§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE'S STATEMENT.
§ Order for Committee read.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Shakespeare)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
Last year my right hon. Friend the late First Lord was sick of a fever and, owing to his acute constitutional affliction, the duty of introducing the Navy Estimates fell on me. This year, owing to the chronic constitutional position of my noble Friend, I have to perform a similar task. Last year I asked the House to make provision for £126,000,000, which was a record in peacetime. This year I am asking for £149,000,000, which piles record on record. That is an increase of £23,000,000. Of this huge total, Members will be gratified to hear, no less than £61,000,000 is in respect of the cost of shipbuilding and engineering work on vessels of the new construction programmes and previous programmes, and the repair of the existing fleet. During the year just ended 43 warships have joined the Fleet, and during the next financial year we expect to have another 60 warships to reinforce the strength of the Navy.
I am glad to inform the House that with the completion of the "Belfast" and the "Edinburgh" in a few months we shall have in commission 10 cruisers of the "Southampton" class, each of 9,000–10,000 tons. We have had very good reports from the Fleet as to their sea-keeping and fighting qualities. Equally satisfactory are the reports on our new heavily armed and fast destroyers of the "Tribal" class, of which two flotillas are now with the Fleet. The House, I hope, will be impressed with the magnitude of the balance of the 1939 construction programme. It is desirable that I should say something about the strength of our capital ships. To-day we have 15 capital ships, of which three only are of post-war construction. It was our original intention;is we built new ships to replace the old ones, but we have made a recent 646 review of the situation and our decision is now influenced by two main considerations. In the first place, to retain old pre-war capital tonnage indefinitely is both uneconomical and unsound; on the other hand, to scrap capital tonnage that is capable of modernisation would be equally unwise.
Ships of the "Queen Elizabeth" class are capable of considerable improvement and much has been and is being done on them, not only in the way of modernisation, but in the way of reconstruction. The ships of the "Royal Sovereign" class, which were laid down in 1913–14, do not lend themselves in the same way to modernisation. By 1943 all of them will be over-age, and though they might give a good account of themselves now against existing ships, in the near future they would not compare favourably with the ships now building or projected. In these circumstances it has been decided to replace one capital ship of the "Royal Sovereign" class in 1942 by the last ship of the 1937 programme, that is, when five new capital ships have joined the Fleet, and to replace one more ship of the "Royal Sovereign" class in 1943 by the last ship of the 1938 programme. Our capital ship strength by the end of 1943 will be 21. Those ships which we intend to keep in the battle line for a number of years have been or are being reconstructed, and they will be much stronger and better protected. Their armament will have been modernised and their boilers and machinery renewed. I am glad to inform the House that the "Valiant" of the "Queen Elizabeth" class and the battle cruiser "Renown" will have been so modernised and will join the Fleet this year.
We usually talk about a ship in the feminine gender. We say, "She has lovely lines or curves," but a battleship though feminine, is of Amazonian beauty. These two projected in the 1939 programme, like the seven now building, are of immense strength and power. Even in a battleship like the "Nelson" the gun turret, with its 16-inch guns, is comparable in weight to a destroyer. It is just as if we picked up three destroyers and put them on the decks of a battleship in such a way that they could be moved about like weather vanes. To give some idea of the power of the 16-inch gun, it is as if I went into Palace Yard where the cars are parked, and picked up a car 647 of medium size weight and threw it with great precision at St. Albans and I could throw many of them a minute. I need hardly say that the guns of our modern battleships are superior in gun-power to the ships of the "Nelson" class.
The House will be pleased to notice that in the 1939 programme we include four trade protection cruisers of the "Fiji" class and one large aircraft carrier. The special need for smaller vessels, on which Parliament laid such emphasis last year, is met by the provision of two flotillas of destroyers and 20 escort vessels of a new type. These escort vessels will be about 900 tons displacement, of high speed and adequately armed against submarine and aircraft attack. This type can be constructed speedily, and we hope that delivery will start not later than May, 1940. These 20 vessels will be a welcome addition to those vessels that have been designed or adapted for the protection of shipping. We have at present 35 escort and patrol vessels. To this pool will be added 36 old destroyers and 16 older cruisers whose conversion for anti-aircraft work progressively proceeds. In addition, of course, there are a large number of anti-submarine vessels. I should like to give the House some idea of the productive effort involved in our rearmament programme.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
Would the hon. Gentleman mind telling me some of the characteristics of the new destroyers? Of what type are they to be?
§ Mr. Shakespeare
The first is to be of the L Class, and the second, which will be laid down later in the year, will be of a smaller type, but probably a new type. The immensity of our building progress can be realised if we add to the previous programmes the new 1939 programme. Our dockyards and shipyards in the course of the year will be engaged in constructing some 200 vessels, or a total of 870,000 tons. An achievement like this has never been approached before in peace-time. We shall be building, in the course of the year, nine battleships, six aircraft carriers, 25 cruisers, 43 destroyers, 19 submarines, and a large number of small vessels.
I have been reading in the Recess the pre-war Navy Estimate speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping 648 (Mr. Churchill), and let me assure him that those speeches stand the test of time. That was a period of tremendous building activity against a great naval Power, when our production was strained to the uttermost, and I was encouraged to find that occasionally my right hon. Friend, who was driving the programme along with his matchless energy, had to apologise for certain delays. How does production to-day compare with production then? The annual tonnage output in 1940 and 1941 will be greater by no less than 30 per cent, than the annual tonnage output in those three pre-war years, 1912–14. In "The World Crisis," my right hon. Friend referred to "the mightiest Fleet laid down in 1912–13 and 1914, the greatest ever built by any Power in an equal period." We shall complete on an average, in 1940–41, 220,000 tons a year, as compared with 170,000 tons, which was the average of those pre-war years.
But tonnage is not the only test. Everyone is aware of the increase in complexity of the modern warship, in electrical, signalling and wireless equipment, of its fuller protection and the heavier armament, with its more elaborate control systems, of the greater provision for health, and particularly the increased complexity due to the anti-aircraft armament and the anti-aircraft fire control gear. If we compare the two ships, the "King George V" of 1912 and the "King George V" of 1939, the latter recently launched by His Majesty the King, we shall find, as regards the cost of fire control gear, that whereas in the pre-war ship the cost was some £11,000, the cost in this post-war ship is £213,000. If we allow for the increase in wages and the cost of materials, the productive effort involved in gun armament and fire control in building the modern ship is three times as great; and if we compare the increase in the cost of guns and mountings and fire control gear for destroyers, prewar and post-war, we find that the productive effort is something like 6½ times as great as it was pre-war, comparing cost with cost and making the necessary adjustments
This, however, does not complete the picture of our tremendous rearmament work. Apart from the work on new construction, we have harnessed productive effort to secure the rearmament of the 649 existing Fleet, mainly directed to meet the increase in anti-aircraft armament by the fitting of more accurate systems of fire control. During the last three years the number of guns firing a shell of 2 lbs. and upwards has increased by 75 per cent. in the existing Fleet. Production is now running at the rate of 60 guns a month, and towards the end of the year production will reach over 80 guns a month. Productive effort of such immense proportions demands foresight, continuous preparation, and planning ahead to secure the development of wider sources of supply in advance of requirements. This has been the constant preoccupation of the skilled staff of the Admiralty, who, before the production could reach its maximum output, were faced with problems that can only be envisaged by those in the great Service Departments. During the steady period of rearmament some of the great armament firms had gone out of production, and capacity was at its lowest ebb. Worse still, there was an entirely inadequate supply of skilled labour for the many delicate and complicated processes which modern rearmament requires. All these difficulties have now been overcome, and great praise is due to the experts in the several departments concerned. I should like to pay them an ungrudging tribute. In some 40 cases, at a capital cost of £8,000,000, extensions have been made to premises and plant, and in hundreds of other cases firms at their own expense have modernised their plant.
The building of a warship, as my right hon. Friend knows, is both a science and an art, and great vigilance is required in order to marry harmoniously all items of production, such as guns, gun-mountings, fire control, armour, and machinery. In this connection the House, I know, will expect me to refer to the work of the late Controller, Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson, who, owing to sudden incapacity through illness, has been forced to retire. I am glad that a high honour has been bestowed upon him by His Majesty the King. In the last five years Admiral Henderson, as Controller, was primarily responsible for the construction of ships and the speeding-up of production. His work is known more particularly to those who have been associated with him, and it is difficult to speak of the loss caused to the Navy by his retirement. Though he has left the Board, his work goes on, 650 because the new ships now coming into commission will be living witnesses of his genius, vision, and organising capacity.
The House may rest assured that our armament capacity has been immeasurably increased. Perhaps I may be allowed in a few figures to give the results of three years' work as regard the increase in production. As regards the output of heavy guns, it has increased 20-fold, and of medium and light guns the increase has been five and eight times respectively. Gun mountings have increased in output five-fold, and fire-control gear has increased nine times. Indeed, we have created a new precision light engineering industry. Before we started there were only three firms in the country capable of making the complicated fire-control gear, but to-day there are 28 such firms. Ae regards productive capacity for armour production, it has increased ten-fold, and as regards the capacity for the production of mines, torpedoes, depth charges, shells, and fuses, this has also substantially increased, and when I tell the House that we have organised a supply of these commodities estimated to last the first full year of war, I am understating the case. The House, I hope, will agree with me that though our expenditure on rearmament has been heavy, it has led to a state of preparedness such as never existed even in 1914. I was interested, on reading lately Arthur Bryant's "Peyps," to find that Samuel Pepys had to budget for 30 battleships or "first and second and third raters," as they were then called, in 1677, and the total financial provision for which he asked was £600,000, for 30 ships, or, as compared with our money, perhaps £5,000,000. How immeasurably greater is the cost of the modern capital ship, but at the same time how much greater are our resources to bear the burden.
Since I had the duty of presenting the last Estimates there has been a number of changes on the Board of Admiralty. My right hon. Friend, under whose flag I served with such pleasure, has beaten his sword into a fountain pen, and I hope that, as my story unfolds, he will see the fruition of many of the problems in which he was actively engaged. His successor, my Noble Friend the First Lord, is a direct descendent of the first Lord Stanhope, who secured Minorca for 651 this country. The House will have noticed that my Noble Friend has recently taken a personal, paternal, and naval interest in that same island. The First Sea Lord, while he was such, Lord Chatfield, has now gone to a position of less freedom and greater responsibility, and the Navy is proud to have provided a Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. I think that the most brilliant recent example of the co-ordination of defence was provided in the record flight of the three R.A.F. bombers from Ismailia last November, when they started from that base on the Canal, which many of us know, defended as it is by the Army, and as they flew on that record 7,000-mile flight the pilots had the assurance of knowing that in the Arabian Sea there was one ship of the Royal Navy standing by, that in the Bay of Bengal there was one ship of the Royal Indian Navy standing by, and that in the Timor Sea there was one ship of the Royal Australian Navy standing by—a brilliant example of the co-ordination of defence.
Lord Chatfield has been succeeded by Admiral Sir Roger Backhouse, who, I believe, was Controller in the days when the right hon. Gentleman opposite was First Lord, and he will agree with me that Sir Roger is a man of exceptional gifts and that his long experience of the Service has given the Navy complete confidence in him. Indeed, this country is very fortunate in producing the right men for the right jobs at the right time.
There are indications that in recent years the people of this country have realised anew how vital a strong Navy is both for the safety of this realm and for the security of the Empire. When British interests are threatened in any part of the world the Navy comes to the rescue. But, more than that, the normal naval routine on the great oceans of the world furthers the general welfare of mankind. For what country or for what Empire in the past could that have been claimed? One cannot read about the work of protection or mercy of the British Navy in China, in Chile, or in Spain without realising that our sailors are emissaries of peace and British civilisation wherever they go. I had the good fortune last year to accompany a destroyer engaged on the Nyon patrols, and during several hours stay at Valencia I was proud 652 to notice the respect in which the British Naval uniform was held. I was delighted to find, in a small toy-shop, set out on the counter models of well known ships of the British Navy, the only models of any navy they had in stock. To the Spanish people these heavily-armed ships represent not only the might of Britain, but they symbolise something far greater—the qualities of British tolerance, humanity and sense of fair play. To scores of thousands of Spanish people on both sides in the conflict these ships have in very fact been a refuge in distress. It will interest hon. Members to learn that 27,000 refugees, of 55 different nationalities, have been evacuated in British warships from Spain, and not far short of 100,000 Spaniards on both sides have been taken to places of safety by the British Navy.
The influence of sea power has been the constant theme of innumerable writers. It had always been held until the advent of air power that as long as the Navy could keep open the trade routes of the world, so long was our national safety secure. No one will dispute the contention that the menace of the air has introduced new problems of defence. Unless defensive steps were taken, attacking squadrons from the air would deal devastation and destruction to our cities and towns, and might paralyse the machinery of modern civilisation. But no experience gained in any theatre of war makes one believe that air attack by itself can terrify a nation into submission. Indeed, the evidence is the other way. The terror of air attack seems to steel the national will and make a country fight on with a grimmer determination. If we failed to intercept enemy aircraft, anti-aircraft guns, gas masks and shelters would still be a formidable obstacle to the wholesale destruction of life and property, and if the worst came to the worst, only a proportion of the population would suffer. If, however, we lost command of the sea we all of us would starve, and there is no second line of defence. The House is right, therefore to ask whether the Navy is equipped to deal with the potential menaces that threaten us or that would threaten us in the case of emergency.
What are the dangers to our naval supremacy? They are three-fold. First, there is the direct danger of Fleet action; 653 secondly, the menace of the submarine; and, thirdly, the new danger of air attack of such a nature as to prevent the Navy functioning. Let me deal briefly with these three potential dangers. First, in regard to Fleet action, I need not say more than that we believe our Navy is so strong to-day that it can confidently accept a direct challenge in battle from any combination of foes, and our building programme is of such immense proportions that in a few years time our relative strengths will not have diminished.
The second menace, that of the submarine, is one with which I should like to deal fully. We often read in the Press that because this Power or that Power has built or is building more submarines, our Navy will be far less able to ensure our safety. So thick has been the veil of secrecy spread over the whole question of submarine and anti-submarine work, that I think it is time for a spokesman from the Admiralty to speak out frankly and to remove the veil. With the permission of the House I should like to give the reason that convinced me, and I hope will convince hon. Members, that in any future emergency the menace of the submarine will not be as serious as it was in the last War. Let hon. Members note that this form of attack only gave cause for anxiety up to the time when the convoy system was introduced in July, 1917. If one looks at the sinkings of British and foreign merchant ships of 500 tons and over in home waters, one finds that in the first quarter of 1917 the number of sinkings was 324, whereas for the quarter ending October, 1918, the number had fallen to 87. If we take the Summer of 1917 to the end of the War, on the Atlantic route, one finds that out of 16,500 vessels that were convoyed, out and in, only 102, or.6 per cent, were sunk when in convoy.
When I assure hon. Members that, as a result of over two years close co-operation between the Admiralty, the Board of Trade and the shipping industry, we shall be ready to institute a system of convoy soon after the outbreak of war on any route where it is considered necessary, I am simply stating a fact which the Merchant Service knows. The method of convoy, all the arrangements and equipment for the convoy and the training of personnel have been examined in great detail and preparations are well 654 advanced. We have now in stock sufficient anti-submarine guns to meet all expected requirements. At this moment over 2,000 anti-submarine guns can be made available for the Merchant Service, and further large numbers, together with the mountings of the guns, are ready, and can be added within a reasonable time.
§ Mr. Churchill
Does the hon. Member mean guns to fire at submarines, when the submarine is on the surface?
§ Mr. Shakespeare
Yes. The process of stiffening the decks of merchant ships to carry guns is not a lengthy process, but we have not been content to wait until the emergency is upon us. This process of stiffening ships to take defensive armaments was started in 1937, and it requires the close co-operation of the shipowners, because it can only be done as the ships are available for it. I anticipate that by the end of the year just under 1,000 merchant ships will have been so stiffened. As regards the training of personnel, the work is well advanced. Over 9,000 officers of the Merchant Navy have gone through their convoy and gunnery courses. Courses for seamen are being continued this year.
Everyone knows that at the outbreak of war the Navy takes over directly all manner of ships for anti-submarine work. These vessels have been earmarked, and the appropriate armament and equipment for them is in stock. If science had stood still, if there had been no new developments in submarine warfare the system of convoy on the outbreak of war would, by itself, enable the Navy to deal with the menace of the submarine, but science has not stood still. I cannot, of course, reveal the nature and extent of our progress in this respect, but I can say that I believe our methods of hunting, detecting and killing submarines are more advanced than the methods of any other country.
I should like to give hon. Members the result of my own experience on this question. I am by nature a very suspicious person. I was taught by a great professor of chemistry at my university, one of the greatest scientists of any age. He started his lectures in Part II of the Science tripos by looking at a little envelope on which he had the notes for the whole of the term, and said: "Gentlemen, you will now consider that everything you have hitherto learnt is inaccurate, 655 and you will re-examine with me the basis of all your beliefs." I hope the House will forgive that premise. It is in that spirit that I try to approach every problem. I have taken part in submarine hunting, and lest in case the scientists were taking advantage of the gullibility of the layman, I imposed certain tests to satisfy myself as to the bona fides of the system. I can truly say that in nine cases out of 10, without any doubt, the exact position of the unknown submerged submarine was located. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping has undergone a similar experience, and if I have exaggerated in any way, I hope in the course of the Debate he will contradict me.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
The Admiralty do not claim that under all conditions the method is infallible. Failures will occur under certain conditions, especially with inexperienced crews, as experience shows, but the proved success of a system of convoy and the development of scientific methods of detection put us in a better position to deal with the menace of the submarine. That does not mean that we can relax our efforts to create a large pool of antisubmarine vessels. Hon. Members may recall that in January, 1938, we announced that any submarine found submerged on certain routes on the coast of Spain would be sunk. This may have sounded an audacious statement to make, but let the House note that no case of piracy occurred thereafter. I leave hon. Members to draw their own deductions.
The third menace is the menace of the air. The Admiralty have given long thought and deliberation to this problem. The right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), who will follow me, made many contributions to the welfare and the strength of the Navy, and as the Navy is no party business I gladly pay this tribute to him. He was engaged on this same problem, and I think he will agree with what I say. I should like to discuss the question of the vulnerability of our ships against air attack. A great deal of thought has been given by a great number of men to this problem. Our modern ships can produce a volume of defensive fire, both long range and short range, of such a nature that will drive aircraft to such a height that the efficiency 656 and accuracy of their attacking weapons will be seriously impaired. Such evidence as we have got from Spain is not conclusive. It is one thing to come down within 100 or 200 feet of a ship which has no anti-aircraft armaments and drop a bomb and hit it, but it is quite another thing to dive down into the inferno of fire from a ship bristling with anti-aircraft guns. To attempt to bomb a defensively armed warship is not easy. Tests in peacetime as to the probable number of hits by attacking aircraft in war time are, therefore apt to be illusory.
The policy of the Board of Admiralty has been to concentrate upon modern anti-aircraft guns. Already I have referred to the fact that the anti-aircraft guns in the Fleet have increased by 75 per cent. In addition, low-angle guns are being adapted for high-angle work. More accurate systems of fire control are being introduced and special staff, solely engaged in research into the development of better methods of control and direction, are working almost day and night. The whole science of long-range anti-aircraft gunnery is being transformed by these methods, and the improvement in the short-range gunnery becomes apparent as the training facilities improve. Last year we had only one anti-aircraft school of training in the Navy. A second one was opened in the course of the year, and a third one will be opened, I think, next month.
Let me dispel one fallacy in the mind of the uninitiated. Some people think that an aircraft has only to drop a bomb on a capital ship and the ship will sink. Hon. Members will observe the size of this debating Chamber, including the spaces over all the galleries. Then let them imagine a volume in space 200 times greater than the volume of this Chamber. That will be the volume of fire created by the anti-aircraft guns of a modern battleship, a deadly region into which an aircraft could not enter without a high probability of its destruction. But the battleship designer has assumed that the pilot will disregard this storm of shot and shell and will continue calmly to estimate his own movement and the movement of the ship. It must not be forgotten, moreover, that in the case of an aeroplane flying at 10,000 feet the point at which the bomb is released is two miles away. But this point is known not only to the pilot who drops the bomb but to 657 the gunners in the ship. Further, from 10,000 feet the bomb will take, perhaps, half a minute to fall, and the target ship may be altering course. Nevertheless, the designer has assumed that, in spite of all these difficulties, one or more hits, against which he must provide, will be registered on the ship. It is known from experiment how much armour is necessary to keep out bombs dropped from the greatest height, and allowance can be made for developments in bombing technique.
How is it possible to give such a measure of protection? The naval Members of the House will agree with me when I say that, as regards the Navy, the gun is and remains the weapon of precision, and is an easy winner in its capacity for doing damage. Protection against plunging shell fire is the primary consideration of the designer, and if he has secured protection against plunging shell fire, he has secured protection against aerial attack. In a long-range action a shell reaches an elevation higher than the height of a bombing aeroplane. From that height the shell starts to descend, but with this difference as compared with the fall of a bomb, that whereas a bomb drops with the force communicated to it by gravity, and for all practical purposes with no more than the speed communicated by gravity, the 16-inch shell drops not only with the force communicated by gravity but with the effect of the remaining force left over from the velocity imparted to it by the gun which fired it. Therefore, the shell will strike a ship with two or three times the kinetic energy or smashing power of the bomb. If the designer has provided sufficient protection against plunging shell fire, he has provided sufficient protection against the bomb.
The other weapons against which a capital ship has to protect itself are torpedoes, discharged from the air or otherwise, and mines. Improved systems of under-water protection have been worked out to prevent the torpedo or mine inflicting a vital blow or causing such damage that the ship cannot stay in action. These are the outcome not only of the experience of the last War but of the most exhaustive tests carried out since.
I have not included in this part of the speech the material assistance which the Fleet Air Arm or the Royal Air Force 658 can render. Just as convoys are the best system of protecting merchant ships against the submarine menace, so we believe that the convoying of merchant ships will be the best method of protecting them against aircraft attack. Quite clearly as convoys approach our coast careful collaboration with the Royal Air Force will have to be arranged and, indeed, has been arranged. I have only two observations to make in considering the air threat to our Naval strength. If every part of the British Empire were as defensively armed against attack as a modern capital ship, the problem of A.R.P. would indeed be solved. I have given some study to this question, and I say that if you ask me whether I would rather be in a battleship which is being attacked by an aircraft or be in an aircraft which is attacking a battleship, I should prefer every time to be in the battleship.
The House will wish me to say something briefly about the progress of the Fleet Air Arm. I have seen criticisms of the slowness with which we are taking over control, but it was never intended that this transference should be hurried, lest efficiency should be impaired. It is no secret that under the old regime the Fleet Air Arm was the most backward part of the naval Service. I make no attacks upon those who think that duality of control has, in common experience, an enervating effect. Just as children who are boarded-out languish for the love of their fond parents, so it was with the Fleet Air Arm until, by the judgment of Solomon, it was handed back to its rightful parents. It is now a better colour and is putting on weight, and there is no malnutrition. In 1937, under the old regime, the Air Ministry was responsible for the balance of flying personnel not provided by the Navy, for all aircraft, for all equipment and stores, for all training, initial or specialized, and for the entire maintenance work either as regards aircraft on shore or those in the aircraft carriers. The Navy had no technical officers and no craftsmen who could tend either the air frames or the air engines.
To show the progress which has been made, I will give the position as it is today, or as it will be in the very near future. The Navy will have taken over all first-line aircraft, with the immediate reserve and aircraft required for specialised naval training. The Navy 659 now provides 57 per cent. of the personnel The total personnel in the Fleet Air Arm has risen from 3,000 in 1937 to 6,000 to-day. That includes those under training. A new Air Branch has been formed for short service officers, and by the end of the month some 300 will be under training. I had the chance of visiting the second batch of these short-service officers during the Recess, and I was much impressed by their keenness. Taking the training of flying personnel as a test of progress, in the year ending 1937 only 50 officers and 48 men received flying training. In the year just ended 507 officers and 206 men will have been trained.
Although the Royal Air Force is still responsible, on an agency basis, for the maintenance work of the Fleet Air Arm, the Admiralty have begun to assume responsibility, in that we have now under training 1,300 naval aircraftmen, of whom 700 come from civil life. This deficiency in craftsmen for maintenance work must govern the assumption of responsibility and will dictate the rate of expansion of the Fleet Air Arm. It is proposed to construct an air dockyard. In the near future we hope to take over from the Air Ministry four air stations at Worthy Down, Donibristle, Ford and Lee-on-Solent, and others, probably, at Eastleigh and Lympne, later in the year. A rear-admiral at Lee-on-Solent will be responsible for the administration of these air stations and for carrying out the training of the Fleet Air Arm, including specialised training.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
No, other stations will be needed, and we are pursuing that matter. The Navy will, in the course of the year, take over the custody of stores. A special depot has been constructed and a second one is under construction. Contracts have been placed for the aircraft for six new carriers and production is in full swing. It will interest the House to learn that the bulk delivery of several new types of aircraft starts this year. A new fighter, the Skua, has undergone successful trials and the first squadron will be embarked in the "Ark Royal" on her return from the Mediterranean.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
They are being ordered through the Air Ministry. A second fighter about to undergo trials is the Roc. A third fighter has been ordered and delivery starts towards the end of the year. The main torpedo squadron aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm is the Sword-fish, a very reliable type but an older type, and that is being reinforced by a new T.S.R. aircraft, the Albacore, of which deliveries start in August, and orders for a new T.S.R. type to supersede the Albacore have been placed. To show the progress which has been made, Vote 4, under which we made a capital grant to the Air Ministry for services rendered, disappears altogether this year from the Navy Estimates, and the expenditure upon the Fleet Air Arm is spread over a number of Votes. The charge for the Fleet Air Arm in the Navy Votes is estimated at £11,750,000, as compared with £5,250,000 last year.
I hope, therefore, that I have justified my claim that the puny child has started to put on weight. In 1942 we shall not suffer in comparison with the Fleet Air Arm of any other country. By then the personnel will have reached 10,000 and the aircraft will be of the latest. Indeed, in 1942 we shall be no weaker than the Royal Air Force was 10 years ago. Our naval strength has gained substantially by increase in the scope and range of reconnaissance and in the speed and accuracy of manoeuvre of the Fleet, and by a greater and more rapid power of striking.
The last question to which I want briefly to refer relates to personnel. I had intended to refer to the mobilisation of the Fleet last September, but it will be easier to speak about that on the Amendment to be moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chertsey (Commander Marsden). Later I shall have to move a Supplementary Estimate to provide for £1,176,000 in respect of charges for the September crisis. Of that sum, over £750,000 was expenditure that would have been incurred in any case. The cost, therefore, of the mobilisation in the crisis and of later events arising out of the crisis was just under £1,000,000. Perhaps the House will appreciate the following story in relation to the mobilisation. Telegrams went to all doctors of the various 661 reserves, and one such telegram went to a doctor who belonged to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He lived in a well-known seaside town. Unfortunately, the telegram was delivered to the wrong doctor who bore the same name; but was he daunted? No. He threw up his practice, because he thought something big was on and joined the draft, and he was found in the North of Scotland. The only comment I make is that if the spirit outside the Reserve is as good as that, what must be the spirit inside the Reserve?
As regards personnel, we had a record for last year. No fewer than 18,000 officers and men joined the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. We actually had 70,000 applications to join the Navy, and we took the best of the applicants. That just shows how popular naval service still is. The total numbers under Vote A have risen from 112,000 in March last year to 121,000 to-day. That is, to 2,000 in excess of the authorised figure. That is due to the expansion of the Fleet Air Arm. We propose for 1939 a bearing of 133,000, which will mean recruiting 19,000 officers and men. Recruiting always improves after one of the normal leave periods, because the sailor is proud of the Service he has chosen for his career, and he himself is the best recruiting officer.
There is a shortage in the artificer branch, but artificer apprentices are being trained in the Navy to provide our requirements in four or five years' time. Until then, trained craftsmen are required. The intake in 1937 was 418 and in the current year it has been 435 direct from industry. That rate is insufficient. We want at least 700 trained artificers a year. With the co-operation of the Ministry of Labour an appeal has been made to engineering firms to bring to the notice of their employés the special needs of the Navy in this respect. Entrants come in as petty officers if they are over 21 years of age, and will get 56s. a week, plus lodging and food. When married at 25, they will get 17s. extra. It is too early to say what the response will be to our appeal, but we have the good will of the employers and of the trade unions concerned.
I will touch only very briefly on the changes that affected the personnel last year. Several concessions were granted in the marriage allowance scheme and materially improved that scheme for naval 662 officers. The popularity of that scheme may be judged by the fact that practically the whole of the married men and officers of the Navy who were eligible opted to come in. The known advantages of the scheme outweighed the unknown hazards of the matrimonial bond. In the course of the year we have abolished half-pay for all officers up to the rank of Captain R.N. and Colonel R.M. We have improved the regulations governing the pay and retirement of Flag officers.
As regards ratings, there has been a steady improvement in the standard of life and of amenities. Increased marriage allowance has removed a burden from them and their homes. The increase in the pay of the Special Service Ratings has been appreciated. We have revised the non-substantive rates in regard to gunnery, torpedo and other branches so that skilled men can qualify for higher grades and earn more money. We have increased the messing allowance for standard ration ships. As to promotion, a keen rating can become a petty officer in two or three years, and at the age of 25 or 26 may qualify for warrant rank. One item that the Navy and the House appreciate is the formation of the Royal Naval Film Corporation, under the gracious patronage of His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent. We believe that it will be a great success, and will enable the majority of sailors afloat to enjoy up-to-date films at very moderate charge.
The morale of the Fleet is as high as ever. To meet sailors, whether officers or men, as I am privileged to do by virtue of my office on my all too infrequent visits to the Fleet, is a delightful experience, and is also an inspiration. I know of no body of men who have such a pride in their Service and have such a sense of personal discipline and duty. We who are in temporary charge of their well-being must do all we can for them.
We are taking steps to get an adequate number of executive officers for the needs of the expanding Fleet. To provide our immediate requirements we are adopting five methods. In the first place, it is only right that we should seek to reward men within the Service itself, starting from the lower deck. We select younger warrant officers below the age of 36 for direct promotion to lieutenant rank. We hope to secure 50 suitable candidates in the 663 next few years. We hope that the greatly improved system of promotion on the lower deck which was instituted two years ago will result in an increased supply from this source. At present 43 ratings are undergoing professional and educational instruction in two battleships, with facilities comparable to those enjoyed by cadets. Thirdly, it is hoped during the year to choose 50 officers from the Merchant Service, whether they are members of the Royal Naval Reserve or not. Fourthly, we are appointing for three years young naval officers up to the age of 40 who have been placed on the retired list. Lastly, we are giving to volunteers of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and of the Royal Naval Volunteer Special Reserve opportunities for service for three years with the Royal Navy as executive officers. We hope to be able to take 50 candidates from those sources in the next few years.
I have finished my survey. The Service I represent has an incomparable tradition. The history of Britain and the Empire is a story of centuries of sea fights until finally naval supremacy was won, but though tradition is an inspiring thing it is dangerous. It is inspiring if it acts and goads like a spur, and it is dangerous if it lulls like a soporific. How often have I heard in recent months that the Navy is all right: the Navy will not be all right unless we make it right and keep it so. The very universality of the trust imposed in us lays upon us a tremendous responsibility to see that such trust is justified. I have tried to impart my own faith in the Navy to the House and to the country. It is upon the foundations of centuries of tradition that we are trying to build a new and modern edifice, tested by science, to face the menaces of a modern age.
I come from a county which is rich in naval tradition and produced perhaps the greatest sea captain of them all in Nelson. I wonder whether Members recall the letter that Nelson wrote when he was a young sea captain of the age of 21. He wrote from the West Indies to a friend of his in the Admiralty asking him to find employment for an old servant, and he concluded with a sentiment that in anyone would have been arrogant, but in him was the manifestation of a passionate desire to serve his country. He concluded: 664My interest at home you know is next to nothing, the name of Nelson being little known. It may be different one of these days. A good chance only is wanting to make it so.That is the spirit that actuates the Navy to-day.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander
In spite of the fortuitous circumstances in which the Parliamentary Secretary has had to present the Navy Estimates, I am sure hon. Members who have listened to his necessarily long statement will agree that it has not lost in any way from the absence from this House of the First Lord of the Admiralty, especially in the method and the manner of its presentation. The hon. Gentleman has given a very careful, picturesque and humourous presentation of his case, and the only way in which we can be said to suffer from the First Lord not being a Member of the House of Commons is that the Parliamentary Secretary is necessarily unable to present his case in the atmosphere and with the Cabinet authority that characterised the way in which these matters were approached by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in the dangerous times before the War.
Except for one short reference in his speech to the fact that the Fleet was coming to a strength capable of standing against any combination, no real-explanation has been given to the House to-day of the major plan of the Board of Admiralty in building up the Fleet, the exact strength against which it has to be built up, and the real basis of the strategy. The Parliamentary Secretary said that he had been reading the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping before the War. I used to read them when I had to meet the right hon. Gentleman in Debate over the Naval Agreements in 1929 and 1930, so I know them pretty well. In the kind of atmosphere that existed from 1911 to 1914, the House of Commons never hesitated to discuss quite freely the major problem of the particular arm of defence which it had to meet, and to examine it from the point of view of whether we were really meeting the situation.
I must say that the picture drawn by the Parliamentary Secretary of the present condition of the British Fleet is encourag- 665 ing. In spite of his warning about trusting too much to tradition, some of us who know the Admiralty and the Navy never thought we should have complaints to make about the condition of the Fleet, but the account he has given of the progress in building, in armament, and even in personnel, must be said to be encouraging. In the light, however, of the circumstances of the world to-day, I do not think that that is sufficient. We must not expect the Royal Navy, as a navy, to be able to face any kind of conditions to which the policy of a Government may bring it unless that Government can put before the advisers and leaders of the Navy the actual nature of the problem they have to meet. Our view here, and I think it must be the view of many Members in different parts of the House, is that the Royal Navy to-day, rapidly expanding as it is, is likely to be faced with a series of problems, through no fault of those who have been the leaders and professional advisers of the Navy, but as a result of political policy, which constitute a task of a major kind such as perhaps the Navy has never before had to meet. I do not think we shall be right in our examination of the naval situation to-day if we do not keep that in mind.
The Parliamentary Secretary says that he thinks the growth of the strength of the Navy to-day is such that it is capable of dealing with any combination of Powers against it. Do not let us be mealy-mouthed about the combination of Powers; let us examine it, and see what the proportion really is. There can be no doubt at all that our expansion of naval armament to-day has to take into account, in the main, attacks from three sources, in all probability simultaneously. In other words, the Royal Navy has to be prepared against the threat of the Axis Powers, Germany, Italy and Japan. I do not think the Board of Admiralty ought to have the case which they have to meet put on any different basis to the House of Commons. What is the problem? I know that Members like the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) are inclined to think that in the past we have allowed our naval and military strength to drop below what they consider to be a safe level, but the answer on that point has always been in the past that it is a question of relativity in strength, and not a question of absolute 666 strength. We have now to face the situation into which we have drifted as a result of political policy, or lack of political policy, and we have to face this possibility of naval attack from the three Axis Powers.
Let me say, in the first place, that I think it was a very grave mistake of judgment to tie ourselves to the conditions of the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1931. The events which are going ahead now seem to bear out that view. The Parliamentary Secretary spoke with some pride about the expansion of the capital ship section of the Fleet, but we have to consider what the Anglo-German Naval Treaty permitted in the way of building on the capital ship side, and the fact that, leaving out the submarine categories for the moment, Germany may build 35 per cent, of our capital ship tonnage as we expand. We must include in the German capital ship strength the three "pocket" battle cruisers, which, although of only 10,000 tons each, are of a characteristic type with 11-inch guns, much too heavy to be met by cruisers, very fast, not to be caught by any of the ordinary line-of-battleships, and therefore only to be masked effectively by battle cruisers of the type that we have in the "Hood," the "Repulse" and the "Renown." Therefore, we have to set aside right away that number of capital ships. In the case of the Italian Navy, you have four old battleships, partly modernised, and four battleships being built. I suppose that, if the usual wisdom is being exercised at the Admiralty, and if conversations are taking place between the British and French naval staffs, there will be needed some stiffening of the French naval force in the Mediterranean by British forces, and we have to set aside, therefore, some of our capital ships for the Mediterranean.
Then we have to consider the Far East, and to think of the possibility of simultaneous attack. What a situation for the Royal Navy in the Far East—not because in the past few years we have had to face the different Naval Powers at reduced levels of strength, but because of political policy and drift from the principles of collective security. In 1931 the foreign policy of the Government led us there, and now we have to face the fact that there is not a port on the sea-board from Vladivostok to French Indo-China 667 that is not under the control of the Japanese Fleet and the Japanese power. In an area in which we have always been strongly represented from the naval point of view, and where we still have a very strong squadron under a Vice-Admiral Commanding-in-Chief, and a Rear-Admiral specially charged with looking after British commerce on that great inland waterway, the Yangtse, we now see our Rear-Admiral practically ordered off, no British man-of-war allowed up the river, British trade at an end, and not one of the dozens of bottoms under the British flag allowed to trade in that immense waterway. We see Hong Kong, a very important though very distant Far Eastern naval base, with its little supporting colonial base of territory on the mainland, completely surrounded, owing to the invasion of the South of China by Japanese forces.
That is a very serious position, and it means, to people like myself who think about it, not because we may be experts, but simply because we have had to look in the past at the general political and strategical conditions, that we shall have to decide, and the House ought to face up to it, whether, having regard to the kind of crises which have been launched upon Europe on two occasions in the last six months, and which may at any time lead to another crisis in which the Far Eastern situation is drawn in in such a way as to affect us—we shall have to decide whether we are going to defend or whether we are going to evacuate Hong Kong, and what is to be the general basis of our Far Eastern strategy in those circumstances.
It is fairly clear, with all the growth of the defensive strength of Singapore, that, as we on this side have always argued in previous discussions about Singapore, we cannot maintain our position even to keep Singapore unless we can have a battle fleet that can defend itself successfully and defend the naval base in those waters. Therefore, although I am impressed and pleased by the account which the Parliamentary Secretary has given to-day of the growth and expansion of the Fleet and its armaments, I must say I think we are entitled to put it to the House that the foreign policy of the Government has led us to a position in which the Royal Navy has to face a series of strategical facts and 668 dangers which it ought never to have had to face, and which may mean that even the enormous expenditure which the House is asked to pass to-day in this first stage of the Navy Estimates may not be sufficient to bring us that reasonable naval security which is so vital to us. We agree with the Parliamentary Secretary as to the vital necessity of a strong Fleet. It has been no special prerogative of the party opposite to believe in the value of the Navy. It was put very forcibly, at the time of our naval discussions in 1929, by the Labour Prime Minister when he said, "The sea is us." It is only necessary to cite the experience of the Spanish National Government—the true National Government of Spain—in the last two and a half years, to prove to anybody the vital necessity for the retention of sea power where any nation is in need of a considerable part of its requirements in food and raw material from overseas.
That brings me to the next part of the case I want to put with regard to naval strategy. The most dangerous part of the Anglo-German Naval Treaty to us to-day is the escape clause on submarine power, under which it was left to the German Government to decide with regard to submarines. To-day that claim is being exercised rapidly by the Germans to build up to 100 per cent. of the British submarine tonnage. I calculate in round figures that at the moment we have built and building something over 70,000 tons of submarines in the British Fleet. Germany, up to a month or two ago, had about 32,000 tons built, but a large portion of that tonnage is of the small type of Mosquito submarines, and therefore there is a considerable number of vessels. That leaves Germany free under the Treaty to build something like another 40,000 tons of submarines. Having regard to the present strategical position, I think it would not require much imagination to suggest that, instead of confining their attention to the building of a large type of submarine of from 1,000 to 2,000 tons, of large range and endurance, they would satisfy themselves with building a small number of that type and a large number of the Mosquito type.
This country is going to be faced with a strategical danger that it would not have been faced with if it had been allowed to follow a decent foreign and diplomatic policy.
669 There was the extraordinary procedure adopted in regard to the struggle in Spain, which leaves us in the most vitally exposed position. Who has any doubt at all as to the increase of the danger to the British life-line as a result of that? We have only to read the regular reports of the foreign correspondents in the newspapers to see that the Canary Islands, Cadiz, Vigo and Ferrol, one of the most difficult naval harbours in which to attack submarines, have been regularly visited right through the Spanish struggle by German submarines. I believe the Admiralty know it. You do not need a very elaborate calculation to show that a German submarine fleet could seriously interfere with our shipping from these Spanish ports. Working from these ports, they need to be of only comparatively short range and endurance to get right across our sea routes. They are a tremendous potential menace to our position. That is why I felt very gravely alarmed about the lack of any destroyer building in last year's programme. I was by no means the only Member of the House who suggested last year that we should have had no holiday in destroyer building.
If we are going to get this simultaneous attack from the three Axis Powers, we shall also have to reckon with the submarine potentialities of the Italians. I enjoyed the light touch of the Parliamentary Secretary with regard to Minorca. I was glad to know that the First Lord had such traditional and genealogical connections with that famous island, but when he "talked about taking a parental interest in it I was not so sure of the humour of it, because handing it over, with the aid of the British ship "Devonshire," hardly seemed to me to be helpful to solving the problems that the Royal Navy has to meet. The Balearics are to be used, undoubtedly, as an Italian submarine base, as they were used for piratical attacks on British ships before the Nyon Agreement. Italy, probably, will have the largest submarine fleet in the world. I have not a great admiration for the Italian fleet, but in the last War it was those who handled the small vessels who showed the most naval ability of the Italians. We cannot ignore them in view of the fact that we must have anti-submarine defences in the Far East as well, where there will be at least 60 submarines to be taken into account. It is in the light of these new 670 strategical dangers, which have to be faced because of the Government's foreign policy, that I ask the House to consider whether all is as well with the British Navy in the next year or two as we might otherwise have been led to believe by the very able speech of the Parliamentary Secretary.
I should like a few special things to be considered. In the first place, I gather, from the Parliamentary Secretary's reference to the destroyers which have been laid down this year, that at least another flotilla is to be of the large fleet type; the other is to be of the smaller type not yet fixed. I should have thought it would have been far better for us to have concentrated for a year or two on smaller and less expensive vessels of the fastest kind we could provide. We ought to have destroyers with the necessary speed to deal with the growing submarine menace. I welcome the provision for 20 escort vessels, but I have not the same confidence in the new kind, which are supposed to be very fast but also very expensive. I estimate they will cost not less than £400,000 each. I repeat what I said last year, that surely it is possible, for the new kind of submarine menace we have to meet, to produce plenty of flotillas of smaller vessels at a very much cheaper price.
With this changed situation in the control of the Spanish ports, we have to make much better preparation on our western coast for the maintenance of light flotillas for anti-submarine work. No one will ever forget the epic story of the Great War provided by the Harwich flotilla. When you consider the increased menace on the west and the increased danger to any dockyards in the east from the new forms of air attack, surely it is time for the Government to reconsider their policy with regard to dockyards such as Pembroke. I know there are difficulties about the maintenance and development of a dockyard at Pembroke. I suppose the one that would appeal most to hon. Members on these benches would be the suggestion that it is a very difficult port on which to base a dockyard from the point of view of welfare of the personnel of the Fleet. But we have been brought to such a position of danger by the policy of the Government in Europe that the first consideration is the safety of the country. With the agreement that the Government have signed with Eire, in which we have certainly no 671 legal treaty right to the use of Queenstown and Lough Swilly, it seems to me that if we are to be able to get handy maintenance of light flotillas within reasonable and easy reach of the point of expected contact with the submarine menace, we have to prepare for a western base just as efficient as that which we had in the Great War.
I have sheets of notes at which I have not yet looked, but I recognise that the Parliamentary Secretary has had to speak for over an hour in presenting Estimates on a grand scale. He has faced a House in which there are three or four ex-First Lords and gallant Admirals and one Admiral of the Fleet, and all want to address the House, I have no doubt. Therefore, great sacrifice though it may be, there are many parts of the speech that I prepared that I think I ought, in fairness, to leave out. But there are one or two things to which I would refer. First, there is general finance. We are to spend £149,000,000. I noticed in the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary that of that £149,000,000, £61,000,000 is the proportion to be spent on shipbuilding, engineering and engineering reserve; so one is able to say that we are to spend, roughly, £88,000,000 on maintenance generally of the Fleet. As we have not yet reached the peak point of the Fleet expansion or its increased personnel, it seems to me fairly reasonable to estimate that, within, say, three years, we shall have to provide at least £110,000,000 a year in maintenance, not including the building programmes at all; and when one adds to that figure the maintenance figure already laid before the House for the Air Force and Army, one finds that we are getting very rapidly to the point forecast by the Prime Minister, when, not for building and expanding the capital side of our services but for maintenance, we shall be unable to find out of taxation revenue all that is needed.
That is a very serious situation, and it brings us back to the point raised last night in the Debate. If the Government have completely lost faith in the system of collective security through the League of Nations, they might have had the foresight to return to such a measure of the balance of power as any wise statesman would have adopted before the League was thought of. We ought to collaborate with all nations which are faced with the 672 problems that face us, and pool our resources, rather than that we should be in a position where we should have to stand at any time by ourselves against attack from any quarter of the world. Along that road lies disaster, not only possibly to our security but also in the financial sense.
The last matter to which I will refer is the question of personnel. I am sure that hon. Friends of mine will make reference to the details. We are very glad that the warrant officer is coming into his own in these Estimates, and is to be given chances of promotion to the commissioned rank withheld from him far too long. I feel a little jealous that the First Lord should have so much money to spend and be able to do so much, if he will, for the personnel, as he can do in a time like this. This is a most valuable precedent in the expanding of the facilities for raising to real commissioned rank of serving warrant officers, and I hope that it will be successful. We are not satisfied with the rate of progress in finding commissioned officers from the lower deck—not by any means. I see from the White Paper, that there were 17 out of 31 men who were able to obtain the special schooling and training afloat last year, and we are putting 42 afloat for training this year. That is not sufficient in a Fleet which is very soon to have a personnel of 160,000 or 165,000. That is not doing the job properly. I am not persuaded that the Admiralty is doing as well as it might in regard to promotions from the lower deck.
I welcome the references to the improvement in pay to officers and warrant officers by way of marriage allowances, but I should like something more to be done for men of the lower deck, and, in particular, I put in a plea that the Admiralty should consider an improvement in the marriage allowances for ratings under 25. Men have written to me. I have a letter from one of my constituents. A man of 25 may have other commitments in addition to providing for his wife. He may want to help a widowed mother and he is put in a serious position from that point of view, unless there is greater provision made by way of marriage allowances, and I hope, therefore, attention will be given to that matter as well. When we come to the Report stage we may ask some questions about the checks which are being made upon profits.
673 I have sacrificed the rest of what I had intended to say, and will conclude by saying that I am pleased to hear of the progress that is being made, but I hope that before this Debate ends, we shall be given a much better picture of the plans to which the Admiralty is building, and a much better presentation of the strategical considerations than we now have to bear in mind, and, in the light of those strategical considerations, what collaboration we may have with other Powers who may have to face the same dangers.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
It was a great opportunity for the Fnancial Secretary, both last year and this year, to have to make the general statement on behalf of the Admiralty and to present the Estimates to the House. I believe that every one feels that he has seized this opportunity with a long arm and a firm hand, and has put it to the best possible use. I should like to associate myself with the tribute which he paid to Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson. Those of us who know that officer—and I knew him when he was gunnery lieutenant doing the gunnery trials of the ships when we were building before the Great War—will realise the rare and remarkable qualities which he brought to the service of the Royal Navy. He has expended his energy, his life, his thought, his mental energy, an attribute which is rare nowadays, in the most generous manner, and if he has been stricken down by an affliction, which we all hope is only temporary, he is in exactly the same position as a brave officer who is wounded fighting for his country in action.
§ Sir Arthur Salter
Would the right hon. Gentleman make reference to his vital contribution to the convoy system?
§ Mr. Churchill
It is well known that at the most critical period of the War this officer, then in a subordinate station, taking his career in his hands, presented facts and figures and arguments which eventually reached the highest authority—the Prime Minister—and that through that report a great change was made in our naval disposition, without which it could not be said with certainty that the submarine menace at that time would have been overcome. I naturally can touch upon only very few points in the extremely important and weightily considered statement to which we have 674 listened. The first is a very small point, but as I am dealing with the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty I would say that it has particular relevance to his office. The expense of the Navy is rising this year by £23,000,000, and yet the Estimate is presented in a form which states, in a most decisive manner, a net decrease of £26,000,000. This is due, as footnotes explain, to the fact that £84,000,000 is provided by Loan or Appropriations-in-Aid in 1939 instead of £34,000,000 from that source in 1938. It would hardly be possible to make a financial statement in amore misleading, and I must say, or more silly fashion. After all, the fact that this House is providing £153,000,000 for service of the Navy in this critical year, is a factor which may play an important part in maintaining stability. Why then state it in the worst way? I happen to know that many people, some of whom ought to know better, have been misled by the form in which these figures are presented, and by the statement that there is a net decrease in the expense of the Navy of £26,000,000.
The same pedantic character presents itself in the case of the number of men. Here again we have the number of men—net decrease, 13,500 in Vote A. But is this really so? Is there to be a net decrease in the Navy of 13,500 this year? I should have thought that actually the Navy was increasing every year by, I suppose, 6,000 or 7,000 officers and men. That, I believe, is the fact, but owing to some intricate convention about the form in which the bearing of personnel on Vote A during the financial year is calculated we tell the whole world on the face of our estimate that we are reducing our manpower by 13,500. I noticed that this was made the subject of sneering abroad in countries which are inclined to say that we are unable to provide the man-power even for the highly technical services. I hope that I am right in thinking that this is only a case of clerical pedantry, of which I have no doubt the War Office are equally guilty. The same confused form of presenting the Estimates occurs also in the Army Estimates, but I still ask why, in the name of common sense, an Estimate cannot be presented to the House which states intelligibly and obviously on the face of it what are the true and salient facts of the finances of the year.
675 I was glad to hear the statement that even the heavy programmes of new construction for which I was responsible before the War were now exceeded—220,000 tons as against 170,000 tons. I am not jealous. I am very glad that another generation is raising that effort which we made, and which proved adequate. May I point out that the increase of personnel is also most important? In 1914 Vote A reached the record total of 148,000, that is to say it equalled the highest figure obtained by the British Navy in the height of the Napoleonic Wars. We have now 133,000 according to this Estimate as the maximum power for 1939, so there is still leeway in which to continue the increase of personnel. It must be remembered that we have not now the resources of the Mercantile Marine open to us in the same way as in 1914. The Royal Naval Reserve, owing to the shrinkage of our merchant officers and seamen, will be almost entirely needed, if not wholly, for the Merchant Service. That is a fact which makes it necessary to increase the personnel, and particularly increase the officer personnel.
I associate myself entirely with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) that promotion from the lower deck should be opened out in the widest manner possible, and that in the manner most likely to give a real chance to those who come into the Navy by that method to rise to the highest positions of command in the naval profession. I am absolutely certain that there must be in these ships, with their enormous classes of highly trained and intricate, technical personnel, men who will make officers in large numbers to command His Majesty's ships in the future. It was in my day that we opened the gate that had been closed for many years, and it has not been kept as wide open as it ought to have been until recently. I hope that the need for expanding our personnel will make it felt that, although there are and must be rigid gulfs of discipline and rank between different classes, all may move forward and have a chance of obtaining the highest and most responsible commands.
There are several points in these Estimates which I am extremely glad to see. In the first place, we have the re-institution of the immediate Reserve. That is no doubt only a minor improvement. 676 What is the immediate Reserve? It is three or four thousand men who have served in the Fleet for 12 years, and who are coming to the Reserve to take on at a small retaining fee an extra obligation to come up in advance of a Royal Proclamation calling up the Reserves, and merely on a summons from the Admiralty. I instituted this before the War, and its convenience was proved in the early stage of the emergency. When I urged its re-institution in 1937 I was assured that it was not necessary and would be much too expensive. Considering that it was a matter of an extra retaining fee of £5 or £6 a year to only 3,000 or 4,000 men, this seemed at the time a very absurd answer. But of course it was quite easy for the Admiralty and the Government, once they made up their minds, to brazen it out. All that I could say, after having made four or five attempts to persuade them, was "Never force little dogs to eat mutton." Now they are eating their mutton.
The Government have been confronted with the difficulty of bringing forward the extra personnel required for mine-sweeping and other special services in the preliminary stages of mobilisation. They would not believe the experience of the past. They brushed aside its lessons, as they have brushed aside so many lessons of the past, but now that the modern Admiralty have had a taste of it themselves there is no more argument, and this small but necessary device, which we were assured on the highest expert authority, both professional and political, was quite unnecessary, has been adopted, and I should like to congratulate the Admiralty and the Government on their decision, to which happily instant effect can be given.
I take up the point mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the destroyers. Last year, when we looked at the programme of new construction, many people were astonished to find that no destroyers were included. I said that perhaps it was due to a misprint, for nothing could be more necessary and obvious than the construction of destroyers, particularly since under the Anglo-German Naval Treaty the creation of the German U-boat fleet was authorised. We have now received the announcement that 100 per cent, parity in submarine tonnage is to be constructed by Germany, and I think a very shrewd guess can be made that very much of 677 this tonnage is already made in sections and all that is now necessary is to put these sections together. There was no part of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech more justified than the examination of the dangers which threaten the naval power of Britain at the present time. I entirely agree with him that we have the measure of the submarines. It is not merely a question of the marvellous inventions which have been perfected, but, after these inventions have been discovered, of familiarising large portions of the Fleet to the use of these devices so that they have become a matter of ordinary routine.
I gladly add my testimony to his that it would appear that the perils which will be run by submarines in a future war are incomparably greater than the perils to which, let us not forget, the submarine succumbed in 1918. But there is this to be said in connection with destroyers. We only have this measure of the submarine, this superiority, if there is an abundance, a super-abundance, of destroyers and other small craft available. Last year, for the first time, no destroyer flotilla was provided in the programme, and, of course, high and technical reasons were given to show how inopportune such a provision would have been. However, this year there is not only one flotilla but two flotillas, and in addition 20 900-ton escort vessels. As to the design of these I am not particularly informed, but it would appear that these vessels are a most valuable feature. It seems a great pity that the usual flotilla was dropped last year because we should have had all the hulls built by now. I think the House is glad that the omission is being rectified, and I am glad to congratulate the Admiralty on the step that has been taken.
But there is one point upon which I cannot approve of the proposals now made. It is, I think, a serious matter which affects to a certain extent the whole of our defensive system and weakens our means of survival in the case of a major war. I am horrified to learn that the Admiralty propose to scrap the five 15-inch battleships of the Royal Sovereign class, one in 1942, one in 1943 and the rest, I suppose, in the following year.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
It is proposed to scrap one at the end of 1942 and one at 678 the end of 1943, but no decision has been taken regarding the balance.
§ Mr. Churchill
I hope that the denunciation which I am now endeavouring to apply to what has been done, or proposed to be done, will, at any rate, have the effect of saving the others. The House would hardly gather from the euphemistic phrase the Parliamentary Secretary employed—"replacement"—that these two ships are to be destroyed. That does not tell us what one would expect, that until the new ships are in commission the old ones will be kept in reserve. In other days I used to say that when the ace is out the king is the best card. These old ships can play their part, although we must be careful not to bring them into contact with new ships in the event of war.
I will outline my argument against this course in this way. Old as they are the Royal Sovereigns have a vital and final service to render us. Under the Treaty of London, and various other agreements, we have been prevented from building any 8-inch gun cruisers for five or six years, and Germany will have at an early date in the future five 8-inch gun cruisers which will be definitely superior in speed, armour and gun power combined to any vessel in our Fleet except our battle-cruisers or our battleship-cruisers. That is a very serious matter. These German vessels in the event of war would be super-Emdens, let out upon our trade routes, and they would inflict very heavy losses. But whereas in the case of the "Emden" and her consorts the "Karlsruhe" and "Konigsberg" we had 100 cruisers with which to envelop, pursue and destroy them, we have now a far smaller number, and it makes the problem much more serious. That is only half the story. The "Emden" was a small ship of 3,000 tons with 4-inch guns, which have only to be caught to be killed. You are going to have in the near future five super-Emdens of 10,000 tons with 8-inch guns, against which you have not only lost half the number of cruisers to bring them to book but nothing except battle-cruisers which can at once engage them and kill them in single ship action. All this arises out of treaty entanglements which in every single respect have hampered our naval construction, made it more difficult for us to get true value for 679 the taxpayers' money and produce the best classes of fighting vessels with the money provided.
What is the conclusion I draw from all this? It is that we shall certainly be forced in any war that may occur in the next few years to re-institute the convoy system, not so much against the submarine as against enemy cruisers on the broad waters of the ocean. It might be a year of war before these raiding cruisers are extirpated, and meanwhile 45,000,000 people in this island have to be fed and we have to carry on our trade without which we cannot purchase the supplies we require not only for war but for keeping body and soul together. You will have to institute the convoy system on the broad waters of the ocean. After this preliminary and on this footing I come to the case of the five Royal Sovereigns. These are the very ships which would be the surest escorts of your ocean convoys. No raiding cruiser would dare to come within range of their 15-inch guns. Their speed is much greater than that of any convoy of merchant ships. They are the ideal vessels to bring in a three-monthly convoy of 60, 70 or 80 vessels from Australia or the Cape, or from South America, quite safely across the oceans until they come within the regions where other escorts would be needed to deal with the submarine. The range of their enormous heavy guns would afford complete protection from a raiding cruiser, even to a very large convoy. This, at any rate in the early stages of a war, would be an enormous convenience to us. Yet these are the very ships, whose function it would cost us so many millions to provide in other ways, which are to be taken out and scrapped and destroyed although they may play a vital part in the feeding of this island.
We have heard some reasons why such a monstrous decision has been made. Under the Anglo-German-Agreement no provision was made, as some of us suggested, that old ships should be counted at a lower tonnage than new ships in estimating the tonnage of German naval construction. If we keep the Royal Sovereigns Germany would be entitled under the Treaty to build two additional battleships in the four year period in question, and they have asked us to state, as they have a right to ask, in advance what we propose to do. We have 680 promised to scrap or sink the first two Royal Sovereigns, and I presume, that there is no hope now of rescuing the others from that imprudent decision. I put it to the House that it would be far better to let them build their two additional battleships, if they want to do so. There are two arguments for this. The first is that it will take them four years from 1942 to build the first extra battleship, and for good or ill this hideous armaments race will stand in an entirely different position in 1946. But at the mere threat of an additional German battleship arriving on the seas seven years hence we are in 1942 to destroy these important Royal Sovereigns which may be of vital service to us in the intervening years. We are to go without a real and necessary prop during a most critical period to ward off a hypothetical danger—it may not be to Germany's interest to build the two battleships—which cannot mature until the critical period is over.
And can we be sure that after we have scrapped our Royal Sovereigns Germany will not say that the situation is changed and build her battleships none the less? Such things have happened. At any rate, we should be very chary of getting rid of something of value to us on the mere possibility that thereby we may deter Germany from building something which in my view is not of very great value to her. Why should we be disturbed if Germany chooses to build an additional battleship? I would rather see her build an additional battleship than that she should build these extra squadrons of commerce raiders. I say that quite frankly.
It must be remembered that Germany, like all countries, is now at full extension in armament production, groaning and straining in that tremendous effort. Already she is spending 26 per cent. of her national income on warlike preparations. All labour, skilled and unskilled, is employed to the utmost. The park railings and even iron crosses in the graveyards are being melted down for scrap. What is given to one service in these circumstances must be taken from another. This applies not only to money but especially to skilled labour and to high-quality war materials which have to be purchased across the Exchange. I say frankly I would much rather see Germany build two additional battleships than that 681 the £20,000,000 which I suppose they would cost by then should be thrown into a further expansion of the German air programme. Whatever happens, whatever they do, we can keep an overwhelming lead in the line of battle. How very different is the picture in the air. There we are struggling to catch up; there we are on far more difficult ground. Why should we seek to deter Germany from consuming her substance and natural energy in a sphere where we have a sure means of keeping our supremacy, and perhaps transfer her activity into a sphere in which already, through past neglects, we are condemned to a far weaker position? Why, for the purposes of this in itself detrimental process, should we lead out to the slaughter yards these great vessels which have a most important and probably even a vital function to discharge?
I hope this matter may be reconsidered, as the question of the Immediate Reserve was reconsidered; as the omission of a flotilla last year was reconsidered; and as the scrapping of five small cruisers in 1936, about which so much argument had to be used, was reconsidered. They were absolutely useless before it was decided not to scrap them, and now they are most valuable and important units of the Fleet. All three mistakes were made, and defended with a wealth of argument and professional authority; and they have all been repaired after a loss of valuable time. Do not let us make a fourth mistake on a far more important scale, and deprive ourselves during some most dangerous years of our history of resources which we already have in being, and of which we have need. I hope this argument may be considered. I am grieved very much to hear that commitments have already been made, but let us at any rate save the rest from that fate. It gives me a certain feeling of anxiety, when I think of the enormous demands made on the taxpayers, that vessels of this kind are simply put out of existence without any attempt to discuss the matter openly—wiped out—and then at the same time we have to come forward, as we willingly do, and provide great funds for the creation of vast new construction.
I am going to imitate the example of the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition, and confine myself to 682 modest limits. I have only one more point which I shall venture to submit to the House. But I cannot conclude without making a reference to Naval strategy which I am sure is in the public interest. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that some of these matters must be discussed. The Government may have difficulty in discussing them, but they must be discussed in this House in order that a sound opinion may be formed on these matters. I shall merely place before the House the heads of the argument. The German Navy in the next few years will not be able to form a line of battle for a general engagement. One would expect that cruisers and submarines would be sent out to attack commerce, but I think you may take it as absolutely certain that the prime object of the German Navy will be to preserve command of the Baltic, which is of supreme consequence to Germany, not only because of the supplies she can obtain from the Scandinavian countries, and the influence she can exert over them, but because the loss of naval command in the Baltic would lay the whole of the Baltic shores of Germany open to attack or possible invasions from other Baltic Powers, of which the largest and most important is, of course, the Soviet Union. Thus, you may be sure that no use will be made of the German fleet which will compromise their loss of command of the Baltic. It was for this reason that they have been and are still quite content with a ratio of 35 per cent, to the British Fleet, because that fully occupies their building resources, or all the resources they think fit to assign at present to their naval development, and because it enables them to achieve the practical and necessary object which they have in view, namely, the maintenance of command of the Baltic.
On the other hand, for Britain in time of war, the command of the Mediterranean must be the prime objective. There should be no difficulty in securing this, even if we were engaged single-handed with any one of the Mediterranean Powers, and had at the same time to watch the debouches from the Baltic and the Elbe. Although great new British fleets which are now under construction are not yet ready, there is still an ample superiority of sea-power available to secure and hold command of the Mediterranean. The developments which have taken place, and which were described to 683 us by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty this afternoon, in anti-submarine measures and in the anti-aircraft gunnery of our Fleet, and the structural alterations to our ships against overhead attack, are, I entirely agree with the Parliamentary Secretary, such that we may reasonably expect that our great preponderance of surface craft will make itself fully effective in future, as it has done in the past. I think it is a safe rule to treat the sailors of every country as equally brave and skilful, and I should, therefore, feel confidence in the very large British Naval superiority of numbers which would exist in a war against a Mediterranean Power. This superiority would become even more ample if the British and French Fleets were acting in combination. Presumably, they would be combined, as we shall never make war except as a result of unprovoked aggression upon us or upon our ally. Therefore, it seems that an overwhelming superiority will be available.
Now, there is a school of thought which favours what is called "sealing up both ends of the Mediterranean," and leaving it as a closed sea. This policy will, I hope, be rejected by the Admiralty—I hope particularly by the present First Lord of the Admiralty who, in a matter like this, as the Parliamentary Secretary reminded us, may hear the promptings of ancestral voices. To gain and hold command of the Mediterranean in case of war is a high duty of the Fleet. Once that is achieved, all European land forces on the shores of North Africa will be decisively affected. Those that have command of the Mediterranean behind them can be reinforced to any extent and supplied to any extent. Those that have no such command will be like cut flowers in a vase. A hostile Power which had commitments overseas in the Mediterranean could not afford to keep its fleet in harbour; it would have to come out to make sure that communications with its forces were not intercepted or their operations interfered with by operations from the sea, and consequently, there would be no means by which such a fleet could avoid the necessity of fighting a naval engagement, and possibly at very heavy odds.
No doubt for the first few months or weeks, while actual fighting for the command of the Mediterranean was proceed- 684 ing, it would be prudent to deflect our Eastern merchant traffic round the Cape. But that in no way affects the general argument for immediate decisive operations to obtain full and unquestioned command of the inland sea. Therefore, I was very glad to hear Lord Chatfield yesterday lay down the sound doctrine that it is the duty of the Royal Navy to "seek out and destroy the enemy's fleet." There is the true note to strike. But it is not possible to be simultaneously strong everywhere. Sacrifices must be made and punishment must be taken in some theatres in order that speedy victory may be gained in the decisive theatre. After the victory has been won there are ample resources which will be available to restore the position in more distant theatres. If there is anything left over which is not restored, that could be settled at the peace conference. It should not be long before we were in a position to restore the position in the more distant theatres. Therefore, I submit that the first main effort should be to secure and keep command of the Mediterranean. Lord Chatfield's statement was no doubt of general application; he did not suggest it was given a particular application; but none the less, it was most timely, because such a doctrine, vigorously applied, will influence the foreign policy of every Mediterranean Power, both in deterring possible antagonists from attacking us or our allies, and in encouraging other States bordering on the Mediterranean, who are animated by the most friendly feelings towards us, to pursue their part in confidence.
It is refreshing in times like these for us to take an afternoon off from black care and dwell upon the great and growing strength of our Navy, and to feel confidence that the new inventions in the air and under the water, properly countered as they have been and are being, do not in any decisive degree deprive us of the measureless resources of sea-power with all that has so often followed in its train.
§ 6.43 p.m.
Major Lloyd George
I wish to add my congratulations to those which have been offered to the Parliamentary Secretary on his speech. I think he is to be congratulated upon the matter and the manner of that speech. Reference has been made to the fact that the speech was a long one, but, after all, the amount of 685 money to be expended on the Navy is the greatest that has ever been spent on the Navy in peace time in this country. I am sure that those who heard the speech not only found it most interesting, but extremely important. I agree with all the things the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech. He said that as long as the Navy is able to keep the vital trade routes of this country open, so long can the national safety be secured. The House is entitled to ask whether the Navy is so equipped that, whatever the potential threat may be, it will be able to fulfill its task of meeting that threat. The hon. Gentleman mentioned three menaces which the Navy would have to meet. The first was direct action; the second, submarines; and the third, aircraft.
With regard to the first, I do not propose to say much about the controversy with regard to capital ships and lighter ships, but I gather that, as far as strength is concerned, there would not be much danger to the British Navy from direct action. Rut I think the House is entitled to ask where the Fleet is to be based. I do not suppose this represents an insuperable difficulty as far as Home waters are concerned, although I would point out that in the last War arrangements for basing the Battle Fleet were not very complete when the War broke out, in view of the fact that we had full knowledge then of who the enemy would probably be. I hope that, as far as home waters are concerned, there is no doubt in the mind of the Admiralty about where they are going to base the Fleet in case of necessity. When we come to consider the position in waters other than our own we come up against a very different proposition. We heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) of the necessity in case of war of immediately assuming command of the Mediterranean. I ask the Civil Lord where would the Fleet in that case be based? Would it be based on Gibraltar?
We are told that Gibraltar is impregnable, but I do not think that is the question. It is not a question of whether it is impregnable or not, but of whether it can be utilised by the Fleet. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) has said, with reference to the guns on both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar, that they would not stop the 686 Fleet going through the Straits. I cannot say that I agree with that view. They would certainly make it impossible to use the harbour in Gibraltar as a base for ships of the kind which would be required there. The experts, I am told, are satisfied that with aircraft, and with the guns of the Fleet, it would be possible to destroy any guns capable of shooting into the harbour. I very much doubt that theory also. I do not speak without some experience in saying that it is very doubtful whether that would be possible even in the case of hostile guns with fixed mountings, and I am absolutely certain that it would be almost impossible with mobile guns. Then we are told that you cannot have heavy mobile guns. If I may again draw upon personal experience, I would say that 20 years ago I had command of a mobile battery in the War, with guns of exactly the same calibre as those which are to be mounted on a new battleship now under construction. The hon. Gentleman told us that it was possible with this new gun to fire from Palace Yard to St. Albans a shell weighing as much as an ordinary motor car, but it is equally possible to fire such a shell from St. Albans to Palace Yard. The question of a Mediterranean base calls for very serious consideration indeed. It is not, as I say, a question of whether Gibraltar is impregnable, but of whether these great ships could lie at anchor there as we see them lying during the spring cruise of the Atlantic Fleet. The base of the Fleet must have a very serious relation to the action which the Fleet is to take in whatever part of the world it may be.
The second point referred to by the hon. Gentleman related to submarines. I am not in a position to know the details, but I think it is obvious that there has been an enormous advance in the technique of anti-submarine warfare. In passing, I would refer to the hon. Gentleman's observations about Nyon. We were always told that if we took action against the people who bombed and sank our ships, we should be in for a European war, but in the only case in which the Government took action, it did not lead to a European war. It did however stop the torpedoing of British ships. Antisubmarine equipment I admit, is much more efficient now than it was in the last War, but it is very disquieting to find that, despite that fact, countries which 687 ought to know all about submarine warfare from experience, have not ceased to build submarines. They must have some information about what is going on. We find that Italy and Germany have large submarine fleets, and are extending them. Indeed, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping reminded us, Germany has given notice of her intention to build up to 100 per cent. of what she is allowed under the Agreement. That, as I say, is disquieting in view of the improvement in anti-submarine devices and also in view of the success of the convoy system during the last War. Despite both those facts, submarine building continues.
The hon. Gentleman said that the submarine gave anxiety only up to the time of the introduction of the convoy system. I think we are entitled to point out that the convoy system was adopted despite the advice of every expert in the Admiralty. I believe we had about six weeks' food supply in the country when they eventually agreed to it. Among other reasons given for not adopting it sooner, was the shortage of destroyers. I do not know who was responsible, but it is an undisputed fact that when inquiries were made about how many ships came into this country from ocean routes every week, the figure given was 2,500. Obviously, we had not sufficient destroyers to convoy that number. On investigation, however, it was found that the actual figure was 250. The same ships going to different ports were all registered as different ships. Coastwise traffic, ships going from port to port and all were added together and the figure was magnified to ten times its real size. I think it is important to remember that, because we are often told that we should always believe what the experts tell us.
The shortage of destroyers then was, as I say, one of the reasons given for not starting the convoy system sooner. If we were short of destroyers and light craft then, are we not very much shorter of them to-day? The hon. Gentleman said that we had 100 cruisers then and something like 80 to-day. We had about 300 destroyers and small craft at the beginning of the War; to-day I believe we have about 260. I am very glad that more have been built this year, and I would reinforce the plea made last year by the right hon. Gentleman the Member 688 for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) with regard to destroyers. If it was the convoy system which made it impossible for submarines successfully to attack our shipping, it must be remembered that the success of the convoy system was largely due to the escorting craft available. Therefore, while the convoy system did reduce the losses, its success was due to a plentiful supply of escorting craft. It is vital that we should reconsider that programme this year and build a far greater number of escorting craft to protect our ships. After all, there are more submarines to-day than there were when the War broke out, and many more are being built. It has also to be remembered that the strategic position of this country is not what it was in 1914. One of the most important trade routes to-day is the Mediterranean. In 1914 practically the whole shores of the Mediterranean were in the hands of people who were either friendly to us or neutral. Can anyone suggest that that is true to-day? Not only have you far more submarines to deal with, in addition to the air menace, but you have also a much more difficult strategic situation.
There is one other factor which will make the situation more difficult in the event of war than it was at the beginning of the last War and that is the condition of our Mercantile Marine. The tonnage of our Mercantile Marine is down compared with the pre-war period by about 6 per cent., and the number of ships is down by nearly 20 per cent. For every five ships that we had in 1914, we have only four to-day. Another serious point is that of that fleet, about one-third consists of oil tankers. This is a matter calling for careful consideration. There is also the shortage of sailors. With regard to a class of men whom the Admiralty cannot do without in war time, namely, our fishermen, there has been a startling reduction in numbers. I believe the number now is only about one-half of what it was in 1914. The Admiralty know what they owed to the fishermen in the last War and they must realise that this is a very serious question indeed.
The third point to which the hon. Gentleman referred was the air menace. I, personally, do not regard the air menace to the Navy as seriously as some other people do. I can never understand the argument that a battleship is vulnerable from the air, but safe from shell- 689 fire, and that is a point of which great use was made by people who sought to show that the Fleet was obsolete because it was not possible to protect it form attack by air. But there has been a great increase in anti-aircraft artillery which adds enormously to the means of protection. The hon. Gentleman said that tests in peace time of the probable number of hits which would be made by attacking aircraft on ships were apt to be illusory and he went on almost immediately to say that if a modern battleship's anti-aircraft guns were firing into an area of, I think he said, about 50 times the size of this Chamber, there was a high degree of probability of the complete destruction of an attacking aircraft in that area. If it is the case that tests in peace time as to probable hits by attacking aircraft are illusory, I suggest that peace time tests as to probable hits by anti-aircraft guns may also be illusory. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman got his information, but I cannot accept it that there is a high degree of probability of the complete destruction of an aeroplane if it happened to get into an area 10 or 20 times the size of this Chamber and was attacked by anti-aircraft artillery.
Major Lloyd George
The inference is that anti-aircraft artillery has altered very considerably. But the real menace surely is not to the Navy, but to the Mercantile Marine. In that connection I would like to see the Navy try one or two new exercises. Every year they go to the Mediterranean, and I suppose it is good to have exercises there for training officers and men in the handling of craft and in tactics. On those occasions there is generally a Blue Fleet attacking some point in the Mediterranean and a Red Fleet defending it. Would it not be possible to have the exercise, say, of bringing a convoy from Alexandria to Gibraltar with the whole of our available submarines and aircraft out to attack it? Would it not also be possible to have the exercise of bringing a convoy, say, from Ushant right up to London, letting the Air Force show what could be done to locate and destroy that convoy? I believe that such exercises would be of great practical value and would make for real co-operation. One of the problems to be faced is that of bringing our trade 690 through the Mediterranean and up to London, manoeuvring close to our own shore. I believe if we had that latter exercise with regard to London, it would be a great reinforcement of the views of those who have pressed for a base on our Western coast.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough drew attention to that matter. I have done so on many occasions and, frankly, I cannot understand the attitude of the Admiralty. We are told about difficulties of manning, and so forth, but if this is in the national interest these are very small difficulties and could easily be surmounted. Amenities are all very well, but what amenities were there in Scapa when we had to base the Fleet there during the War? If it is a question of the defence of the country, I think these difficulties could be overcome. Along the West coast lies one of the most important trade routes of this country and one which may well become even more important in the future than it was in the last War. We may be faced with the possibility of being unable to unload ships in the Port of London at all because of attacks. Here, then, is one important trade route which is likely to become more important still. A study of Admiralty maps and of the Official History of the War will show how often activities were concentrated on that route during hostilities.
In those days we had bases at Pembroke Dock, and at Queenstown and Berehaven, and it is interesting to note that of all the craft employed on escort duty on the West coast in those days over 30 per cent. were stationed in those two ports which we no longer have. When I raised this matter last year the Civil Lord was inclined to be rather facetious about it. He said that the island was very small and that he himself had been travelling 1,200 miles a day—I take it in a seaplane—but all that had very little relation to the point which I was putting. He said that there was a base at Liverpool which was necessary, and one at Devonport. I would point out that the distance from Liverpool to the point which was the centre of these activities in the last War is over 200 miles, and the distance from Devonport about the same.
Major Lloyd George
Yes, to-day we have lost hold of the Irish ports. In his area, which the history of the War shows to have been so vital to this country, we have not a base nearer then 200 miles journey North or South. That is a matter which calls for serious consideration. There is no question that it is the obvious place for a base. The hon. Gentleman who introduced the Estimates referred to Nelson, the greatest sea captain. I would remind him that it was Nelson who decided that this was one of the best places to put a base in Britain. He was the one who chose it. The Admiralty appreciates its advantages. There you have oil tanks and a great mine depot. Why should there be a mine depot there? To meet modern safety requirements. That is why it has gone there. It is 500 miles from the nearest place that the Germans reached in the last War, and over 800 miles from Germany. It is no good saying that the speed of aircraft does not make that very much, because 800 miles is 1,600 miles on a return journey. Surely it is obvious that if you have anchorages in a safe position on one of your trade routes you must make what use you can of them. I should like the Government to reconsider the matter from the point of view of national safety with no other consideration at all.
We are discussing expenditure on the Navy, the biggest sum that we have ever had to vote in peace time. I remember, and the right hon. Gentleman certainly remembers, that 30 years ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) introduced a Budget which created the greatest political controversy of our time. The Navy Estimate which we are discussing to-day is just about the same figure as that Budget, and it gives us an idea of the appalling dimensions of the amount spent on defence, especially when one realises how soon it is after the greatest war in history. But democratic institutions are being attacked on all sides and, if this sum which we are discussing is to be utilised efficiently to equip us to defend those institutions which we hold so dear, I, for one, will not complain.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Duff Cooper
I should like to join my congratulations to those which have 692 been already addressed to the hon. Member who opened the Debate. I think he spoke in the spirit, which has animated other speakers, of pride in the Navy, but of pride without complacency. He realised how firm the position of the Navy is to-day, how efficient the personnel, how great the expenditure that is being made, and how important a part the Navy must play in the future of England, as it has in the past. I am grateful for his references to myself, and I am also grateful to him for having assisted me last year and introduced the Estimates so admirably as he did at extremely short notice. He said that I had turned the sword into a fountain pen. The sword is growing obsolete, but even in its greatest days the pen was a mightier weapon. I think he will feel that I am only doing what we are all doing in endeavouring to bring my equipment up to date.
Previous speakers have said something about the personnel and the reserves of the Navy, and there is one question I should like to put to my hon. Friend on this subject. This great voluntary National Service of which the Government are doing all in their power to make a success has to allow for the private preferences of individuals. There are in the country hundreds of thousands of young men and boys scattered about to whom one form of service only appeals, and that is the sea service. Unfortunately, there are very few opportunities for these men to be trained in the arm which they particularly favour. The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve is strictly limited to six centres and these individuals, as I have said, are scattered all over the country. A proposal was put forward, which I supported, for the formation of naval brigades at various places, inland as well as by the sea, which would enable these people to enjoy the service that they prefer and would help to create a large body of reservists trained for the sea, who would be of immense value in war time, and it would form a complement to a movement which has met with remarkable success, and that is the Sea Cadet Corps. New branches of the Sea Cadet Corps are being formed all over the country and the boys flock to it. They are reserved for boys between the ages of 12 and 18. At the completion of that age a great many of them join the Navy or the Merchant Ser- 693 vice, but a great many retire into civil life and would be only too glad if they could continue their service in some form of naval brigade. I should like to know if that proposal is still under consideration. I hope it has not been definitely turned down.
Another point to which I wish to refer is my hon. Friend's statement with regard to the Fleet Air Arm. I think he is fairly satisfied with the progress that it has made. He said the child had been handed over to its natural parent and had increased in weight and improved in colour. But, if the child is to continue to make such progress, it must have proper cradles situated at suitable places throughout the country. I refer to the shore bases. My hon. Friend said that at present those shore bases are to be limited to four. Unfortunately, there was a long controversy between the Air Ministry and the Admiralty as to who should control the Fleet Air Arm, and much rancour and ill-will was stirred up in the two Departments—not, I am glad to think, ever in the two services—with regard to this matter. When during the summer before last it was finally decided that control was to be handed over to the Admiralty, I am afraid some rancour still remained in the mind of those to whom that decision came as a severe blow. I hope that rancour will rapidly disappear. I am confident that there is not a trace of it in the heart of the Secretary of State for Air. It is not in his nature to be rancorous, and he has done all in his power to work in complete harmony both with his late colleague and, I am sure, with his present one. But it is known that, of these four bases which have now been handed over, three at least are the very worst in the possession of the Air Ministry. They are singularly ill-adapted and unsuitable for the Fleet Air Arm, and their handing over is seriously hampering its deficiency. Lee-on-Solent is extremely difficult to, use as long as Gosport, which is alongside it, is under different control. It was explained the other evening that under the present system it is almost impossible to make proper use of these two aerodromes, they being controlled by two different authorities.
But if the Air Ministry are unable to hand over Gosport, for which they were asked by the Admiralty, there is one that 694 is equally, if not more, suitable, and that is the aerodrome at Thorney Island. It was designed for the Fleet Air Arm in the days when it was under the control of the Air Ministry. It was always intended that it should be used by the Fleet Air Arm. Naval officers were at its inception and watched its growth on the understanding that, when the Fleet Air Arm was ready for it, it would be taken over. It was not until the Fleet Air Arm was transferred to the Admiralty that the Air Ministry put in their claim. As the two Departments could reach no agreement, it was referred to the late Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence to decide and, when he decided that both Thorney Island and Gosport were to be handed over to the Air Ministry, it came as a blow and a disaster to all who were concerned with the future of the Fleet Air Arm. So serious a blow was it considered that I returned to the charge and pressed my right hon. Friend repeatedly to reconsider the question. I put him in touch with those who could give him very full information. Ready as he always was to listen to every side of every case, broadminded as he always was, he went very closely into it, and I am under the distinct impression that when I left he had decided that the whole matter should be reconsidered from the beginning, and that he realised that he had made a mistake. He was always big minded enough not to hesitate to own that he had made a mistake. The mistake was largely due to the fact that the Admiralty had not put their case clearly enough before him in the first instance. I hope my hon. Friend will urge the First Lord to take the matter up again, if it has been decided.
I know all too well what the views of the present Minister for Co-ordination are on the subject but, of course, he would find himself in a slightly invidious position if he were asked to give a decision in his new capacity on a subject on which he held such very strong views when he held a different position. But really Lord Chatfield's reputation for straight dealing and fairness stands so high that I do not think he need fear that there would be any criticism of partisanship on his part if he were to give a decision according to his own lights on the question. Even if there were the danger of being accused of taking a partisan view, that is far less than the danger of the Fleet 695 Air Arm becoming inefficient owing to lack of air arm bases. If he sees a difficulty in giving a decision, there is an alternative. This is one of the subjects which fall under his aegis but, if he hesitates to give a decision on it, let him hand it over to the Chancellor of the Duchy. I shall be quite prepared, as I am sure anyone would be, to accept his arbitrament. Some fresh decision should really be taken in the near future, because the matter is one of very great importance.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), in his extremely interesting, constructive and helpful speech, shed many tears over the fate of those battleships to which he stands in almost a parental relation, the disappearance of which he cannot bear to foresee. It is very natural for all of us to dislike the spectacle of our children growing older, reminding us as it must of our mortality, and it is with even greater reluctance that we can contemplate the possibility of consigning them to the scrap-heap. My right hon. Friend will agree with me that there must be a limit to the length of things, even to the lives of battleships, and that a moment must come when a battleship is obsolete and no longer justifies the expenditure which her upkeep necessitates owing to her machinery, gear and construction being out of date. When that moment arrives it is extremely difficult for any layman to decide. It must be a question on which only expert opinion is of value.
I join with him and other Members in deploring the enforced removal from the Board of Admiralty of the late Controller, and I should like, with my right hon. Friend, to express gratitude for all the valuable service he has given to the Navy and to hope that he will soon recover and be able to continue to give his assistance. He was very definitely of opinion that this particular class of battleship has seen its best days. With that humourous exaggeration which those who knew him will recognise as one of his traits, he once expressed to me his opinion that he would hesitate to go to sea at the present time in the "Royal Sovereign." However that may be, the time must come when battleships cease to be valid and those who are closely in touch with modern developments and recent inventions must be the best judges when that 696 time has arrived. My right hon. Friend said that if we decided to retain these battleships Germany would have the right in 1942 to begin the construction of modern battleships, but I think he is mistaken there. I think that unless we made the statement now that we were going to scrap one of these ships, she would have the right now to start the construction of a new battleship.
After all, that is the only reason why the matter has been brought up for discussion this afternoon. There would have been no necessity, apart from international obligations, for my hon. Friend to make any statement about the policy of scrapping battleships three years hence, and the distance of that day is actually the chief answer to the objection to the proposal. After all, something will happen. A great deal must happen before the year 1942. Either a fearful disaster will have befallen the world, or we shall have moved into a happier period. Either the all for which we have striven for so long will have been lost and peace will have disappeared in the world, or else peace will be better assured than it is to-day. One thing is absolutely certain: This period of tension and anxiety cannot continue. Therefore, it does not seem to me too formidable a thing to say that in three years' time we contemplate scrapping a battleship which will then be some 30 years of age.
I was never one who had a profound admiration for the Anglo-German Treaty. One of the weakest parts of that Treaty was that if the programme contemplated had ever been completed it would have presented the world with one fleet of 100 per cent. and another of 35 per cent., but with the one fleet perhaps more than 50 per cent. old-fashioned and the other 100 per cent. brand new.
§ Mr. Cooper
In 1935, when this Treaty was made, I believe it would have been possible to make a better treaty, but it was not compulsory to have a treaty with Germany at all. The ordinary man-in-the-street has always seen it as meaning 100 ships to us and 35 to Germany. That has seemed to him very satisfactory. He has imagined those 100 ships sailing proudly on the waters of the North Sea while the 35 German ships regarded them 697 with awe and reverence from the entrance to the Kiel Canal. When, however, we think of the strength of the Fleet we should remember, not the number of the ships, but the length of the coast-line for which those ships are responsible. The whole of that German Fleet is concentrated on one spot and would be used for one purpose, whereas, even in peace time, out of those 100 ships of ours which the optimists imagine in the North Sea. one-half are in the Mediterranean. That reduces the superiority over Germany. Out of the 50 ships that remain, there has to be a fleet for South Africa, another for the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, another in the Far East for the protection of our Colonies there and the Dominions of Australia and New Zealand. Even that does not end the obligations pouring upon that single Fleet. We have still to find another Fleet for the West Indies. So our imaginary superiority of 100 to 35 soon sinks to very little.
§ Sir R. Ross
Does my right hon. Friend object to our having a limitation with Germany, and, if he does not, can he tell me of any suggested terms which Germany would have been likely to accept that would have been better; or any better treaty that was ever contemplated than the treaty for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) worked very hard, the naval holiday which was far less favourable to us?
§ Mr. Churchill
No; the naval holiday simply meant that in the programmes of Germany and England, one year should be dropped out, one year should be a blank year.
§ Mr. Cooper
I would remind my hon. Friend, what a great many people have forgotten, that since 1914 a war has been fought, in which Germany was defeated, and that at the end of that war she had no navy at all. Our allowing her to have a navy, contrary to the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, was an act of generosity on our part of which she has gradually taken advantage. Whether it is a great advantage to have a treaty with: Germany of any kind I am extremely doubtful, and I have always been. Indeed, while that thrice-perjured traitor and breaker of oaths is at the head of the German State, I consider any agreement he signs is not worth the paper it is 698 written on. No Member of this House can hold any different opinion.
For that reason I have always doubted the wisdom of the German Treaty because it left out of account the importance of the fact that our numerical superiority over the German Navy would be largely cancelled by the modernity of their ships in comparison with ours. We must try to overcome that disadvantage by bringing our Fleet up to date. The more rapidly we do that the better, because our situation, as the hon. Member said in his non complacent speech, is not one of that tremendous superiority which people were apt to believe it to be. We are now faced with the additional disadvantage of no longer having the friendship of the principal country in the Mediterranean, and the far greater disadvantage of no longer having the Anglo-Japanese Treaty which, throughout the War gave us complete security in the Far East. In spite of what some people are apt to believe in these days of modern invention, we arc not one whit less dependent on sea power to-day than we were at the time of the Spanish Armada. It is said sometimes that, owing to the invention of flying, this country is no longer an island. It is true that owing to the invention of flying this country has lost many of the advantages of being an island, but she has lost none of the disadvantages of being an island. She is as vulnerable from the point of view of sea power to-day as she ever was, and if we once lost command of the sea, not the strongest air force in the world could save us from destruction, nor would any enemy air force be necessary to destroy us, because the Army, the Air Force and the Navy, and all the weapons that go with them, are useless in comparison with the importance of one other element, and that is our daily bread.
The merchant shipping position has been referred to, and we are all hoping for the announcement, which is soon to be made by the Government, of the steps that are to be taken to fill what I consider at the present moment to be the greatest gap in our defences. Merchant shipping relies equally upon the Royal Navy for its defence and safety. Those ships, however numerous they might be, would be valueless without that protection. While congratulating the Government and my hon. Friend on the Esti- 699 mates, and whilst supporting every penny that is spent on them, I would urge the House not to be led away to believe that all that money is one penny more than is absolutely necessary, because on naval security will depend the very existence of this country, and if even for the shortest period we lost that naval superiority, a fate more dreadful even than that of Czecho-Slovakia would befall Great Britain.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Commander Marsden
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House, recalling how the recent mobilisation of the Fleet demonstrated the importance of the Naval Reserves, emphasises the necessity of maintaining an adequate supply of personnel trained to the sea and available for naval purposes, and resolves that every effort should be made by means of peace-time training to increase the efficiency and preparedness of the men upon whom the country will rely for the necessary expansion of His Majesty's Fleet in time of war.We have heard from the Parliamentary Secretary a very fine explanation of the building up of the Fleet as regards ships. Those ships would not be very useful however if they were not adequately and properly manned. The right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) criticised in a fair way the Fleet programme up to a point, and as soon as he could he went into foreign policy. In doing so, he actually provided me with the very illustration I wanted, because he referred to the case of the Spanish Government Fleet at the outbreak of hostilities. At that time that Fleet was the dominating facor. They could have commanded the trade routes round Spain and could have blockaded insurgent ports and have probably led the Spanish Government to victory. Instead of that, however, they followed the Communist practice of liquidating their officers. I understand they bound them together and threw them overboard. Here was a Fleet competent enough in shipping but without the officers to lead them. The consequence was that the result of the war went in the opposite way to that in which it might have gone. I use that merely as an illustration to show how important it is that our Fleet should be adequately officered and manned.
700 The actual manning of the Fleet as it is, does not come within the bounds of this Amendment, because the Fleet is manned by Regular officers and men who are on the active list and do not actually constitute the Reserve. Manning the Fleet nowadays means going immediately from a state of peace to a state of war. In the last War we went from peace one day to war another without taking on a single extra man or round of ammunition; we were in a state the whole time of war preparedness, and I trust that the Fleet at present is in the same condition. Immediately there is a war there comes such an expansion that it is necessary to call up Reserves, not only for manning our own reserve ships, but for manning the Mercantile Marine armed merchant cruisers with a portion of their crews and the innumerable other forms of ships that are necessary and indispensable to the Fleet. I might perhaps note the Reserves necessary for these purposes. First of all, there are the retired officers and the pensioned men of the Navy. They, of course, can be called up, and, generally speaking, with the officers the age is up to 60, although, as I think the Secretary to the Admiralty pointed out, there is such a tremendous demand to serve that there is no question of anyone avoiding service by reason of his age. I know that after the recent crisis a retired admiral in my constituency wrote with some indignation because they had refused to accept him for active service at an age that was well over 80, and I am certain that ever other officer, provided he had good health, would come forward if need be.
These officers and men cannot really be called up until the Royal Proclamation has been issued, though I understand that in the recent mobilisation a vast number of them came forward without waiting for the Proclamation at all. In fact, I believe the figures, which I hope are somewhere near correct, are that something like 1,800 officers and 27,000 men came up before the Proclamation. But the real strength of the Reserve is not the Reserves of which the Admiralty have a tabulated list. In my opinion, it lies in the larger number contained in the Mercantile Marine and the fishing fleets around our coasts. These men, of course, are called upon much more as extra ships are put into commission and their services become so very necessary. But, to 701 stick to the main supply, they are the Royal Naval pensioners, who are taken up to the age of 55, the Royal Fleet Reserve, who do not come to very much now, because there are not many left, the Royal Fleet Reserve "B," men who have done their first 12 years in the Service and who are prepared to be called up, and the Reserve to whom the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) referred, namely, the Royal Fleet Reserve, Class "D," an immediate reserve. I know that that exists, although we did not know it a short time ago, because it is mentioned in the Memorandum, and I think it would be a good thing if the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us what is the establishment of those men and how many responded to this call; that is to say, men who guaranteed to come up directly they were called upon.
It is a very great advantage to the Admiralty that they can call upon these men before any Proclamation is made. Consequently, the Fleet can be sent to its various outlying stations without anything being said, and certain other ports where it is necessary to have supplies and men to look after them are put into commission. The gradual dispersal of the auxiliary part of the Fleet to its war stations is done without anything being said, and when a crisis arrives it is a source of great pleasure to us and of astonishment to our enemies that the Navy's plans are so far and so well advanced. That is largely due to these men who come forward of their own volition, without waiting for any Royal Proclamation to call them up.
As regards the Royal Naval Reserve, there are so many stories told about them that I hope something more definite may be said. It has been freely stated—in fact, it is public property—by the Shipping Federation that the position is very bad. Indeed, the statement is being made that the Shipping Federation during the recent mobilisation was compelled to request the Registrar-General to curtail the calling up of officers and men of the Royal Naval Reserve for naval service, and that instead of the 10,000 men estimated to be available, some hundreds only could be called upon. I believe that to be quite incorrect. I have heard similar statements by the Shipping Federation before. The federation may do very valuable work in other spheres, 702 but I think that to put about such fears that the Royal Naval Reserve cannot respond to the calls that may be made upon it is to do a great disservice to the country. They are only acquainted with the seamen who come to them for employment, and, as far as I know, they have no machinery for knowing of the larger number of men who are qualified, but who are not at the time seeking employment in merchant ships. They do not seek employment for a variety of reasons. Some do not care for the conditions in some of our merchant ships, and I do not blame them; others prefer life ashore; but when the call comes, they are quite ready to turn up. It is not only the spirit of adventure, but the feeling that they are fighting for their country that calls these men up, not only during war, but also on any other occasion.
Within the walls of the Houses of Parliament only the other day we had the evidence of one of the captains of the fleet of ships belonging to that Mr. Billmeir, which does such a lucrative trade in Spanish ports. This captain Jones, I think it was, was asked whether he had any difficulty in finding volunteers for these ships trading to Spain, and he replied that for every vacancy he had to fill, he had 100 applications. When there is added pay and a little risk of excitement, the British seaman will always come forward. But that is all very well. The Admiralty can always rely on them at the first rake-off, but what remains behind in the shape of Reserves? I know that I cannot say much about the Mercantile Marine, because I should be out of order. When I was lucky in the ballot a few weeks ago, my first instinct was to put down an Amendment to whichever Vote under the Board of Trade was concerned and talk about the Mercantile Marine. I hoped that by this time the Government would have put forward their proposals to help the Mercantile Marine and the shipbuilding trade, but they have not done so yet, and I think it is about time they did.
I cannot, however, discuss that matter except from this point of view, that with an increased Mercantile Marine there would be more men available on whom the Government could call in time of war to help the Navy. The actual figures, I believe—I have to keep on saying "I believe," because these figures are very 703 hard to get, and naturally, with the Mercantile Marine continually fluctuating, the obtaining of accurate numbers is a matter of very great difficulty—the figures I have worked out are something like 40,000 British seamen working in ships going to foreign ports in the Mercantile Marine, of whom the Navy would wish to claim at the first call something like 5 or 6 per cent. Of course, some ships were abroad in the recent mobilisation, but I believe they got at least that percentage. There is another source of R.N.R. men, but again it is difficult to get the exact numbers, and that is the men recruited from the fishermen round our coasts. Although once more the Admiralty's first call may be responded to, what will happen when they are coming to the third, fourth, fifth, and even tenth call, as they had to in the last War? That fills me with some doubt as to whether these men will be forthcoming.
Some years ago these fishermen could get their training in batteries and in drill ships in the ports in which they lived round the coasts, but when those ships and batteries were abolished, the members of the R.N.R. had to go down to ports, many miles from their homes and very strange to them, to undergo their gunnery training in gunnery schools. Consequently, the men did not join the R.N.R. They are willing enough to come when war comes, but they have not got that gunnery training which makes them much more efficient. I had a letter from a man who played a great part in the opening days of the War in the North of Scotland, and he pointed out that in Stornoway 3,000 men used to drill. Nobody drills in Stornoway now. Some may come down to the gunnery school and do it. He also said that at the outbreak of war he inspected a battalion of men in the Shetlands over 1,000 strong, and he added that every one of them was over 5 feet 11 inches in height. Where are those men now? They are not in the fishing fleets, because those fleets do not exist in these numbers, and so we must feel rather low as to where these men are to come from. They are absolutely essential to the supplementary services of the Navy. Indeed, these plans are not altogether final or complete. At the beginning of 1914 there were practically no ships in the auxiliary patrol, but at the end of the War there were 3,685 vessels in commission. They were yachts, patrol 704 gunboats, trawlers, whalers, motor launches, drifters, motor drifters, motor boats, and minesweepers and to man this varied collection of boats 39,000 ranks and ratings, including skippers and fishermen, were required.
However enthusiastic an amateur may be, he is more a liability than an asset until he has undergone some considerable training, and to have these men training where they live is, I think, very necessary. I would ask the Secretary to the Admiralty to visualise these men. If it is a busy fishing season, they do not see very much of their homes, and in the winter months, when they have time off, I think it would be more advantageous if they could join the Royal Naval Reserve and receive their drill and qualify where they live. I believe that that would be very well received, especially round the North coast of Scotland, and indeed the same thing would apply elsewhere. The actual training is easier under such conditions. But where are the men? I remember the Brixham fishing fleet before the War sailing out with something like 300 boats under sail. Last August I went out in what may be the last Brixham trawler race there will ever be, and four started. I went out in a boat that was 50 years old. The average age of the crew was 70, and they put up a very good show. I have no doubt that each year one more of those boats will drop out until there will be none left at all. Who are to take their places in the next war when all these small ships have to be manned? It is a matter of very grave concern to many of us.
I think I will put the rest of what I have to say in the form of questions, which I hope may be answered. In addition to the main Reserve, we also come to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and then there are the Royal Naval Volunteer- Reserve Supplementary Reserve, the Royal Naval Wireless Telegraphy Auxiliary Reserve, the Royal Naval Auxiliary Sick Bay Reserve, and others. We know that these corps exist, but except that we see that there is extra money voted for them in the Estimates, it is difficult to know their numbers. I hope we may be told a little more what the establishment is and how far volunteers for these services come up to the establishment. Particularly as regards the Royal Naval Vounteer Reserve train- 705 ing, I believe it to be put into operation, but I would like it to be supplemented by more information, and my opinion, for what it is worth, is that these Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve units should be trained particularly in gunnery. I know that the experience of most of us was that when we had these volunteer ratings coming aboard ship, they did not feel at all at home but were rather in the way. They did not know enough to carry out their duties with any ability, and they took a great time to shake down and a still longer time before they were of any practical use. If they can be taught in their drill ships and batteries as complete gun units, to work together, they might come on board any of His Majesty's ships and immediately take up fairly sound and useful positions as gun crew units. I should like to know whether there is any form of training proceeding on those lines.
My right hon. Friend referred to the sea cadets. I have some connection with the Navy League Cadets. There are various units, and they ought to get more help. The Admiralty are most sympathetic, and give them encouragement as much as they can. These cadets have to pass a certain standard and are of a certain age, for which the units receive a capitation grant of 3s. 6d. per head. Under the same conditions the Army cadet gets 5s. per head. It would be far more equitable if the Navy sea cadets could get the 5s. as do the Army cadets. The Admiralty has been very good in giving them training in sea-going ships, and have allowed training at Shotley, in the boys' training establishment. Every time that the boys come back from a visit to Shotley and go to their homes there is an immediate increase in our recruits. Unfortunately, when these boys reach an age when they have finished as sea cadets there is nothing more for them to do, and they lose touch. A good proportion of them go into the Mercantile Marine and the Navy, but the remainder are lost sight of. Is there any prospect of starting in some of the towns where the sea cadets are operating, naval brigades where they could continue that form of service after their sea cadet period, to a much later age, on condition that they promise to come up when called up for service in the Navy after the Royal Proclamation has been made?
There is another branch of service that might well be reformed, and that is the 706 recruitment of Reserves. We hear a great deal about the different places where the Navy has to operate, but no one can possibly say from one war to another how things will work out. We do not make war against any one nation in advance. We have to protect our trade routes against any nation, and that is the reason why the whole of our general arrangements have to remain very much the same whatever form of enemy might possibly be against us. That emphasises the necessity of strengthening the distant ports. The ships that have to be brought into commission have to be strengthened with gun crews, and the merchant ships have to have their decks strengthened in order to take guns. All this demands an enormous amount of Reserves. My complaint is that during peace time these men do not get sufficient training to permit them to go to sea already equipped. Our experience in the past has been that when they go to sea they have to start and learn again. Therefore, I am sure the House would cheerfully vote any money or any facilities for these purposes. I leave it to other hon. Members to continue my argument.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish
I beg to second the Amendment which has been so ably moved by my hon. and gallant Friend. The thread that has been running through the arguments to-day has been very clear, namely, that there is an outstanding need for better and better trained reserves for our personnel. The events of the last few days do not entitle us for one moment to be complacent. I shall endeavour to adhere as strictly as possible to the question of personnel in regard to the Reserve situation. In looking back over the history of the matter, I find that for more than 500 years since the first Navigation Acts were passed far-seeing rulers and statesmen have striven to encourage the supply of seamen to man our ships; but to-day, notwithstanding all the lessons and risks of the past, and particularly the last 20 years, Parliament, the Government and the nation, are still unmindful of our duty, our safety and our interests. In the past a great Queen took very special steps to promote and increase the seafaring population. Queen Elizabeth sought to develop a seafaring population by the encouragement of fisheries. She 707 introduced by law two fish-eating days a week, I think on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and made it an offence for meat to be consumed on either of those days. In addition to that, she introduced protection for our harbours and protection against the landing of fish caught by foreign ships.
Our object and duty to-day should be to train our citizens so as to provide an adequate supply of trained seafarers for peace and war. To-day—and I think the House will agree that I am not wrong—we are pursuing this object half heartedly. Let me give an historic extract dealing with this point. A Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Haversham, put the case with commendable clarity and brevity. He said:Your Fleet and your trade have so near a relationship and such mutual influence upon each other, they cannot well be separated. Your trade is the mother and nurse of your seamen, your seamen are the life of your Fleet, and your Fleet is the security and protection of your trade.I think it would beat even our best modem orators to provide anything so concise or true as that. Again, I say that we have consistently failed to adhere to the unchanging principle which appears in Lord Haversham's statement. Some people say that our senior Service, the Navy, is the answer. It is not the answer, because in every war we have had to double, treble and even more than treble the numbers serving in the Fleet in peace time. I will give two or three simple figures to show that that is true. During the Napoleonic war—the figure was quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill)—at the beginning there were 50,000 serving in the Fleet, and at the end of the War 146,000. That is practically trebled. At the beginning of the last War, in 1914, we had 146,000 personnel, and at the end of the War we had 460,000 officers and men. I know, because I had personal experience in dealing with the mobilisation of a very large number of them. That is a very gigantic increase, and no one can say that our needs in the future are likely to be any the less.
After what my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper) has said about our scattered Fleet and our scattered responsibilities, he would be a very brave but foolish 708 man who would say that our requirements are likely to be any less in the future than they were in the past. I hear a rumour that there is a policy to provide a reserve of merchant ships. Although that does not come within the ambit of this Amendment, I mention it because they will have to be manned. The officers and men in the merchant ships are subject by the Admiralty and the country to service in the Royal Navy in times of stress. That is only one more indication of the very great risks that we shall have to run in the future. How do we stand to-day? The Navy Estimates contain some queer mathematical figures, about which I am not clear, but I gather that we have an active service personnel of 133,000. To my sorrow, and I think it is a grave mistake, the numbers of our reserves are not, to the best of my knowledge, given in the Estimates. Therefore, we are left rather in the dark.
I know something about this matter, and I am not giving away any secrets, because really I do not know any, but if we added our reserves to the 133,000 personnel mentioned in the Estimates, we should not be able to add more than 40,000 or 50,000 men of the reserves. Therefore, at a low estimate on the figures I have given, we should have to find no fewer than 200,000 more officers and men for service in the Fleet in war. Here, I must harp on a point that has been mentioned many times. I was in very close contact with the fishing fleet at one period when I was in the Service. Talking of the men training in their home ports, I remember going, with great pleasure, one January across to the Hebrides and inspecting with pride 1,700 fishermen who were drilling at the local battery for service in the Fleet. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, that system has ceased and it is to the detriment of the country that that is so. That there is a steady decline in the number of our fishing crews is a melancholy fact. If we look at the numbers of trawlers and drifters we see that they are steadily declining. That indicates a steady decline also in our potential reserves, and something should be done to put it right.
I should like to say a few more words about the shortage of our reserves. I believe that the Royal Naval Reserve, recruited as it is from the Merchant Service, 709 is short by several hundred officers. The same can be said of the men. I should be most grateful, and I am sure the House would be grateful, if the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty could give us more information on the point whether we are short and, if so, where we are short. In the reserves for the Army, the Territorial Army, which is to a great extent the reserve of the Regular Army, we know not only the numbers of the officers and men, but how many they are short. I should like to know the same about the reserves for the Navy. The Royal Naval Reserve Patrol, which brings me back to the question of the fishermen, includes a wonderful group of men, recruited from the fishing and seafaring population, and it is seriously short of the numbers desired, dangerously short of the numbers that we should certainly like to have and ought to have in war-time to do the dangerous work of mine-sweeping and other services that can be done by small craft. In regard to an important branch like the wireless telegraphy branch, I have heard rumours that it is not up to numbers. Finally, there is the question of the Royal Fleet Reserve, which is recruited from the active service personnel. That is certainly not up to numbers, though I believe there is hope of its reaching establishment figures. I should particularly and almost affectionately like to ask the Admiralty not to look upon me as a hostile critic. My observations are meant to be constructive and encouraging, and are not made just as an enterprise or, as some people may think it, for the fun of attacking an important Government Department. At the same time I feel very sincerely that in the matter of our reserves things are not as they ought to be, and only the truth will enable Parliament and the Board of Admiralty to press for an expansion in the numbers of trained men.
I should like to say one word about the efficient manning of our merchant ships, because they are a reservoir from which reserves for the Fleet come. It is vital that they should be properly manned, and it will be gravely wrong to take too many young officers or men from those ships in peace or war. An inspection of the Navy Estimates goes to show that by the end of this present year the Admiralty will have have taken something like 200 officers from the Mercantile Marine, and surely that must be a severe 710 strain upon the Mercantile Marine, though I agree that it may possibly have provided more employment—temporarily at any rate—in the Mercantile Marine service. Next I would say a word about what have been and what are the sources from which our reserve naval personnel in war is recruited. I have mentioned the Mercantile Marine, but there are other sources, and most of them are being very inadequately supported by the Admiralty or the Treasury.
The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve depots provide efficient, highly trained and zealous personnel. I think I am right in saying that the depots are being extended to Southampton, to Hull and to Cardiff, and I saw in the paper to-day a mention of Manchester. If the zeal is there and the young men are there I see no reason why the people of Manchester should not take an intense pride in having a volunteer reserve depot. They are very proud of Manchester's connection with the sea, and why should they not have a depot which would provide more personnel for the Navy? Again, I think I am right in saying there is no volunteer reserve depot in the West Country. At any rate there is not one at Plymouth, the home of great sailors of the past and of great sailors of the present. For some reason that defeats me we have failed to tap the universities of this country. It is the experience of naval officers that the Navy is always a subject of interest and of pride to the people, and at every university there is, I believe, an officers training corps organisation, and why should there not be a similar organisation for training those anxious to serve in the Royal Navy? I know one or two students at Cambridge who would leap at the opportunity. The Warden of Downing College is a celebrated naval historian and an Admiral, but I do not believe there is any organisation at Cambridge which would help to provide a reserve of officers for the Navy. I mention Cambridge in particular because the Navy owes a great debt to Cambridge for what it did for young officers after the War.
There are certain training ships, and sea-training schools on shore, which provide for the wants of the Navy, and the Mercantile Navy List for 1937, issued by the Board of Trade, provides some useful indications of the sources from which youngsters could come. There is the 711 Gravesend Sea School, started after the War, to the credit of the country and of the Shipping Federation. After a very short period of training, only three months, I believe, boys from that school provide a very useful addition to the Mercantile Marine as deck hands and stewards. There is a potential reservoir there, but one which should be left intact, if possible; but last year rather more than 800 of those youngsters were trained and passed, presumably, into the Mercantile Marine. That work is supported by a Treasury grant and by the Shipping Federation. There are other training ships and shore schools, and I have no hesitation in saying that ships like the "Warspite" and the "Arethusa" produce some of the finest youngsters in the country, who always do well in the Navy, and the Navy would like a great many more. Last year those ships produced, not for the Navy, but for the Mercantile Marine, some 400 youngsters, and the same ships provided for the Navy about 345. I want to impress upon the Admiralty and my hon. Friends in the House that these training ships, which exist in different parts of the country, are kept going by voluntary subscriptions, except for a certain grant paid by the London County Council out of the rates. In most instances they are gravely hampered by lack of funds. Surely all such ships and schools ought to be helped by the Treasury, because they are admirable sources of supply for the Navy.
The Sea Cadets have already been mentioned, and I will say no more about them except that at present there are something like 6,000 boys, all as proud as they can be, and there ought to be a great many more, and there would be if it were not for the fact that we in this country do so love to run everything by voluntary contributions. A comparison between the War Office and the Admiralty has already been made in regard to payments of 5s. a year in one case and 3s. in the other, and it is hard to believe that in the case of this great reservoir of young people the only encouragement which they get from the State amounts to less than three farthings per boy per week. That is something of which we ought to be mildly ashamed. I should like to see the contribution multiplied by at least 10. I think I am right 712 in saying that £2,000 is all that figures in the Navy Estimates for this work.
What I have said shows, I claim, that our reserves and the sources from which they can be built up are utterly inadequate. I note with great pleasure that there is a possibility of establishing in inland towns brigades of men who will volunteer for the Royal Navy in war. This is a splendid innovation. Pride in the Navy is just as great in the inland towns as in the towns on the coast, and with enthusiasm and work I think we shall be able to get what we want. I understand there is a possibility of creating at the home ports of the Navy certain depots of auxiliary naval companies in which seafaring people can serve. That, again, is a good venture.
In the War men who were enrolled in the Navy either as volunteers or as conscripts came from many sources, and I think some of the sources will astonish hon. Members. We start with the seamen and fishermen. Forty-eight thousand men came from the fishing fleets and the Mercantile Marine, but far greater numbers of men came from non-seafaring populations. From agriculture came 12,000 men, from coal and other mining 13,000, shipbuilding 6,000, engineering occupations of all kinds 28,000, building and allied trades 11,000, railways 5,000, dock workers of all kinds 5,000, motor drivers, etc., 6,000, employés of local authorities 8,000, general labourers 9,000, commercial and clerical workers 19,000, warehousemen and porters 3,500, domestic and personal service 4,000, other occupations 6,000. In addition there were many more from many important and vital trades.
Those are the figures of the men who were demobilised during the 12 months following November, 1918, and the occupations to which they returned when they left the Navy. It is a total of 228,000, and excepting the 48,000 fishermen and men of the Mercantile Marine none of them had been trained to the sea or had had any sort of training to fit them for service in the Navy. We ought to realise how thoughtless we were on the last occasion and how necessary it is for us to give the subject more attention now. Those men all played their part manfully, and every naval officer would say the same. How much better it would have been if they had been given preliminary 713 training. It is not much help to know that in His Majesty's ship "Victory" at the battle of Trafalgar there was a crew—it is hard to believe that she could have had so big a crew—of 819, of which more than 10 per cent, were landsmen and were regarded on board the ship as such. In addition to that there were 37 supernumeraries, and among them were several women. It may perhaps surprise some people, but it is a fact. Although we won a victory there and won the War on the last occasion, we have no right to be complacent and to forget our duty to train our personnel.
I say, why not train our people when they are burning with zeal and enthusiasm and would love to serve in His Majesty's Navy? Why do we continue to deny ourselves the safety which our heritage demands? I have a feeling, as a backbencher, that we are much too prone to accept the stranglehold of the Treasury. We direct our remarks to the Admiralty or the War Office but there is always that hidden hand behind which says, "No, not another shilling." We ought not to accept this position. If the House feels keenly about this matter we ought to make sure by encouraging the Admiralty, as we so easily can, and insisting upon a Supplementary Estimate to help with the training of the Reserves of the Fleet. There is no sacrifice, pecuniary or otherwise, that our people would not make if the situation were put to them. Happily we are now largely free from all those shackles, those inky blots, and rotten parchment bonds of which my hon. Friend on the Front Bench must have heard so often, in the years of decline after the War, those years of crumbling power, slumbering consciences and the eclipse of our history. I say, so far as the personnel of the Navy is concerned, let us reform and act.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chertsey (Commander Marsden) on having raised with such clarity and conviction a question of such importance to the Navy. Perhaps I may be allowed to state very briefly the condition of the Reserves. I agree that it is vital to have a strong and healthy reserve of a variety of kinds. I agree also, of course, that anybody speaking for the Admiralty must be aware of the import- 714 ance of preserving a strong fishing community and a strong Merchant Service. I agree that if we are to have Reserves it is vital to have them well trained. I liked the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) in regard to fish. The compulsory diet of fish certainly had the effect of giving rise to a deputation to the chairman of the fishing committee.
My hon. and gallant Friend drew rather too melancholy a picture of the state, numbers and vitality of our Reserves. It is no exaggeration to say that the total number of our Reserves is stronger than it was before the War. He suggested a figure between 30,000 and 40,000; although it would be against public policy to state under each category the number of Reserves, there is no harm in saying that our Reserves are at least 70,000. Over and above that figure there are, perhaps, another 60,000 or 70,000 who, at some time or other, served in the Royal Navy, and who are now under 55 years of age. Apart from that hidden Reserve, what we call the Reserve proper amounts to 70,000. We are making provision in these Estimates for an increase of £116,000 in respect of various Reserve Services. The mobilisation gave us an insight into the machinery of the Reserves and how it could be strengthened. It gave us an insight, also, into the fine spirit of the Reserves. The way they responded was very remarkable, as my hon. and gallant Friend pointed out. Even before they heard the Proclamation they turned up at the nearest depot, even at 6 o'clock in the morning. On Wednesday, 28th September, although the Privy Council was not held until later in the morning, and although the mobilisation order did not go out until two minutes past 11, the first man turned up at one depot at 6 o'clock in the morning, and by 8 o'clock 200 reservists had arrived. It is no light thing for a man suddenly to throw up his occupation in civil life, make all arrangements necessary for leaving his family and go off to an unknown form of service. The response of officers and men was magnificent.
An instance comes to my mind of an officer who wrote saying that since the Admiralty had last been in touch with him he had undergone an operation and had lost a leg. The artificial leg had not yet arrived but he was feeling all right, and he could use crutches and thought 715 he could perform the job he had performed from 1914 to 1918. There was another case which was reported by the commodore of a barracks. A rating turned up with a dog, but they said to. him, "You cannot bring the dog in here." He said, "I must. I have never been separated from this dog." They said, "We are very sorry, but you cannot come here," but he said, "I must; I am blind." The mobilisation taught us several lessons. It taught us that we can keep in closer touch with officers on the retired list to make sure that we get them into the right job. We have earmarked all the officers we require and practically all of them have specific jobs. We have written to tell them what those jobs are, and have asked them to report as to their state of fitness to take the job. We are arranging for a large number of them to receive training as soon as may be. The academic training will take place at Greenwich and the technical courses will take place at the home ports. The question of the Immediate Reserve was raised, and I was asked how many we had. We are fixing at the moment an establishment of about 4,000. Although the Reserve has only just been formed we have already had over 3,000 applications.
As regards training, my hon. and gallant Friend will realise that the training arrangements are already part of the reserve scheme for the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. In every category of reserves our establishment is up to strength, unless there is a very good reason to the contrary. For example, in the case of the Wireless Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve we have just recently increased the establishment, but I have no doubt that the numbers will increase. Again, we have recently increased the establishment of the trawler service, which performs a vital service in war time in Sweeping for mines and for anti-submarine work. It has gone up in strength because we have increased the reserve. Apart from that, we have in the last two years taken over 240 officers belonging to the Merchant Service, and, although that establishment is not quite up to strength, I have no doubt that it will be in the near future.
My hon. and gallant Friend asked about the new form of training in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He will be in- 716 terested to know, and the House will be interested to know, that we are starting three new divisions of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at Hull, Southampton and Cardiff, putting into practice a scheme which we have been working out, not in relation to the crisis at all, but long before. It has long been felt that the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, which is one of our main volunteer reserves, should be given a more definite function, and we are taking steps to organise a system of anti-aircraft long-range gun training, so that the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve will have this definite mission and objective. We have approached the various divisions, in which there is very great keenness in this respect, and we hope ultimately to organise 100 anti-aircraft gun and fire control units within the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. We are making arrangements that in 10 of the 11 divisions guns will be sent for training purposes, and every training ship will be fitted with anti-aircraft guns, or as the dockyard releases anti-aircraft ships, some of the older cruisers or destroyers which have been turned into escort vessels will be made available at the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve centre. That, I hope, will be achieved in the course of the year. The training ship "President," which is the headquarters of the London Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, has already been so equipped.
One other advantage is that these gunnery units will be trained together, and, on mobilisation, will be sent to the ships of the Reserve Fleet together as units. My hon. and gallant Friend will realise the importance of that, because it is just when the reserve ships are working up that the danger of aircraft attack is most acute, and, if these reserve ships can have these thoroughly trained units, mobilised as such and taking over the anti-aircraft work of a gun or guns, it will be a great addition to the strength of the ship. My hon. and gallant Friend will be glad to know that we are completing the facilities for visual signalling, and the "Chrysanthemum" is to be anchored somewhere near the "President" as the headquarters of the London Signal Division. That ship, I hope, will arrive in April. We have instituted another branch of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve for officers, with an 18-months course of 717 training, and so far just under 50 have joined.
My hon. and gallant Friend asked whether there was no method of harnessing the enthusiasm in the Provinces away from Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve divisions in towns inland—the enthusiasm that is latant in every Englishman for the Navy. If you scratch an Englishman, you will find a sailor. The experience gained in connection with the Naval Brigade at Hampstead, entirely a voluntary organisation, shows what can be done in this respect. It is worked by a great enthusiast, and has been going, I think, since 1911. A similar experiment is being conducted at Slough by another enthusiast. There is no doubt that, if we put the Naval Brigade on an official footing, we shall get a number of persons in towns who are interested in the Navy to come forward and receive a course of training. Their only obligation—a moral obligation—will be that they wish to join the Navy in time of war. We are making capitation grants of £1 a head up to an establishment of 100, and we are making a grant for the acquisition of equipment. We hope to establish such Naval Brigades as an experiment.
§ Commander Marsden
Would it be possible to promise the House that the age of entry into the Naval Brigade shall follow directly on that of discharge from the Navy?
§ Mr. Shakespeare
I am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend has raised that point. A number of sea cadets who do not go into the Merchant Service and do not join the Navy will automatically have a chance of coming forward into the Naval Brigade, where their experience will stand them in good stead. I believe that in the Hampstead brigade they are able to bring a rating up to the state of efficiency that is reached after four or five months' training in the case of the Special Reserve rating in one of our depots, and I think that this experiment is well worth trying.
My hon. and gallant Friend asked about the naval auxiliary companies, which also are an experiment. We are starting a naval auxiliary company at Portsmouth. It is a kind of local R.N.V.R., to attract those with waterside experience who are anxious to serve in the Navy. They will be given the chance 718 of joining this auxiliary company and of serving in the Navy in their home port. They will perform the auxiliary functions of the port, and the company will be thrown open to men up to 55 years of age. They will have the advantage of knowing that they will be earmarked for services round about that specific port. If this experiment succeeds at Portsmouth, as I am sure it will, we shall extend it to other home ports. I think I have now answered the majority of the questions which were put to me. The reserves are there; the numbers are well up to strength; their spirit is magnificent; and the total strength of the reserve is over half that of the total personnel of the Navy. We know from recent experience that in a time of emergency their help will be invaluable. But it will be much more invaluable if, between now and then, we can get in enough training, and I heartily endorse everything that was said by my hon. and gallant Friend. I would like to read his speech more fully, in case I have missed any point, and if so I will follow it up, because any remarks coming from such a distinguished quarter will naturally receive the attention of anyone holding my position. I hope that I have said enough to satisfy my hon. and gallant Friend, and that he will withdraw the Amendment.
§ Commander Marsden
In view of the statement made by my hon. Friend, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I always rise to speak with trepidation, but to-night I especially feel that I have to ask the indulgence of the House, as a triple turret of ex-First Lords have addressed the House and there appear to be still three admirals to come into action. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary, who has had to leave the House, will understand me when I say that I feel some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper) in not having the task of moving the Estimates. Last year he was robbed of the opportunity by illness. Perhaps he will allow me to say that from what I hear from 719 officers of the Navy, they were sorry that he had to leave the Admiralty. They know that they had a good friend in him, anxious to support naval requirements and traditions. For myself, the resignation of the late First Lord rekindled a great deal of my faith in politics, because I think no man is fit for high office unless he is prepared to resign it on a matter of conscience. I have very little use for those Cabinet Ministers we always hear of who get into an interesting condition when there is a crisis. I am glad that we have in the First Lord an Englishman to set alongside that very noble Frenchman who was Military Attaché in Prague at the time of the events of last September, who resigned his nationality and resigned his commission in the French Army in order to join forces with the Czechs, to show his sympathy.
Judging by the speech we have heard from the Parliamentary Secretary, the Navy has its shipbuilding programme and its requirements in the way of matériel very well in hand, but we have to take a great deal on trust, because similar speeches were made by the Admiralty representatives from 1905 onwards. Similarly, we were assured that all was well with the Navy, but during the War we found that in those pre-war years the Admiralty had been employing admirals without training them in how to defeat the enemy, they had been building battle cruisers which blew up, they had been buying cordite which blew up at the wrong time, they had been buying mines which would not blow up, and they had been buying shells which did not burst.
I think it is really a most unjust accusation to say that the admirals before the War were not being trained for war. Personally, I served in the Home Fleet for seven years, and was trained for nothing else. The hon. and gallant Member has no right to make an accusation of that sort against the admirals. As regards what he said about cordite which blew up at the wrong time, perhaps he does not know the regulations with regard to the testing of cordite. Owing to the immense amount of cordite required by the Army during the War, the standard was lowered for the Navy, and they had to accept that.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
That may be so, but the fact remains that the fate 720 of certain ships during the War showed that the cordite did blow up at the wrong time. As regards what the hon. and gallant Member has said about my remarks on the failure to train Admirals adequately before the War, there is evidence from flag officers which bears out my statement, and there is also the evidence of one inconclusive action after another to bear out that statement. We cannot take it for granted that all is better now, although we hope it is. As we heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) this afternoon, the fact that so many important decisions taken by the Admiralty during the last three years have had to be reconsidered justifies us in saying that we hope that all is better, but that we cannot take it for granted that that is so.
I want to deal with two specific cases affecting administration in the Navy. The first point is on the question of complaints and the right to make them, on the part of officers and men. What I have to say arises out of the events revealed by the "Royal Oak" court-martial. Let me say at once that I have no intention of reviving the controversy that arose out of that unhappy event. I take no sides about it, but I do say that the events revealed by that court-martial indicated certain dangers involved in making complaints for those who make them, and I must say, from my experience in the Service, that ratings have not complete confidence in their rights regarding complaints. They may be wrong, but the fact remains that they have not complete confidence. What is important is this. After the "Royal Oak" court-martial, the Admiralty cancelled the old right of a junior to report the misconduct of a senior officer, and limited the right to make complaints to cases of personal oppression or injustice or ill-treatment. That is, in fact, a challenge to Parliament, which has the undoubted right to legislate about the discipline of the Defence Services.
Article 37 of the Naval Discipline Act makes it incumbent upon any officer or man—not only gives him the right, but makes it incumbent on him—to make known to his superior any just cause of complaint. The new Admiralty Regulations appear to me to infringe the Act, and to challenge Parliament. The effect of the change which the new Regulations make is that, supposing a captain who, 721 unfortunately, happened to be given to intemperate acts—not that I suggest that captains are given to intemperate acts—gave his commander no ground for personal complaint, the commander, under the new Regulations could be court-martialled if he reported the habitual drunkenness of his captain which endangered the ship. The new Regulations say that complaints must be limited to a statement of the facts complained of and of the alleged consequences to the complainant himself. The first of those principles enshrines an expression of opinion given by the Judge Advocate at the "Royal Oak" court-martial. But the second rules out any possibility of any complaint for other than personal motives. No officer or man under the new Regulations can report an improper action or crime in which a senior officer is involved, unless he himself is injured by the action or crime. The good of the country or the interests of the Service cannot now be invoked. At the time of the court-martial Article 9 of the King's Regulations laid down that a complaint could be made:If any officer or other person should observe any misconduct in his superior, he may represent such misconduct to his superior.After the court-martial that Regulation was altered, and it now reads:If an officer, petty-officer, non-commissioned officer or man thinks he has suffered any personal oppression, injustice or other ill-treatment, or that he has been treated unjustly in any way, he may make complaint.''Let me give some examples of how this change in regulations works out. There was a case when an ordinary seaman made a complaint which revealed a very serious state of bribery and corruption regarding payments in barracks. He was entitled to make that complaint under the old regulations. Under the new regulations he would be subject to punishment for having made it because he personally was not affected. There was another case where a junior officer felt it his duty to report a senior officer for being drunk at a public function which was given to the Navy by a foreign Power. He would now be liable to court-martial after having made that report because he personally was not affected or injured by it. I take even a more striking case—a case of disgraceful conduct on the part of a commissioned warrant officer. It 722 was resented on the lower deck. Nobody dared to report it. One man said that he was expecting promotion and did not want to prejudice his chances by reporting it.
§ Mr. Markham
These are very serious cases to produce before the House without some assurances either that the charges were not preferred because of the possible consequences, or that the charges were preferred and had consequences such as the hon. and gallant Gentleman has mentioned. If he will make clear to the House what he has in mind, I shall be very grateful.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I am sorry that the hon. Member should think that I am not making my case clear.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I regret it, but I am stating it in the most definite and clear language possible.
§ Mr. Markham
Were the charges preferred and the men punished, or were the charges not preferred because of the fear of punishment?
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
In these two cases I stated clearly that the complaints were preferred, because, under the old regulations which existed at that time, it was possible for them to be preferred. The point I am making is that, under the new regulations which have been brought into force since the "Royal Oak" court-martial, such cases could not be preferred. If they were brought forward, those bringing them forward would be liable to punishment by court-martial under the new regulations. I am very grateful to the hon. Member.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I think that the third case I have to quote will make it quite clear. As I was saying, this was a case of disgraceful conduct on the part of a commissioned warrant officer which was resented on the lower deck, and nobody dared to report it. One man said he was expecting promotion and did not wish to prejudice his chances of promotion by making a complaint against a senior officer. A very interesting thing 723 happened. The captain of the ship, who was completely in ignorance of this state of affairs, happened to have another case, a completely different case, of complaint brought before him, and arising out of that complaint this particular captain said that nobody in that ship, as long as he commanded it, should suffer for bringing forward a proper complaint. What was the effect of that statement by the captain? The result was that a man then came forward and complained about the commissioned warrant officer on behalf of a young ordinary seaman who was too frightened to make a complaint himself. The warrant officer was tried, and he was dismissed the Service. But under the new Regulations of the Admiralty the man who brought that complaint forward on behalf of the young frightened seaman would have been liable to trial because he himself was not personally affected by the matter in question.
Let me take another point. Written complaints, except from admirals or captains, are forbidden by the new Regulations. That is particularly unfortunate. Why should there be one rule for the admiral and another rule for the seaman? It is a great ordeal for a seaman to make a verbal complaint in the presence of the officer about whom he is complaining. He is obviously very nervous and not able to express himself well, and his words can very easily be misrepresented. I do not want to weary the House on this particular point, but I believe it to be one of importance. I come back to my main point. Article 37 of the Naval Discipline Act says complaints may be made arising out ofany cause of complaint or upon any other just grounds,and the new Regulations issued after the "Royal Oak" court-martial exclude, and even penalise, complaints which the Naval Discipline Act not only permits but orders to be made. Unless there is some explanation of which I am not aware, it appears that the Admiralty have issued Regulations which contravene what has been authorised by Parliament. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will look into that matter and give the House some explanation or satisfaction that that state of affairs either does not exist, or, if it does exist, that it will be remedied, because I believe it to be a state of affairs 724 which is prejudicial to good feeling and to discipline in the Service.
I turn to another matter which has some bearing upon events which have already been brought to the notice of this House in connection with the "Caledonia" ex "Majestic." I do not want to go over old ground, but I must make a few remarks about the affair in order to illustrate the point I want to make about an item in the present Navy Estimates. The case of the "Caledonia" was one that came to the notice of the Public Accounts Committee. I understand we refused the gift of this ship, but we subsequently bought her for; £140,000, and converted her at a cost of £476,000, making a total of £616,000;in all. That came before the Public Accounts Committee and the Secretary to the Admiralty contended that the value of the ship as scrap can be regained, and the purchase price recovered when the ship has served its purpose. The Public Accounts Committee were not very impressed by that and I doubt if any Member here is either. This is the important point. In 1936 the Treasury were given a figure of £150,000 in connection with the "Caledonia." In October the Admiralty estimated £250,000. It had gone up by £100,000; but they did not inform the Treasury. When asked about this Sir Archibald Carter said that "some figure had to be put in" the Estimates. Conversion was done on a cost and percentage basis, which the Treasury have condemned; £180,000 was expended on repairs to machinery, although Sir Archibald Carter said that it was unlikely that the ship would be required to move under her own steam. £18,000 was spent on moving the ship from Southampton to Rosyth.
There was also an estimate for hutments as an alternative to the ship. Again there was wildly inaccurate estimating. It began again at £150,000—that figure seems to be fixed in the minds of the Admiralty. It went up to £340,000 for temporary hutments, and finally they quoted a figure of £400,000 for permanent hutments. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) pointed out to Sir Archibald Carter that it would be as cheap to build a permanent home for every two boys. The Admiralty wanted the expensive ship instead of the cheaper permanent establishment because Sir Archibald said, they were in a hurry. After the ship 725 was ready the first draft of boys was only 35, and at the end of the year only 338. Where was the hurry? The ship involves a big staff, a staff of 826 for 1,643 boys. Fifty-one percent. of staff in this ship as against a 28 per cent. Staff, required in the "Ganges." I think this illustrates that something is radically wrong in the Admiralty accounts and estimating costings department. It shows that the Admiralty proceeds without proper consultation with the Treasury. I do not wish to speak in any disrespectful or harsh manner about any official holding such a high position as Secretary to the Admiralty, but I am entitled to say that the Public Accounts Committee certainly did not find Sir Archibald Carter a satisfactory witness.
This leads on to a similar case in connection with the magnetic survey vessel "Research." I understand that the Dominions contribute something to the cost and that is a matter about which we should like some information. The ship is something of a luxury. In the Estimates it will be found that the original Estimate was £188,503, and the revised Estimate £206,353. The matter is more peculiar than these figures reveal. The question of this ship was broached to the Treasury by the Admiralty in 1934 or 1935, when the estimated cost was £70,000. In the 1936 Estimates there was no estimate of total cost but the estimated expenditure was £55,761. In 1937, there was still no estimate given of the total cost, although the order for the ship had been given five months before the Estimates were printed. The order was placed on a tender of not less than £150,000 for contract work, more than double the estimated figure given to the Treasury, and the tender was accepted and the order placed without asking for Treasury agreement. I understand that up to this day the Treasury have not been consulted. If they have it has only been recently. Possibly the Comptroller or Auditor has just noticed that Treasury authority was not sought after September, 1936. In the 1938 Estimates the figure had gone up to £188,503 and in the 1939 Estimates the figure is £206,353, or nearly treble the original estimate given to the Treasury. I think it is pertinent to ask what is wrong with the estimating staff at the Admiralty? I should like to know whether the Parliamentary Secretary has been informed about this matter or 726 whether the facts have been brought to his notice.
Arising out of the "Caledonia" case the Public Accounts Committee told Sir Archibald Carter, who is not only Secretary to the Admiralty but Chief Accountant to the Navy, that he ought to overhaul his whole system of accounts. What has been done? I understand that the inevitable committee has been appointed, and possibly it held one or two meetings prior to Christmas. There is no change in procedure as yet, nothing effective has been done. The attitude of those responsible is largely one of indifference. It seems to me that there is in the system of accounting a gap which constitutes a grave weakness. The Treasury can be given a figure and then the various Admiralty Departments get the Board of Admiralty to agree to extras, but there is no provision whereby the Treasury are automatically informed of the extras which the Board of Admiralty have sanctioned. In consequence we get cases like the "Caledonia," in which the first Estimate given to the Treasury was exceeded by some 300 per cent. and in the case of the "Research" trebled. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some information about this ship.
I would like to say a word on the question of capital ships, and in that respect I want to refer to the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping. I heartily agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the Mediterranean. I think that the theories which are put forward about abandoning the Mediterranean in the event of war are disastrous. The Mediterranean has always been the theatre of war in which historically we have taken the offensive, and I heartily agree with the right hon. Gentleman that these disastrous doctrines should be repudiated. I am not in such agreement with him about the position in the North Sea in regard to the German Fleet. He said that the German ships may be few and that they will only be concerned with the Baltic. As long as German capital ships are in existence, no matter where they are, they will require a superior British naval force in order to mask them, and on that account we cannot afford to ignore their existence as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. Personally, I am far more anxious about the numbers of 727 our capital ships than about the numbers of our cruisers.
May I point out with regard to the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, that while that provides for a 35 per cent. ratio in capital ships it must not be forgotten that we are dealing with three Axis Powers, and that 35 percent. is as near as can be to 33⅓ per cent. I think it is quite plausible to believe that the figure of 35 per cent. was accepted by Germany on the basis that it represented one-third of the shipbuilding contribution which the three axis Powers are able to make. There is a certain confusion of thought about battleships. A sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence reported that the battleship can be successfully defended against air attack. I think a great many people suddenly jumped to the conclusion that that had decided on the question of whether battleships are still useful. I do not think a report that battleships can be defended against air attack is the same thing as a report that battleships are still useful. That problem still remains arguable.
On the question of scrapping the "Royal Sovereigns," it is always very disquieting to contemplate scrapping any ships. I agree that these ships might possibly have a use in convoy work, although, of course, they would be enormously expensive for that purpose; but I cannot agree with the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping against the decision of the Naval Staff that these ships should be scrapped. We may as well face the fact that the "Royal Sovereigns" never were very good ships; they were not one of the most satisfactory classes of ships that we have built. I am not prepared to say that five of these old, not very satisfactory, ships are worth two brand new German ships of larger displacement. On the facts available to me, I am inclined to say that the arguments of the Naval Staff are right in this respect, although I agree that it is necessary to keep a careful lookout so that we do not scrap these ships only to find out that Germany is violating the agreement in accordance with which we have scrapped them.
The discussion this afternoon has turned very largely upon the question of a two hemisphere Fleet. That is not a very precise phrase. Does it mean one Fleet 728 capable of looking after two hemispheres, or two Fleets each capable of looking after one hemisphere? I do not think we can look after two hemispheres on a basis of 19 or 21 capital ships. If events develop in the Far East which make us move capital ships out there, one can be quite sure that there will be developments at home which will make us want to bring them back. British interests have recently been going up in smoke in the Far East, and pressure at home has absolutely forbidden us to move a capital ship out to the Far East. If we have to fight in two hemispheres at the same time, we must keep all our capital ships at home on the basis of 19 or 21. We shall have to let events rip in the Far East. Incidentally, that would mean good-bye to the Dutch East Indies. I suppose the hope would be that we could dispose of our enemies at home and then go out and clean up the Far East. I think that is very fallacious. Suppose our enemies at home did not risk a fleet action, suppose they kept their capital ships stowed away and did not come out to fight; then they would immobilise the whole of our capital Fleet of 21 ships, and the situation would never arise in which we had disposed of our enemies at home and could turn to the Far East.
I should like to call the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to an answer which he gave me in the House when I asked him about the possibility of stationing a fleet at Singapore. I asked him whether the Naval Staff were satisfied that, in the event of capital ships becoming necessary for the defence of Australia in the near future, this country would be able to provide those capital ships; and he replied that:The Minister of Defence, in the speech referred to, said that Australia looked to the United Kingdom in an emergency to station at Singapore a fleet big enough to safeguard the Empire's interests in the Eastern hemisphere, and that is a correct statement of the position.It may have been a correct statement of the position, but I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether, on a basis of 19 or 21 capital ships, there is any prospect of our being able to station at Singapore a fleet of capital ships upon which the Minister of Defence in Australia says that the defence of Australia depends.
The Parliamentary Secretary made an admirable speech. It was a speech full 729 of vivid illustrations, and one which really challenges comparison with those great speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred. I do not happen to know where Lord Oxford and Asquith is at the moment, but wherever he may be, I hope it afforded him some satisfaction to hear the Army Estimates introduced into the House last week by a Liberal and the Naval Estimates this week by another Liberal, in speeches of such consummate ability. The Parliamentary Secretary gave us one of the most informative and illuminating speeches that we have had in this Parliament on the Naval Estimates. It was particularly satisfactory as to the arming of merchantmen, about the defensive measures to be taken against submarines, and about anti-aircraft progress. He took the House into his confidence as far as any representative of the Admiralty could reasonably be expected to do. Obviously, he takes great interest in the work he is called upon to perform. I can tell him that his visits to the Fleet are very much appreciated by the Naval officers with whom he has come into contact. In fact, if he goes on in this way, I think that one day we shall be naming two ships, one of them "Samuel Pepys" and the other "Geoffrey Shakespeare."
The Government have been running a great publicity campaign about rearmament. I am glad that the Admiralty have been imposing their own standards of etiquette upon their representatives. The Secretary of State for War has really outdone Hollywood in photography. The Secretary of State for Air has been photographed on every possible occasion and in every conceivable attitude. He was photographed crawling into a balloon, part of the balloon barrage—I do not know what he saw when he got in there, for he did not reveal that in his speech on the Estimates—and he was photographed on shaking hands with a gendarme at Monte Carlo. I am very glad that the Admiralty do not tolerate these antics on the part of their political representatives, and that they have none of these photographs. I sometimes feel that a future Jutland is being won on the playing fields of Eton. The First Lord, the Civil Lord and the Secretary to the Admiralty are all old Etonians. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is not 730 frozen out of their deliberations because of some old school-time feeling.
In all seriousness, the Estimates that we are being asked to pass to-day show the price in pounds sterling of peace with honour. We have passed into the region,of completely unreal finance, in which a few more noughts do not matter. We know that the money we are borrowing for rearmament will never be repaid. There is no hope of repaying this money. We have simply adopted the standards of any South American republic. As far as the financing of rearmament is concerned, we are living in a completely crazy world. It is impossible to consider these Estimates without thought of the European situation with which we are confronted to-day. Criticisms have been aimed only at efficiency. Criticisms have been made only in order to spur on the Admiralty to greater efforts.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping truly said that the country will respond to any financial demands which are made upon it at this moment, for rearmament. I fear the country will be called upon to make a tremendous effort. I agree as to that with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). The Prime Minister has pursued a personal foreign policy, against the advice of his professional advisers. He has pursued it with vigour, with courage and with initiative. The Prime Minister has kept faith with Herr Hitler. He has vouched for Herr Hitler's good faith to this House and to this country. He has given him every opportunity to show his good faith. The Prime Minister has risked his own political fortunes, in order to do all this for Herr Hitler, and yesterday he sat on that bench amid the wreckage of his policy—flouted, ignored, snubbed, tricked by the man for whom he has risked so much, realising that the country his policy has destroyed, the Jews, the refugees, the political prisoners, the exiles—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I have seen no reason to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member so far.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I repeat that the Prime Minister has to realise that the country which his policy has 731 destroyed, the Jews, the refugees, the political prisoners, the exile Dr. Benes, the prisoner Herr Schuschnigg—all have been sacrificed in vain, as he was warned from the very beginning would be the case. I think he should go, but it was no pleasure to me yesterday to sit here and to see a British Prime Minister humiliated as ours has been by a man who does not know the meaning of the words "honour" and "good faith." The simple lesson which the country has to learn—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think the hon. and gallant Member is now going beyond what is permissible on this occasion.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
Of course I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I only say in conclusion that there is a simple lesson for the House and the country to learn from these colossal Estimates, for which surely they will require some reason and some explanation. The simple explanation is that there is a wild beast loose in Europe; that what Herr Hitler can do he will do, and that the only restraint upon him is the limit of his power. Honour, mercy, decency, law, order, humanity—none of these things means anything to him. If we are in his way and he can crush us, he will do so, and such Estimates as these are our only defence.
§ 9.20 p.m.
The hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) is, undoubtedly, a past master in the art of personal invective but that does not always strengthen an argument. He was at one time, as I was, an officer in His Majesty's Navy and it filled me, and I am sure every other hon. Member in this House, with indignation to hear the accusations which he made against the efficiency of the admirals prior to the War. Does the hon. and gallant Member suggest that the late Admirals of the Fleet Lord Beatty and Lord Jellicoe were inefficient officers—those men who rendered such great service to this country during the War? Does he suggest that Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee was inefficient in the art of war or that gallant Admiral Sir Christopher Craddock was an inefficient officer? By those accusations the hon. and gallant Member insults the memory of those naval officers 732 who served their country so well, and I am amazed that one who has had the honour to serve in His Majesty's Navy should make such a statement in this House. To say the least of it, it was, in my opinion, very bad form, in the presence of a very distinguished Admiral of the Fleet, the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes), who also rendered most efficient and valuable service during the War, to suggest that the admirals were not trained in the art of war prior to the War. I wonder that the hon. and gallant Member is not ashamed of himself.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
As regards the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes), it will be in his recollection that on a previous occasion in a Debate in this House I took the opportunity of paying a tribute, which I most sincerely felt, to his capacity and to his services during the War. The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) is completely mistaken. My criticism has not been of the Admirals but of the Admiralty, which did not institute a proper system of training in the art of war for Admirals prior to the late War. It is a matter about which several Admirals who fought during the War have made their views and their complaints known.
The fact of the matter is that the hon. and gallant Gentleman accused them of being inefficient in the art of war prior to the War.
I will let the House decide, and I invite hon. Members to read in the Official Report tomorrow morning what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said.
The Parliamentary Secretary at the end of his speech alluded to the marriage allowances for naval officers, and, as an example of how popular the system was, he said that nearly 100 per cent. of the married officers had contracted into the scheme as if that were any argument in favour of the scheme. Any married officer who did not contract into the marriage allowance scheme would lose pay at the rate of 2s. a day from the day on which he was promoted to lieut.-commander up to and including the 733 whole of his time as captain. Obviously, every married officer would naturally contract into the scheme. There is no doubt that naval officers are very grateful for the marriage allowances, and also for the concessions that have been made since the scheme was first introduced. But there are several factors in the scheme which require attention with a view to amendment. The first point is this. The foundation of the scheme for naval officers, unlike that for officers in the Army and the Royal Air Force, is that it is a contributory scheme, the direct result of which is that every officer from the rank of lieut. commander up to and including the rank of captain has his basic rate of pay reduced by 2s. a day. In effect this is a tax on the bachelor naval officer. In the first place, I submit there is no justification for this reduction in the pay of naval officers to provide a part of the sum required for these marriage allowances. In Command Paper 5746 of 1938 the First Lord states:The present rates of emoluments of naval officers were in the main settled in 1919, when rates for the Army and Royal Air Force were also laid down. The rates agreed upon were designed to secure parity of remuneration in all three Services. But whereas the Army and the Air Force settlements provided differential rates of allowances for married and single officers, in the Navy no such distinction was made.In other words, there was a uniform scale of pay for all naval officers at a somewhat higher level than if provision had been made for a separate marriage allowance, and the scale adopted was designed to be sufficient to enable a naval officer to marry and bring up a family. In succeeding years the grant of a marriage allowance was considered several times, and in 1925 a committee was set up to go into the question anew. That committee reported in favour of the principle of the scheme, and it stated that, if the Admiralty could secure acceptance by the Fleet of a revised basis of pay which would include reduced rates for unmarried officers, it would be possible to improve the position of married officers. During recent years the Admiralty have again examined the whole basis of this scheme, and the White Paper that I have mentioned states:The Admiralty reached the conclusion that the settlement of 1919 had not given adequate consideration to one important point, that while the naval officer is afloat he has to maintain a separate establishment for his wife, towards the upkeep of which he has, unlike 734 officers in the other Services, received no allowance.''That is a most important admission. It is quite patent to every naval officer, of course, that that is one of the most important factors governing their claim for marriage allowance, the keeping up of two establishments. However, this admission by the Admiralty clearly shows that they now know that the rates laid down in 1919 were not sufficient to enable a naval officer to marry and bring up a family.
I am sorry to have to refer to these various committees, but they are important. There was the Fisher Committee Report of 1919, to which the Admiralty White Paper referred. That report has never been published—a most regrettable fact, as there is no means of knowing what the committee's recommendations were nor how they were arrived at. It was set up to do for the Army and the Royal Air Force what the previous committee had done for the Navy in granting an increase of pay. There is another committee to which I must refer. I told the hon. Member for the City of London (Sir A. Anderson) that I was going to make some rather caustic remarks about the committee of which he was chairman, but he told me he might not be present because he had not been well. I very much regret his not being here as I do not like to say anything in his absence, but I cannot help it. In 1923 the Anderson Committee reported on the pay of State servants, the hon. Member for the City of London being its chairman. It has undoubtedly had a very considerable bearing on the marriage allowance scheme, as it has had on the pay. As a result of this report a lower rate of pay was fixed for all officers joining the Army and Navy after October, 1935. It undoubtedly fulfilled its object in bringing about a reduction in pay. I very much wonder whether the hon. Member is still of the same opinion as he was when he signed that report. In order to make out a case for reducing the pay of a junior naval officer, the committee state:In discussing the question of naval officers' pay with representatives of the Admiralty it was impressed on us that junior naval officers are trusted with heavy responsibilities for life and property at an age when young men entering other callings have scarcely left school. This is true, but to our mind it is the chance of responsibility and of command that attracts the man who will do 735 well in the Navy. In recruiting for any service pay is one, but only one, of the factors and, so far from agreeing that it is necessary to pay more in the Navy because young men are given a chance to prove their qualities and to make mistakes, we think that this would be a good reason for paying less.What a mentality—to state, in effect, that because an officer has great responsibilities he should consider those responsibilities as part of his pay and receive less in cash. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman applied that principle to the officers of the shipping company in which, I believe, he was interested at the time. If so, I am rather sorry for them. Would he suggest that the Minister for the Colonies, most able and efficient Minister as he is, should, because of his tender age, receive less in payment than that of his more mellowed predecessor? The report goes on:In the Navy the pay code make no distinction between the married officer and the single officer, and the Board of Admiralty now wish to follow Army and Air Force practice in granting a special allowance to married officers in respect of the cost of maintaining a home on shore.Then follows this statement:It is not necessary for us to go into the merits of this proposal, but we suggest that, if it is adopted, the change should be made as in the case of the Army adjustment, at the expense of pay without calling upon the Exchequer for additional funds.One wonders upon what information the committee made this recommendation, in view of the fact that they said they did not consider it necessary to go into the merits of the proposal at all. Another very important point in considering the method adopted for comparing the pay of the Services by the Anderson Committee was that of comparing the pay of officers of the same age and not of the same rank, in my opinion a most unjust and unfair proceeding. By what right and on what principle did the committee deprive the naval officer of his rank and only consider pay in relation to age? Rank carries with it responsibility. The higher the rank the greater the responsibility and a just claim for increased pay in accordance with that rank and that responsibility. A comparison of rates of pay between the three Services, to be fair, must be on the basis of equal rank. All hon. Members, irrespective of their age, receive the same pay, and all Cabinet Ministers also, irrespective of their age, receive the same pay. In industry the basis of pay is not age, but the skill and responsibility of the man 736 employed. I, therefore, ask the Parliamentary Secretary what justification the Anderson Committee had for depriving the naval officer of his rank? I consider, from the examples which I have given from this report, which has a considerable bearing on the marriage allowance scheme, that the report is a discredited one because its findings were based on an untenable foundation.
I wish to compare the rates of pay and allowances of the officers of the three Services. First, I will take bachelor officers of the same rank and then married officers of the same rank and the same age. I am sure that that will appeal to the Civil Lord. I have taken in my comparative tables the allowance provided for naval officers on board given in the answer to a question of mine on 25th May, 1938, by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who stated that the value placed upon ship accommodation in the case of a lieutenant-commander was £80 a year. That is also the value placed upon the accommodation for a commander, and £100 a year for that of a captain. Those are the amounts they receive in lodging allowance's when they are in a shore appointment and no accommodation is provided for him. I will take the bachelor officers first. Lieutenants over 30 receive £431 a year; Army captains over 30, £471; and flight-lieutenants over 30, £586. The significance of those figures is that men promoted from the lower deck will not be promoted to lieutenant-commander as a rule at the same age as those officers who enter through Dartmouth. They will be older. Therefore, the comparison of these rates of pay is of great importance to the men promoted from the lower deck. The lieutenant-commander at sea, promoted at 30⅔ years, and with the 2s. a day cut-off, receives £559 a year; a major of 37 to 42—and the age of promotion of majors, we are informed by the Minister for War, is falling—gets £684; the squadron-leader on promotion at 34⅔ years—and the age is falling to between 29 and 33—gets £726. A commander at sea gets £723; a lieutenant-colonel, £1,160; and a wing-commander, £853. A captain at sea gets £1,134; a colonel, in pay and allowances, but no command money, £1,126; and the group-captain £1,163. In the last three ranks there is not much difference, but the figures for the other ranks show that 737 the naval officer is worse paid than the officers in the Army and the Air Force. A lieutenant-commander gets in pay and allowances £125 less than a major and £167 less than a squadron-leader.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and gallant Member is entirely out of order at this stage of our Debate. We have a Motion before the House to get me out of the Chair, on which it is usual for the House to discuss naval policy. The questions which the hon. and gallant Member is raising are matters for the Committee stage.
I thought I was in order in discussing the marriage allowance, because the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty made a reference to it and said how popular it was.
§ Mr. Speaker
He may have made a reference to it, but he did not go into all these details about it.
I must submit to your Ruling, but immense details about ships, guns, and so on, have been dealt with. I thought, therefore, that I was permitted to go into details of the marriage allowance scheme.
§ Mr. Speaker
Those were much more matters of naval policy. The matters with which the hon. and gallant Member is dealing should be dealt with in Committee.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby
If it is considered that the naval officer was not receiving a greater amount of marriage allowance, would not it be in order to raise that before you leave the Chair?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is always difficult to decide on what is in order and what is not, but it is a common practice in the House not to raise any details of this kind in getting me out of the Chair.
I must accept your Ruling at once. I only hope that I may have a future opportunity to conclude the speech which I proposed to make on this question of marriage allowance, because it is very unfair and unjust to the married naval officer in various ways. I wish to bring it to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary in order that the matter can be gone into, and I hope I may have an opportunity later of concluding my speech.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes
I think the Parliamentary Secretary is much to be congratulated not only on having made an admirable statement, but also on having been able to present Estimates which will show the world that Great Britain means to have a supreme Navy. I have always wanted a supreme Navy and it is gratifying to find that the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), who laughed at me in this House two or three years ago for this ambition, to-night not only approved a supreme Navy, but even asked for a greater strength in some categories than is actually provided for in these enormous Estimates. The hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) also demanded greater strength than is being provided for now. Who can doubt that if we had not been so weak in naval strength we should have been in a much better position to-day? The right hon. Member for Hillsborough has referred to the deplorable state of affairs in the Far East. I entirely agree with him. But I think his denunciation would have had more force if he could divest himself of all responsibility for our weakness at the critical time in the Far East. The London Naval Treaty, for which I have often heard him take the credit, was still in operation at that time. This treaty permitted Japan to build up to three-fifths of our strength in every category—three-fifths of the strength of the British Empire, mark you, not of Great Britain only.
The construction of a great strategic base at Singapore, which we at the Admiralty considered was of absolutely vital importance for the protection of Australia and New Zealand and our interests and possessions in the East, had been delayed for about three years owing to the action of the right hon. Gentleman's Government. Meanwhile Japan, with an eye to the lessons of history, took advantage of our weakness and seized the opportunity to dominate the Far East to the exclusion of European Powers. Yet the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) actually moved the Adjournment of the House of Commons, at the Whitesuntide Adjournment in 1934, in order to call attention to the failure of the Government to turn Japan out of Manchukuo. I think it is a great pity that for lack of a base for our Fleet 739 in the East we had not the means to prevent Japanese aggression then, that the United States was in no mood to cooperate with us, and that no nation within the League of Nations was in a position to contribute anything towards a war to stop the aggression of Japan. But Japan will have to be fought or dominated by a superior force if her aggressions are to be checked and the British Empire is to survive.
§ Mr. Alexander
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has made a reference to me, but I think he ought to consider that the relative strengths of Japan and the countries with which we were in agreement under the Covenant of the League were such as to put us in possesion of a great superiority. Further, there was no question of America not co-operating, and it is the foreign policy of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's own Government in 1932 which is responsible.
§ Sir R. Keyes
I do not think that alters the position. I happen to know, from the highest authority in America, that at that time there was no question of America co-operating with us and certainly not of co-operating with us in military action against Japan, and there was no nation in the League of Nations that could contribute anything towards conducting a war in the Far East even if the British Navy had had a capital ship base at Singapore. For three years I commanded the Fleet which was destined to go to the Far East, and I can assure the House that it was a physical impossibility to operate that Fleet East of Suez without a base in the East.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Anglo-German Naval Treaty, and I am fully in agreement with him there, and also with the two other late First Lords who have spoken to-night. I have always disliked and distrusted that treaty. Germany knows that we will honour our word and fulfil all our agreements, and I have no doubt that Admiral Raeder, the Chief of the German Naval Staff, for whom I have a great respect as a gallant foe with a splendid war service, would loyally adhere to the terms of the treaty. But Germany is not ruled by Admirals of that calibre, and who can doubt that if Nazi Germany wished to ignore that treaty, the Admiral would be swept away? I do not think our naval policy 740 should be based on any premise that the treaty will be of any value if it is inconvenient to Germany to adhere to it.
British sea power has been assailed from many quarters during recent years. The air protagonists have declared that fleets and armies were redundant and that air power would provide all the defence that the Empire needed and would achieve decisive results by the knock-out blow, and, preying upon people's fears, many have believed it. Fortunately, the wars in China and Spain have disposed of the fallacy of these exaggerated claims and have proved that decisive results can be achieved only by man-power on the land and by sea power safeguarding communications and destroying enemy communications.
I do not intend to take sides in the Spanish civil war, but I am most fully alive to the dangers to our sea communications if Spain cannot get rid of German and Italian influence, also to the great danger to Gibraltar if, under their inspiration, guns are placed to dominate it. In this connection, as the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) referred to my statement a year or two ago that it would be possible to pass a ship through the Straits of Gibraltar, whatever guns were mounted on the shore. I still adhere to that statement, but I have never claimed that if powerful guns were placed to dominate Gibraltar it would not be absolutely untenable for a Fleet. I have heard an official answer given in this House that guns could be placed to destroy those hostile guns, but the hon. and gallant Member knows, and I know from personal experience, that it is practically impossible to knock out a howitzer that is mobile and can be kept behind a fold of the land. Supposing you succeeded in silencing it for the time being, when darkness came on it could probably be brought into action again and drop shells into the harbour as before. But I do not believe there are any guns of that nature there. I prefer to believe what the late Governor of Gibraltar, Sir Charles Harrington, said recently—it has been given a good deal of prominence in the Press—that there are no guns dominating Gibraltar and that he does not believe—and, after all, he has had a great deal of experience—that Spain under its new Government will be hostile to Great Britain. I brought in this civil war only in order to 741 call attention to a point that I wished to make, and that is that if General Franco had been permitted to exercise a blockade, the civil war would have ended long ago, but the British non-intervention policy enabled blockade runners under the British flag, many of them foreign-owned and foreign-manned, to run the blockade within three miles of their destination under the protection of the British Navy, and thus, I say, the civil war was prolonged indefinitely. I saw exactly the same sort of thing in one of the many revolutions in Brazil about 45 years ago.
I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend mention the great help that had been rendered by the British Navy to refugees, Spaniards and foreigners, who were in distress. I think that is very satisfactory, and I think everybody—he mentioned that people of 55 nations had been succoured—has reason to be grateful to the British Navy. I would like to say a word for the young officers who commanded the small ships which have mainly carried out these very satisfactory services; by their initiative, their readiness to take responsibility and their good seamanship. It happens in peace-time that the prizes in promotion, or the majority of them, go to the officers who have excelled in examinations and hold positions in the scientific branches of the Service; but war provides other tests. Many young officers have proved by their service on the Spanish coast that they are well fitted for higher command in war, and I hope that those who particularly distinguished themselves will be noted for early promotion.
A few years ago the battleship was discredited by the air protagonists, but the Battle Fleet is the basis of sea power. That is recognised by all the maritime nations. So long as our potential enemies build powerful capital ships, and Germany and Italy, who are great exponents of air power, are building great capital ships on the threshold of our trade routes, we should be courting disaster if we neglected to build ships able to fight them on level terms. The Admiralty in the last few years has been in very good hands, and the country owes a great deal to the Board of Admiralty for reconstructing the Fleet. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper) is not here. 742 He made a most admirable speech, and because of that speech the House will be spared a good deal of what I should have said about the failure of the Air Ministry to hand over the necessary aerodromes to the Admiralty. Twenty-one months have passed since the Government decided to hand over the Fleet Air Arm for administration and complete control by the Navy. It is 21 years since I started to advocate that. However, 21 months have passed since it was decided to hand over the Fleet Air Arm, and nothing has been done, and the late First Lord of the Admiralty pointed out in a very clear statement what this meant.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the need for an air base at Portsmouth. When I was Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth I took a great interest in the air service working within my command, and I remember very well that the Lee-on-Solent and the Gosport aerodromes were practically twin aerodromes. Therefore, I was astonished to learn that the Air Ministry was handing over the Lee-on-Solent aerodrome to the Admiralty and retaining Gosport, which is essentially a Fleet Air Arm aerodrome, without which Lee-on-Solent is of little value. My right hon. Friend told us of aerodromes actually built for the Fleet Air Arm which should have been handed over to the Admiralty, but have been retained by the Air Ministry. When the Fleet Air Arm was administered by the Air Ministry it required a maintenance personnel and certain aerodromes. That which was essential under the administration of the Air Ministry is equally necessary now under the administration of the Admiralty. I have heard the Admiralty condemned for the delay in transfer. It has been said: "You asked for this Air Service and now you are not ready for it." In 1918 we handed over the Naval Air Service lock, stock and barrel, in a few days, to the Air Ministry, and naturally we thought that the same thing would occur now.
I do hope my right hon. Friend the Air Minister will take a hand in this matter and put a stop to this unsatisfactory state of affairs. There is any amount of good will between the personnel of the Navy and the personnel of the Air Force, but everybody knows who are actually obstructing the transfer within the Air Ministry. As my right hon. 743 Friend the Member for St. Georges said, it is very difficult for Lord Chatfield, who knows what the Navy wants, to make the decision. My right hon. Friend gave him a very good line to take. I hope that this very unhappy state of affairs will now be terminated.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) referred to marriage allowances. Last year and this year I listened to the Secretary of State for War telling us of the wonderful amount of money he had wrung out of the Treasury in the interests of what I think he called the humanities—of the soldiers' lives. Having been a member of the Board of Admiralty for four years I know that it is a ceaseless battle with the Treasury. One has to fight incessantly in the interests of one's Service. The Admiralty might take a leaf out of the book of the War Office and insist that the married personnel of the Navy should be as well treated as the married personnel of the Army and the Air Force. Why, for instance, should the wife or even the fiancee of a soldier or airman have an indulgence passage to wherever he may be serving, and that this should be denied to the sailor's wife. Last year, with a tremendous flourish, the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty announced the introduction of a marriage allowance for naval officers, but the Service was absolutely shocked when they learned the best that the Admiralty could do for them. Let me give an example. The wife of a lieutenant gets 6d. a week more than the wife of an able-seaman, and then only at the expense of his unmarried brother officers. It is of enormous importance that the personnel should have faith in their future and trust in the administration of the Navy, and they look to the Admiralty to extract from the Treasury all that is necessary to give them the fair treatment which, in the interests of the humanities, is given to the soldier and to the airman.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker
It is with some trepidation that I rise to speak in a Debate in which nearly all the speakers have been connected with the Navy either through having served in it or being associated with the political side of the Service. So far I believe that the hon. and gallant 744 Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) is the only Member who has spoken who has not been connected with the Navy in one or other of these ways. I should like to develop some of the points which have been made about the personnel, particularly in regard to the executive branch. I was very pleased to note that the Financial Secretary dwelt particularly upon the need for an adequate number of executive officers during the present period of expansion. Surely that is the time of all others when opportunities should be given to men from the lower deck to become officers. We have been given certain promises on this subject to-day and on past occasions. I should like, however, to quote the figures for last year. Out of 368 persons who became officers, 131 came from Dartmouth, 100 were special cadet entries, 120 were transferred from the Mercantile Marine and only 17 came from the lower deck. It will be seen that one-third of the officers came from the Merchant Service and less than 5 per cent. from the lower deck. Surely that is an inadequate number in a time like the present.
I have a word to say in criticism of Dartmouth. Last year, according to an answer to a question, the cost of Dartmouth was £117,000, which was an increase of £4,060. During that year the number of cadets increased by 15 and the number of the staff by 13. The latest figures show that there are 497 cadets and 339 staff to teach them. In other words there are nearly three of the staff to every four cadets. There has been a great deal of criticism of Dartmouth in past years, and as a result of it changes were made and certain economies effected, but it does seem that there is need for a new check upon the staff and its cost. We on this side have favoured the abolition of early entry at the age of 13 and have advocated that all entries should take place either at 17 to 18 from a wide variety of secondary schools or from the lower deck. In that connection I was very much interested to note that the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower), himself a Dartmouth cadet, said in an article which he wrote in the "New Fabian Quarterly," a journal with which I happen to be connected, that from his own experience both in his youth and later when he was training midshipmen afloat, he found that 745 boys from the secondary schools provided better material than those from Dartmouth.
In regard to the recent expansion of the executive staff of the Navy, it seems unfortunate that in the past year one-third of the new officers should have been taken from the Mercantile Marine. Why was not an opportunity given last year for young warrant officers to be promoted? We have been told that in future there are to be a large number of warrant officers promoted to become full officers in the Navy, but we are not satisfied with the reason why it has not been done in the past year. Regarding promotion from the lower deck the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay), who in 1937 held office in connection with the Admiralty stated in a very fluent speech which he made then that the Admiralty had every intention in future of seeing that there should be a broad ladder which would make it easier for anyone from the lower deck to rise in the Navy. That speech was only hot air. It is quite easy to understand that during the years of economy, when the number of ships in commission was much reduced, it was difficult to give adequate opportunities for men from the lower deck to be promoted. At that time ships were crowded with officers, many of them doing work below that which was normally done by officers of their particular rank. In fact, an examination of the Navy list of 1935 shows that then we could have placed one Admiral, three captains, five commanders and 13 lieutenant-commanders on every ship in commission from a light cruiser upwards. Therefore, it was rather difficult to give an adequate opportunity for men from the lower deck to be promoted; this had an unfortunate effect, because petty officers and ratings who had ability were not given very much opportunity to take responsibility, and many men of ability on the lower deck left the Navy at the first opportunity because they saw no chance of rising inside the Navy. Now that expansion has begun, there surely is no reason why adequate opportunity should not be given to the men on the lower deck to be promoted.
In answer to a question on 1st March, I was told that during the past year 179 seamen ratings, in addition to the 42 now 746 being trained from the lower deck had been specially reported as being suitable for commissions. Obviously that means that there is no shortage of men on the lower deck who are suitable for commissions, but as a result of the various forms of weeding out only a very small number of those who had been recommended as suitable ever actually obtained the training that was likely to fit them for commissions and still less obtained commissions. Of the 43 seamen who were last year recommended by their officers and who came before the Fleet Selection Boards 31 were accepted for special training. After nine months at sea all of them qualified in the professional examination in seamanship. Fifteen of them already held the education certificate; of the other 16 only 8 passed, despite the nine months special training they had had. That suggests that the educational training these 16 received was not in every way satisfactory. Possibly it is difficult to give adequate schooling at sea, and I suggest that part of the schooling should be carried out on a harbour ship or shore establishment and the practical training only done at sea. Finally, out of these 23 only 17 were given commissions. Thus despite all the fuss that the Admiralty have made about the new system they recently introduced, whereby people could rise from the lower deck, the number last year was only four more than in the year before.
I have had a number of letters from ratings suggesting that that number is not enough and saying that a number of ships' officers give little or no encouragement to men to try to obtain commissions. Let us compare that position of only 17 men from the lower deck last year with the scheme which was operated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) before the War. In 1913 there were 44 people from the lower deck, and in 1914 there were 31. That was a similar period of expansion to the present, and if that could be done when this idea of people being promoted from the lower deck to become officers was revived after practically a century, we ought to have better results from the operation of the present scheme. In regard to warrant officers, we have been told that a considerable number between the ages of 25 and 36 will be promoted to be lieutenants. That is a concession, but I would ask why it was not done 747 earlier, and why, when the Government were appealing for officers to come over from the Mercantile Marine, could they not have put forward this scheme simultaneously. Is this scheme to be only a flash in the pan, or a permanent method of obtaining officers for the Navy?
I would add a word about accountant branch ratings. I raised the question two years ago in this House when the Admiralty entered 30 paymasters from the Merchant Service and civil life. I then complained about the position. The writer and supply branches include some of the better educated people on the lower deck, but for the past quarter of a century they have seen men in three other branches get commissions when similar promotion has been denied to them. Australia and Canada have schemes for enabling accountant ratings to get commissions; why have we not a scheme in the British Navy? The accountant branch includes 5,000 ratings and is the fourth largest branch in the Navy, yet in this branch practically the only opening for promotion is to warrant rank. Very few of these people obtain promotion to the rank of lieutenant and then not until they are nearly 50. There has been a small increase in promotions for some of these older officers, but this increase has not met the demand in the accountant branch.
I would like to touch upon some of the facilities for amusement in the Service. I was very glad to hear that a film service has been developed in the Navy. Something ought to be done to give a much better library service. The present library service seems totally inadequate. I believe that about some 600 books are provided by the Admiralty scheme for a capital ship, and that a new scheme has recently come into operation for a circulating library. In addition ships can obtain supplies of books through the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute, which actually provides a library for 19 ships. The people who use it have to pay 2d. a book. One ship, the "Hood," five years ago provided and has built up a library of its own. It started with 2,000 books and lets them out to anybody on board, officers or men, at 1d. each. It has a weekly issue of 1,200 books in harbour and 2,000 at sea. It will buy new books up to the value of 15s. on request by a member, either officer or man, on board the ship. In the past five 748 years 7,000 books have been bought and 4,000 old books have been thrown out. This is, therefore, a very adequate library. Surely it is possible to build up a similar library service for other big ships. Ships could have either their own library services, or the Admiralty service. If a ship wants its own service, could not the Admiralty grant of £65 be used for the development of the ship's own service? Preferably the Admiralty should give a greater sum of money in order to build up a better common library service for all ships. In conclusion. I would repeat that we on this side of the House feel strongly that there should be greater opportunities for promotion from the ranks, and that this is the moment, at a period of expansion of personnel, when such schemes ought to be carried through.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamilton Kerr
I shall detain the House only for a very few minutes, so I hope the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the questions he raised with regard to personnel. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty is probably taking some well-merited refreshment, but I should like to congratulate him in his absence on the admirable way in which he presented the Estimates this afternoon. It is, perhaps, no mere coincidence that the great Nelson was born at Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk and educated at Norwich, which my hon. Friend now represents with so much distinction.
Various hon. and right hon. Members during the Debate have referred with pleasure to the increase in the provision of convoy ships, and I want to devote my brief remarks to the value of convoy ships. A recent article in the "Sunday Times" by Lieut.-Commander Kenneth Edwards admirably illustrated the importance to us of our seaborne supplies. The article pointed out that no less than 50,000 tons of foodstuffs daily reach the storehouses and shop counters of our people, that no fewer than 150 ships berth in our harbours, and that on any day during the year no fewer than 1,500 ships of over 3,000 tons are flying the Red Ensign at sea. How does this position compare strategically with the position in the last War? According to Mr. Hector By water, the naval correspondent of the "Daily Telegraph," Germany and Austria in 1914 possessed 52 submarines 749 on the stocks and in service. Germany rapidly increased her fleet of submarines, and in April, 1917, when the submarine campaign reached its height, no fewer than 155 British ships were sunk in one month, while by the end of the War, of over 11,000,000 tons of Allied shipping, no less than 6,500,000 tons were British ships that went to the bottom.
As my hon. Friend has stated, there are many factors now on the credit side. In the first place, the invention of the convoy and of the depth charge has materially limited the menace of the submarine. My hon. Friend also mentioned the aeroplane. It is possible for aeroplanes in large numbers to be launched, either from aircraft carriers or from warships of all classes and descriptions, and to locate an enemy many hundreds of miles from the base. There are also factors on the debit side. It is the duty of the naval staff to examine every possibility, even the worst, and the naval staff, consequently, has to envisage the possibility—we hope it will never occur—of a combination of the three Powers of the Axis, Germany, Italy and Japan. Should that terrible event ever occur, we should be faced on the first day of hostilities, not with 52 submarines against us, but with 274. According to Mr. Hector By water, we possessed, in 1914, 285 destroyers. To-day we possess 190, of which 70 are of war-time construction. Combined with the French destroyer fleet, we should have 292 destroyers against a possible 274 submarines—not a very large majority when we consider that big convoys would possibly require several destroyers.
The second debit item is that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said, the German Reich now claims the right to build up to submarine equality with the British Commonwealth of Nations. Thirdly, many submarines in the fleets of Germany, Italy and Japan have a cruising range, I am told, of 12,000 miles, equal to twice the distance across the Atlantic and back, without re-fuelling. Surely, this means that the commander of a ship would have not only to look out for submarines in the Mediterranean or on the Atlantic coasts around this country, but in every sea and ocean of the world—the coast of Africa, the Bay of Bengal, or the Pacific—and the convoys bringing wool from Australia and rubber from Malaya would have to be as carefully guarded as were 750 the convoys approaching the Irish coast in the last War.
Fourthly, my hon. Friend mentioned the air menace. We have to envisage the possibility of convoys approaching these coasts being attacked by war planes or by torpedo-carrying planes. If we are to believe the writer of this article, there is a possibility of the invention of an aerial torpedo, and the system of air convoys, which, in the War, enabled a ship to zigzag in time, would no longer be possible. We can no longer fold our arms in complacency, especially as although, as my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper) said, our conversion of tonnage may roughly be the same, we possess 2,000 merchant ships fewer; therefore, the loss of each one of these ships would be doubly disastrous to us in a war. Likewise, our population has increased since the last War by something like 4,000,000, which is equal to two-thirds of the population of Lancashire and Cheshire. I believe that convoy ships are almost as valuable to us as first-line battleships. We cannot have sufficient; in fact the words "too many convoy ships" do not really exist in our naval vocabulary. I believe there is now a possibility of submarines being able to lay mines across the path of an oncoming convoy. Have any preparations been made to supply our merchant vessels with paravanes? I believe hon. Members will surely agree that no nation can hope to bring us to our knees which fails to intercept our vital sea-borne supplies. Therefore, I hope that the welcome increase in convoy ships provided in this year's Estimates will be maintained, and even increased, in the next.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Ammon
It was with something like envy that I listened to the Parliamentary Secretary unfolding his budget to-night, because my mind went back to the time when I was in a somewhat similar position with my chief in the Lords, and with very different circumstances, and I was shot at from both sides of the House. Now the hon. Member is in the position of receiving praise and commendation from both sides of the House. Two points were raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) that I would like to underline. He has always the knack of—if I may use the term—introducing 751 some "ginger," or some element into our Naval Debates that causes us to think about some vital question. An inquiry should be made into the interpretation he put on the position with regard to the making of complaints by men of the lower deck. If the position is as he interpreted it, that men are likely to get into trouble merely because they make complaints when they are not directly concerned, that is not going to popularise the Navy at a time when it is desirable that it should be popularised. Another matter that should be looked into is the allegation he made as to Admiralty accounting.
The Parliamentary Secretary, in the course of his speech, said, "We believe that our Fleet is so strong to-day that it could confidently accept a direct challenge in battle by any foreign combination of foes." Everyone hopes that that is true, but we cannot estimate in these days the strength of our Navy by the mere counting of units. We may have a very much larger number of battleships, cruisers and destroyers and so forth, but they are called upon to do very much more and have to be dispersed over all the waters of the globe, and, indeed, it may be that we may be in a weaker rather than in a. stronger position. We cannot ignore consideration of the fact that our Mercantile Marine is smaller, and would require proper escort during hostilities. I have always refused to accept the very alarmist notes sounded with regard to the possibility of air attacks, and that the naval position has received a set back and the Navy is no longer in a premier position. We are as dependent upon the Navy as ever we were to keep open our lines of communication and to see that our food supplies are brought to us.
There is a danger—and I understand that this was said by a Noble Lord in another place last night, although I have not yet read his speech—that we may raise what we call "funk" among our people. We have had experience of air attacks when we have not had the means of defence which we have now in many ways, and I think that the digging of holes in the ground policy is not a line that we ought to take with our people. We shall face the situation, as was indicated in September last when the people rallied together when they thought the need had come. I do not want it to be thought that I am in any way 752 minimising the terrible danger that is threatened and the devastation that might come from that quarter, but it can be overdone to an extent that might do more harm than good.
It is as well, while we appreciate the strength of the Navy in times when we appear to be in imminent danger and it may be called upon to defend us, to realise how essential it is that we should have a sufficient number of vessels available to ensure that necessary supplies are brought in safety to this country. 50,000 tons of food daily require to be brought to these shores, and that takes no account either of oil or war material. It is, therefore, necessary that attention should be given to increasing the power to escort vessels. It must be remembered that in the last War we had the assistance both of the United States of America and of Japan in the matter of supplying us with the vessels. That gave us 250 escort craft in home waters and 100 in the Mediterranean. We cannot count on that now. We have to calculate our naval strength standing alone. To-day we have only 130 suitable craft, and 18 of these are abroad.
Then in respect to promotions from the lower deck. The hon. Member for Rom-ford (Mr. Parker) has pointed out that the promises are very much larger than the actual achievements. It seems that any hope of promotion must be expressed in the language of Captain Marry at, who said that the hope of promotion in the Navy was a bloody war or a sickly season. We hope that promotion in the Navy will not have to depend on such kind of things. I agree with the hon. Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper) that we still to a large extent depend on the Navy, and that we are inclined to exaggerate the air menace.
In considering these large Estimates it is as well to remember that we have been brought to this position by the foreign policy of the present Government. We have been brought to a condition in which we have practically now to keep three large Navies in three different seas and, therefore, we are in a much weaker position relatively than we were some years ago. We are also in the position when we may be called upon to defend this Empire with nobody coming in to help us, and in that case it would be a most difficult thing to withstand 753 the attack. One cannot help feeling that a. certain amount of political, almost class, prejudice has clouded the judgment of the Government in these matters, so that we have drifted into this extraordinary state of affairs. Look at the position in regard to Spain. We are glad to see that in some measure the awful slaughter in that country has ended, but the position we have taken up has been most extraordinary. The Foreign Secretary on the 9th of this month, speaking in another place, said that if anybody made an attack on our ships we should be prepared to defend them even in territorial waters. That was a pretty late discovery. We have put up with anything. Our ships and our sailors have been menaced and even killed. Twenty-five British vessels have been sunk, 120 damaged, and 45 officers and seamen have been killed, and 100 wounded. Almost all of these attacks have taken place since the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) resigned his position. In February, 1938, when the "Alcira" was bombed and sunk by aircraft outside the three-mile limit, the British Agent delivered the following note to General Franco:His Majesty's Government have in the past treated these unjustifiable attacks on British shipping with the utmost patience, but their patience is not inexhaustible; and they have come to the conclusion that the time has come to let it be known, once and for all, that they cannot continue to deal with these attacks solely by protest and claims for compensation, which have failed to check the attacks or to secure any material satisfaction for the damages done. It should, therefore, be made known to General Franco that His Majesty's Government reserve to themselves the right henceforth, without any further notice, to take such retaliatory action, in the event of any recurrence of these attacks, as may be required by, and appropriate to, the particular case.What action has been taken since then? None—until after the defeat of the legitimate Government of Spain; only then did they begin to act and to attempt to defend their own nationals, under entirely fresh conditions. We cannot lose sight of those things when we are considering a problem such as this. It is that sort of policy which is largely responsible for our having to pass these enormous, swollen Estimates, and for the conditions of unrest that we find in the world. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) made a reference to the strategic disposition and 754 policy of the Fleet. On 8th November last, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said that there was no strategic planning and no authority to decide on priorities, to which statements the Prime Minister gave a point blank denial. Is, there any strategic planning? What is to be our policy should be find ourselves involved in a war at very short notice? First of all, we must remember that in the Far East our position is difficult. There are people who are not quite friendly to us pretty well in command, or making it difficult for us, in the Mediterranean. It may be that when the bills are sent in to General Franco for the help he has been given in his Spanish adventure, difficulties may be found on the Cape route, as far as Africa is concerned, in addition to the other problems with which we are faced. Admittedly, our Fleet is large, and very rapid progress has been made; but when we talk of our large Fleet, we must remember that mere units do not demonstrate that we are so much stronger than we were a few years ago, when we were not faced with enemies in all parts of the world.
§ Lieut.-Commander Agnew
Will the hon. Gentleman say, as a result of the Government's foreign policy, what navy there is now that might have been friendly to us that is now hostile to us, or potentially so?
§ Mr. Ammon
I can tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman that you would not have had them all together as they are now; they would have been divided up in a much different manner. You would not have had in the Mediterranean the position which there is now, particularly at the Straits of Gibraltar, and also it would not have been possible for Japan to kick us out of the Yangtse as she has done in a most humiliating manner, defying us to send up even trading craft. That is the difference that has been made by the Government's policy. There is another point to which I would like the Civil Lord to give his attention. The Parliamentary Secretary, in his excellent speech, referred to the Fleet Air Arm. Can we be told how much longer we shall have to wait before the taking over is complete?
I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will also tell us something about the strategic position, and, further, how it is intended to use the aircraft carriers. Are 755 they to be grouped together? Are they to be used with the Fleet or at a distance? They stand up out of the water like the Woolworth Building and offer the easiest of targets and one would like to know in what way it is intended to employ them. We should also like to know whether any attention has been given to the question of Haifa and its possible value as a base in the Mediterranean. It has become an important commercial port, and might yet be important as a naval base for purposes of Imperial defence. In considering this question it would be well to remember that it is the despised Jew who has developed that port and made it of real value.
There is a point with regard to personnel, to which I would call attention. In February of last year my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nuneaton put some questions concerning the mechanical branch of the Navy, and received replies to the effect that there was still a considerable shortage. I notice that the naval correspondents of various leading newspapers have been returning again and again to the problem of a possible shortage of naval artificers. In the modern Navy, the artificer is a key man, and it is somewhat disquieting to read statements from experts suggesting that we are in a rather serious position with regard to the supply of artificers. Here is an extract from an article by one expert already quoted by the previous speaker:Unless the Royal Navy can secure an increase in the entries of skilled men of certain trades for the next two years there is danger that the complements of some new ships joining the Fleet may have to be made up by reducing the number of skilled ratings in some ships already in service.That is disquieting, and we would like to know whether any steps are being taken to deal with that situation. In order to get some further information upon this subject I got into touch with the headquarters of the Engineering Union, who told me that last month there were 7,976 skilled engineers out of work. They admitted that some of these men were probably used to a special class of work, but they added that with a few weeks' training, these men could readily adapt themselves to other classes of work. They went on to say that for the last 10 years, 20 per cent. of their skilled men had been out of employment, so 756 that fathers had begun to advise their sons not to go into the engineering business. We find now that economic conditions in the industrial market are having their reactions upon our Defence programme. Is it not possible that there are numbers of skilled men engaged on technical work, even though it is not of exactly the same nature as that which is demanded in the Navy, who might be allowed by the firms to go, and that some of the older men and others not qualified for the Navy who are on the unemployed register of the union itself, could be found employment? It is disturbing that we should be so many short of the required number. Modern methods of mass production militate against the supply of skilled craftsmen in industry, with the result that in a time of emergency like the present, there is a lack of qualified artisans who may be urgently needed. Those comments and criticisms, not unfriendly, on the condition of the Navy call for some answer from the Admiralty in order that disquieting feelings may be set at rest.
The House will, of course, pass these Estimates, because everyone recognises the difficulties and dangers with which we are faced, but we, as an Opposition, feel that we are doing right in pointing out, as all along we have pointed out consistently, that the policy of the Government was bound to lead up to a position such as we are facing, and that it is because of that that we find ourselves almost without a friend in the world, that we are piling upon our citizens burdens almost too grievous to be borne, and that we are now endeavouring to build up one of the biggest navies ever known in history in peace-time. These are factors for which we have to pay the price, and a very heavy price indeed. I sometimes think that if only our Government had not allowed political prejudice to dominate its judgment, the whole story might have been so very different. Undoubtedly there was a Left movement in China and we took no action with regard to it.
Then we had the position in Spain. Had we been wise in our day and generation and sought and found, as we could have done at one time, the cooperation and friendship of Russia, even if we did not like its internal policy, which many on this side like no more than they do on the other side, we might have found ourselves in a very much 757 stronger position, and some of the things that have happened in South-Eastern Europe might never have happened. Because we have acted in this manner we find ourselves faced with a tremendous problem and a tremendous bill to-day. But there is no inconsistency in congratulating those who are responsible in such circumstances that they have done everything and moved as fast and as efficiently as possible in meeting the situation with which we are now faced.
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Colonel Llewellin)
This is the second time on which it has been my privilege to wind up this Debate on behalf of the Admiralty. I should first like to thank right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken for their very kind reception of the Naval Estimates, and, I am certain the Parliamentary Secretary would like me to add, for the very kind references made on all sides to the speech with which he introduced them. Before I come to deal with some, I hope all, of the points that have been raised, will the House allow me to pay my own personal tribute to Sir Reginald Henderson? Anyone who has known that officer knows what a great loss his illness is to the Board of Admiralty and to the Royal Navy. One needs only to work in the same office with him, as I have done for 18 months, to find out what a grand officer he is and how much he has the service of the Royal Navy and of his country at heart. I am certain that his illness, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) hinted, is really due to the immense amount of strain that has been caused him in working for a great part of the night and a large number of week-ends as Controller of the Navy.
I do not want to follow the references that have been made to foreign policy. As I said last year, it is not my function to speak upon foreign affairs but merely upon the affairs of the Navy, but I would say this, if I may, in passing, that military action at the time of the Manchukuo affair was only possible if the Singapore base had been completed in time. It was not the fault of anybody on this side of the House that delay was caused in the building of that base. It does not seem to me that the Government can be blamed for Italy being possibly slightly 758 antagonistic at the present time. If anything antagonised Italy, it was because we were the only country that moved a man or a ship or a gun at the time the League of Nations acted. I fancy that the policy which the right hon. Gentleman himself supports was more likely to have antagonised this people than the policy which the Government have adopted. I do not want, however, to turn this friendly naval Debate into a controversy upon foreign affairs.
I was asked by the right hon. Gentleman opposite several questions, and his chief question was as to the standard to which we are building our Fleet. Each year we review the probable strengths of the fleets of all foreign Powers, and our building programme naturally takes this factor into account. This country has not for a large number of years embarked on-a major war without some ally. We hope that we shall never do so. It would be wrong of me to disclose in public and so to the whole world what the strategic disposition of our Fleet would be in the event of war, but it is still true to say, as was said by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he was First Lord of the Admiralty two years ago, that we are building a Fleet which, in conjunction with the navies of our Dominions, is, we hope, sufficient to protect our interests in both hemispheres.
The next point that was raised by the right hon. Gentleman, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping and by my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper), was with regard to the Anglo-German Naval Treaty. Those who do not believe in any limitation of armaments by treaty will, of course, not believe in this or any other treaty of the sort, but those who, like myself, believe in limitation of armaments, whenever and wherever we can secure it, will realise that this treaty has its advantages. Several of those who have spoken on the matter seem to have overlooked the fact that the treaty does not limit this country in any way. Assuming that Germany abides by the treaty, as I am glad to say she is abiding now, it does in fact restrict her so that she cannot build more than 35 per cent. of our tonnage. If there were no Anglo-German Treaty there would be nothing to stop her building higher than that. So that, from the Admiralty point of view, this treaty 759 has always been welcome, and I think it is an advantage to this country.
I want now to come to the question raised chiefly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping with regard to the R class battleships. We have intimated to Germany, as I think my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary explained, that we shall scrap one battleship in 1942 and one in 1943, and have given her our strength as 19 capital ships at the end of 1942 and as 21 at the end of 1943. My right hon. Friend realised that we could not go back upon our word in that matter, and so long as Germany abides by the treaty, we shall not break it ourselves or any word that we give under it. We intend to keep our word. But what I think my right hon. Friend did not realise was this. It was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, whom I am glad to see back in his place—and, if I may say so in passing, I was one of those who very much regretted his leaving us as First Lord of the Admiralty and was very glad to serve under him for the time that I did—that we do not scrap any ship for nearly four years. This is only a preliminary announcement, and without it Germany would have been able now to lay down more ships than she intends to do. In 1942 things may be very different from what they are to-day. If the years 1939, 1940, 1941 and 1942 are all passed through, as we all hope they may be, as years of peace and without Germany abrogating the treaty, we may then have complete agreement in this House that the decision to scrap, made as it is at the present time, was indeed a correct one. But we will certainly bear in mind the representations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping with regard to the remaining three ships.
The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) both also referred to our position on the Yangtse. It is not really true to say that we have been turned out of that river. We all realise that there are difficulties there, but of the 14 gunboats that are usually on the river, six alone are back at Shanghai, and eight of those ships are still up the river, one at Nanking, one at Wuhu, one at Kiukiang, two at Hankow, one at Changsha, one at Ichang, and one at Chungking. I would not like it to go out that there is—and I do not believe the right hon. 760 Gentleman himself meant to indicate—any disparagement of our naval officers out there. I want to make it clear, because there have been some criticisms of the Rear-Admiral out there, that we are all satisfied that those naval officers and the men in those ships, who are having a most difficult time on that river, are fully carrying out the task as we would expect it to be done by officers and men of the Royal Navy.
§ Mr. Alexander
I want to make it quite clear at once that I was casting no reflection upon the naval officers. I was only criticising the policy under which they have to work, which led to the statement by a Japanese Minister that, although foreign Powers have the right of navigation on the Yangtse, it is not an international waterway, and that for military reasons nothing can be said about its reopening; and so they give notice that Britain must stop out.
§ Colonel Llewellin
That is more a matter for the Foreign Office than for me to take up, but in fact we still have our gunboats up that river. They have done very good work in the past, and I would like to say further that they have been praised by the people up the river. The British Chamber of Commerce at Hankow, for instance, on behalf of the British community, expressed their gratitude to the Rear-Admiral for the success with which he undertook to support their interests and the manner in which the task was performed. They said:They desire to record their belief that the presence of this force, by contributing the essential element of security, was an invaluable factor in maintaining normal conditions throughout the crisis, thereby enabling the community to pass through in safety, and without loss.I now come to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman about the possibility of submarines acting from the coast of Spain. It is common knowledge that if submarines did act from the ports there they would naturally, until they were overtaken by the inevitable fate of a submarine, have an effect upon our shipping, but let us not jump to the conclusion that Spain will necessarily be the enemy of this country. It is to their great advantage not to be so. Other countries ruled by dictators do not as a matter of fact always form part of an axis. Turkey, under Ataturk, was almost a dictatorship, but it was not in 761 any way allied to the Rome-Berlin axis. If we in this country would talk in a more friendly way about the new regime in Spain we should be doing a good service.
§ Mr. Alexander
I want to ask for a more specific reply. We are dealing with a very serious question of naval strategy. I want to know from the Board of Admiralty whether they are expecting serious trouble in that direction and whether they are taking proper steps to safeguard the interests of this country if that danger arises. When the Civil Lord replies as he does he knows perfectly well that Spain has received help to the value of hundreds of millions of pounds and thousands of men from the dictators.
§ Colonel Llewellin
A certain amount of help has gone to the new Government of Spain from the dictator countries, but I am aware that a great amount of the economic interests of Spain lies in trade with Great Britain. Spain has always in the past been friendly with Great Britain, and I do not believe in assuming that we shall have too many enemies, especially when we are still quite obviously the strongest country in the whole world.
I was asked about the 20 fast escort vessels which will provide a great accession of strength for convoy purposes. There was some criticism as to the expense of these vessels. I think the right hon. Gentleman calculated the price at which they were coming out. They must have good sea worthiness. We must be able to sail them in rough seas as well as smooth. We also want them to have sufficient speed for their purpose, and we want them to carry their full complement of weapons necessary for anti-aircraft and anti-submarine purposes. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that they have been designed at the minimum size and cost compatible with meeting these requirements. Someone suggested that he did not like having a new type of vessel, because he did not know what it was going to do. They are only a new type as regards hull construction; they will not be new in either the guns or the other equipment which have been fully tried out in other vessels of the Fleet.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked what was the position regarding marriage allowances for ratings under 25. An inter- 762 Departmental committee, appointed incidentally at the instigation of the Admiralty, is sitting to consider this question, because it is the concern of all the three Service Departments, and I hope that some announcement will be made without delay. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping commented first on a small point, the form of the Navy Estimates. If he had looked at the First Lord's statement as well as at the Estimates he would have found that the provision proposed for the naval service this year is quite clearly set out there, although I agree that it is slightly confusing in the Navy Estimates themselves. At any rate, we are glad at the Admiralty, if I may put it this way, of his assistance in this matter.
The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) asked where the Fleet was to be based. I think he will appreciate that we cannot disclose the war-time bases of our fleet and so I am unable to answer his question. He asked, as I expected him to do and as it is quite right that he should, about increased facilities near Pembroke. I know he did it not only because it is in his own constituency but because he believes that it is in the national interest to have a naval base down there. I think, however, he was rather confusing the question of whether the necessary ships could be there with the provision of docking facilities. Milford Haven is, of course, an admirable harbour, in which a number of vessels could take shelter, and all necessary steps have been taken to see that it is fully available and suitable. As to repairs, we have a considerable number of docks. I shall not this year instance Liverpool and Devonport, because we have them also in South Wales. We know exactly what facilities are available in those docks and what type of ships they will take. They are private docks, but naturally in the event of war the Admiralty would be able to say what it wanted done in them in the national interest. In Barry there are three different docks in which we can berth, respectively, cruisers up to the "Amphion" class, the "Arethusa" class and the "Southampton" and "Hawkins" class. Similarly, at Newport we have four docks available and we can take the Danae class of cruiser 763 in one, the aircraft carrier "Pegasus" in another, and in two others the "Pegasus" and the "Southampton." In Cardiff the docks will take all cruisers of the county class and another dock will take the "Amphion." Another dock will take the "Arethusa" class and another dock will also take the "Arethusa" class. Milford Haven will take cruisers of the "Hawkins" class. There are many more and I should weary the House by going through them. There are also the docks at Swansea and Falmouth.
§ Colonel Llewellin
The Mercantile Marine and the Royal Navy in need of repair would, of course, both make use of those docks. In time of war when we were convoying the Mercantile Marine and telling them where to go, as we might have to do, we should tell them the nearest port to which they could go if they were damaged.
The next point raised concerned antiaircraft gunnery. I can assure the House that steps are being taken, as the Parliamentary Secretary indicated in his speech. Things are very different from what they were when the hon. Member for Pembroke and I were familiar with these matters. He asked also whether we had a convoy exercise. Not very much publicity has been given to the matter, but in fact we do a convoy exercise every year, and this year we have had more than one. We get cooperation as necessary from the Royal Air Force.
The chief criticism of the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) was about the "Caledonia." The essence of the matter with regard to the purchase of the ship, which was done by a former Board of Admiralty no members of which are on the present Board—not that I am relieving myself of responsibility—was to get quickly on with the training. We had decided to increase materially the strength of the personnel of the Royal Navy and we opened up that ship. We have learned that we are very wise in doing our normal reconstruction work entirely in the Royal Dockyards. You cannot get a definite estimate of cost of the reconstruction of a ship 764 until you have opened her up and seen what the engines, electric wiring, propellers and so on are like. If we had opened her up in this case, we should have spent £50,000 in opening up the ship for the purpose of inspection. I know that this matter has gone before the Public Accounts Committee, and naturally we have undertaken to see whether we can improve the financial procedure in any way ourselves. At the present time a committee is sitting, presided over by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and I myself am a member of it. We hope that we shall be able to make one or two recommendations which will prevent what happened in the case of the "Calendonia"—not the whole of it, but some of the increased cost—from happening again. The real thing that happened at the Admiralty over the "Caledonia" was not that the work was done extravagantly, but that we did not notify the Treasury early enough and get their sanction for the different items, and I think we shall be able to do that in any future case.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I only quoted the case of the "Caledonia" as illustrating defects in the accounting system which have not been remedied, and have therefore led to the case of the non-magnetic surveying ship "Research," where the original estimate given to the Treasury has been exceeded by some three times the amount, without, I understand, the Treasury being informed.
§ Colonel Llewellin
With regard to the "Research," that has not come to my individual notice, but the "Caledonia" certainly has. If, however, there is any lesson to be learned from the "Caledonia" it will be applied to any future case, and I will certainly inquire into the case of the "Research." Before leaving this topic I want to say one thing. The hon. and gallant Member made some remarks about a civil servant in the Admiralty, and I would like to say that this civil servant had only joined the Admiralty a week before the matter of the "Caledonia" went through. He is a man in whom we all have complete confidence at the Admiralty; he has done very good work, not only in that Department but in others; and I think that perhaps the hon. and gallant Member had better blame me and the Parliamentary Secretary rather than a civil servant who cannot defend himself.
§ Mr. McLean Watson
Is it not a fact that the estimate of £150,000 for completing the "Caledonia" was made before the ship was opened up, and before the actual state of the engines and so on was discovered?
§ Colonel Llewellin
There was never a set estimate of £150,000. The first real estimate given was £251,000, and that was before the opening up. As I have said, one of the lessons to be learned is that which in ordinary reconstruction the Admiralty have realised for a long time, though it was not possible in this case, namely, that it is best to do the reconstruction in a Royal Dockyard, where you can handle the whole thing with your own officers, and if you make modifications it does not cause the difficulties that arise when the work is given to an outside firm; though I would like to say that I do not think either the Public Accounts Committee or anyone else has suggested that Messrs. Thornycroft did anything wrong in the matter.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington returned to the charge once more in regard to marriage allowances for officers. He went into too much detail for this part of the Debate, and I am not going to follow that course in my brief reply to him. We have had a lot of discussion on it, both in public and in private, but the result of the scheme is that up to 1st December last—the marriage allowance scheme was only introduced last summer—2,571 commissioned officers and 1,841 warrant officers and commissioned officers from warrant rank, or a total of 4,412 officers, opted in for this marriage allowance scheme; in fact, more opted in than we had estimated, and it cost the country a little more than we had estimated.
Is my hon. and gallant Friend not aware that those married officers who did not opt into this scheme would lose in pay 2s. a day? So it is quite obvious that a married officer will decide to join this scheme. He gets a certain amount when he is married, but he has to lose 2s. a day in pay.
§ Colonel Llewellin
That is not quite accurate, because the officer would not lose the extra 2s. until his next promotion.
I hope the Civil Lord will not make that point. It is only 766 a debating point. Ultimately, the scheme means that all bachelor officers of commander's rank and captains have their basic pay rates reduced by 2s. a day.
§ Colonel Llewellin
The point I was making was that these married officers have opted in before their next promotion, which shows that serving officers, whatever views my hon. and gallant Friend has on this matter, think—to put it mildly—that there is just a little bit of good in this scheme.
Why are bachelors in the Navy treated differently from bachelors in the Army and Air Force?
Bachelors in the Army and Air Force have no reduction at all. They do not have to opt in or out.
§ Colonel Llewellin
I should be getting into too much detail if I went into that. What was considered was the total emoluments in all the three Services. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) raised the question of the young officers in charge of destroyers off the coast of Spain, and he asked us to take note if any of them had done extra well. I will certainly represent that in the proper quarter. I think some of these officers—if I may say so—have done extremely well in very difficult circumstances. My hon. and gallant Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's both raised the question of the Fleet Air Arm bases. Perhaps my right hon. Friend has more freedom to speak on this than I have at the moment. I would only say that the present Secretary of State for Air has been very helpful in this matter, and that one has to realise that one of his difficulties at present is that he is faced with a vastly expanding Air Force himself. He is looking round the whole county to find air bases. He has a certain amount of difficulty in getting the right amount of maintenance personnel. Although we want to see that the best is done for the Fleet Air Army, we have to realise that the Air Ministry have a certain amount of difficulty in getting trained personnel and aerodromes at present.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) asked 767 me when we were going to take over the F.A.A. complete? We hope to do so within a few months from now, and it depends largely on the question of maintenance personnel. I hope we shall be able to take over some of the shore bases. He also asked me about the numbers of the A.E.U. who were unemployed. I shall certainly welcome help from these people (with whom I also work on the Admiralty Industrial Council) if there is any help they can give us. I think we shall certainly find that there is some outlet for these unemployed men.
§ Colonel Llewellin
The question of the complaints is based really upon Section 37 of the Naval Discipline Act, which reads:Every person subject to this Act who shall have any cause of complaint either of the unwholesomeness of the victuals or on any other just ground shall quietly make the same known to his superior or captain or commander-in-chief and the said superior captain or commander-in-chief shall, so far as he is able, cause the same presently to be remedied.In accordance with that we have Article 10 of the King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions, and that deals very fully with the matter. The only point that was altered was the one of making a general complaint about a senior officer. The action is now laid down for the man in a better way than in the old order—as, I think, probably hon. Members will agree if they read the two—of submitting his own grievances or anything that affects him in the Service, as it is right and proper he should, and as Section 37 of the Act, which I read out, provides. The only thing that was altered was the question of his making similar representation about the general conduct or ability or anything else of his superior officer.
There is no corresponding Regulation to that, so I am told, in the Army. It was not used in the Navy except perhaps in the case of the "Royal Oak"—I am not sure whether it was—but at any rate it has not been used for a very large number of years. It was far better to keep this Admiralty instruction to the point which the Section of the Act I have read out has permitted, namely, in the 768 case of any complaint as to treatment or anything else that affects the individual officer or rating serving in any of His Majesty's ships or shore establishments, that the man shall have the right to represent these complaints. Complaints have to be taken up the whole way to the Admiralty, if need be, if they are not dealt with before, and the man's rights in that way have in no way been whittled down.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether it is not the case that, under the new Admiralty Regulation instituted since that trial, as it follows Section 37 of the Naval Discipline Act, the right to report a specific case of misconduct on the part of a superior officer has now been taken away from officers and men?
§ Colonel Llewellin
The right given by Section 37 is the right to complain either of the unwholesomeness of the food or any other just ground of personal complaint on the part of the man himself. If it is a question of the captain of the ship being incompetent to command the ship, the right man to report is, obviously, his superior officer, the Admiral of the Squadron. That is the right way of keeping discipline in any of the fighting Services. There is no such regulation on the Army side, and I can assure the House that a man has the right, as he always has had, of taking any complaint of his own not only to his divisional officer but to his executive officer, his captain, his admiral, and, if necessary, to the Board of Admiralty itself. The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hamilton Kerr) asked whether in view of the new submarine dangers we had made any provision for stores to meet it. I can assure him that we have large stocks of paravane equipment ready, if necessary, to serve to all merchant ships. An hon. Member the other day asked whether we bought our crockery from British firms. I can assure him that the Admiralty does buy from British firms.
I have had the privilege of being closely associated with the Royal Navy now for nearly two years. Those two years have not only been years of great activity at the Admiralty, but they have also included the memorable days of last September. When in those days one saw strained looks and heard anxious inquiries, one had only to return to the 769 Admiralty to find confidence and efficiency reigning in that building. In my opinion, sufficient credit has not been previously given in public to the work of the Naval or civilian staffs at the Admiralty. Many of the civilian staff were recruited from other Departments. They put in long and strenuous hours of work at the Admiralty at that period. Similar good work was performed at the docks and dockyards and in consequence Naval mobilisation was carried through without a hitch. Before mobilisation was ordered numerous retired officers had been called up and were at their ports, and every ship in full commission was at its war station. Whatever may be the difference of opinion in the House as to the course the Government have taken, I am certain that everybody in the House and every British subject will rejoice in the fact that the Royal Navy was fully ready to carry out its task. These Estimates are framed to ensure that the Fleet is better equipped in the future than it was in the past. The Royal Navy will never fail this country. The only way this country or this House will fail the Royal
§ Navy is by failing to make proper provision for its maintenance and equipment. It is that proper provision which we ask the House to give us in these Estimates.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [SIR DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]