§ VISCOUNT WIMBORNE had given Notice to call attention to the Government's intention with regard to the proposed 382 naval base at Singapore; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I do not apologise for taking up a few minutes of your time this afternoon on this Question and inviting a statement from His Majesty's Government, because, although the intention to proceed with the naval base at Singapore is indicated in the King's Speech, yet I understand that so far no work has actually been done, and I imagine no commitments have been entered into. Therefore it is not too late for the Government to reconsider their project with a view to its modification, if not to its total abandonment, having regard to the prospect, which seems to be not too remote, of another international Conference taking place on the question of armaments, which if it bore good fruit, as we hope it may, would sensibly and very favourably affect the whole situation with which this naval base is designed to cope.
§ But before saying anything about that, perhaps I may be allowed to remind your Lordships' House that the whole project has been questioned on strategic grounds, and questioned by people who have authority and experience. The main effect of this scheme, if carried out, would be to provide a base for modern battleships. On a previous occasion when we discussed the subject the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, explained to us that the modern battleship is of a much broader type than the old battleship, and that consequently, new dimensions have come into existence which render the existing accommodation at Singapore useless for the purpose of modern battleships. I understand that there is already accommodation at Singapore for the new type of ocean-going 10,000 ton cruiser.
§ The question I put to your Lordships for consideration is this: If trouble were to arise, does any one suppose, with our experience of the late war, that that trouble would be localised to the Pacific or anywhere else? General European tension, if not actual hostilities, would be an almost certain concomitant, and will any one predict that, in those circumstances, British battleships could or would be sent to Singapore? But, if that objection be brushed aside, there is yet another. The claim is that this naval base will extend the range of our sea power in Far Eastern waters, and place us on an equality with any other naval Power in the Pacific. As things are to-day, I dare say that may be 383 true, but the naval base will take a long time to construct—ten years, I believe, is the period named—and it might easily happen that, when that base was finished, the progress achieved in aerial and submarine craft would have adversely affected the primacy of the battleship as the unit of sea power.
§ The question I put to the Government is this: Is that contingency so remote as to justify our spending £10,000,000 on the mud flats at Singapore on coolie labour? There is less objection on that score, I admit, to the floating dock which I understand forms part of the scheme, and which I believe for many purposes is nearly, if not quite, as efficient. That at any rate would employ British labour, and if the battleship were to become obsolete, as some authorities think, that floating dock could be removed and would, I suppose, always possess a commercial value. The floating dock also is comparatively inexpensive as compared with the graving dock which it is proposed to make. The mud flats of Singapore, owing to the alluvial deposit I believe, or some such condition, are notorious among engineering people for causing estimates which were originally thought sufficient to be exceeded.
§ I am very much afraid that there is good ground for fearing that the estimate of £10,000,000 will prove inadequate for the work. And on that subject I should like to know whether in placing before the House and the country the Singapore scheme, the Government have included anything for the territorial defence of the base when constructed. That must be a considerable item. Troops will have to be there to protect it against attack. And have they included anything for the upkeep and maintenance of the dock when constructed? I think the Government will have to admit that this project involves not only a very large capital outlay, but also a heavy annual expenditure. These are not times when such a thing can be lightly entertained. The present rate of taxation is admitted to be a heavy handicap upon British industry, especially in our overseas markets, and any commitment involving additional expenditure must, I think we will agree, be jealously scrutinised.
The question, therefore, is whether this naval base is a vital and urgent
necessity. On that subject there is a conflict of opinion. The Admiralty, I presume, would reply in the affirmative, but I think your Lordships would agree that Departmental insistence on expenditure can fairly and safely be discounted to some extent. If all the spending Departments had all the money they asked for, this country would soon be on the verge of bankruptcy. I conclude that the Government concur with their naval advisers as to the urgent necessity of this naval base; but I would like to remind your Lordships that the late Government, who abandoned the scheme as unnecessary, were supported in that course, not only by South African opinion as officially expressed but by Labour opinion in Australia and New Zealand. After all, the Labour Party in Australia and New Zealand forms a not inconsiderable portion of the community which this base is designed to protect. Perhaps the House will permit me to read what was said by Mr. Charlton, the Leader of the Opposition in the Australian Parliament—that "the Labour Party was entirely opposed to Bruce committing Australia to the Singapore base." The New Zealand Labour Party cabled:—
Heartily congratulate Government on dropping the Singapore scheme.
Now, if the need were urgent and vital, one would imagine that no two opinions on such a matter of national defence could possibly exist. But the fact is that the base is not only not vital but it perhaps might be useless to the exigencies of a general scheme of defence.
§ As I said at the outset, there are broader and deeper objections to this project than any I have yet mentioned. The defence of armaments is always facile and plausible, but it is responsible for international mistrust. The League of Nations is an attempt to substitute arbitration for an armed peace, and in that endeavour no nation is more genuinely interested than ourselves and no nation is taking a more prominent part. This new naval base is inconsistent with our general aspirations towards peace and may even be regarded as casting some doubt upon our sincerity. It has already given rise to anxiety and offence in Japan. In another place, the Prime Minister admitted that quite recently, and although he qualified it by saying that no official communication 385 had reached him on the subject, he admitted that it had given cause for anxiety and resentment. If that is so, it is only too likely to provoke that kind of response which leads always to the disastrous race in armaments.
§ In this case, I submit, it is all the more indefensible, because an examination into the character and tonnage of the Japanese Fleet, both actual and in construction, reveals the essentially defensive character of the services it is intended to render. The obvious objective of the Japanese Fleet is home defence and for securing the vital access to the China and Yellow Seas. The Japanese Admiralty have been very reluctant to follow the lead of Great Britain, France and the United States in building the new oceanic cruisers of 10,000 tons which alone are adapted to sustain oversea operations. I believe the largest cruiser, either built or building, in Japan is not above 7,100 tons. In fact, for offensive purposes or even for the protection of long-distance trade routes, the Japanese Fleet is singularly ill-equipped. My main contention then is that this projected base, for which I think the case is not sufficiently strong, is out of harmony both with our hopes and our pretentions in regard to general peace and is contrary to the example and the lead which we ought to give in the matter. I would like to read to your Lordships the words of an Imperial statesman, whose patriotic Imperialism will not be called in question. I refer to General Smuts, who said:—"I welcome the abandonment of the scheme. At a time when we should move forward with clean hands and unchallenged moral authority, this would be a step backwards." I beg to move for Papers.
§ THE EARL OF BALFOUR
My Lords, I have spoken to your Lordships on a previous occasion in connection with the base at Singapore, and I certainly do not mean to trespass upon your time at any length by re-surveying that ground; nor should I have felt inclined to rise on the present occasion had it not been that my noble friend who has just sat down brought forward what I am convinced is not only an erroneous charge but a most mischievous and unfortunate charge against this arrangement, on the ground that it gave the Japanese some just cause for complaint. Nobody, I think. 386 in your Lordships' House can speak with such authority as I can on the subject of what the Japanese feeling was when the Washington arrangement was made. Everybody knew that Singapore was deliberately left outside of the Agreement which prevented the augmentation of the naval forces in the Pacific, because the British Empire felt that its use as a naval base might be necessary for the Empire. Necessary for the Empire it certainly is.
In regard to Japanese feeling, I was on the most cordial and intimate terms with the Japanese Delegation at Washington. I have been in frequent correspondence with some of them ever since, and no hint has ever reached me personally that they regard with any jealousy a work which, on the face of it, is defensive and cannot be a menace to Japan, and which I do not believe any other nation in the world would have left unfortified, unsupported and unused as a naval base so long as we have done. I am certain that the American Republic would never, in our position, have thought of leaving Singapore as long as we have left it without adequate defence against a great navy. But do not let us drag Japan into this matter. The idea of a war between Japan and ourselves is at least as abhorrent here as it is in Japan. It would be a fatal course to pursue. It would be an idiotic course to pursue. It would be contrary to all those traditions which have enabled us to work, I think with great advantage to two great countries, with Japan during many years.
I was Prime Minister at the time of, or, at all events, I had a great deal to do with, the Japanese Alliance; and from that time to this I have always felt the most cordial sympathy with our Ally. I have always felt that the bonds which united Japan with us were an infinite advantage to both countries, and I should be horrified at the suggestion that anything which was done at the Washington Conference could be interpreted, even by the most reckless Japanese controversialist, into the suggestion either that we had cooled in our friendship with that country or that we cherished against it the faintest trace of any emotion except that of warm friendship. I am not going to do more than make that protest with regard to the Japanese side of this question.
387 On the other side of the question, the whole case, as I see it, can be summed up in a nutshell. We are responsible, as every human being knows, for an Empire which is not only larger but far more scattered than any Empire which has ever yet existed in the world. I mean the important fractions of the British Empire. I am talking of small isolated Possessions; I am talking of the great self-governing fractions of the Empire; I am talking of India; I am talking of Australia; I am talking of New Zealand; and so forth. They all know that the defence of that Empire rests with the British Fleet, and with the British Fleet alone. A glance at the map will show to your Lordships that if the main part of the British Fleet is to remain, as it must remain after all, in the Atlantic and in the seas adjacent to the home country, the only way in which our Fleet can be made effective, should the necessity arise in the vast area of the Pacific or in the Indian Ocean, is by having a base somewhere in those seas; and practically, if you ask the question: Where?—it can be only at Singapore.
Is this country going to continue to pay the heavy burden of taxation required to keep up our Fleet to its present level and yet so arrange its affairs that, if the services of that Fleet were required for the maritime defence of some of our greatest Dependencies, we should not be able to use it effectively for that purpose because we have not had the foresight to turn Singapore into an adequate naval base? It is a base which is going to be essentially used for the purposes of defence and for nothing but the purposes of defence. It is not a valuable asset if you have got some insane and shadowy schemes of conquest in the Far East. No such schemes, I need hardly say, are likely to be entertained by any Party in this country. If they were entertained, Singapore might be a step, no doubt, in the direction of making preparations for those offensive measures. But in itself and for itself it exists for the purposes of defence, and for the purposes of defence alone.
I do not believe that any of our Allies or any of our friends in the vast area of the Pacific—East and West or North and South—for a moment seriously believes we are making that port into a base for our Fleet for any but the immediate and 388 obvious purpose of defending the great self-governing Dominions which ultimately depend on our Fleet for their overseas security. That, as I see it, is the essence and the kernel of the case; and in all the arguments I have heard of the case I have never been able to find any one who has been able to find a loophole in that argument, which effectively disposes of the broad contention which I have briefly, but I hope not obscurely, presented to your Lordships.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just resumed his seat has spoken with great moderation and obviously after having given much consideration to the question before the House. He expressed the views which he has to-day expressed upon a previous occasion; and I myself, long before I was connected with the late Government, had expressed different views. I wish to-day to make a few observations to your Lordships which I shall submit in support of a contrary thesis to that maintained by the noble Earl. I grant at once that there is nothing in what is proposed which is inconsistent with the letter of the Agreement made at Washington. No objection was made; and I have never doubted that the noble Earl himself brought the matter quite clearly before the Conference. But that is not the point. The point is this, that if we do carry out that which is proposed we shall, indeed, be doing something which is admirable from a purely naval point of view but something which has another side, something which is disturbing to the principle and spirit of the policy which I believe to be now the policy of this nation—the policy of avoiding anything provocative.
I know it is said that we have not the least intention of doing anything aggressive in setting up the new base at Singapore; but I have also learnt, from a good deal of observation and experience, that however good may be our intentions and however genuine, what you have to look at is the way other nations regard them; and you can never hope that those nations can be relied upon to accept your own valuation of the goodness of your intentions. If we were engaged in a struggle, or even if we were faced with the menace of a struggle, in the East, then, whatever we may have intended, we should have put ourselves in the position 389 of being able to maintain the conflict with a great advantage in Pacific waters which I do not think other nations would contemplate our acquiring with equanimity. The noble Earl spoke of Australia, and if I believed that Australia were in any danger just now I should be very sympathetic to the Australian demand. It is not only true that the defence of Australia rests on the Fleet, but it is true that the cohesion of the whole Empire rests upon the Fleet—that is to say, provided always that you so conduct your affairs as to leave yourself with a task for which the Fleet is adequate.
But you are not just now increasing the Fleet. On the contrary, you are somewhat restricting it, and restricting it from a point of view which implies that you think the peace of the world is better preserved by restriction and the spirit of restriction than by a great increase. I agree with that; and I think it is the policy of this Government just as much as it was the policy of the last Government. But if you proceed to set up a new weapon—for this is a new weapon—well, some doubt will then be cast in the minds of the on looking nations as to whether you are really so very genuine about the spirit in which you are approaching the question of the reduction of armaments. Again I say I do not think that there is any reasonable danger which is likely to attend Australia or New Zealand. I feel the force of what the noble Earl has said about the bonds which bind us to Japan. We are on the most friendly terms with that nation, but the noble Earl cannot have failed to observe that in Japan there have been rumblings of discontent about the new position we propose to assume, a position which will put Japan at a considerable disadvantage. I think that it is in the highest degree unlikely that a prudent nation like Japan will risk its very existence by beginning an attack on the outlying parts of the British Empire like Australia and New Zealand, and the probability of war with Japan is a probability which can well be guarded against by the Foreign Office.
If this were a naval question only, I do not doubt that an overwhelming case could be made for it from the purely naval point of view, but the purely naval point of view is not the point of view with which we are concerned here. We 390 are concerned with the larger points of view from which we strive to avert war and not merely deal with it if war comes. Having said so much, I will sum up. It comes to this: that whatever risk there is it is not a risk of which at this moment there is any probability that it will be fulfilled. I do not think that is a reason for neglecting precautions against war. I have worked in my time pretty hard in connection with precautions against war, and in the time of the late Government we kept up the level of the Services and did not let them down. The only point on which we differed from our predecessors was over this very question of Singapore, and on that we differed on the broad grounds of policy. We thought we could secure the peace of the world better than by embarking on a further and larger expenditure on armaments.
There are certain specific questions which I desire to ask. There has been a great deal of general talk all over the country about Singapore as if it were a single question. It is not a single question. If you set up a great naval base at Singapore one thing you will have to do, and that is to store oil, presumably a little inland. You will have to connect that oil store with the port by a railway, and you will have to guard it. To guard that oil store, and also to guard the new harbour, you will require troops, and troops in considerable numbers. I doubt whether less than a division, with a very considerable number of accessories, engineering and otherwise, will be sufficient for the purpose. But assume that a division with accessories will be sufficient, it will mean at least 30,000 men. Where are you going to find them? The British Army is not as large as the British Army was. If you get them from India you will have to pay for them; and very properly. But that is not all. You will have to build barracks for these troops; and one of the questions I desire to ask the noble Marquess opposite is whether the £10,000,000, or whatever the sum may be, covers the cost of building these barracks. That is a not inconsiderable cost, because the barracks cannot be close to the harbour; they must be inland and connected by a railway with the harbour. They must also be in a spot where the climate is such that the troops can live. That means building barracks some distance from the harbour, and I should like to know whether an estimate has been made, 391 first, of the number of troops that will be required to guard the harbour, and, secondly, of the cost of the barracks and railways which are necessary for their provision.
As to the harbour of Singapore itself we know more about Singapore than we did because our attention has naturally been directed to it. It is not an easy place in which to make a harbour. The soil is not well-adapted for the purpose, and it is not a healthy place. How much of the £10,000,000 will be required for making the harbour itself, and how much will there be left over for the other purposes to which I have referred? And when you have got it, what do you propose to have there? Let us take the case that is in our minds. Japan has her Fleet concentrated. Are you going to fight her battleships with 10,000 ton cruisers? I do not believe it for a moment, and I do not think the Navy would say so if they were asked. I should like to know something about that, and also about the number of battleships it is contemplated to keep there as the defensive squadron, or even sent there. On the number of battleships you have at Singapore depends to a great extent the cost of the harbour you will have to make. And how are these battleships to be provided? We are restricted as to the number of battleships we can have. Is it contemplated to send any proportion of our heavier ships out there? If not, how are you going to say that from the naval point of view you have provided a sufficient defence against the Japanese Fleet?
All these things show what a vague business this is—how you are going into the future, and how these things should be carefully considered before you embark on a great adventure. I know that this matter has been considered by the Navy itself, but I should like to know whether all these other questions have been gone into, and whether any estimates of the number of troops and the cost of the barracks have been obtained from the War Office. Has there been any such investigation? My experience has been that when such things are ventured there has not been that minute investigation which is required before you can get any certainty for a judgment as to the future. All these matters make me anxious. I dare say that the expenditure at first will be very small, but this is 392 a matter that will extend over a number of years. People talk as if you can set up a harbour at Singapore and do it at once. You cannot. The minimum time in which it is possible to do this work is eight years, and I do not think it can be done in that time. What may be the state of the world then? What is the use of setting up a great store of oil and a harbour in Singapore if you cannot defend it? It is just inviting the Japanese to come and take it, if they were so minded. I do not think they are so minded, but you are doing something which will make them reflect on the possibilities. I do not want to run that risk unless it is a risk against which we can adequately provide.
What is required to make the thing safe is nothing more than this, that we should have an Eastern as well as a Western Fleet; that we should largely add to the Navy, and add to it in capital ships, not merely in cruisers. If that is done it is a very big undertaking indeed which lies ahead in the event of the contingency being fulfilled. I am most anxious not to enter into this undertaking unless I see the gravest risks ahead and such a probability of disaster if we do not enter into it, that we are justified in undertaking what may become a very heavy burden upon the country. All these things lie in the future, and they are very vague. Is the state of things, the state of international affairs, just now such as to make the danger contemplated a probable one? If it is not a probable one, then I say that you are not justified in embarking upon an enterprise the consequences of which you cannot foresee. It is for that reason that I find myself at one with my noble friend Lord Wimborne in that which he has said to the House.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, I think that I ought with your Lordships' permission to answer the noble and learned Viscount without delay. I should have been prepared had the necessity arisen to state the case or to defend the position of His Majesty's Government on the broadest grounds, but a good deal of the need for doing so has disappeared after the speech to which we listened from my noble friend Lord Balfour. He successfully, and I hope finally, disposed of the charge, or at any rate of the insinuation, that this 393 construction of a naval dockyard and base at Singapore either does involve, or can be regarded by any fair-minded person as involving, or is regarded by any responsible body of opinion in Japan as involving, any act of even the smallest possible offence to that country. The noble Earl spoke from his experience at the Foreign Office and still more from his experience at Washington. I also happen to have been at the Foreign Office at the same time and for some years afterwards, and all I can say is that I never received from any Japanese representative, or from any authoritative body of opinion in Japan, any expression of doubt or distrust, much less of suspicion or hostility, and when Lord Wimborne said that this feeling existed in Japan—and, for all I know, it may find occasional expression in newspapers—I hope he will take it from me, and I am certain that my view will be endorsed by the present occupant of the Foreign Office, that this view is not shared by those who have had to speak officially for that country.
The second point that was, I think, established by my noble friend Lord Balfour was that this base is going to be set up, as I hope it will be, at Singapore because it is a necessary and indispensable link in the great chain of Imperial communications. Noble Lords opposite are rather disposed to argue as if our position in the Far East were, exactly comparable with those of other European Powers. It is net so. The noble Lord himself said just now that if we were engaged in war in the East the possession of a base at Singapore would be regarded by other Powers as giving us a position of advantage—and I think he meant unfair advantage. But we are already in a position of advantage. Look at our Possessions in those parts of the world—India, Ceylon, Singapore itself, Trincomali and Hong Kong. Those responsibilities which we have inherited from our predecessors surely carry with them the elementary obligation of protection and defence, and that anybody in any nation should deny to us the, privilege which they all take for themselves—which the Americans take for themselves in the Pacific, which the Japanese take for themselves in their own waters of protecting our own interests and looking after our own Possessions, is to me incredible.
The noble Viscount Lord Wimborne, said—I do not think that I am misrepresenting 394 him—that he did not think it likely that in the event of war in the Far East the British Fleet would even be sent to Singapore. I very much doubt whether the Admiralty would support that proposition, and it would occur to me to say rather—and I challenge contradiction—that if there were war in the Far East and if you did not send your Fleet to Singapore, or to the Far East, the whole of your Possessions would go, your trade routes would be destroyed and your Dominions would be exposed to attack. I do not want to suggest dangerous possibilities, but surely it must be obvious that in conditions like that, whoever might be the enemy (and I am not for a moment thinking of any Far Eastern Power) if the British Fleet were not there to support our causes—and without a naval base it could not do so-—what would become of Hong Kong, of Singapore itself, what would become of the vast body of mercantile interests which we have built up in the Far East, and, in the last resort, what would become of the Dominions? The Dominions are rallying to the cause and obligation of self-defence in a manner to which I shall presently allude, but nobody who knows their view can doubt that the apprehensions which they entertain upon the matter are serious, and that they regard it not merely from the point of view that I have expressed, but as an essential and elementary condition for the protection of their own territories.
That is, I think, all that I need say upon the general aspect of the case, except this. When the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, said just now that this proposal is regarded as provocative by the onlooking nations, whom did he mean? He himself accepted the disclaimer of my noble friend Lord Balfour with regard to Japan. Whom then does he mean? Who are the people who regard our creation of the naval base at Singapore with suspicion? I challenge reply. I know that the noble and learned Viscount cannot reply. This is one of those genial but really quite empty commonplaces which, when examined, mean nothing. We are told that the creation of a base at Singapore is calculated to cause suspicion, is inconsistent with proposals for disarmament, is a provocative act. Whom does it provoke?
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I did not say that Japan was not agitated over this. On the contrary, I said that it was. I admitted that this was quite outside the line of demarcation drawn at Washington, but if you read foreign newspapers, Japanese newspapers that come over here, extracts will show that there is a great deal of murmuring about this.
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
That is not an answer to my question. The noble and learned Viscount did not say Japan, he said "onlooking nations," and I am afraid that he will not reply to my question because he is unable to do so, because there is no reply. The noble Viscount then asked me a number of questions as to the manner in which this matter is being treated by His Majesty's Government. Those questions were, if I may say so, entirely fair, and I will endeavour to reply to them. When we came into power, as your Lordships know, we reversed the decision of the late Government regarding the abandonment of the naval base at Singapore, but we then set to work to make a renewed and most careful examination of every branch and aspect of the case in the Committee of Imperial Defence. I can speak authoritatively, because on all these occasions I happened to be in the chair.
The first question to which we addressed ourselves was this. It is, I think, a matter of common consent that, if you are to have a naval base in the Far East, Singapore is without doubt, because of its position, its facilities and its supplies, the right place. But it did not therefore necessarily follow from that that the Old Strait which is the place selected for the site was the only possible, or even the obvious site, and accordingly we addressed ourselves to a most minute examination of the question whether the existing facilities at Singapore in the harbour that lies to the south of the Island, commonly known as Keppel Harbour, could be used in place of the site on the Old Strait, or whether the two could be employed in combination. For this purpose we took the evidence of all those high officials who would be most competent to advise us in the matter. We saw and examined the late Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet in Eastern waters. We saw the late General Officer commanding in Singapore. We 396 communicated by telegram with the Governor who has been there for nearly five years, and who gave us his views. We also saw experts familiar with the locality and with every aspect of the case, with what I may call the technical and hydrographic aspects of the problem.
After this minute examination, protracted over several meetings, we came to the conclusion that at any rate for the purpose of the floating dock there can be no doubt about it that the site on the Old Strait is the only possible site. We considered very carefully whether it could be put in Keppel Harbour, and we found that the locality would be exposed both to long-range bombardment and torpedo attack, and further that the swift currents which run to and fro in that narrow strait would be incompatible with the kind of work required, and that the space in what I will call the commercial harbour is so restricted that to combine the entire operations of the Navy with those of commerce in that narrow area would be impossible. Therefore we came to the inevitable and unanimous conclusion that as between the two sites there was no question that the site in the Old Strait must be selected. By the Old Strait your Lordships will understand that I refer to the strait between the Island of Singapore and the mainland of Johore.
I said that that decision applied to the floating dock, and here I may recall that Lord Wimborne frankly agreed that a floating dock was a necessity. If so, it must be placed somewhere, and as between the two sites I think no one will dispute that the Admiralty is in all probability right in pronouncing in favour of the northern site, to which I have referred, and up to that point His Majesty's Government, agreeing with the findings of the Imperial Defence Committee, have authorised the purchase and sending out of the floating dock and necessary works for installation on the site in the old strait. The expenditure, and sole expenditure, to which it is proposed to ask the assent of Parliament for this purpose in the immediately ensuing years is as follows:—In 1925–6, the present financial year, £204,000; 1926–7, £306,000; 1927–8, £277,000; or a little more than three-quarters of a million sterling in three years—figures very different from the 397 £1,000,000 a year of which we have heard so much in this and previous debates
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Then the noble Lord says: What about expenditure on barracks, oil stores, defence, and the number of troops required? That is a question which the Imperial Defence Committee are now taking in hand, and, of course, it is a very serious question. We are considering, and shall consider, most carefully, the degree to which it is possible to combine with the placing of the floating dock in the Old Strait the facilities which exist in other parts of the Island, or in the commercial harbour on the south of the Island, to which I have referred.
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
The question of barracks will arise when the question of garrison is considered. We have begun that inquiry, and I have no doubt that at a later date an opportunity will be afforded of giving full information. My duty, to-day, is confined to giving information as to how matters stand both with regard to the intentions of His Majesty's Government and as to the financial question.
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
A graving dock has not, up to the present, been decided upon. The only other observation which I have to make is with reference to the Dominions. The attitude of the Dominions generally was, I think, sufficiently shown at the Imperial Conference here. The Resolutions passed, which have been laid as a Parliamentary Paper, are well known to all, and after all in such matters we are entitled to take, and bound to take, the opinions of the Governments of those Dominions, whatever certain sections of public opinion, Labour or otherwise, may say. The attitude of the Dominions upon the matter can be indicated not merely by the statements that they make on such occasions, or the messages they send to us, but by their degree of willingness to contribute, in one form or another, towards the erection of this base.
Now the situation as regards that is as follows: This communication is 398 authoritative, because it is given to me as the exact position of affairs at the present time. Prior to the decision of the late Government to discontinue the development of the Singapore base, the Commonwealth Government had expressed their intention of submitting to Parliament proposals for a substantial Australian contribution towards the cost of the base, and the New Zealand Parliament had already voted £100,000 as a first contribution. After the late Government's decision had been announced, the Commonwealth and New Zealand Governments decided to take increased measures for their naval defence. The Commonwealth Government made special appropriations, totalling £3,500,000, towards the construction of two 10,000 ton cruisers, two ocean-going submarines, and for the provision of a general defence reserve. In addition to this a defence programme was initiated covering a period of five years and entailing in each of these years an increase of £1,000,000 per annum over the 1923–24 defence expenditure. This indicates, of course, the degree to which the Commonwealth Government felt that the Singapore base was an essential element in their own protection
The New Zealand Government undertook to maintain a second cruiser in addition to H.M.S. "Dunedin,' for which they are already responsible. This second vessel is due to commission for service under the New Zealand Government in October next. It will be necessary for the Australian and New Zealand Governments to take these new commitments into account in considering the extent to which in present circumstances they can co-operate in the development of the Singapore base; but I understand that the Commonwealth and New Zealand Governments will consult their Parliaments on the subject as soon as opportunity offers.
Hong Kong has generously offered for this purpose a gift of £250,000, representing the profits made by the Colony out of the local scheme of shipping control during the war. This gift has been most gratefully accepted by His Majesty's Government, and, as the House will see, it more than covers the total expenditure that is contemplated in the forthcoming financial year. The generous offer of the Straits Settlements to provide the 399 necessary land still holds good. The site has been acquired at a cost of 1,250,000 dollars (£146,000), and will be handed over as required.
That is all that I need say on the present occasion, but I hope it has been enough to justify a hope that the broad ease for the establishment of this base has been satisfactorily established, and to induce Parliament to vote the very limited amount of money that will be required in the present and in the two ensuing years.
§ LORD SYDENHAM, who had given Notice to move to resolve, That this House considers that the provision of adequate naval facilities at Singapore is essential to the security of Imperial trade and territory in Far-Eastern waters, said: My Lords, I think that the noble Marquess and the noble Earl have disposed of every one of the effective objections to this scheme, and there is practically nothing left for me to say. There are only two points arising from the debate on which I should like to say a word. The noble and learned Viscount laid great stress on the provision of garrisons. I need hardly tell the House that, according to all the teaching of history, the defence of such an outlying place as Singapore must depend entirely on the Navy, and if, as the noble Marquess said, we have not got the means of asserting naval force in those waters, then Singapore will surely go. The other point is that the policy which we are, I hope, following out as regards Singapore is an ancient policy, a policy that we have observed for 150 years, and the objectors to the base at Singapore are the real revolutionaries. Why should any Power object to our asserting force in waters where, we have asserted force for at least 150 years?
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.