condition of such of their industries as are adaptable to warlike purposes.We are a long way from doing that, but in this Measure there are some steps taken towards carrying out these obligations. I regret that there are no arrangements for mutual inspection of each other's ships and dockyards to see whether promises are being kept. The First Lord gave us a lecture on the solemnity of international obligations, how we must trust each other and assume that people meant what they said. That is all very nice, but we know that there are some Powers in the world, nothing will induce me to mention them by name, whose word is not quite as reliable as that of other Powers. Under the disarmament proposals the National Government were prepared to go a long way to have mutual inspection by representatives of the Disarmament Commission to see what was going on in our establishments here, and I think it would have been another useful step forward and would have led to a great deal of mutual confidence if some arrangement of that kind could have been carried out. No doubt we shall all have our unofficial inspectors, our spies, to see whether these obligations are being carried out or not. Why not do it openly by arrangement rather than by the very much less attractive way of 2027 having spies to do the work? The fifth point of merit in the Bill is that there are arrangements for a new Naval Conference to take place in 1941, with a preliminary discussion a few months previously. It is something to have had that definitely fixed so as not to have the conference spreading over several years.
I have alluded to the fact that the Measure is on a very limited scale. The limited situation with which the Government have had to deal was produced by their foreign policy. It arises from the disastrous events which took place in Manchuria in 1931. The naval and military authorities in Japan were wondering how far they would be allowed by other Powers to take forcible action, the civil authorities in Japan were still in control, and there was an internal struggle going on. If Great Britain had acted firmly, according to her obligations, the civil authorities in Japan would have triumphed, the policy of force would have been nipped in the bud, and the whole world situation, from the point, of view of a naval agreement, would have been changed for the better. We might then have gone forward on the basis of the Washington and London Treaties, and have made a great advance on them.
If we had seized the opportunities of the Disarmament Conference in the realm of Naval affairs, almost unthinkable progress could have been made. There is reference in this Agreement to battleships of 35,000 tons, but I believe there was a moment in the discussions at the Disarmament Conference when firm leadership would have produced agreement on the basis of 10,000 ton battleships, and we could have accepted for the world limits which were thought good enough for Germany in the Treaty of Versailles. Owing to the way in which the situation was handled, that is something which is almost inconceivable at the present time. It is the measure of the change in the situation to see the difference between battleships of 35,000 tons—and there is no certainty about that limit—and the definite limitation to 10,000 tons which was at one time within sight.
The whole of our troubles in Naval affairs are due to the fact that there is in power in Japan a government which relies on force as an instrument of national policy, and which is unwilling 2028 to co-operate with other countries in order to come to a general agreement for disarmament and conciliation on the lines of the League of Nations. But as that is the case, I entirely agree that there is no alternative but to face it. If they are going to use force, it is necessary for others, the United States and ourselves, who stand by the new order, to possess forces which will make it entirely impossible for their views to prevail. We are obliged to take up that attitude, but it is due to the attitude of Japan, and that in turn is due to the foreign policy of the present Government. We are in a very dangerous situation as regards the race in armaments. I would like here to quote some words which appeared in the Memorandum on the London Naval Conference, published on 25th March, 1936:Furthermore, the agreement should go far to put into effect the hopes expressed by the Prime Minister at the opening of the Conference, that the public mind will be relieved of the threat of a general race in Naval armaments.How untrue those words are to-day. The Naval race is going on at the present time. That statement bears no relation to facts as they now are. There has been a good deal of reference in this Debate to the question of 16-inch guns on battleships. The only comment I wish to make on that is to stress the fact that there is there a very great possibility of a race in armaments on a colossal scale, involving enormous expense. It has been made clear to-day that the United States and Japan are going to put in 16-inch guns. I understand that Great Britain and France take the view that the most efficient way is to have 14-inch guns, because one cannot put in guns of a higher calibre without sacrificing speed and protective power. I understand the British view is that with 16-inch guns, it would be necessary to have a vessel of something like 40,000 tons or 45,000 tons. If there are 18-inch guns, which is by no means impossible, if Japan cares to build them in due course, it will be necessary to have battleships of approximately 57,000 tons. There we have some indication of the road to ruin on which the whole world is travelling at the present time.
I wish to refer to one matter that has not been spoken of in the Debate, namely, the lapse of Article 19 of the Washington Treaty, which deals with the fortification of insular bases. That is another 2029 very great potential danger in the future. There is danger of the race in the construction of fortifications and Naval bases in the islands in the Far East. This is again due to the policy of the Japanese Government, which refuses to come to any agreement on these matters with the other Powers. I understand that it is the desire of the Japanese Government at any rate to have available for purposes of fortification the Islands of Bonin, Amami-O Shima, and Loochoo, which they regard as vital in the chain of their national defence. Certain of the islands in which Japan is interested are held on mandate from the League of Nations, and the Japanese Government will not permit anyone to go to those islands to see what is taking place. I think some information ought to be given as to the attitude of the British Government on that matter, for it is not solely a matter for Japan, but is one for the League of Nations. We ought to take the necessary steps, through the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League, to find out what is going on in those islands, where any fortification is wholly prohibited. There is every reason to suppose that fortification is going on.
If there is fortification of those Japanese Islands, will the United States take no action? There are available the Aleutian Islands, the fortification of which is no longer excluded. I presume that the United States also will have to act. Have the Government any information on this matter? If Japan and the United States take action of that sort, what will be the position of the British Government with regard to Hong Kong, which was previously excluded, but which is now available? Will the Government be good enough to inform the House whether they now contemplate any action with regard to Hong Kong, or whether, in the event of the two other Powers concerned fortifying their islands, they will feel called upon to do something of the kind? There would then be a race in those fortifications.
I am afraid the prospect is very gloomy; but with regard to this Measure, I do not see that we can do anything except pass it as a useful and very minute remainder of what might have been and what should have been. It is only by resolute, consistent and wholehearted backing of the collective system of the League of Nations, above all by the 2030 British Government, that we can produce conditions which will make real Naval disarmament possible and bring peace and security to the world.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes
I think hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree that a vast effort to restore our Defences is necessary and that the expense will be enormous. There-for, any arrangments that may be made to cut down expenditure on our armaments, provided they do not interfere with our security, will be welcomed by all. I was at the Board of Admiralty at the time the Washington Conference took place, and when the Treaty was being worked out. Although I do not like Naval Treaties and think that the British Navy should be left alone to work out its own salvation, I recognise that the Washington Treaty was a statesmanlike measure and very necessary in order to put a stop to the race in the building of capital ships in the interests of economy. After all, at that time war was remote. We had a vast Navy, and the great thing about that Treaty was that it provided security in that we were allowed to build such cruisers and small craft as were necessary to protect our trade routes.
Ever since I entered the House, I have done my best to take the question of rearmament outside party politics, and even the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) will not provoke me into saying anything about the London Treaty of 1930. Since we are apparently bound to have Naval Treaties, I welcomed the Treaty that followed it, since it dealt with the quality of armaments, rather than their quantity, but I cannot help looking upon the Anglo-German Treaty, which is of a quantitative nature, with a good deal of suspicion. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) pointed out, there will be a time when the German Navy will possess 8-inch cruisers which are bound to be far superior to the 8-inch cruisers which we built some time ago and cannot replace for several years.
The right lion. Gentleman the Member for Epping covered a great deal of ground and I am generally in agreement with what he said. I would like to remind the House of the construction which was carried out when the right hon. Gentle- 2031 man was First Lord of the Admiralty. I remember that before the "Queen Elizabeth" was laid down, he talked to me about the battle cruisers that had been built by Lord Fisher. He pointed out to me that it was not good enough to put great guns on a ship without armour and to trust to speed to keep you out of trouble. An action might have to be fought, owing to visibility, at much closer range, and ships carrying great guns but lacking protection would be destroyed. The right hon. Gentleman drew an outline of a ship which he thought was the type to build. That ship was not contemplated then, but it was the "Queen Elizabeth," for which he was entirely responsible. There was a great deal of opposition at the time, on the ground that it cost a great deal more than the "Royal Sovereign," which was the type favoured by the Admiralty.
The right hon. Gentleman was right. Those battle cruisers were built by Lord Fisher to destroy cruisers, and the action at the Falkland Islands proved that they could do so. Admiral von Tirpitz saw further and decided to protect his battle cruisers with armour, and the result of that was shown at the Battle of Jutland. Three of our ill-protected battle cruisers blew up, the German battle cruisers took any amount of punishment and remained afloat. The "Seydlitz" was reduced to a wreck, but remained afloat and got home. The "Lutzow" was terribly damaged, but the Germans sank her with torpedoes to prevent her from falling into our hands.
The building of a warship is a matter of compromise in the relative allocation of weight to speed, armament, armour and under-water protection which have all to be balanced. The Sea Lords of the present Board of Admiralty have, of course, weighed all those conflicting considerations. If they consider that a 14-inch gun battleship is the best compromise in relation to armament and protection for a 35,000-ton ship, then I think the Navy generally will trust them. If Japan finds that she has to increase the tonnage of her ships considerably in order to give adequate protection to a ship carrying 16-inch guns, it will give rise to very serious considerations and the Admiralty may have to build ships of far greater tonnage than 35,000 tons to get a well-balanced ship carrying 16-inch 2032 guns. Therefore I would support the recommendation made by my right hon. Friend that this matter should be closely gone into. However, I have not the slightest doubt that it is being closely gone into by the Board of Admiralty and the technicians. I recently attended a discussion on this subject at the Institute of Naval Architects. This question of compromise is a very serious one. You cannot sink ships with armour plate, and therefore you have to balance your protection against your hitting power, but if the projectiles of our 14-inch guns will penetrate any armour that another Power can put on 35,000-ton ships carrying 16-inch guns and at the same time you can carry armour to keep out the 16-inch projectiles, that is all to the good, but it is really a matter for experts, and it is better to leave it to them. It is a question which requires day-to-day study. I cannot pretend to be up to date upon it now, although I was 10 or 12 years ago.
I have not followed the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) in his excursion into foreign policy. He asked that there should be official inspection of the building programmes of other nations. After all, naval attachés exist for that purpose. I was a naval attaché in four different countries and I found that naval attachés had no difficulty in knowing what was going on in the countries in which they were serving. It is easy to say that this country or that country cannot be trusted, but I think everybody recognises that the Treaties dealt with in this Bill represent an honest and definite effort to cut down expenditure on armaments. I think no one should welcome this fact more than hon. Members opposite.
May I, in conclusion, add my welcome and good wishes to those which have already been extended to the First Lord of the Admiralty on his assumption of his new office? He has wonderful opportunities in that office to-day because we are now, just as we were in 1889, on the threshhold of the restoration of our sea-power and, in such circumstances, what greater office could there be than that of being in charge of the Admiralty? The right hon. Gentleman may be certain that the Navy will judge his tenure of office by the success of his efforts towards the real restoration of our sea-power which does not only lie in the building of ships.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn
It is rather rash on the part of one who is not in any sense an expert in these matters to speak in a Debate of this kind, especially when we have had the privilege of listening to the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, North (Sir R. Keyes), who speaks with the highest authority on these technical subjects. While I think most Members of the House were under the impression that we were to have had a Debate on the limitation of armaments on this occasion, we have actually had a discussion on naval rearmament by leading exponents of that policy all of whom desire to get rid of limitations on armaments and to increase our expenditure under that head. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has been one of the protagonists on this occasion. Instead of speaking on the limitation of armaments, the whole theme of his eloquent speech was "Away with all agreements of all kinds." He wants complete freedom, and the hon. and gallant Admiral who spoke last desires simply that Britannia should rule the waves. That is his simple doctrine. It is a sentiment which warms all our hearts, but it is not exactly consistent with the election manifestoes of the Government, nor with the commonly expressed hope that we should get some form of agreement regulating these heavy armaments with the financial and moral responsibilities which they entail. I wish it were in order on this occasion to speak of the use of the Navy and the degradaton of naval power which we have seen recently on the North coast of Spain, but I am aware that that would be going outside the limits of this Debate.
I would remind the House of the vast change that has come over the face of this problem since this Government has been in office. It would be wrong and unfair—and I have never sought to do so—to blame this Government wholly for what has occurred. But it is obvious that since 1932 and the end of the Disarmament Conference, the prospects of disarmament have steadily receded. The conduct of Government spokesmen in 1932 at Geneva, when Mr. Hoover made his great offer of disarmament which was received with such chilly evasion by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, was the beginning of the march back. At that time, there was no German problem and no Italian problem, and it is appropriate 2034 to remark, on such an occasion as this, that the Government has to carry a heavy responsibility, perhaps the heaviest, with all the other nations of the world, for the fact that instead of discussing a Bill for disarmament or the limitation of armaments to-day, we are engaged in making suggestions to the First Lord as to how our strength can be improved and our charges increased. When the Labour Government went out of office the naval charges were £52,000,000 a year. Now they stand at £105,000,000. I do not base my argument, however, mainly upon cost but upon much more serious grounds.
As far as this Bill is concerned, I have just two things to say. After what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping has said, we expect a definite statement from the Government on what they are going to do about these 16-inch guns. We know that Japan and the United States have determined to adopt these guns. It would not be fair to the House to ask it to pass a Bill including that item, without being told exactly what are the Government's intentions. While that is being done, it would be useful if the First Lord were also to tell us what will be the cost of altering the design of the five new ships and re-equipping them. In the Bill itself there is hardly anything worth comment. It is an agreement to agree. Of course it would be good to have an exchange of information. The right hon. Gentleman has said that it was the absence of knowledge and the presence of suspicion which made the situation so difficult before the War. I think he and I are the only people taking part in this Debate who remember the famous Debate in 1909 across this Table when Mr. Balfour, as he then was, demanded from Mr. McKenna a programme of eight ships. Then we had all sorts of calculations and a sort of auction going on as to how many ships we were prepared to have and how many other Powers had. If that kind of thing could be avoided by a frank exchange of information, it would be all to the good, but to ask us to believe that in these documents which we are now considering any hope is held out to the world of naval limitation is asking too much. To do the First Lord credit, he did not ask that.
One other point is that a light is thrown here upon the relations between Germany and Japan. We have heard a great deal about the anti-Communist pact, 2035 but it does not seem to have stood the strain in this instance, because the Germans appear to have agreed that the Russians should be allowed to build up to whatever they think necessary to meet the situation in the Far East. That, certainly, is a welcome feature for what it is worth. But as far as these documents generally are concerned, no one would think of opposing them, and I do not suppose anyone would mind supporting them, because there is little in them. As for the general situation, since this Government came into office there has been a steady retrogression, and the hope of international limitation of armaments has almost disappeared.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Astor
I am sincerely sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) has temporarily pulled out of the line of battle, because I wanted, not to send a salvo into him, but to offer him thanks for his wonderful justification of the amount which is being spent by His Majesty's Government on naval armaments. He pointed out that our expenditure at the moment is about one-third of the world total. It was in that same proportion at the time when he was responsible for the Navy, and it was in the same proportion before the War. Surely none of his supporters would suggest that the increase in the amount spent by the world on naval armaments has been due in any way to any lead given by His Majesty's Government either now or in the past. Surely, also, if we were spending less, in proportion to the other countries to-day than the proportion which we were spending when the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for the Navy, we would have a lower standard of security now than that which the Labour Government thought necessary at a time when there was, comparatively speaking, a lack of international anxiety. I think we can thank the right hon. Gentleman for having pointed out an argument which had not previously occurred to some of us. Of course, some of the increased expenditure has been necessary because capital ships were getting out of date owing to sheer old age and new developments in anti-aircraft warfare. This has necessitated a great deal of expenditure.
2036 The Treaties which are now before the House may be criticised, but I do not think it can be denied that they are largely solving the difficulties of the European naval situation. It is true that they do not touch the Far East, but if we add to them the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, it can be seen that the naval problem in European waters is immensely simplified and improved by them. One shudders to think of what the situation would have been if His Majesty's Government had not had the independence and courage to negotiate and sign the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. It is almost frightening to think of what the position might be without that agreement. There are many bolt-holes and loop-holes in these documents, but the qualitative relations between the German and the British Navy are absolute. There are no escalator clauses in them. Of course the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) is afraid of people breaking their word, but at least we can say that in Europe since 1922 no nation has broken any of the naval treaties of disarmament, and if every nation including Germany has observed these Treaties, there is at least warrant for going on with them in the future, and for refusing to give up in despair while we have this good example.
The gap in Europe is, of course, Italy. We sincerely hope that nothing will be done which will discourage Italy from coming in and that with the liquidation of the present Spanish situation we shall see Italy signing a Treaty, in the drawing up of which she took a great part and left, not for technical reasons, but for political reasons which had nothing to do with naval limitations. The right hon. Member for Hillsborough referred to this Treaty merely as a scrap of paper, hardly worth the paper on which it is written. If that be so, is it really conceivable that foreign countries, including Soviet Russia, should have taken such immense pains to be quite sure of what was written on this scrap of paper? It was a long and laborious negotiation, in every comma of which they took a deep interest, and surely that shows that some value attaches to these naval Treaties. Of course, it is easy to imagine a much better naval Treaty. Everybody would like a quantitative limitation as well, and His Majesty's Government sincerely tried to 2037 get it, but, viewing facts as they are and viewing the fact that these Treaties are negotiated and not dictated Treaties, I think our Government are to be congratulated on the results.
The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton, speaking of the Far Eastern situation, seemed, as is his wont to lay the entire blame for it on His Majesty's Government. Anybody who has studied the Far East at all will know that the causes of the Manchurian dispute and of Japan leaving a collective system, leaving the League, and leaving the naval limitations agreement date very much farther back than that. They are due to internal economic and social problems, buried deep in the economic and social structure of Japan. The political results followed, and there is very little which was done in the Manchurian dispute or afterwards that affected those internal Japanese problems which produced the sad result.
If one were going to make party points over it one might point out that in 1932 we had a Labour Government which had got its finances into so obscure a condition that we had to have all these reductions, which led to the trouble in the Navy, and it is not perhaps entirely a coincidence that the troubles in Mukden followed very shortly after the troubles at Invergordon. The troubles at Invergordon were due to the economic crisis, which at least His Majesty's present advisers did nothing to bring on. Secondly, one might also point out that during the time when the Labour party were in office they retarded work on the Singapore base, and that if that work had been pressed on we might have been in a far different position vis-à-vis Japan, but without the Singapore base the British Navy was absolutely helpless. The hon. Member took much too superficial a view of the Far Eastern problem and of its causes, economic and social, which have got to be dealt with internationally. We certainly hope that the present trouble will increase the desire of His Majesty's Government to try and ease the troubles in the Far East.
As regards the Russian fleet in the Far East, which seemed to give the right hon. Member for Hillsborough such worry, I think he can he reassured. In the first place, the Russian fleet's record throughout history is not such as to inspire the Japanese Government with terror, and, 2038 secondly, it is very unlikely that Japan is going to sit and watch Russia building a formidable fleet under her very nose or that Russia will attempt any such hazardous experiment. The sovereign remedy has been given to us. It is said that the way to improve these naval Treaties is to strengthen the League in the Far East. But the Far East is one of the few places where any amount of strengthening of the League is likely to have extraordinarily little effect. It is much more likely to be done by paralleling our policy with that of the United States of America and getting the two navies working so closely together as to produce the same beneficent results in the Far East as our parallelism with France produces in Europe.
I think the attacks on His Majesty's Government in connection with these Treaties have extraordinarily little weight, and really these Treaties savour of the miraculous. To have been able in 1937, in view of what is happening in every other sphere of foreign policy, to have secured these highly useful and important Treaties is a thing on which the Foreign Office, the Admiralty, and those who have had to do the detail work deserve the greatest congratulation. It shows that the less ambitious methods of bilateral negotiation in the sphere of disarmament have had great success, and we only hope that His Majesty's Government will be able to follow up this success by similar methods in other spheres.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
It was an extremely touching sight to watch the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor), who has just sat down, speaking under a fond parental eye. Surely, it was what is known as the Oedipus complex which led him to request that that gaze should be directed upon him from the rear. I will leave it to my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) to deal with the extremely inaccurate remarks of the hon. Member about the events at Invergordon, but I thought he spoke very airily indeed about the liquidation of the present situation in Spain, which was to be followed by Italy doing everything that is sweet and proper. May I remind him that we have already, quite recently, signed a Treaty with Italy, under which Italy undertakes to preserve the status quo in the Mediterranean, and that 2039 if Italy would honour that Treaty in good faith, then indeed the situation in Spain would be liquidated very easily and very quickly?
If the First Lord of the Admiralty will allow me to say so, I think he opened this Debate very fairly indeed, making no extravagant claims whatsoever for these Treaties, but speaking very moderately indeed about their value. In fact, the only enthusiasm that I thought he showed in the course of his remarks was when he referred to the admirable work done by Sir R. Craigie in connection with these Treaties, remarks which I am certain will be endorsed by anyone who knows anything about the work which has been done. All that I can say is that I hope that in the future the First Lord will find happier opportunities for the display of his talents than these particular Treaties are able to afford him. There is one question that I would like to ask him. Do we know everything about these Treaties? It is only quite recently that we found out that the Anglo-German Treaty, signed in 1935, had a secret agreement attached to it. Are there any secret agreements attached to these Treaties which have not been mentioned to-day?
Obviously, the Powers which have not signed these treaties dictate the situation, so that the treaties are of very doubtful value indeed. Naval treaties which leave Italy and Japan outside are of very little use, but it may fairly be said that nothing else was open to us. There was nothing more that we could get, and at any rate, if these treaties do not do much good, they do not do very much harm, unless possibly they engender a completely false sense of security and of limitation of armaments. There are so many escape Clauses to these treaties that they are hardly worth anything at all. Any country which is a signatory can escape from any of their provisions at will, and practically without formality, thanks to these escape Clauses, and, as a matter of fact, Japan, which is not a signatory, has it in her power to give any country which is a signatory the opportunity of escaping from the provisions of the treaties through these escape Clauses.
Is Germany entitled to divide her 35 per cent of light craft between the three categories of "A" and "B" cruisers 2040 and destroyers in each category, or is she entitled to 35 per cent. of our total tonnage in light craft? Is the 35 per cent. to which she is entitled to be divided beween each of those three categories, or is she, for instance, entitled to have more than the five "A"-class cruisers to which our 15 "A"-class cruisers would entitle her under the 35 per cent. clause, if she chooses to have more "A"-class cruisers by diminishing her tonnage in either of the other two categories? Then again, on exactly what basis is the tonnage of our Fleet calculated for the purposes of assessing the 35 per cent. to which Germany is entitled? The Treaty speaks of 35 per cent. as defined by treaty, but defence vessels and torpedo boats are not defined by treaty and, therefore, I think it is of importance to know exactly upon what basis our tonnage is calculated in order to arrive at the 35 per cent. to which Germany is entitled. Further, on what basis is the ratio between over-age and under-age tonnage calculated? The German Navy being of rather modern construction, it seems to me that Germany must be short of what we call over-age tonnage, and, therefore, how is that ratio calculated? Those are two or three specific points which I think it would assist the House to have cleared up.
To turn to more general considerations, a certain amount of stress has been laid upon the provision for exchange of information. I feel that it is a very pious hope that any benefit will be derived from this exchange of information. We know quite well that the Intelligence services of all naval countries have long ago found out that it is quite impossible to keep the main facts about naval construction secret. It simply cannot be done. You can keep secret certain details of naval construction, but the fact that you are building certain ships of a certain tonnage and with certain armament is, in a very short time, common property all over the world. What we are doing by this provision about exchange of information is to recognise the fact that you cannot keep those secrets. We are, therefore, agreeing to the exchange of information which the countries concerned would get hold of anyhow.
When it comes to exchanging information about details which it is possible to keep secret, I do not believe that any country concerned, our own included, will 2041 be bound by this provision. Will the information about our naval construction which is to be given to other Powers be given to them before it is given to this House, or will it be in excess of the information given to this House? I have an idea that we shall arrive at the farcical situation that under these treaties we shall be giving to other Powers information which is withheld from Members of the House. I notice that Russia not only need give no information about her Far Eastern construction, but, if she chooses to say that she feels threatened by Japan, she can cut out all the processes of consultation and delay which attach to the escape clauses. She is to be the sole judge. She need not explain her reasons for feeling threatened; she merely has to say that she believes Japan is exceeding the London Treaty limits, and then she can go ahead without consultation with the other signatory Powers.
I would like to turn to what I think is the main feature of this Debate, that is, the "A"-class cruisers, the 10,000-ton 8-inch gun cruisers. We have 15 of them and we have bound ourselves to build no more until 1942. The Anglo-German Agreement in 1935 entitled Germany to build five of these large "A"-class cruisers, of which three are already laid down. Under this Treaty Russia may build up to seven such cruisers, but, in accordance with the timorous and genteel decency which prevails in the phraseology of these treaties, she hopes not to do so. The real fact, stripped of all pretence and all these worthless and fictitious provisos, is that any country may build "A"-class cruisers if she feels threatened. Therefore, to use a phrase employed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), the race is on from this moment in these "A"-class cruisers. The escape clauses permit it. Germany may build "A"-class cruisers if Russia builds "B"-class cruisers which outclass German "B"-class cruisers. That is an excuse to Germany to build these "A"-class cruisers.
Germany and Italy may build crusers above the limits of the London Treaty. Germany and Russia will certainly build them, and the result is there may be five German 10,000-ton cruisers against which we have no comparable ships to set. The First Lord knows that it is not merely a question of building three more of these five "A"-class cruisers which are pro- 2042 vided for by the Anglo-German Naval Treaty. Germany has reserved her right to increase beyond these five. The situation is simply that at the present moment our 15 "A"-class cruisers are already outclassed by "A"-class cruisers of other navies, and we have bound ourselves to build no more of them until 1942 although other countries can invoke and profit by every conceivable form of escape clause in order to go on building that class of ship. I hope that the result of this will not be a repetition of the melancholy story we learned at Coronel when the "Good Hope" and "Monmouth" found themselves out-gunned and outclassed by the "Scharnhorst" and the "Gneisenau."
We ought to get the position clear about the 16-inch guns. As I understand it, Japan has reserved her right to instal 16-inch guns, but has not so far categorically announced that she is mounting them in any of her new construction. On the other hand, I understand that we have a categorical declaration by America that she is proposing to instal guns of that calibre in her new construction. If that is the position, it would be a good thing if it could be confirmed so that the House would know what the position is with regard to 16-inch guns. The moment one country puts 16-inch guns into a ship, other major naval Powers will inevitably follow the example. Here again, just as the race is on in the "A"-class cruisers, so the race is on in the 16-inch gun capital ship. I do not know whether we shall get any declaration. We have had a statement by the former First Lord of the Admiralty in answer to a question by myself that even if America or Japan announced an intention to instal 16-inch guns, the design of our new capital ships which are now laid down would not be altered and that we would stick to the 14-inch guns. Does the First Lord repeat that undertaking in regard to the three further capital ships which are to be laid down? I do not believe that he can.
The general conclusions I am led to are that these treaties give no real limitation whatever. It is all quite illusory, and there is no prospect of any real limitation to be found within the contents of the treaties. This country in regard to its future naval construction has to be guided by its own interests and by nothing else, because there is no real naval limitation in existence. If that be so, let me remind the First Lord that this 2043 country has very little to gain, curiously enough, from leading the van in new naval construction. What was said this afternoon about the construction of the "Dreadnought" is true. By building that ship we wiped out the great superiority that we had and we put other naval Powers on an equal footing with ourselves. We gave them an equal start with ourselves in that particular form of "Dreadnought" construction. If the 16-inch gun 35,000-ton battleships are to be built, do not let us feel necessarily that our security is built up in that direction. Do not let us necessarily say that we are going to lead the way in that particular class of ship. Let us concentrate instead upon finding the counter to ships of that enormous size and gun power. Do not let us sit down and say that that is the last word in capital ship strategy or technique or naval construction. The more we see other countries going in for these mammoth ships and guns, the more the brains of our staff and our constructors should be devoted to finding the counter to them. Of all forms of armament competition, big gun and big ship competition is the most futile and wasteful. These treaties do nothing to secure limitations of big ship building. They illustrate and underline the failure of the Government to bring about an international situation in which limitation is possible. The race is on in naval competition and construction, and expenditure is bound to increase, with a corresponding reduction in the standard of living. By their failure to support efforts for disarmament and efforts for limitation, the Government have brought about a situation which this country will yet bitterly rue.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Viscountess Astor
When I hear speeches like that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher), I am not surprised that the National Government win every by-election. I have listened to the speeches of hon. Members opposite with deep interest, and what strikes me most is that, although they are a Socialist party based on internationalism, they are suspicious of everybody. They are even suspicious of Russia now. We have heard their criticisms, but they have not put forward one constructive idea. They talk 2044 about the 1922 Naval Agreement and ask why that cannot go on. The reason is obvious. In 1922 Great Britain was strong and the United States of America was strong. Russia was just beginning her revolution, and we had not Hitler or Mussolini. The world was quite easy in those days for reasonable democracies. Now we are faced with a totally different situation. I cannot understand how hon. Gentlemen opposite, who want some day to lead this country, can make the futile speeches which they have made. When I hear hon. Gentlemen opposite speaking, I thank God that in the country we have good old strong trade union leaders who have common sense. When I hear the party fireworks and know that they are not based on anything that is fundamental, I sometimes despair.
We ought to be deeply grateful for these Treaties. It is true that England has not succeeded in bringing about disarmament, but every child knows that she has led the way. At one moment the party opposite complain that we do not enter every war in Europe, and do their best to put us into it, and the next moment they complain that we have led the rearmament of the world. The right hon. Gentleman who is now facing me knows very well that it was one of the great tragedies that we could not get the other countries to follow us.
§ Viscountess Astor
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it was only a gesture, that it was not a firm offer from President Hoover. If it had been a firm offer, of course the Government would have had to take it. He knows how difficult it is for a President of the United States—but I do not want to go into that. It was not a firm offer, and there is nobody in the United States who knows both political parties who would say that it was. But what I want to deal with is the way the Opposition talk to-day. They do not trust other countries. They do not trust a soul. They do not even trust their own country. There is not a single person in the world whom they trust.
§ Viscountess Astor
You can trust me to tell the truth. I think it is absolutely miraculous that our Government have done as well as they have done, in a world like this. What have the Opposition to put in place of this Treaty? Before the evening is out will they tell us what they propose to do? We cannot make other countries disarm. We cannot even make people behave well about Spain. What more could England do? That is what I should like to hear. I am a person who, as a believer in the League of Nations, fought five elections on it, and in a place like Plymouth. Proud as I am of the British Navy, I told them I would rather see no navies, if we could get universal peace in that way. Now I say, "Thank God for the Navy," and hon. Members opposite are in exactly the same position. Although they come to this House and criticise the Navy there is not one of them who does not say in his heart "Thank God we have got a National Government." [Interruption.] Of course they do, and, as I have said, if they go on making speeches like those we have heard to-day we shall have a National Government for ever.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I wish to say a word or two about the Treaty which is before the House, a little matter which the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) completely forgot. The Treaty is of such a character that it actually binds no one to anything, and it seems to me that we should be helping towards a better understanding in international affairs if we opposed its ratification and threw it out. That is how I feel about it. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench drew attention to its limitations and said, in effect, that it was only so many words on a piece of paper. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) accepted the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman on this side, but asked us to accept the Treaty because it means nothing. That is the sort of Treaty it is. We shall never get anywhere in international affairs by playing with important questions, and that is the position here. We can only get international treaties which are of any value if they are based on a 2046 correct estimation of the forces which are operating, and giving to the forces which are making for peace the opportunity of laying a basis for peace. What is the use of bringing a group of householders and a group of robbers together and getting them to come to an understanding that they will be nice and civil to one another as the days go by. You can get an understanding among householders to defend themselves against robbers, or an understanding among robbers on the best way of relieving householders of their goods, but you will not get an understanding between robbers and householders which will be of any value.
If we are to make agreements, it is necessary to understand the forces which are operating. The Minister told us that he is hopeful that Japan will see the error of her ways and come in with the rest of the nations. He expresses such sentiments just when Japan has opened fire in China. Is it possible to talk about Japan in such a way, when there has been invasion after invasion of China by Japan? How is it possible to talk in such easy language about the European nations when time and again the word of those nations has been broken without the slightest consideration? If the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) does not want to mention names, I have no hesitation in mentioning them. Everybody knows that Germany and Italy have broken their word time and time again in international affairs. The leaders in those countries have said over and over again that it is a desirable policy to trick and deceive other nations. So where is there any value in such a Treaty as this?
The Minister said that we must get rid of suspicion, and that if nothing else were achieved the fact that information was going to be exchanged would help us to get rid of suspicion. An hon. Member who spoke from these benches said that information on matters of naval construction has always been obtained, and therefore the giving of this information is the giving of information which the nations already have. The right hon. Member for Epping said that before the War he made an appeal to the Germans, and that Admiral von Tirpitz responded to that appeal, and that the information given by Admiral von Tirpitz proved to be correct in every way. Did 2047 the giving of information remove suspicions or ease the situation which existed between Germany and Great Britain, or did it prevent the War? All this is so much nonsense, this giving of obvious information. If we are to have treaties, the thing to do is to find out if there are nations which for any particular reason have a desire or a necessity for peace.
Are there nations in Europe which desire peace more than anything else? Are there nations which pursue a policy of aggression? What is the use of talking as though all the nations are the same, when we know such wide divergences exist? What is the use of talking of Japan as though she were as peaceful and as unaggressive as Switzerland? Everybody knows that Japan is aggressive; everybody knows that Germany is aggressive, both on the east and on the west, and must pursue a policy of aggression. Last night the Foreign Secretary spoke about the Japanese problems, and when I interjected a question, said he was referring to economic problems. What is Japan's economic problem? The search for markets for her goods. Let the Japanese feed and supply their own people and they will not have to go out into other markets. Why should all countries be so anxious to get their goods into other countries at the expense of their own people?
§ Mr. Gallacher
I will come back to the Naval Treaty. I wanted to point out that if treaties are to be made there must be a solid foundation for them and this Treaty has no foundation at all. It is just a feather blowing about in international affairs. Even the Minister was apologetic for it, because it represents nothing of vital importance to the peoples of any country. The thing that is urgent is to have a rapid cutting down of expenditure on armaments and the most widespread expenditure on the building up of home life and human well-being. Therefore, I say that we should throw out this Treaty and seek for an effective one. There should be an endeavour to get together the nations which are for peace. If they were prepared to pool their forces and their resources they could make a 2048 real peace treaty, with real naval and other limitations. An hon. Member told us that he wanted Britannia to rule the waves, and there were general cheers, only the fact is that she does not rule the waves. There is no question of Britannia ruling the waves now.
§ Mr. Gallacher
It is obvious that any hope of Britannia ruling the waves is ruined and destroyed by the policy of the National Government. Britannia takes a second, or third, or fourth position as far as the waves are concerned. It is obvious that not only have Germany and Italy taken precedence of Britannia, but that even Franco is able to step in ahead so far as the sea is concerned. Time and again we have heard it said that other nations are building up huge armies. What about our big Navy? Germany may have a huge army. France may have a huge army. Why? Because they say their borders are connected with potential enemy countries. We hear statesmen talk about the madness of building up big armies. What about the madness of building up big navies? It is the same thing as the big armies of other countries. There is talk about 16-inch guns. I have information from one whom I consider to be an outstanding authority on the manufacture and the making of guns, my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), that at the present time 17-inch guns are being built in this country—not 16-inch. Is that not correct?
§ Mr. Gallacher
They are naval guns. The Minister is anxious to give other countries information of what we are doing; will he tell us why and for what purpose these 17-inch guns are being built? Information will be given, under this Bill, to other countries, but information asked for in this House will be unobtainable as not in the public interest.
I insist that the Bill is of no value. It is one of the Bills that create an illusion of something being done when nothing is being done. It will not stop the race in naval armaments or reduce expenditure upon them, and it will not bring about a better understanding among the 2049 nations, or take into account those nations who are for peace, and those who are pursuing deliberately an aggressive policy. For those reasons, and because it is of no real value to the people of the world, the Bill should not be supported.
§ 6.48 p.m.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member in his pessimistic outlook on the Bill except to remind him, with regard to the remark he made about aggressive nations, that the most aggressive nation in the world to-day is that nation which stands for world-wide revolution; I mean Soviet Russia. Italy and Germany are not alone to be put into the category of aggressive nations. I have always been opposed to naval treaties because of their hampering and restrictive power over the initiative and the freedom of action of this country to build ships of the size which we require, to the number which we require, and of the calibre which we consider best. That was done away with immediately we signed the Washington Treaty, and later with greater intensity, under the London Treaty of 1930. I realise the necessity for the Washington Treaty, but there was a serious aspect of that Treaty which does not pertain to the present Bill. That was the high limit of 10,000 tons and 8-inch guns for cruisers. The immediate result was, that all nations started to build cruisers of 10,000 tons carrying 8-inch guns. We did not desire to build 10,000-ton cruisers because those cruisers were not satisfactory and were not what we required. They have been a complete failure, but we were only bound to build them as a direct result of the Washington Treaty.
As regards this Bill, the hon. and gallant Gentleman, the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) said it was of little or no use because of the paucity of the signatories, and that there were so many nations outside it that it would be of no use. I would remind him that the London Treaty of 1930 was originally to be a treaty signed by five powers, France, Italy, Japan, the United States and this country, that is to say, all those sea powers who had particular interests in European waters, and in Far Eastern waters. We had a particular interest in both European and Far Eastern waters. We were, as a fact, the only European nation which signed that London Treaty. France and Italy did 2050 not sign it. We were bound hand and foot by it, the only European nation which was so bound. That was a very serious position for us to be placed in.
We must be strong in European waters; we ought to be strong both in European and Far Eastern waters; but by our signing of the London Naval Treaty we threw away any possibility of being so Not only were we limited with regard to the qualitative side but on the quantitative, which was of greater importance. We were restricted in the number of cruisers we could build. I am glad that that is not the case in the Bill. There is qualitative restriction, and in that respect a fundamental difference from the other treaties which I have mentioned. The result of the Washington and the London Treaties, particularly the latter, has been that we have lost our security at sea, and we have had to pursue a weak foreign policy. The Socialist party are continually condemning the Government for our present foreign policy, but it is due to their action that our foreign policy has had to be as weak as it has been these late years. In the past behind the word of the Foreign Secretary has always been the power of this country, but unfortunately we have lost it.
The Government have always been found fault with by the Liberal party as well as by the Socialist party. There is only one Member of the Liberal party here. The Government are blamed for the position in which we find ourselves. They are blamed for not discussing the reduction of armaments rather than introducing this Bill, but the Socialist party must know that we endeavoured to bring about a measure of disarmament in the world by setting an example in that direction. We were told by the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton that the race was on, and that is perfectly true, but the race started years ago. We have only just entered the race; we did not start it. We have been compelled to do so for our own security and to increase our naval forces. The Bill and these agreements must be all to the good to the extent that the more we can consult with other nations about what is proposed, the more information we can receive from Government sources, the more trust we shall be able to put in each other. The more we are brought into contact with each other the better it must be.
2051 I welcome the Bill on that account. There is the question of the Germans being able to construct 10,000-ton cruisers. It is a very real point, and will undoubtedly give them an advantage. The question of 14-inch or 16-inch guns is of the utmost importance. Prior to the signing of the Washington and London Treaties, this country had for a long period set an example to the remainder of the world. If you like to put it this way, we gave a lead. We built ships, of the size we considered necessary for the duties they had to perform and the calibre of guns which we desired. Other nations of the world followed our example. We have lost that position, since we signed the Washington and the London Treaties. There has been a good deal of discussion whether 35,000 tons is larger than is required for a capital ship; undoubtedly it is. I very much regret that the limit is 35,000 tons. I understand that Japan is mounting 16-inch guns in her capital ships and that we are going to mount 14-inch guns. America is about to follow the example of Japan. I hope that the First Lord will very seriously consider this matter of 14-inch guns before following the example of Japan and America. It is not only a question of a size of guns but of the size and number of the ships. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) pointed out that if 14-inch guns could be made to pierce the armount of a ship carrying 16-inch guns, it would be better to have 14-inch rather than 16-inch. There are other considerations in this matter such as draught of water, size of docks, expense, etc., which I would have liked to touch upon, but time does not permit me. I hope that the Government will be in no hurry to abandon their decision to mount 14-inch guns. I would be only too glad if we could revert to the ancient policy of building such ships, in such numbers, and mounting such guns as we considered necessary.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Ammon
I wish to join in the good wishes which have been paid to the First Lord in this, his first essay in his new office. It has been unfortunate that it should be a matter upon which he has not yet got his sea legs. The Bill before us cannot be described as not very important; it is one of the most important 2052 Bills that we have had in this House with regard to our naval affairs since the Washington Naval Treaty. It will have an effect upon our naval strength, and certainly upon the naval strength of the rest of the world. The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) always puts into his speeches the breezy atmosphere which we associate with the Service now under discussion. I would point out to him that it is as well to take the trouble to be accurate in the definition of the Naval Treaties to which he has referred. It is not true to say that this country has been placed at a disadvantage with regard to other countries, and I challenge any hon. Member to point out where we have been inferior in naval strength to any other nation.
The point is that by the London Treaty we were limited to 50 cruisers. In accordance with the opinion of the highest naval experts—Lord Jellicoe, Lord Beatty and every single Board of Admiralty—the lowest number of cruisers which we should have to give security to our trade routes was 70. That is the vital point.
§ Mr. Ammon
That is no answer, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman is now going on from inaccuracy to inaccuracy. There was no question of whether the Navy could do this, that or the other. What he stated was that we were placed in a position of naval inferiority as compared with other nations, and I say without any fear of contradiction that that has not been the case. We have been largely superior to any other European nation and that I say, knowing that a Government speaker is to follow, cannot possibly be challenged. Whether or not we want larger naval forces is a totally different question. I resent very much the suggestion made with regard to a Socialist Foreign Secretary. The late Mr. Arthur Henderson did more to promote peace between the nations, and to make a better understanding and a better atmosphere than has been done ever since, and any suggestion to the contrary is unwarranted and untrue.
There is a humorous touch to this Debate because in every one of the documents which have been supplied to us we see the words, "Limitation of naval armaments." If there is anything this does not do, it is that. There is no sug- 2053 gestion of limitation. There is [...]o restriction, quantitatively, on the size of the Navy. I see that the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington agrees, and if I wanted any further authority I have only to remind the House that the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) congratulated the Government, himself, and everybody else concerned on this Treaty which was so full of loopholes, bolt-holes, escapes, escalators and everything else. One has only to look at the proposals to see that that is the situation. It was amusing to hear the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) chide this side on being distrustful of every other nation. If there is anything which is based on distrust it is this particular Naval Agreement. None of them is prepared to trust the other. They can come to firm agreements on nothing, and they are going to leave loopholes, bolt-holes and everything else in order that they may be able to escape from the Agreement.