Skip to main content

Policing Of Empire Trade Routes

Volume 236: debated on Monday 17 March 1930

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:

"this House, having regard to the dependence of the British Empire upon the sea routes for its security, unity, and prosperity, is of opinion that the maintenance of adequate naval forces and establishments, and a steady building and replacement programme are of vital importance, and expresses the hope that these factors have been, and will be, given the fullest consideration by the Government, and particularly at any conference held to discuss the limitation of armaments by international agreement."
More than one hon. Member in the past week or two at Question Time, and possibly at other times as well, has endeavoured to induce the Government to delay this Debate until a later date. That is a point of view with, which, I imagine, many of us are in full sympathy. It is not a happy or opportune moment to discuss Estimates of this kind, for they have wide implications in the matter of naval policy. They show reductions of over £4,000,000 on the Estimates of last year, no construction for the coming year, and the reduction of personnel by over 6,000 by next year as compared with figures which were shown in April, 1928. These are reductions based on certain considerations about which at the moment we have inadequate information. There is, I understand, one sufficient reason why the House must discuss these Estimates now, namely, the close of the financial year. Nevertheless, many of us would that this opportunity to discuss this important matter had been delayed until the Conference had completed its work, or the Government had been able to inform the House where this country stands in relation to other countries in the matter of disarmament.

There is, however, at least one other point of view. I do not think that under any circumstances a full and frank statement on the part of the Government could have been much longer delayed. The country is growing a little restive. The Navy is a vital national concern, and we have been too much in the dark as to what is really going on. I think sometimes that Ministers are so absorbed with the problems with which they are wrestling, that they forget the people and the anxieties of the people in whose interest they are seeking solutions. It is quite true that at the moment this feeling of disquiet is not very vocal. If the times were normal, and if the country were less absorbed in the gravest of our national questions, namely, unemployment and the depressed industries, the Government would hear more and learn more of the disquiet and the misgivings which are prevalent throughout the country. Apart altogether from the merits of naval policy, it is impossible for the average man to appreciate that policy fully, but whatever be its merits, whether it be to increase or decrease armaments, let us realise that the naval policy of this country comes home to nearly every household in different ways.

The country, of course, is deeply interested in the matter of economy, and it is terribly disappointing from that point of view that, after the tragic experiences of recent years, this country, burdened as it is with heavy taxation, should yet have to foot a bill of something like £50,000,000 odd for Navy Estimates alone. At the moment, there is probably no greater duty resting, not only upon the statesmen of this country, but upon the statesmen of the whole world, to do all that is in their power to rid humanity of this intolerable burden. Different areas are interested in this problem from their own special points of view. I represent a constituency of Tyneside. Industrial development of that part of the country has been closely linked up with the naval policy of this country for generations. During the War, it was one huge naval workshop and shipyard. Into that area there were brought thousands of people to carry on the work of naval construction and repairs, and the engineering connected with it. That work has gone, but the people remain, and while these shipyards and workshops have been reduced to a peace basis, there can be no doubt that the policy of the Government, and the naval policies of this country in recent years, always has an important and vital effect upon that dense population from the point of view of employment.

There is another point which causes most people in this country to be closely interested in and affected by naval policy. We are a nation of realists. We can paint an ideal world as well as anyone, but we know that we have to live in a real one. We have to adjust ourselves to realities as we find them, and the country as a whole certainly appreciates what we, as a nation, owe to the Navy, what we, as an Empire, owe to the Navy, and what, indeed, the liberties and peace of the world owe to the British Navy. The Prime Minister was right when he said the other day, "The Navy is us," and that partly explains a considerable amount of the discomfort that is felt throughout the country at the moment. We as a naval Power feel as if we were in an operating theatre undergoing a severe examination, X-rayed, pummelled and turned about, and threatened with another major operation, not so much for our own health, but rather for the benefit of the students of peace in other parts of the world. It is because of these points of contact that the naval policy of the Government is arousing a considerable amount of interest and concern.

There is another circumstance which makes the consideration of these Estimates none too easy. As the result of a success in the Ballot, I gave notice that I would draw the attention of the House to the Empire trade routes, and the necessity for the policing of them. I received letters from different parts of the country and from constituents of my own, and there were letters in the local paper in my constituency, denouncing me as one who had learnt nothing from the War, as one who belonged to a party that never learnt anything even from a war, and stating that my Amendment was a deliberate attempt to embarrass the Government in the delicate and difficult negotiations in which they were engaged. It is because of the prejudice which is so easily aroused in the country that it is so necessary for anyone discussing these Estimates to try to set out the issue as he sees it. In one of those remarkable speeches which he delivered in this coun- try or in the United States of America, General Smuts made this striking statement:
"Since the War, and as a result of the War, humanity has crossed one of the watersheds of history, and is now marching through a country it has never entered before."
I believe that is true. I believe that in recent years the nations of the world have been headed in a new direction. The League of Nations, now an integral part of national life, the Covenants of the League, the Locarno and the Peace Pacts are all, in my opinion, milestones marking the distance already travelled in this new direction in which the nations of the world have been headed in the desire for world peace and national security. We on this side of the House believe in the League of Nations. We believe that the world is a safer and a more hopeful place as a result of all the conferences and conversations, the treaties and the understandings, that have been such a marked feature of international relations in recent years. We believe in all these pacific agencies of better understanding and greater co-operation between the nations. This also I believe, speaking for myself, that armaments, and more armaments, are no secure foundation for permanent world peace. But having said that, there is no inconsistency—at any rate, I see none—in urging upon the Government the vital importance of such a policy as that set out in the terms of my Amendment.

What is there in the world to-day to justify anyone in saying that a defence force is superfluous? One might as well say that the police force of London is superfluous. If some defence force be necessary, all that my Amendment asks is that it should be adequate. Who are they that say that the defence forces of the world are unnecessary? Certainly not the present Government. They, at any rate, believe in a defence force, but it is a defence force based upon the assumption that war is highly improbable. Certainly a defence force is not regarded as unnecessary by any of the other nations who have signed the Peace Pact. Although America is a party to that Pact, America still insists upon a policy of parity. Neither France, Italy nor Japan has ruled out war as a world possibility, and they have based their requirements upon the principle of security. Once again I would like to refer to the words of General Smuts, spoken to a Committee of this House:
"To my mind there is no doubt the world will remain a dangerous world. We are on the move. Forces have been set going by the great War and since which are incalculable and almost uncontrollable. We see developments in the last 10 or 15 years in Russia, in China, in India, and practically all over the world there are forces that are almost beyond human wisdom to control; and, therefore, whatever machinery of peace we build up, the world will remain in my opinion for a generation or more to come a dangerous world. For an Empire like ours it is essential to follow lines of safety."
Those are the words of a representative of the South African Union, and I think it would be easy to find similar words expressed by the representatives of Dominions like Australia and New Zealand. It may be that their fears are groundless, but that the fears exist no one will deny. The cords binding the Empire are none too strong, but I believe that nothing would more quickly contribute to the disintegration of the Empire than the neglect of the home country to discharge its responsibilities to our Dominions in the matter of world defence. Because the world has reason to denounce war, because it has reason to hate war, because it does not expect or want war, who can say for certain that war will not arise?

My Amendment is one which, I imagine, the Government will have no difficulty in accepting. It simply asks them to base their policy upon the principle of our Imperial requirements. Ours is a heavy responsibility. There are 80,000 miles of trade routes, the arteries of the Empire of which this island is the centre. Along these routes come three-quarters of our food supply, four-fifths of our raw material; merchandise to the value of something like £3,000,000,000 travels over those routes. But it is a narrow and material point of view which regards the guarding of our trade routes as the only reason for having adequate forces for Imperial defence. There is the Empire itself. There has been nothing like it in the world. It guarantees peace and liberty and freedom to a quarter of the human race. I believe that peace, progress, liberty, the ideals of human progress, and good government are wrapped up in the British Empire, and that if you were to scrap the Navy to-morrow, so far from hastening world peace you would place it in jeopardy. I am not an expert, and I am unable to suggest what is necessary to carry out the duties which this heavy responsibility lays upon us, but while Japan, France and Italy base their requirements upon security, and America bases hers upon parity, it seems to me that the least we can do is to base ours upon the requirements and responsibilities which devolve upon us as a great Empire.

I beg to second the Amendment which has been so ably moved by my hon. Friend. I think it cannot be too clearly understood, not only in this House, but throughout the whole Empire, that the provision and maintenance of adequate cruiser forces for the protection of the commerce of the Empire is a vital and paramount necessity affecting every man, woman and child in the Empire. This is a domestic matter. Although it must of necessity enter into any considerations of disarmament which may be discussed internationally, it is, primarily, a domestic matter, in which our position is governed by a stark necessity that cannot really be the subject of international discussion. The number of cruisers required for the Battle Fleet has been laid down as five for every three capital ships. The number of capital ships in our fleet is 15, by agreement. This is a number which is governed by policy. Therefore, we can assume that the number of cruisers required for use with the Battle Fleet is also governed by policy.

It has been said this afternoon that possibly battleships may be done away with: but I think you will not do away with capital ships altogether, although the capital ship may be greatly reduced in size. Present considerations of strategy and tactics demand that for every three capital ships there shall be five cruisers for Fleet purposes. Here, then, we have a number of cruisers which may reasonably foe said to be elastic, in that variations of policy may cause its expansion or reduction, but the number of cruisers required for the protection of the commerce of the Empire depends entirely upon the number and length of your trade routes and the volume of your commerce. It may well be that if the volume of your trade in- creases, the number of cruisers you will have to provide will also increase. As long as there is in existence one possible enemy cruiser, and as long as the possibility exists of so arming and converting a merchant vessel that she may be used as a commerce raider, so long will exist the necessity for the provision of a large number of cruisers for the protection of our trade. The number required should be based not merely on the number of possible enemy cruisers but primarily on the number and length of our trade routes, because so long as one possible enemy ship exists which may attack our trade routes there will remain the necessity for protecting all the trade routes lest any one be specially singled out for attack. Therefore, you cannot reduce the number of cruisers beyond a certain limit. I submit that the reductions which have been made by the Government in the number of our cruisers have reduced that number below what is required for the adequate protection of our trade.

It is a curious fact that ever since the seventeenth century the number of cruisers required for the protection of our trade routes has remained round about 45. Repeatedly in the past in this House hon. Members have asked for adequate cruiser provision, and repeatedly the merchants of London have asked for increased cruiser protection for their trade. This is not a new question. It has always been with us. It has grown with the Empire, and it has always been considered the duty of every Government to provide adequate cruiser protection. It does not matter whether that protection was provided by the sailing vessels of bygone days or by the up-to-date oil-fired turbine-driven ships of the present day. The problem has remained whatever Government has been in power. There is only one thing that has altered, and that, alas, is the question of the cost. Economy is a question of primary consideration, and it is therefore necessary for any Government to provide the barest minimum that the country can afford. No one will deny that the lack of cruisers in the late War cost us 300,000 tons of shipping, to say nothing of the cargoes in those ships. A distinguished French Admiral, La Motte Picquet, by name, who commanded a squadron during the War of American Independence, once said:
"The surest way of conquering England is to attack them through their trade."
The French knew it then, and the Germans knew it in 1914; in fact, the whole world knows it. They all know that there is one sure way of attacking this country, and that is by attacking our trade. To keep our trade we must have power to protect our sea communications, control of which means the control of the power of buying and selling our goods outside this country. There exist very few nations which are independent of sea communication, and to us sea communications are more important than to any other nation. I think and hope that it is going to be more and more in the future a question of the Dominions and the Colonies supplying our raw material in order that we may send them our finished manufactured articles. Our supplies of raw materials have to come from overseas, and in this particular connection we stand alone. That is not the position of the United States, because they are practically self-supporting, and when the Government ask us to come down to parity with the United States as far as cruisers are concerned, I submit that parity is impossible, because the requirements of the two nations are so completely different. I think that in making this great reduction in the cruiser strength, and giving up the Singapore base, the Government have gone beyond anything which is reasonable in deference to the United States in search of parity, the fundamentally unattainable. I am not concerned in the Motion now before the House to deal with the general question of naval disarmament, but I would like to say, in passing, that I believe that if you approach any question of disarmament without having the frankest exchange of views, without putting all the cards on the table and stating clearly what your needs are, you run the risk of putting the "dis" into "discord" and the "arm" into "armament."

If you compare the trade, shipping and geographical position of ourselves and the United States it becomes obvious that the Government concession in regard to cruisers gives an overwhelming superiority to the United States. We have 84,000 miles of coast line to defend as against 55,000 in the case of the United States. Ours is a scattered Empire, and the United States is not. In considering this so-called parity between our country and the United States, we ought to remember that our position and their position are radically different, and we should not be expected to reduce our cruiser strength below what will give the security which is so essential to us.

What does the proposed reduction in our cruiser strength really mean? I have said that it is proposed to reduce it to 50 cruisers, and that leaves us with only 25 for the protection of our trade. We now possess 54 cruisers, and of those 12 are in reserve. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty this afternoon to tell me how soon those 12 cruisers could be got ready for sea and he said that it was impossible to give an estimate. Besides those 12, six more are in the Special Reserve. Consequently if you take them away you get a smaller number of cruisers for the service of the Empire. Ever since the Geneva Conference of 1927 up to September, 1929, the figure of 70 has been laid down as the minimum requirement of the British Empire. What is the reason for a reduction from 70 to 50? I have asked this question before, but up to the present I have not received an answer from the First Lord of the Admiralty or anyone else. Is it a gesture for the Naval Conference? If so the Government have no right to risk the future defence of our Empire trade routes in order to win the approbation of the United States and make a gesture before going into a Naval Conference, the result of which cannot be foreseen. If those cuts are in the interests of economy made at the behest of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, then I say that the Government have no right to reduce the protection of the Empire in order to pay for Socialistic extravagancies which the country cannot afford. The United States have always been a country which welcomes frank and free discussion, and I am sure that they would be the first to say that we ought to have our proper measure of strength to protect the trade routes upon which our existence depends. The United States know that our trade is vital to us, and if that is the case nothing is lost by perfectly plain speaking on the subject.

Let us examine the question. Speaking at Geneva on 14th July, 1927, Lord Jellicoe said:
"The cruiser requirements of the Empire were 70. He pointed out, that taking away the 25 cruisers required for work with the Fleet it would leave 45 cruisers for direct trade protection. Of this number we must expect 12 to be refitting, or fuelling at any given moment. With lines of communication 80,000 miles in length this gives one cruiser for every 2,500 miles of communication."
We have had no evidence as yet that the Admiralty have ever departed from the standard laid down by Lord Jellicoe in 1927. Let me give the House some figures as regards our cruiser strength. In July, 1914, we had 97 built and 17 building, making a total of 114. We had 25 cruisers sunk during the War. At the Armistice we had 99 built and 21 building, giving a total of 120. In February, 1927, we had 48 built and 14 building, making a total of 71 with nine projected. That makes a total reduction of 49 since the War. Now we have got only 54 cruisers. No other country can show such a reduction in cruiser strength as we can.

Surely the hon. and gallant Member cannot count the nine projected cruisers as a reduction?

I will now take the number of cruisers in the case of the United States. In 1914 they had 25 built and none building, making a total of 25. In 1919 the figures were 15 built and 10 building, making a total of 25. In 1930 the figures were 19 built and 18 building and authorised, making a total of 37. This shows an increase from 1914 of 12. The United States are right in building any amount of cruisers they want, and it would be wrong for anyone to say that their building programme should be limited in any way. They should build what cruisers they need, and we should build whatever cruisers are necessary for us. Mr. Frank H. Simonds, writing in the "Sunday Times" on 24th July, 1927, said:

"It is by no means clear that the United States needs any such equality, particularly in the matter of cruisers. It is patent that naval strength is for us a much less vital affair than for either Japan or Britain. But we have raised the question, it has become one, not of national security, but of national prestige. Underlying all else in the whole discussion is the question of prestige. Our naval programme is based, not upon potential dangers, but upon national pride."
I contend that the nation's requirements of cruisers depends upon the commerce passing across the seas, and in that connection I would like to quote a distinguished American Admiral. This is what Admiral Rodgers says writing in Brassey's Naval Annual for 1929:
"The ocean commerce of the United States is so great that it requires a proportionate Navy to protect it, and this the country is well able to afford. It has not been made apparent that the nation would gain in other directions by agreeing to sacrifice her ability to give her foreign trade the full measure of security which its importance demands."
7.0 p.m.

That is quite true, but if it is true of the United States it is doubly true in the case of this country. The British tonnage for 1929 was 20,166,331, equal to a percentage of 29.6 of the total world's tonnage. The United States tonnage for 1929 was 11,835,176, equal to a percentage of 17.4 of the world's total tonnage. Therefore, taking this as the measure of our cruiser needs, surely those figures alone show that our needs in the direction of cruiser protection are double those of the United States. May I make one more quotation to the House? Lord Cecil, whose words always carry great weight, and rightly so, with hon. Members opposite, wrote on 8th April, 1919, to Colonel House:
"Not only have we Dominions scattered over the face of the world, each of which requires protection from the sea, but the teeming population of the islands of the United Kingdom can only be fed and clothed provided the avenues of sea traffic are safe. We import four-fifths of our cereals, two-thirds of our meat, the whole of our cotton and almost the whole of our wool. If we were blockaded for a month or less we should have to surrender at discretion. That is not true of any other country in the world to the same extent. Least of all is it true of the United States which could, as far as necessities of life are concerned, laugh at any blockade."
In view of these facts what has been the history of our cruiser programme? The Financial Secretary to the Admiralty on 18th March, 1924, was introducing the Estimates for the 1924–25 programme, and this is what he said:
"I want to emphasise that these cruisers are part of the replacement of the County-class cruisers, which have already been scrapped but were not replaced owing to the urgent need for economy. The consequence is that, for the last two or three years the number of cruisers available for the protection of our world-wide trade has been below requirements, which depend primarily on the length of our trade routes and the volume of our sea-borne trade, and only to a limited extent on the numbers possessed by other countries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1924; col. 284, Vol. 171.]
That has always been the view taken by right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House. Yet, when the hon. Gentleman was speaking those words, the total number of cruisers on the effective list was then 50, and four were completing afloat. So that, when he said that and laid that down as an axiom in this House, the number of cruisers was exactly the same as it is to-day. On the same topic the Prime Minister said on 21st February, 1924, in this House:
"There is no increase in our naval strength if we begin building these five cruisers this year, the cruisers are purely for the purpose of replacement …. are we going to be told …. that the method of bringing about disarmament and of carrying out the pledges given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself is to allow the Navy to disappear by wastage from the bottom?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1924; col. 2129, Vol. 169.]
There speaks the voice of the Prime Minister. What has been the history of our Cruiser Programme? In 1925 a Committee sat under Lord Birkenhead and laid down that there should be a minimum replacement programme of three cruisers a year since none had been laid down in the six years from 1918 to 1924. It authorised the completion of 16 cruisers in five years. Of these, only eight have been put in hand and one has to be laid down in 1930. Great Britain has laid down none since the signature of the Kellogg Pact. If we take the effective age of cruisers to be 20 years, then we have a large number of cruisers which will shortly come off the list as ineffective. Nobody knows it better than the First Lord. On that basis there will be one cruiser ineffective in 1931, two cruisers ineffective in 1934, six in 1935, and six in 1936. Therefore, if we accept the Government's programme of 50—which is hopelessly inadequate for the needs of the Empire—and it is reasonable to suppose that there is, at any rate, some consideration of the idea of scrapping the four ships of the Hawkins class—I will not say as a gesture to the United States, but, at any rate, as a gesture to the Conference—then we must before 1936 lay down 10 cruisers. It takes about three years to build a cruiser and, in order to provide these 10 cruisers, it means that you have got to lay down 10 cruisers before 1933, in other words, a steady replacement programme of three to four cruisers a year is required to keep up to the Government's own figure of 50.

The Government say that that is the number of cruisers necessary for the British Empire, and they admit that you have got to lay down three to four cruisers a year, yet what has been their contribution? Only to scrap four cruisers of the existing programme. If there is one thing which is absolutely vital it is a steady cruiser replacement programme, and the First Lord knows perfectly well that every year you put off the proper replacement of cruisers it is going to be more and more difficult to find the money to build the ships which will eventually have to be produced. He knows very well that many of the cruisers now on the Navy list were run to death during the War, and that you cannot expect them to have as long a life as a modern vessel operating under existing peace conditions. Yet with the knowledge that the cruiser force of this country is gradually wasting away, with ships already on the sale list and more to go on the sale list, this is the time the Government choose to cut the programme down purely as a gesture to the Naval Conference. Nobody wishes well to the Naval Conference more than I do. There is no Member who does not hope for a successful issue from the Conference, but I say that it was a wrong thing for the Government to enter into this Conference laying down a minimum programme already too low for the needs of the Empire, and which does not allow of any reduction during the discussions at the Conference.

There is one other aspect, that of the employment given, to which I am sure attention will be paid by dockyard Members. To build a cruiser takes, roughly, 206,252 man-weeks. In the construction of a cruiser at least 20 trades are employed. The employment is not so great in the early stages of the building, but it becomes greater as the construction goes on. Of the cost of building a cruiser, 85 per cent. is paid out in wages to British workmen and the House should know, in passing, that the Government have scrapped about £12,000,000 worth of ships, and that that has meant a loss in hard cash to the working men of this country of £10,250,000 spread over 3½ years. We require a steady building and replacement programme of cruisers. It gives continuity of design. It means that, instead of the necessity of a panic programme and rushing a large number of cruisers through, you can try out cruisers as they are built and improve the design of successive vessels. It gives you better ships and, what is equally important in these days of unemployment, it stabilises employment in the shipbuilding industry and in the allied industries such as iron, steel and coal, while it also keeps together your skilled men.

Therefore, I suggest that the Government should keep before them the necessity of a steady-going replacement programme to provide for national needs. In conclusion I want to say that whenever and wherever the naval needs of the British Empire are considered, one facts stands out above all others, and that is that the security and prosperity of the inhabitants of the British Empire and the trade by which we all live, demand a flexible cruiser programme of our own choosing, adapted to our special needs and in no way inferior to that of any other nation, either as regards the individual unit or the total numbers. I submit to the House that the reductions made by the present Government and their lack of provision for future requirements are utterly without justification, and are a betrayal of their trust as guardians of the safety of our people.

The right hon. Gentleman introduced the Navy Estimates this afternoon with an appeal that nothing should be said which could possibly compromise his negotiations in any way. That appeal has received the most adequate consideration from every quarter of the House except his own. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) indulged in a perfect tirade and, if his speech was an indication of the manner in which the naval destinies of the country would be handled if he were First Lord of the Admiralty, I must say I prefer the present regime. It is pleasant to note the passing of the hon. and gallant Gentleman leftwards. He began as a good Liberal, he then became a good Socialist, and now he has joined the group of insurrectionists who sit upon the back benches.

His declamation was excelled in quality and emphasis by a very remarkable utterance from the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown). He challenged the First Lord of the Admiralty in very dramatic tones and, if there were any lessons to be learned from his speech, they were, first, that the real opposition to the present Government comes, not from those opposite to them, but from those behind them, and, secondly, that in the course of progress from the Back Benches towards the Front, Socialism is gradually shed or—to use the language applied to cruisers—scrapped. The hon. Member denies very strongly what he calls the doctrine of needs. He said it was an extraordinary thing that a country should base its defence forces on its needs and that, once you accepted a principle like that, there was no knowing at what destination you would arrive. I would ask the House to observe that, when it is a question of social matters, it is the doctrine of needs that the hon. Member advances. Does a person want an unemployment donation? Certainly, it must be determined on the doctrine of needs. Does a widow want a pension? Simply refer to the doctrine of needs. But, does this country want defending, the doctrine of needs is preposterous.

Hon. Members on the other side of the House have no limit to their needs. If this doctrine of needs is to be applied to questions of social reform, perhaps the hon. Gentleman opposite who is to follow me will tell me where the doctrine is at fault. It is useless to attack the Navy Estimates to-day on the doctrine of needs, because they make no provision for any further programme at all, and hon. Members opposite can be completely satisfied on that point. I sympathise with the First Lord of the Admiralty in the fact that the only Members in the House who have spoiled and poisoned the atmosphere in which he is negotiating should have been his own colleagues.

It -would be useless to deny that this country is over-burdened with expenditure, and that any economy which can be achieved must be achieved. The only trouble, where the Naval Service is concerned, is that we have a First Lord of the Admiralty coming down one year and saying that what he places before the House is the absolute minimum of our requirements, and we have another First Lord of the Admiralty coming down the year after and saying that an entirely new standard can be observed. That places the ordinary layman in very great difficulty. We should like to know whether these economies in which we are indulging are permanent economies, or whether they are merely, if I may use a favourite term, gestures.

There are only two ways in which permanent economies can be achieved. If one looks at the spectacle of the Naval Conference now sitting, it will be observed that all the delegates are playing with our money. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) to come down this afternoon and deliver us a homily on how to deal with foreign nations, but his debt settlements have enabled France to keep up her Navy, and the debt settlement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) is helping to pay for the American Navy to-day. It is no use balking these facts. The Prime Minister has qualities which entitle him to very great respect as a convener of conferences. He has a fine bearing; he has all the arts of hospitality; wherever he appears, great impressiveness surrounds him; but I do regret that he had not associated with him in this Conference the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If we had had a little of the Hague spirit introduced into this Conference, I think we should have reached a more rapid conclusion, and one very much more satisfactory to this country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would have been able to tell the Foreign Powers concerned, and particularly France, that, if they were able to hold up the Conference, it was only because they refrained from repaying the loan that we had made to them.

There is another way in which economies can be achieved on a permanent basis, and that is this: These Estimates are for Imperial defence, and not for National defence. Nobody can pretend that, if we were concerned simply and solely with the United Kingdom, we should have Navy Estimates of between £50,000,000 and £60,000,000. Our whole fleet would be constructed and planned upon an entirely different basis, and our expenditure would be very much less. These are Imperial Estimates. Hon. Gentlemen talk about Imperial unity. We all believe in Imperial unity, but Imperial unity involves, not only common advantages, but common obligations. We have associated with us in this Conference, I am glad to say, prominent statesmen from the Dominions. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he or the Prime Minister, with the kind of candour that we associate alone with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the kind of courage that we associate alone with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that Bench, said to the Dominions, "You are associated in this Conference, and we are going to discuss an Imperial Navy. You are our brothers; you share our risks—in fact, you share them to a far greater extent than we do. Are you prepared to do away with the paradoxical disparity under which every citizen of the Empire who happens to live in this Island pays 25s. per annum towards the Navy, whereas anybody in South Africa pays about 4d. or 5d., and in Canada about 1s. 6d.?" That is a position that should not be tolerated. Our Imperial defence should be placed upon an Imperial basis. The country is groaning under taxation. We have all the difficulties that could possibly confront a nation at this hour, whereas our Dominions have none of those difficulties. They are expanding nations—

We have the interest on the war debts of generations. We have the whole of the past, we have the whole burden of English history to bear upon our shoulders, and all the previous wars, as well as a great deal more of the last War than we ought to be bearing. I am not there referring to the Dominions, but to our Continental allies, and I say that some day or other a statesman must arise who will have the courage to tell the Dominions that a common Empire means a common obligation.

I was very glad to hear the First Lord of the Admiralty say that, as soon as this Conference was over, he intended to devote his attention to making promotion from the lower deck into a reality. In the small Australian Navy it is a reality, and it must be made a reality in this country also. Nobody could do it better or more appropriately than a Socialist Government. I wish the right hon. Gentleman success in his Naval Conference, and I hope that he will achieve economies on the lines that I have forecast, for, unless he regards this Empire as an Empire with common obligations, the Empire can never endure.

I am very glad that I am able to agree with some of the arguments of the hon. Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hore-Belisha). I believe that if, as so many people say, we have an Empire, the Empire should bear its share of its obligations, but at the moment the Empire, instead of being an economic advantage to this country, instead of being an asset, is a liability, and we have the privilege of paying for its defence. I might carry the argument a little further, and say that not merely should Australians, Canadians and South Africans pay their portion, but that people in this country who have property to defend should pay for the defence of their own property, and not the British working man, who only owns his body and his soul, and he would not even own them if they were worth pinching. The people who own Britain should pay for the defence of Britain—in other words, there should be a square deal—

The hon. Member is getting a long way from the Amendment. What he has just been saying has nothing to do with the Amendment.

I quite agree. I was merely dealing, I thought quite legitimately, with the argument that the Empire should pay its proportion of the expenses of the Navy, and I carried it a little further, which I thought would be perfectly legitimate, because I thought that, if the hon. Member for Devonport was able to advance those arguments, I surely ought to be able to reply to them without getting out of order. I do not want to get out of order.

The hon. Member may reply, but it is for me to judge whether his reply is in order or not.

Then I will leave that subject severely alone and will come to the first of the hon. Member's remarks with which I do not agree. He was talking about the doctrine of needs, and be said that we needed widows' pensions and we needed unemployment pay. I would say this, that when we do need widows' pensions, when we do need money for social services, we do run up against the stingy mind that will object to the spending of money on these social services, but, as soon as you begin to talk about our naval or military needs, there is an open purse and we cannot spend too much. I would remind the hon. Member that since the Armistice, since the War to end all wars, since the War that was going to produce peace on earth and good will to all men, we have spent £1,600,000,000 on armaments, and we have not spent nearly so much as that upon the more necessary social services. The hon. Member says that we have to spend money on need and we have to spend an adequate amount on a common Navy. What is an adequate amount? He went on to talk about American naval needs and French naval needs. But if France is to have adequate armaments, if the United States are to have adequate armaments, if Japan is to have adequate armaments, and if we are to have adequate armaments we are going to have cruisers all over the ocean, the world will be enormously more armed, and everybody will be enormously more insecure than they are at the moment. The more we arm, the more other nations arm, the more suspicion there is in the world and the more hatred there is in the world; and, when there is more suspicion and more hatred all that is necessary is something like the assassination of a Crown Prince, and then there is another Armageddon.

It is not good enough, now that there is a naval conference sitting, and particularly when the situation is precarious and difficult, for the hon. Member to get up and throw sand into the bearings and a monkey wrench into the machinery. This is not the place or the time, and even if it were it is certainly not helping what is perhaps the most historic Conference in naval history, upon which the whole world is waiting for practical results, to talk about France not paying her debts and all that sort of thing. If I am to say what I want to say on these questions, I hope it will help and not hinder the very delicate negotiations that are going on at this moment. The hon. Member spoke about what our Navy can do in regard to security, and how our armaments make for peace. If our armaments make for peace, then French armaments make for peace, French submarines make for peace, Italian submarines make for peace, Japanese Rodneys make for peace. If armaments make for peace, we should be intensely delighted if the Americans want to build more cruisers, and we might even allow Germany to build some, and also Russia, which, by the way, is the only country that is not joining in this armaments scramble. If armaments make for peace, let us encourage the other fellow to build all the armaments that he possibly can.

There is no security for France, or for this country, or for Italy, or any other country in the world, as long as we depend upon armaments for defence, and, as far as we are concerned, we are in the most desperate condition of any country in the world. It is true that our trade routes must be kept open. We have to buy and sell goods if we are to live, and we are desperately dependent upon the different countries in the world and upon the trade routes being kept open; but I wish that some of the people who depend upon navies and upon more cruisers for defence would consult some of their own technicians. The truth is, whether we like it or not, that the Navy cannot keep our ports open, that the Navy cannot defend us. No matter how many Dreadnoughts we have, no matter how many Rodneys we build, they cannot keep our ports open against the long-range aeroplane and the depth charge. The modern weapons of attack would put the Navy into the condition of bows and arrows. We could not keep our ports open, and there are a good many people who know that, but not so many who want to talk about it.

How are we to defend ourselves? We cannot defend ourselves by armaments. If the United States wanted to attack us, they would not have to indulge in any actual belligerency, they would not have to let loose the dogs of war. All that they would have to do would be to declare a financial and economic blockade, and we should soon sue for terms of peace. We are desperately dependent financially upon America, as far as our gold standard is concerned. It is not a gold standard; it is a dollar standard. As to raw materials, Lancashire is more desperately dependent upon Louisiana and Texas than upon Yorkshire. If America wanted to use her economic weapons, she would have us at her mercy. We cannot think in terms of keeping our trade routes open, we cannot think in terms of buying and selling goods, if we are going to think in terms of the old-fashioned militaristic methods of defence.

There is a real defence—to persuade the other fellow that there is nothing to be gained by attack. If we could only persuade the other fellow that winners were losers, that the world, economically speaking, was one country and that we were merely one county in the world, that any war was a civil war and, no matter how victorious we might be, or the other fellow might be, all we should have at the end of it would be a graveyard, a war debt and unpaid butchers' bills, if the peoples of the world understood that we were inter-dependent, that all the interests of the nations were harmonious and were not antagonistic, if they only understood what the real interests of nations are, no nation would make an attack and, if no nation made an attack, surely that would be our best defence.

I do not know whether I am making myself clear, but I am suggesting that never were we in such a dangerous position as we are at this moment. Never were lethal weapons so terrible and so shocking. When we think of the possibilities of a future war, the imagination of anyone owning an imagination sickens. We cannot defend ourselves. We cannot keep our trade routes open. We can go on spending our millions, but in the end we are all less secure. Our real defence is to understand the true relations that exist between nation and nation. I agree with General Smuts that this is a very dangerous world. I do not believe that the last War has ended the possibility of war, but I know that my best pals are dead, and that they gave their lives in exchange for hope. Those Tipperary singing lads died in the hope that that would be the last war. Now we are told we live in a dangerous world. What are we going to do about it? The very fact that there is danger means that men and women of goodwill should think in terms of alternatives and of scattering the real truths of international relations, and of perfecting international machinery so that never again shall we have another war. If we had right thinking, there would be no war. What shall we use our Navy for?

I want hon. Members who will follow me to tell me who is the possible enemy. I know alliances are slippery things. They do not last long. We can love France yesterday and be suspicious of her to-day. We have loved and hated every country under heaven. We have fought with the Russians and against them, with the French and against them. We have boxed the compass in our likes and our dislikes. I want to know now who is the enemy. I know the "Daily Mail" will provide us with one. Hon. Members opposite would love a Sermon on the Mount, Christian war with Russia. If there was a change of Government there we should soon have another enemy. I want to know now who is the enemy against whom we are to build a navy. Then I want to know why that enemy will attack us, what will be the purpose of the attack and what are they going to gain out of it.

A lot of flap doodle is talked about the Empire. There is a story told about the Empire by the hon. Member for North Bradford (Mr. Angell), my intellectual godfather, the author of "The Great Illusion," the greatest book on international relationships ever written, a man who has never had to apologise for a single line he has written, a man who has been pathetically right. If the world had been advised by him, it would have been a much happier world than it is. This is the story. There was a Cockney who was listening to a patriotic speech at the time of the Coronation Procession. He walked away and soliloquized thus. "I am a great man. I am a member of the greatest Empire the world has ever seen. I am an Englishman, and England owns Canada, Australia, Uganda, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Timbuctoo, and many other places, and, therefore, I own part of Canada, part of Australia, part of Hong Kong, and part of the biggest Empire the world has ever seen; but, in spite of the fact that I own so much, I have nowhere to sleep to-night and I am very hungry. I wonder if any pawnbroker will advance me anything on my property." The story is that we are supposed to own the Empire. The fact is that the Empire is owned by the people who live there and by the international pawnbrokers. If we are going to think in terms of Empire, let us hope the people of Canada and Australia, and the people who want navies, here and elsewhere, will pay for their patriotic prejudices. I hope men will bend their minds to the problem and realise that the only solution is that the nations of this earth will realise their mutual interest, will perfect their international machinery, get rid of their armies and navies, and co-operate in order to produce more happiness for their common peoples.

The hon. Member who has just spoken asked us repeatedly the rhetorical question, "Who is the enemy?" to which I feel inclined to give the answer that the enemy, not of his country but of common sense, is the man who is too certain that the future is going to be in accord with his own desires. We cannot, he said, defend ourselves. Let us, on behalf of a very large number of his fellow-countrymen, assure him that, should occasion arise, at least an effort will be made. In view of the achievements of this country, it would probably be unwise to be too sure that that effort would not succeed. I rise to support the Amendment which has been moved with such a wide sweep of argument by my hon. Friend behind me, and seconded with so much technical knowledge by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Commander Southby).

I think a word should be said in comment upon an observation made by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), who attributed to the financial settlement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) the circumstance that our French and American friends are able to build ships. Surely, the true view of this incident is just the reverse of that which the hon. Member presented with so much ingenuity. Does anyone imagine that France and America would not be build- ing ships now if it had not been for this financial settlement? It is possible for a man of sense to have very grave doubt whether this country would have had sufficient credit to maintain the enormous expenditure it has made for the sake of Empire if it had not fortified itself so strikingly as it did by the financial settlement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley.

The French settlement had not so strong an effect, I agree, but it had a most appreciable effect in the support of her credit and the restoration of those normal conditions that are so essential to our trade.

This Amendment is most moderate and reasonable in its terms, so much so that it is almost impossible to doubt that the Government will accept it. But let me take this opportunity, late though it may be, to make one more appeal to the Government that whoever replies to the Debate shall not miss the opportunity by leaving the House and the country in doubt about the particular basis of the naval policy of the Government as it stands at present. We have been holding the Debate under circumstances of the most exceptional difficulty. First of all, there is the difficulty that is embodied in the so-called Navy Estimates for the year, because the truth is, of course, that this document, which is supposed to provide us with the Government's naval policy for the year, does not really contain Estimates at all. It is a document that is enough to give a sense almost of nausea to anyone who is devoted to regularity of financial control, because it lacks all precision on the widest bases of information. There are three submarines on the 1929 programme. I do not know whether they are to be built or not. We are left in doubt as to the whole future of the shipbuilding programme of the Government.

There is another matter which makes these Estimates deficient in the information to which we are entitled. It is not peculiar to them. They possess it in common with all big Estimates nowadays. It is this device that is called the overhead reduction, or super-cut. The House understands what that is. It is a sort of departmental joke. When a Department has estimated to the best of its ability the money it is going to spend in the course of the year, it encounters the hypnotic eye of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, by the power of that eye, it is forced to say: "After all, our most careful Estimates were only a joke, and we hope we shall be able to spend less than we originally calcuated." It really comes to be more and more, as the years go by, a means of lightly deceiving the House of Commons and the country as to what the real expenditure of the year is, because as we know, in very many cases, and as we saw recently in the Air Estimates, the Department has to come back to restore the money taken out on the super-cut. The Estimates leave us in complete doubt as to the real policy of the Government.

There is an even more substantial aspect of the deficiency of information from which we suffer as to the fundamental policy of the Government. The First Lord will agree that the House, if it accepts the Amendment, will have observed the request for the most discreet handling of the Naval Conference. Let me only speak of it in the terms almost of bedside whisper which would be appropriate for a patient in a state of delicate health. Nevertheless, there is one thing that must be said about it, and it can be said with propriety, because it concerns, not the negotiations of the Government, with its fellow negotiators of the Conference, but the relations of the Government with the people of the country. There is a very serious subject of criticism to be made by the House on this occasion—the only occasion it will have to do so—of leaving the country and this House in the dark as to what are the bases of this naval policy on which they have gone into the Conference. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty has given us some vague and amiable generalities to-day. He has referred us to the White Paper which in itself contains nothing but vague generalities. Sharp things may he said when the right time comes as to the contrast between the frame of mind in which our Government and other Governments have approached the Conference, as to the definition of their point of view and as to the uncertainty of their terms. Let them not be said to-day, but let us simply dwell upon the deficiency of information to the people of the country.

The truth is that never so much as at the present time has the country been so much in need of a re-definition of naval policy. Before the War things were fairly certain in that respect. We had the simplicity of the two-Power standard. We had the perfectly well-understood series of doctrines about our naval rights based upon embargo, blockade, distinction between public and private property, and, in particular, upon the right of search. Now with the passage of time and with the development of the world, all these matters are completely in doubt. The blockade has gone. The blockade is an absolutely obsolete idea. Owing to the fact that now every State can be mobilised as to every individual for war, all the other circumstances upon which our rights and policy were based before the War are absolutely Obsolete, or, in any case, obsolescent. The distinction between public and private property is now meaningless in working out the mechanism of naval warfare. The definition as to neutrality itself may have ceased to mean anything now that, according, at any rate, to the doctrine of one school of thought, there can be no neutrality in a country because there can no longer be any private war; there can only be war between the League of Nations and the object of the League's attack. That, of course, is not accepted by many, but, nevertheless, that is the problem.

I quote this to show the great doubt there is about these fundamental rights in naval warfare at the present time. They centre round the most important practical question affecting the rights of neutrals, namely, the right of search. In pre-War days the whole of our naval policy was based upon the right of search, but nowadays that right is challenged. Does it exist? Is it claimed by this country? We do not know. We do not know what is the Government's attitude towards it, and the point we have to bring out when discussing naval affairs is that it is impossible to base any reasonable and considered policy as to what are to be the naval forces of the country until you have a clear conception as to the anxiety of the country as regards these rights. It comes to a head in one particular question. The question might be expressed in many different ways, but perhaps best in this way: Is it any longer an essential necessity for the safety of this country that it should be able, in the event of being at war, to isolate the enemy from all intercourse with neutral countries? That is the whole basis of our sea power. Has it gone, or has it not? Or, on the other hand, are we to rely, and to what extent are we to rely as a substitute in achieving our safety, upon international obligations such as those contained in the Covenant of the League, the Kellogg Pact and any other international agreement? We do not know. We do not know what is the Government doctrine. The Government may say, "These things can only be decided in the course of time." You must have a working hypothesis or you cannot strike any intelligent or reasonable standard for the designing of the naval forces of the country, and so it must be.

We have been asked to wish success to the Conference. Certainly we wish success to the Conference. We wish it true success, and by true success we mean a success which consists of a reduction of armaments at the same time as a general increase of security. It is easy indeed to obtain success which will have some other conclusion. It is very easy indeed to obtain an apparent success by the wholesale reduction of our own forces as a sort of bribe to other nations to come in. That would be peace without security. It would be very easy to get apparent success by the converse method of allowing everybody to build what they want. That would be security without disarmament. But neither of these apparent successes would be true success, and the only true success we wish for the Conference is a success which leads to an actual increase of disarmament and security. When we speak of success to the Conference, we must go back to this consideration and remind the Government of the words of an Addisonian tag:
"Tis not in mortals to command success,
But we'll do more, Sempronius,—
We'll deserve it."
We are in doubt as to whether the Government have deserved success in the Conference. We are in doubt whether they have thought out the fundamental problems of naval safety. At any rate, they have not taken the country into their confidence. If that is so—and, indeed, it is so—are not the Government laying up for themselves the most dangerous of all situations where they will have to announce to the country the decision of the Conference which will vitally affect the country in regard to the future safety and prosperity and welfare of the nation, without having prepared the mind of the country, without having educated it to understand what the implication of their decision will mean? There is at the present time a profound sense of unrest and anxiety all over the country. Very largely it is due to other conditions—to economic conditions, trade conditions and so on. But who shall say that it is not the truth that that unrest and anxiety are to some extent—to what extent we would hardly like to measure—due to the fact that now, for the first time for many years, the country feels this restlessness in the matter of naval policy? It is the Government's fault if they fail to give the consideration which is necessary. At the last moment, if it be possible, on this the first opportunity which has occurred for some time, for them to relieve these anxieties, would it not be worth while to take the opportunity? If they do not take it now, they must inevitably face in time the indignation of the people who cling to this instinctive wisdom that safety is upon the sea.

Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I were now to reply to some of the points which have been raised, in order that we may afterwards proceed to the Committee stage and consider matters in detail. I think that the whole House must congratulate my right hon. Friend the First Lord upon the reception which has been accorded to his Estimates. At the some time, I want to express on his behalf his appreciation of the way which the House generally has responded to his appeal not to embarrass the Government with regard to the discussions which are going on in connection with the Naval Conference. It is only tempered with very deep regret that anything to mar that has been the mischievous speeches which have been delivered from these benches. That is a matter one cannot help but deplore, and trust that it will not have a very harmful effect.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), I must admit, honourably observed the request made by my right hon. Friend. One might have expected some criticism from the right hon. Gentleman in that respect, but it certainly did not occur. He certainly gave us no cause to complain. He opened by saying that there was a note of apology running all through my right hon. Friend's speech. I am bound to say that I failed to observe it. All along one had the impression that the First Lord was claiming, with some pride, the achievement which he had been able to announce, that the Navy was not suffering in any way from loss of efficiency owing to these reductions. One might gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and other speakers who followed him that somehow or other the Government had been guilty of cutting down the cruiser strength from 70 to 50. As a matter of fact, there has been no such thing. The figure of 70 has all along been the anticipated strength at which it was thought we might aim. The Tory Government never had more than 54 ships, and so there is no question whatever of any cutting down except as regards prospective requirements or programmes.

When the right hon. Gentleman complained that the personnel of the Navy was reduced to below 100,000 men, he might have paused to reflect that it was reduced to 98,000 by his own Government, who held out the possibility that there might be even greater reductions later on. Therefore, the facts hardly square with the arguments he put forth. There is a suggestion that the reduction in personnel in some way or another means a weakening of the strength of the fleet. May I say right away that there is no cause for alarm in that direction? The strength of the fleet is being maintained in personnel, and, in fact, we have, in a measure, a larger number of ships to be manned than was the case in the previous Government with a larger personnel. It has simply been a reduction on the lines of true economy, and we have sufficient men to carry on the work of the Navy.

8.0 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) raised again the old and difficult question of the size of the Admiralty staff. No one feels more keenly, or has expressed stronger opinions on that question than I have, and no one could have given greater attention to it than have the First Lord and myself. I want to remind the House, and to repeat what has been said before, that on the whole mere numbers do not express the exact position. You cannot measure the size of your administrative staff solely by the numbers of the personnel of the fleet. It is well known that in 1914 the staff at the Admiralty was considerably under strength, with the result that much extemporising had to take place, entailing probably a good deal of unnecessary expenditure, and it was felt that we ought not to be allowed to lapse into that condition. Fresh legislation and a variety of other things all tend to make a large staff necessary. The higher rates of pay given in the Navy, the improved salaries, and cost-of-living bonus, increase the cost of the staff. The elaboration of the activities and the machinery of Government caused by legislation which has been passed in this House—such as the Representation of the People Act, the Pensions (Increase) Act—the granting of marriage allowances to petty officers and men, and the periodical revision of naval officers' pay—entail additional work. All this work which has been thrown upon the Admiralty since the pre-War years has called for a considerable increase in staff. Owing to the great financial stringency there is a closer scrutiny of every proposal and—this is a matter with which I am sure the House will readily agree—a growing consideration for and more sympathetic treatment of the men on the lower deck. That in itself has caused a considerable amount of extra work which has necessitated an increase in the personnel at the Admiralty. I need not elaborate the point, but I would remind the House that this matter will be watched with the greatest care and will not be allowed to lapse. There will be no unnecessary accretions of staff allowed to remain. We must, however, remember that although the Navy has been decreased, it is essential that it should be as efficient as possible in every respect. I may also refer to two other points to indicate the amount of extra work that has been thrown upon the administrative staff. Before the War we bought our cordite by contract from manufacturers; now the Admiralty manufactures it. That has necessitated a certain amount of extra staff.

The hon. Member is answering the Amendment, but he is going into details regarding the Admiralty Vote.

I apologise. I thought for the moment that I was answering on the Vote. I bow to your Ruling. If we had to deal only with the speech of the Proposer of the Amendment, there would be no difficulty, but it is impossible to accept the Amendment because there is in it an implied censure of the Government. It will be necessary to vote upon it in order to get Mr. Speaker out of the Chair, so that we may proceed to detailed consideration of the Estimate. I would, however, ask my hon. Friends who have supported the Amendment to be good enough to withdraw it, after I have met their point, as I hope to do. They must realise that all the points to which they refer in their Amendment are now under consideration in the discussions that are going on at the Naval Conference. When the hon. Member was moving the Resolution he made a speech wholly in support of his belief in the reduction of armaments and the movements towards peace, but as he proceeded I could not help recalling the lines of Hosea Biglow:

"I do believe in freedom's cause As far away as Paris is."
The hon. and gallant Member who seconded the Resolution asked on what ground we had decided to fix 50 as the number of cruisers. That question was answered by my right hon. Friend on the 12th February last, in reply to the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton), who asked upon what basis the reduced number of 50 cruisers as needful for the British Empire is calculated. My right hon. Friend replied:
"The number 50 has been arrived at after full investigation and is that which will, it is considered, meet all requirements for the period of an agreement which it is hoped will be reached as a result of the London Naval Conference. The number is subject to the satisfactory outcome of that Conference.
Colonel GRETTON: Cannot the right hon. Gentleman give the basis on which the calculation was made?
Mr. ALEXANDER: That has already been stated. The Admiralty in the past advanced the view that a different number of cruisers was required, namely, 70. It has been quite plainly stated that, in view of the developments that have since taken place—the signing of the Pact of Paris and the holding of the Naval Conference—50 cruisers would be sufficient for the period covered by any agreement reached by the Conference."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1930; col. 395, Vol. 235.]
The answer is, that the number was fixed as quite sufficient while the Conference is going on, and if what is hoped for from the Conference materialises it will be sufficient to meet our present needs. The gibe of the hon. and gallant Member that the reduction was in order to meet Socialistic extravagance, can hardly be justified. I imagine that he would not begrudge the money that has been voted to meet the needs of some of the most necessitous people. It appears to me that what we have been suffering from has been the extravagance of our predecessors, and that we find ourselves with a depleted bank balance. It is on these grounds that we have found it a hard job to cut down our Estimates. It is true that I made a speech on the Navy Estimates in 1924, but if the hon. and gallant Member had read that speech he would have seen that I stated the position, namely, that the cruisers were built in order to replace those that had been scrapped. We submit that the present number of 54 is sufficient for the time being, and that we might be content to let the matter rest there until we see what comes out of the discussions that my right hon. Friend is carrying on at the Navy Conference, in conjunction with the Prime Minister.

As you have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that I cannot reply on the other points raised in the Estimate to-day, there is not much left to be dealt with. I would, however, point out that the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir H. Young) does not seem to have profited very much by the lessons of the past. He seems to be living in the days of pre-War. It is true that there is a certain amount of unsettlement as to our Naval requirements and our ordinary standards, but that is happening all over the world, and it is a good thing that it is happening. It is a sign that the nations are recasting and reconsidering their position in order to see whether or not they can cut down extravagant expenditure and whether or not they cannot find a better way of settling disputes than by the arbitrament of war. We are gradually reducing our expenditure on armaments and by that means we hope to give a lead to the world. The questions to which the right hon. Gentleman referred are being thrashed out at Geneva and are being discussed in various ways between the nations. It is impossible at the moment to say where these discussions will ultimately lead, but we have given a definite lead in the way of the reduction of armaments and when some people deplore that we have not gone far enough they might reflect that we have evidently gone a good deal further than we can persuade other nations to go at the present time. That in itself should be a sufficient earnest of the Government's intention to give a lead to the world.

It is true that certain risks may be run, but the Government are prepared to take risks in order to promote peace, so far as their own life is concerned, and to leave the matter to the judgment of the country. The right hon. Member for Sevenoaks said that a good deal of the unrest and anxiety that is now felt in the country is due, perhaps, because there is a feeling that there is no settlement as to our naval policy. I can find no trace of that feeling, and I move about the country and mix with all sorts and conditions of people a great deal. There is one thing that I do find strongly expressed, and that is that whether people agree with the Government on their general policy or not, the whole nation is behind them in their endeavour to arrive at a peace settlement, and particularly in regard to the Five-Power Naval Conference. One can hardly go into any assembly without finding people wishing good luck to the Government in this respect, and a general desire that the Conference may enable us to settle our differences, so that we may proceed to settle other difficulties, both social and economic.

The Amendment, as moved, in a certain way is meaningless unless it is meant to imply censure upon the Government in taking part in the Naval Conference. I do not believe that the supporters of the Resolution intend that. The Government are quite aware of the points which have been raised in the Resolution and I can assure hon. Members that those points are borne in mind while the matter is under discussion. We have had to put down a certain figure in regard to our naval requirements. It is for that reason that we are discussing with other nations whether or not we cannot find ways and means so that the argosies necessary for the safety of the country can come into their desired haven. I would ask hon. Members to withdraw the Motion. It will be helpful, having regard to the position of the Naval Conference, if it could go forward that all parties are agreed in wishing God speed to the Government in their endeavour to arrive at a satisfactory settlement.

The hon. Member said that the Government were in entire agreement with the Amendment.

The hon. Member said that the sentiments expressed were such that the Government could agree with them. If so, and if they agree with us that a steady building and replacement programme is of vital importance, their method of agreeing with such sentiments is very strange, because they have dropped any building programme.

The hon. and gallant Member does not want to misrepresent our position. I stated earlier that I intend later to introduce a Supplementary Estimate, which will give the programme to be laid down.

That may be so, but the Supplementary Estimate is not the bird in hand, and it will be time to discuss that when it comes. I wonder if it ever will come. It is all very well for the First Lord of the Admiralty to smile, but there have been speeches from his supporters behind him, and we are never certain how far the back benchers of the Socialist party carry the Front bench. The right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir H. Young) asked the Government representative to give some general outline of the grounds on which the Government base their naval policy. With that question the hon. Member did not deal. That is surely the fundamental issue which this country has to face. If there is one thing clearer than anything else it is that the Government in these negotiations have not been perfectly frank with the country. The country does not know absolutely and definitely, with the same clarity as the nationals of other Powers at the Conference, exactly the policy of the Government. What is the fundamental law which governs all these problems? In a quotation from Hobbes, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition some time ago said:

"The first and fundamental law of nature is to seek peace and follow it."
We all agree with that:
"The second the summe of right of nature, which is by all means we can to defend ourselves."
If that was true centuries ago it is equally true to-day, and we have to find the greatest common measure between the two needs; the need of peace and the need of self-defence. That is why we are discussing the Amendment to-day, which stresses the fact of the dependence of our Empire on its sea routes. It is the policy of the Government to deal with the United States on a question of parity. Let us deal with them on a question of parity in regard to policy. Let us see what their policy is, and adapt ourselves to it.
"The fundamental policy of the United States is that the Navy should be maintained in sufficient strength to support United States policies and commerce and guard its Continental and overseas possessions."
This is the doctrine laid down in the General Board's statement of policy, and it would be well to keep before our minds the fact that the same policy should govern this country. This is an old country which had a Navy centuries before the United States ever swam into our ken. Consider what the silent Mr. Coolidge said. Every now and then he used to make pronouncements of the greatest possible importance and dealing with this very subject—after the signature of the Kellogg Pact, the basis upon which the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister have made their suggestions, that is, the existence of the Covenant and the signature of the Kellogg Pact—he said on Armistice Day, 1928:
"All human experience seems to demonstrate that a country which makes reasonable preparation for defence is less likely to he subject to hostile attack and less likely to suffer a violation of its rights which might lead to war."
That is a point of view which is often forgotten. It is the violation of rights which possibly may lead to war. Therefore, anything we can do to prevent that taking place is not only in harmony with our own Imperial needs but in perfect accord with anything the spokesmen of the United States may say. The basis of all disarmament questions is the Covenant of the League of Nations. Some people talk a great deal about that document and are apt to forget its exact terms. If we read the Article 8 dealing with the subject of Disarmament we find that a reduction in forces is:
"to be to the lowest point consistent with national safety, taking into account the geographical situation and the circumstances of each State."
That is the point—the geographical situation. We cannot get away from it. In a widespread Empire like ours it is the geographical situation which has to be watched the whole time. That is the point of view that the French Government has recognised at the Naval Conference. In their own statement of policy they set out in so many words that.
"The existence of such an Empire, the necessity of providing for the separate defence of each of the big communities it comprises, the many political and economic ties which bind these big communities to each other and to the Mother Country, the need to protect the integrity and economic life of the latter, the task of providing for the security of more than 30,000 kilometres of seaboard all told—
in our case it is 80,000 miles of sea route—
"impose upon the French Navy duties which the French Government cannot ignore when it is called upon to apply Article 8 of the Covenant."
And that Article says that you must take into account the geographical situation and the circumstances of each State
"The French Naval Budget is lower today than it was in 1914, and the same desire of strict moderation will continue to inspire France in the appreciation of her needs, and in computing the forces necessary to meet them."
Every single word of that statement applies to us. You have only to substitute the words "British Empire" for "French Empire," and 80,000 miles of sea route for the 30,000 kilometres of seaboard. If other nations have appreciated their responsibilities in these matters we ought to have had a clearer statement from the Government in regard to their attitude. These facts have not been presented by our own Government, and that is why I support the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks when he complains that the Government have not laid down a policy in sufficiently distinct terms. We do not get the information from the Government; we get it from documents that are circulated by other powers. The French Naval Committee, apparently, went to the trouble of calculating and tabulating the relative defensive needs of the Five Powers, out on the basis of area of territory, length of coasts and communications, external trade and sea borne traffic; five points which, obviously, must be taken into account when you are discussing the question of policing the seas. The figures are instructive when dealing with the question of parity, which is the policy of the Government. If you take the figure 1, as being the figure for Italy, then other countries work out, Japan, 1.6; France, 3; United States, 4.2 and the British Empire, 10. That is the measure of our responsibility with regard to trade routes, the point to which the Amendment calls attention. We cannot be accused of having weighted the argument in any direction because these figures have been produced by the French Naval Committee, and they show that we are 10 while the next nation in point of responsibility is 4.2. Is it to be wondered at that the party to which I belong should introduce an Amendment calling attention to these facts?

There is a great difference between ourselves and other nations, and the Prime Minister recognises it. He has said that "the Navy is us." He may not always have taken that view, but sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Apparently, that is the view he takes to-day. There was a time when he said that the reason we went to war was that the Admiralty was anxious to seize any opportunity for using the Navy in battle practice. His sentiments in 1914 are different to his sentiments to-day. He recognises, and the Government recognise, the vital importance of these cruisers for the defence of our trade routes. Every farmer in Canada, every tea planter in Assam, every cocoa grower in the Pacific Islands, different peoples, different occupations, creeds and races, depend for their livelihood on selling the produce they bring to the world, and that depends upon the safety of the sea routes which are guarded and kept not only for ourselves but for the rest of the world by the British Fleet. Therefore it is important. The Government have had experience of this problem. They know that last autumn they had to send ships, troops and aeroplanes to Palestine. For what purpose? Not to defend purely British interests, but to keep the peace between Jew and Arab in a country where we were really the mandatories of the League. It does not lie with the present Government to shut their eyes to the facts. Yet they go out of their way to make a gesture, to suggest the reduction of our construction programme by 66,000 tons. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in spite of all the speeches that he made in the last Parliament against the Conservative party for its slowness, had himself to admit, when speaking to his constituents the other day, that
"Any impartially-minded person will agree that Great Britain has already made great sacrifices in the cause of disarmament."
Surely, there is to be some limit to our gestures and to our disarmament proposals without response from elsewhere? That is the point about which the country is nervous. The country is prepared to see great measures of disarmament, but is not prepared to give a free hand to the Government without seeing some change of sentiment, some kind of response on the part of the countries with which we are dealing. If this Debate has tended to open the eyes of some of the plenipotentiaries who are now sitting in London dealing with this matter, it hasdone good. It is as well that some indication should be given in this House that there are those who realise that this country and the Empire form one of the great pillars of peace in the world, and that if the Government scrap every kind of shipbuilding programme they will not in the end advance the cause which they profess to uphold. The First Lord, in his own Memorandum, stands convicted, or rather convinced, by what he himself states:

"FLEET ACTIVITIES ABROAD.

Mediterranean.—In August the situation in Palestine necessitated the despatch from Malta at short notice of units of the Mediterranean Fleet.
Red Sea and Persian Gulf.—Patrols of sloops in these waters have been carried out, as in past years, for the prevention of slave traffic."

These are not purely British interests.

"China.—Piracy is still prevalent, both on the high seas and on inland waters, and much of the responsibility for dealing with this menace to peaceful commerce has continued to fall upon the Navy."

In this very document there is some measure of our responsibilities. When we find these gestures given without explanation, when we find the Government going to the Conference without taking the country into their confidence, and exhibiting the utmost vices of the secret diplomacy which they had previously so strongly condemned, is it surprising that in this very mildly critical spirit we called attention to these fundamental facts? The point is, did the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty mean by his statement that all these considerations would be taken into account?. I hope that before we finish with the Navy Estimates, we shall receive from the First Lord something more reassuring than what we have heard to-day with regard to the permanent policy of the country and a real replacement programme—not aggrandisement but replacements—about which the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Commander Southby) spoke with so much technical knowledge. We hope that he will give us some satisfaction on these points. At present it appears possible that the present Government will do nothing, but will leave their successors to come to the House with the enormous Estimates that will be necessary in order to make up for the falling away from grace of which the present Government are guilty now. Let us try to look at naval policy as something which has to be continuous from year to year. The programme of 1925 has been whittled away.

All round, by what the right hon. Gentleman has done himself, and now his gesture regarding the 66,000 tons. Let us have some continuity in this great Imperial question of the Navy, just as we have had in the past in great matters of foreign policy. Then the right hon. Gentleman will have nothing but thanks to offer to us for having reminded him of the duties which his high office entail.

In view of the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Supply accordingly considered in Committee.

[Mr. DUNNICO in the Chair.]