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Works, Buildings And Repairs, At Home And Abroad

Volume 236: debated on Monday 17 March 1930

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a sum, not exceeding £2,073,960, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the expense of works, buildings, and repairs, at home and abroad, including the cost of superintendence, purchase of sites, grants, and other charges connected therewith, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931."

I want to ask the First Lord for some explanation of the reduction in Vote 10, particularly concerning the storage of oil fuel at Ceylon. I see there is a reduction of no less than £240,000, or nearly a quarter of a million of money, which I understand was intended to be spent upon the storage of oil fuel for Fleet purposes; and there is another reduction at Singapore of a considerable amount, getting on towards £100,000, for a similar purpose. That is a very serious matter from the point of view of the efficiency of the Fleet, because there is no fleet that can function unless it has adequate fuelling arrangements. I should like an explanation of this reduction, which, in regard to Ceylon, at any rate, seems to be quite wrong.

There is another point, concerning Singapore, where the floating dock, I understand, is in use. I want to know what arrangements are made for the discharge of the ammunition in ships that have to be docked there. When ships are docked in the ordinary graving dock, are arrangements being made whereby they can discharge the ammunition from their magazines for safe custody while they are in dock? As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is a custom of the Service that the ammunition should be so discharged, and I should like a reply on that subject, and in particular in regard to the cessation of the work on the oil fuel storage at Ceylon.

During the Debate those Members who represent dockyard constituencies and those who have been attached in some way or another to the Navy, seem to have had a real field day. On the Order Paper is an Amendment in my name dealing with the question of naval bases throughout the Empire, and I think that I am right in assuming that this comes under Vote 10. I want to make it clear that I do not represent any dockyard constituency, and I have not been directly or indirectly attached to the Navy. At the same time, I have on many occasions had the pleasure of sea voyages and the discomfort attached to them when the sea has been unkind. I am interested in commerce and industry, and the enormous amount of work that has been done in this connection by not only the Navy, but the naval bases in various parts of the world. I am not one of those who consider—and we come across this type of person from time to time—that we ought to take the stand that our Navy ought to be the biggest in the world. We are glad to be assured by the First Lord of the Admiralty that we should have a Navy which can grant us the security of the Empire and of this country, and the security of our commerce in all parts of the world. We ought not to be consumed by any suspicions of the intentions of other countries with regard to their navies, but at the same time I hold strongly the view that we ought not to be the victims of self-complacency and be lethargic with regard to the requirements—

We have been discussing this all the evening, and we are now on the Vote for works and buildings.

The hon. Member can deal only with the Navy buildings at home and abroad which come under the Vote.

That being the case, I will not take up the time of the Committee further, except to say, in regard to the question of naval bases which are included in Vote 10, that I want to express gratitude to the First Lord for the assurance which he has given to the Committee that we shall have at least a Navy that will be quite capable of giving us security in all parts of the world.

The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) is under a little misapprehension about the position with regard to oil fuel storage in Ceylon. On page 198 of the Estimates he will see that the total estimated cost of providing storage accommodation is £535,000. The expenditure to 31st March this year had amounted to £517,500, £10,000 more is to be voted this year, and that will leave £7,500 to be voted in the following year.

The right hon. Gentleman has overlooked the foot-note (a). It there says that the estimate has been reduced from £795,000 to £535,000.

I do not think that affects the point. The storage accommodation there is more than adequate for the oil, and there is no occasion for the hon. and gallant Member to have any anxiety about the oil situation there.

But is it not a fact that the Vote has been reduced for some reason from £759,000 to £535,000? This is not a debating point. I only want to get the position clear, so that we are not misled.

The hon. and gallant Member may be assured that I shall not allow him to be misled. If, as the footnote shows, the Estimate has been reduced, it was reduced by the Government which the hon. and gallant Member supported. It is not a reduction by the present Government. But I do not think the hon. and gallant Member need worry about that. There is a point of substance in the question he raised with respect to the dock at Singapore. Of course it is very necessary when a man-of-war is put into the floating dock to take precautions with the ammunition, and I understand that adequate arrangemnts have been made for storing ammunition when the ship is in dock. The dock has not yet been used for any important operations, only for the scraping of bottoms and things of that sort; and on those occasions adequate arrangements have been made for storing the ammunition and we have had no complaints From the senior and responsible officers.

Question put, and agreed to.