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THE COUNTRY'S DANGER, Star, Issue 9528, 28 April 1909
THE COUNTRY'S DANGER
NAVAL DEBATE OPENED. SPEECHES OF PARTY LEADERS. IMPRESSIVE SCENE IN THE y HOUSE OF COMMONS. (By JOHN FOSTER FRASER, in the '^Standard.'') There was a moment when even the vehement economists who sit below the ministerial gangway made pause. It was when the House collectively understood that the Germans we're building battleships faster than we are, that our maritime supremacy . was . threatened, and that we stood in national danger It was late in the day, but the lights had not been raised, and the chamber was wrapped in semi-gloom. Tho House was full, long benches of men, all grave and rather silent, listening, un- . derstanding what the peril was — an emotional thrill running through the assembly. For .the first time in tho life of this Parliament the clamour of party was stilled — men's patriotism rose above party. Mr Balfour was pale 'with anxiety- — he admitted that .he was more anxious than he cared to think — and Mr Asquith, seeing the menace from across the North Sea, and knowing that the dockyards of . Germany roar with the clang of building mighty warships of the Dreadnought type, cried . aloud that the instinct of selfpreservation dictated we must maintain our supremacy. The Prince of Wales was in the gallery. By his side sat a former Firet Lord of the Admiralty, Earl Gawdor._ Close by were the Duke of Devonshire, the Marquis of -, Londonderry, sturdy old Lord ' Brassey, and lesser peers. The naval expenditure of the year will be £35,142,700, or £2,823,200 over -last year's^ estimates. New* construction this year is to cost dE.8,885,194. ... Four battleships of the Dreadnought type are to be laid down this year and completed within two years. , Preparations ' are made for the rapid construction of four more 'Dreadnoughts next year. " Not enough I" had insisted , members, solicitous for national defence. " Far .too much ; cut down accursed armaments and save the money " had argued perfervid Radicals. That was the mood of the House when.it met. The First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir M'Kenna, made a detailed statement. He spoke for. an. hour, reading nearly every, word from typewritten sheets. Tie" piled these on his crimson despatch box, stuck hie despatch on' the lid of the brass-bound chest which buttresses .the edge of the table, and so provided a reading desk. With clear, bold enunciation he preached the need of the' money; An occasional tinge of colour came to his mobile, . clean-shaven, lawyer's face when he was conscious, as he might well be. of the intense interest which his statements excited. The stillness was impressive, but at long intervals there was a spontaneous .blast of cheering when he struck a patriotic chord. MR M'KEtfNA AND ECONOMISTS. His eye went to the Little* Navy economists, sitting on a bench below the' gangway. He appreciated that they regarded the increase of nearly three' millions with . alarm ; he assured, them' thai the . Government had riot come to a decision; with' a light heart; $fficiall£;fte^ of economy. ■ "But." he , straightening his shoulders, ' ',' even the sternest economist must make sacrifices and the safety" of the country stands above all other considerations." There was. a cheer. He plucked courage and grew stronger. "No matter what the cost, the safety of the country must be assured." Now the cheer blazed. Swiftly he laid it down that we could not determine in advance any definite limits to our Navy— those limits must be fixed by. the advance of foreign Powers. So gradually he came to Germany. He and the Prime Minister and Mr Balfour recognised the friendliness of Germany; but it was impossible to ignore the strides which Germany is making in shipbuilding, and intends to make. Germany has a Navy law which will give her a Navy larger and more powerful than any navy in existence. Germany is hastening . with the building of Dreadnought ships, and " it will tax all our resources if we are to keep up the same rate." So we had to push on. "We cannot afford to run risks," he said. He worked jout statistics, somewhat complicated, but they came to this: that at the present rate of building in both countries we shall, by April, 19152, have twenty pf these monster vessel), to Germany's seventeen. This was a rate of progress which Mr Balfour subsequently challenged, and in respect of which he made a comparison to Britain's disadvantage. But Mr M'Kenna was a Dreadnought man. The day was coming, when ships behind the Dreadnought power would have to be, relegaifed to the scrap heap. "We cannot be certain of retaining our superiority on the sea if we fall behind in this type of ship," said he. That was the .note which he kept striking : we must keep ahead of Germany. He said we were. Mr Balfour's contention was that Germany will soon be passing us. MR BALFOUR ON A GREAT DECISION. I have rarely seen Mr Balfour so oppressed with the seriousness of an occasion. The immense fact that a decision on national destiny was to be given by the House weighed upon him. "If we decide wrong it cannot be corrected in the future." There was no appeal. However much we migLt. vtdsh to retrieve the fatal step we cou'd not. "For the first time in many generations we shall be in a naval position never contemplated." This was his -prelude. He stretched his long, slim figure, and spread ' out his long, thin fingers, and in a voice low toned and yet with a touch of the shrill of apprehension in it looked ahead for three years to see how we stood compared with other nations. The two, - power standard ! He laughed a little huskily. We had reached a point in regard to Dreadnoughts when the question was* not -whether we retained a two-Power standard but whether we had a onePower standard. "A-r-hl" cried the Opposition, in a long-drawn shout, grasping the peril of the situation. What was Germany doing, and what did she intend to do? That was the issue Mr Balfour looked at. We checked our shipbuilding, nursing the empty hope that a reduction of armaments would be agreed to at The Hague Conference; but Germany not only went on building ships, but made enormous preparations with docks, slj-ps, machinery, putting Germany in a position which, compared with ns, no nation has ever yet been. The Germans had justified their boast l that they could build as fast as we j could. A year ago Mr Asquith did j not think "--be Germans would carry -:
out their "paper programme"; that had been, falsified, for not only had they carried out their programme, but had so accelerated the <_jpeed^of building that they had laid down four Dreadnoughts in November which were not due till April. Calculating , on this accelerated speed in Germany whilst building in England continued at the present speed, Mr Balfour worked out that in December, 1910, we shall have ten Dreadnoughts, but the Germans will have thirteen. By April 1, 1911, whilst the Germans will have no more, we will have raised our number to twelve", and by July of 1911 we shall have fourteen. But the Germans will have seventeen. If Germany lays down eight ships this year, then by April 1, 1912, she will have twenty-five— in any case twenty-one — and we shall have twenty. It was this; prospective state of affairs that filled Mr Balfour with concern. "I do not," he said, 'in sad voice, "approach this in an alarmist spirit, but most reluctantly I come to the conclusion that now, for the first time in modern "history, we are face to face with a naval situation so new and so dangerous that it is very difficult for us to realise all that it imports." So far as naval construction till 1911 went, it was too late, for us to do anything; no activity on the part of our dockyards, no generosity on the part of the taxpapers, would make good the deficiency. "It is not the two Power standard, but the one-Power standard in the matter of ships of firstclass power which 6eems to be slipping from bur grasp," said he. MR ASQUITH ON NATIONAL SAFETY. . Mr Balfour's - manner, the deep significance of his words, touched the House. The strange thing was the overhanging silence. Mr Asquith was moved. He spoke slowly and impressively, agreeing that we were face to face, not with a party issue, but a matter which , affected the well-being, and indeed' the" safety, of the Empire as a whole. He pressed, the point that the- diplomatic relations between, ourselves and Germany were never more friendly than at present. Then, why should armaments go on increasing; why was there no mutual arrangement? Germany — and he spoke with solemnity — had made it clear to our Government that . their expenditure . was according to their own needs, and their ?rdgramnie did not depend upon ours, hey had made _t quite -plain that if we build a hundred Dreadnoughts we must not assume they would add to their "programme, and if we built none they would go on with their programme just as it is. . This = sent a qu ; ver . of sensation through the Chamber. So Mr Asquith turned to critics of the Government on his. own side of the Houseand denied that England had been setting the pace. But in -view of' a contingency j t which "might he & mfeDace we, in no. I hostility to another nation, but with the instinct of * self-preservation, must build. He disputed Mr Balfour's calculations on the strength of >D*eadnoughts in 1912,, and said that >it% was a physical* imjiossibility for the Germans to accelerate speed in building and get ahead of us. Mr Asquith's own calculation was that on April 1, 1912, we shall haye twenty J Dreadnoughts and; tbe Germans seventeen. •' Theh came a; 'striking statement. "We have had the most- distinct de-' claration from the German Governmeiit," said Mr Ajsquitli, " that it is not their intention to accelerate their programme." That was not a pledge or. an agreement, and he could not accuse the German Government of anything in the nature of bad faiti if they altered their intention. He admitted to the full that he was wrong a year ago in the assumption that the Germans would not carry out their programme; they had, and we could no longer take t_> ourselves the consoling and comforting reflection that we had an advantage in the rate of ehipbuild-. ing. He* shuddered at the horrible, devastating, sterilising expenditure-— but' it had to be. Rarely has the House been so chastened. . It looked as though no member dared venture to , speak. For a while there was a momentous pause. Professor Arnold Lupton got to his feet. When his voice was heard mem- i bera, with one accord, bolted. For the fire* minute or two it was impossible to hear what the member for Sleaford was saying, so great was the turmoil of men escaping to the lobby.
THE COUNTRY'S DANGER, Star, Issue 9528, 28 April 1909
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