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Thursday, 3 December 1936

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [11.25].-I move-

That the bill be now read a second time.

The object of the measure is to enable effect to be given to a Treaty of Naval Disarmament signed at London on the 25th March last, on behalf of His Majesty and certain; powers to replace the Washington Treaties of 1922 and the London Treaty of 1930. The Washington naval treaties were two in number -

1.   A five-power treaty limiting naval armaments. This described the capital ships to be retained by each contracting power and determined the ratio of capital ship replacement, which was to be - 525,000 tons for the United States of America and Great Britain; 315,000 tons for Japan; 175,000 tons for Prance and Italy, or the ratios of 5:5:3:1.66. It also limited the tonnage of individual capital ships to 35,000 tons and the calibre of guns to 16 inches. Individual cruisers were limited to 10,000 tons and their guns to 8 inches. Aircraft-carriers we're limited in general to an individual tonnage of 27,000 tons, with a total tonnage of 135,000 for the United States of America and Great Britain, 81,000 for Japan, and 60,000 for France and Italy. To maintain the tonnage ratios, the three major powers scrapped about 40 per cent. of their capital-ship strength and fixed a 20-years age limit, which halted battleship construction up to 1931.

2.   A five-power treaty relative to the use of submarines and noxious gases in warfare.

By the London Naval Treaty of 1930, the United States of America, Great Britain and Japan consented to further scrapping of existing capital ships, and agreed to prolong thebattleship holiday for another six years by renouncing replacement rights under the Washington Treaty. Limitation was extended for the first time to smaller vessels such as cruisers, destroyers and submarines, with a maximum total tonnage and qualitative limits fixed for each category. These two treaties wereundoubtedly effective in preventing unrestricted competition in naval armaments, and constituted the most important contribution to disarmament in the post-war period, especially as all proposals for military and air disarmament failed. Both these treaties are due to expire on the 31st December, 1936, with the exception of Part IV. of the' London Treaty of 1930, relating to rules of submarine warfare. Consequently, early action was initiated by the United Kingdom with a view to obtaining renewal or agreement for a new treaty. Under the 1930 treaty, the powers had undertaken to meet in conference in 1935 to frame a new agreement, and preliminary bi-lateral conversations were initiated early in 1934 by the United Kingdom Government with the governments of the United States of America, Japan, France and Italy. These were followed by tripartite conversations in the closing months of 1934, between the United Kingdom, United States of America and Japan. The Japanese attitude was that an agreement should be reached on general naval limitation, comprising both qualitative and quantitative limits, and they were unable to agree to consider qualitative limits only. As honorable senators are. aware, qualitative limits are limitations as to individual tonnage, size and number of guns, &c, while quantitative limits cover total tonnages and numbers of the various categories of vessels. The British proposal of declared building programmes was unacceptable to the Japanese, and at the termination of the preliminary conversations it appeared that m> substantial measure of agreement would ?)ยป' obtained at the main conference. On the 29th December, 1934, Japan gave notice of termination of the Washington treaties. As the parties to those treaties had agreed to meet within one year of the date of such notice of termination, this was a second reason why it was necessary to summon a conference in 1935. Great Britain was determined that a final effort should be made to prevent unrestricted naval competition. Therefore, despite the inauspicious atmosphere which prevailed, it issued the necessary invitations, and the conference was opened in London on the 9th December, 1935. The powers represented were all the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, United States of America, Japan, France and Italy. At the opening of the conference the United Kingdom representative stated that the greatest importance was attached by his Government to a continuation of limitation in both the quantitative and qualitative fields. He pointed out that an international agreement on these lines would undoubtedly lead to great economy in future naval construction throughout the world. In regard to quantitative limitation, the Government of the United Kingdom had 'been forced to the conclusion during the preliminary conversations that agreement on any system of limitation based directly on a ratio or definite relationship of naval strength, such as that on which the Washington and London naval treaties were founded, would prove difficult of attainment. In order to preserve some measure of quantitative limitation, it proposed as a middle way, that the quantitative side of the treaty should consist of uni-lateral and voluntary declarations by each of the powers limiting its construction over a period of, say, six years. Agreement on any form of quantitative limitation, however, proved to be impossible.

At the opening of the conference Japan tabled a proposal for a " common upper limit ", insisting on naval parity with the United States and Great Britain in substitution for the ratio system. After considerable discussion, this proposal remained unacceptable to all the other delegations and Japan withdrew its delegation from the conference, but left observers to watch its progress. The further efforts of the conference were directed to achieve the maximum measure possible of qualitative limitation. There was considerable disappointment at the actual results, but in two respects something definite was achieved. First, the treaty defines the categories of certain classes of vessels, in particular limiting capital ships to a maximum displacement of 35,000 tons as in the Washington Treaty, and guns to a maximum calibre of 14 inches, a reduction of 2 inches on the Washington limit. Secondly, the treaty provides for advanced notification of construction or acquisition of war vessels and exchange of information on their principal characteristics. The principle of advance notification of construction was entirely new, as under neither the Washington nor the London Naval Treaty were there any arrangements of this nature. These provisions are regarded as the most satisfactory feature of the treaty, and it is considered that they will be preventive of wholesale competition in naval armaments.

Complete agreement on these points was reached in London between the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations possessing sea-going naval forces - the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, India and New Zealand - the United States of .America and France. Provision was made for direct adherence to the treaty by Japan and Italy, while other States may join in by means of bi-lateral pacts with Britain. If the Powers outside the treaty were to go ahead and build capital ships of over 35,000 tons and guns of over 14 inches, the whole basis of agreement would, of course, be wrecked.

On the day on which the treaty was signed, a copy of the text was transmitted to Japan with an invitation to accede to it. The Japanese Government, however, decided not to adhere to the treaty " under present conditions ", and informed the British Government accordingly in June. The British Government replied that it hoped that a change of conditions would permit of Japanese accession in the future. While the treaty was still in draft form, the German Government announced its agreement in principle, though it made certain observations with regard to the age-limit of battleships, and at a later date, negotiations were commenced for a bi-lateral treaty between the United Kingdom and Germany. They were, however, interrupted during the Rhineland crisis, and definite conclusion hinges on completion of a similar agreement with Russia. Discussions with Russia were commenced in London on the 20th May, and have been continued at intervals subsequently. In September, discussions also took place between representatives of Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Italy has not yet signed the treaty, one of its objections being to the size of the capital ship, which, it con sidered, should be less than 35,000 tons. It is, however, anticipated that Italy will accede.

The object of this hill is to implement the treaty signed on the 25th March. On behalf of Australia it was signed by the Right Honorable S. M. Bruce, to whom full powers had been given. The procedure followed that adopted at the Washington Conference in 1922, and at London in 1930. On each occasion, Parliament subsequently passed acts similar to the present bill. This measure is designed to ensure the ob'servance on the part of the Commonwealth of the obligations contained in the treaty, which are not, as far as Australia is concerned, of a very active character. Most of the obligations contained in the treaty relate to acts by the high contracting parties themselves. There is, however, an obligation by the high contracting parties in respect of the construction of vessels of war within their jurisdiction. It is necessary, therefore, to have legal authority for' exercising control within the jurisdiction of any high contracting party over such vessels which may be built by private interests. This proposed legislation, which proceeds on the lines of that proposed in the United Kingdom, prohibits the building -of any vessel of war by any person unless he holds a licence from the Minister for Defence. The alteration, arming or equipping of any ship in order to adapt it for use as a vessel of war, and the despatch or delivery of any ship built, altered, armed or equipped, are also matters which require a licence from the Minister. The bill provides that a licence shall not be refused by the Minister unless it appears to him necessary to do so for the purpose of securing the observance of the obligations of the treaty. The bill, therefore, is designed to assure to private builders the grant of a licence to cover their operations if those operations do not involve a contravention of the treaty. The bill confers upon the Minister necessary powers of entry and inspection which will be exercised in relation to any dockyard or shipyard. Such powers will be utilized to ensure that no ship is being built, altered, armed or equipped in contravention of the proposed law. Any person to whom a licence has been granted under the proposed law is required, upon demand, to furnish to the Minister such designs and particulars as the Minister requires, relating to the construction being carried out in pursuance of the licence in order to enable the obligations imposed by the treaty to be observed. The bill contains the necessary penalties forfailure to comply with the conditions of any licence granted under the act, and any vessel in respect of which an offence is committed is made liable to forfeiture to the King.The bill contains machinery provisions for the seizure, detention and disposal of any ship which so becomes liable to forfeiture. Where a ship has been detained in pursuance of the proposed law, the provisions of sections 414 and 415 of the Navigation Act, are applied to that ship. Those sections impose a penalty upon the master of any vessel which is detained if the master takes that ship to sea or if he takes to sea any official performing duty under the act unless that official consents.

The Washington Treaty and the London Treaty of 1930, expire on the 31st December, 1936, and it is desired to bring the new treaty into effect on the 1st January, 1937, by which date ratifications are to be deposited. As in the case of the Washington and London Conferences, naval armaments are regarded as being imperial in their scope, for the various categories cover the whole Empire. The passing of the legislation is of a formal character, but the authority of Parliament is desired before the Government proceeds to ratify the treaty.

Although I have given a somewhat lengthy exposition of this bill, it was necessary to do so in order to avoid subsequent debate. Honorable senators will realize that this measure breaks no new ground, and I hope that they will expedite its passage.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate.

Standing and Sessional Orders suspended; report adopted.

Bill read a third time.

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