HC Deb 11 August 1871 vol 208 cc1445-69

, in rising to call the attention of the House to the policy of the Government in relation to the dockyards, said, when he was appointed to the Admiralty, in 1867, the Estimates had already been prepared and provided for 18,330 workmen, which number he reduced, in 1868, to 15,200, showing an actual reduction of 3,049, and not 5,000, as had been misrepresented; and only 215 of the men so reduced were established men, the remainder being hired men, who were usually entered for only temporary service, and were not entitled to pensions on their discharge. The reduction he made was as great as he considered safe at the time; but in the two following years the late First Lord further reduced the number by 4,000 men, of whom no less than 3,294 were established. Regarding that as an unwise reduction, he protested against it at the time in the strongest manner, on account of what he knew of the state of the unarmoured Navy. In August last, on the firing of the first gun in Europe, the number was increased to 13,500, being an addition of 2,200; and since then there had again been a reduction to 12,850, still showing an increase of 1,570 men over the Vote for the financial year 1870–1. That, undoubtedly, was not an economical transaction, because four-fifths of the men discharged by the late First Lord were entitled to pensions, being established men, and, as a result, the cost of the pension list had been increased by about £80,000 a-year since 1868. Established men would not of course, as a general rule, return to the service, as it would have necessitated the surrender of their pensions. Therefore, in the case of men entered since last August, two men had been paid for the work of one man, the one being on wages and the other on pension. In addition to that, several men discharged with gratuities had re-entered, of course on full wages. But that did not represent the whole evil; since the beginning of the year he had visited most of the dockyards, and found it to be the general opinion that the new men engaged were at least 25 per cent inferior to those who had been previously discharged, a fact which strengthened his view that the conduct of the Government had not been wise or economical in its character. Good men were so disgusted at the treatment they were likely to receive that they would not enter the dockyards. Of course, they heard of the old men entitled to pensions having been discharged; and they were unable to reconcile themselves to lower wages in the dockyards, with no greater security for permanent employment than in the private trade. He knew there was an excuse made for the reduction and subsequent increase of men to which he had called attention. The First Lord said—"When war arises every country puts its Army and Navy on a war footing." But the war appeared to have disturbed the equanimity of the Government in a very slight degree. Lord Granville, in "another place," quoted and adopted the opinion of Lord Clarendon as to the danger to England of war between France and Germany. He said— In the event of such a war, it would be almost impossible that the most hostile feelings towards England should not be excited on the part of both the belligerents, and that we should have great difficulty in avoiding being dragged into it ourselves. Well, they all knew that feelings of the greatest dissatisfaction with them did exist on the part of two of the most powerful military nations of Europe. A war was raging within sight of their shores, the "silver streak" alone separating them from the scene of strife. Their Army was confessedly inadequate. Yet nothing was done for immediate defence, or for giving weight to their moral influence in the councils of Europe. They had Belgium threatened; there was this war between France and Germany; the Treaty of 1856 was rudely flung in their faces. Those startling events, however, seemed to have had rather a tranquillising effect on the nerves of Her Majesty's Government, for it was positively the case that their naval forces were smaller during the war than before it, though the Estimates were prepared at the time when Mr. Hammond said there was not a cloud on the political horizon. The number of seamen and marines borne in December, 1870, was 1,500 less than in December, 1869. In December, 1869, there were 17 iron-clads in sea-service commission; in December, 1870, 16. In December, 1869, there were 118 vessels of war of all classes in commission; and in December, 1870, 115. There were 1,500 men and three ships less than before the war. A battalion of marines was sent to China on account of the massacre at Tien-tsin, occasioned in a great measure, as the Papers laid before Parliament showed, by the reduction of the China squadron, of which he had more than once complained. The Flying Squadron was, indeed, recalled in hot haste from the Pacific, when war broke out. But on its arrival it was at once paid off, and the frigates composing it were not even repaired for service, in the event of our being involved in the war. A new Flying Squadron was commissioned, but singularly enough, it was sent out of the way across the Atlantic, exactly two days before the meeting of the Conference, he supposed to satisfy Prince Gortchakoff that no mischief was intended. That was a very different policy from the one adopted by the late Lord Derby in 1859 at the commencement of the Italian War, and afterwards accepted by Lord Palmerston. At that time, though there was less apprehension of danger to England than at the outbreak of the France-Prussian War, 8,000 seamen and 2,000 marines, 15 line-of-battle ships, 13 frigates, and 7 smaller vessels of war, were added to the naval force of the country in three months; and there were, in addition, four liners and six frigates ready in reserve. They were constantly being told that the Reserves never were so strong as at present. But the First Lord would be rather startled if such a demand were made on him now. The only naval preparation made for war was to order four vessels of the Cyclops class for coast defence, which could not be ready till after the war was sure to be over. But absolutely nothing was done for immediate defence, or towards strengthening the moral influence of England. The First Lord of the Admiralty stated that of the £600,000 voted at the commencement of the war £248,000 were devoted to the dockyards, £98,000 to the payment of artificers, and £150,000 to stores, and added that this was no evidence of un-preparedness, but that the money was simply necessary in order to put the defences of the country on a war footing. But he (Mr. Corry) would assert—having visited all the great yards—that the supplemental grant was required to replenish stores which ought never to have been exhausted, and to enter men who ought never to have been discharged. The war was a godsend to the Admiralty. Without it their original Estimate for last year would have been a miserable failure. In proof of this he could show that, although the Dockyard Votes were supplemented by £250,000, the work done in them during the year was far less than the late First Lord promised on moving the original Estimates. He said that 15,500 tons of ships were to be built in the dockyards; but 13,200 only were actually built, so that there was a deficiency of 2,300 tons, notwithstanding the 2,200 workmen added in August. It might be said that the increased work was on ships being prepared for an emergency. But again the facts refuted that assertion. The late First Lord, in moving his Estimates for 1870–1, speaking of the results of those Estimates, said— With respect to repairs, we shall keep the whole of the iron-clads ready for sea, and about 161 unarmoured ships, either in commission or in reserve. In fact, at no time in the history of the Navy will the reserve of ships have been in a more satisfactory state. That was a specimen of the grandiose style in which the country was led to expect great results from low Estimates. That was the promise, and the present First Lord said the supplemental grant was to hasten the work in hand. That might be true; but, if so, it showed the inadequacy of the original Estimate. For what was the performance with £250,000 more? He knew what was the state of the Reserves towards the end of the last financial year from inquiries he had made at the fitting-out ports, and of 15 iron-clads in reserve only nine were ready instead of the whole; and of unarmoured ships of war there were 99 in commission, and 19 in reserve, making 118, instead of the 161 promised. Therefore the performance, both as to building and fitting, were considerably less than what was promised, although £250,000 was supplemented last August. He was perfectly certain that this would be so, and he predicted last year that the Store Vote would prove insufficient for the work to be performed. The fact was that the Estimates of last year were only sham Estimates. No doubt the orders were to retrench, and there was retrenchment on paper; but the Dockyard Estimates would have utterly failed if they had not been supplemented by the war grant of £250,000. With respect to workmen, when he criticised the reductions by the present Government his own reductions were always cast in his teeth. He was told that he had reduced 5,000 men, and that he had no right to find fault with a smaller reduction by the present Government. In the first place, the asertions was incorrect. He did not reduce 5,000, but 3,049, as any hon. Gentleman would see by comparing the statement in the appendix to the Estimates for 1868 with that of the preceding year. The present Government reduced 3,996 in the year 1869–70 and the year 1870–1. In round numbers he had reduced 3,000, and the present Government 4,000 men. But the argument was a very strange one; if he had not reduced there might have been a reason why the present Government should do so. But the fact that he did reduce, appeared to him to furnish an à priori argument the other way. He reduced as much as he thought safe, while he considered those further reductions most unsafe. Therefore, he had a perfect right to criticise. The case was very much as if, after a surgeon had taken as much blood from his patient as he considered prudent, another surgeon had been called in and taken as much more, and then were to argue that, both having taken an equal quantity, the first surgeon had no right to blame him for the exhaustion which followed. His reductions, however, had been greatly misrepresented. The First Lord of the Treasury, in reply to remarks made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire last August, when he (Mr. Corry) was unfortunately absent, observed— Does he not recollect the boasts of reductions which in the last months and weeks of his term of office, and particularly on the eve of a General Election, his Government laid before the people? In 1868 5,000 skilled artificers were discharged by the Government of the right hon. Gentleman, while his right hon. Friend was responsible for only 3,000. That statement was so incorrect that he could not help thinking the right hon. Gentleman had obtained his information from the Admiralty. There was no boast of reductions of Estimates on the eve of the Election, for the best possible reason—that there was no reduction to boast of. As he had already stated, the workmen—not skilled artificers, but workmen and labourers of all classes—reduced were not 5,000, but 3,000 and a few over. The reduction by the late First Lord was not 3,000, but 4,000. It was true that a larger number than the 3,049 were discharged in 1868; but the difference consisted of men who were hired for the last half of the financial year for a special service, and who on its conclusion were discharged, as a matter of course. On his appointment to the Admiralty in March, 1867, he found no reserve of ships in the ports ready for sea. A single unarmoured frigate was the only vessel he could have commissioned if an emergency had required an increase of our naval force. He thought this intolerable, and with the sanction of the Treasury he hired these men, whose wages were to be paid out of an anticipated surplus on the Shipbuilding Votes, to place the Reserves on a respectable footing. But he (Mr. Corry) would repeat that he reduced the strength of the dockyards by only 3,049 men. Did he do that to obtain popularity by reduced Estimates? No; but to obtain means to build large fighting iron-clads, and thus secure their supremacy on the seas, and every farthing saved in wages was added to the Contract Vote for armour-clads. So far from there being a reduction, the fact really was that the Estimates were a few thousands above those for the preceding year. His boast of reduction was not before the Election but after it, and after the change of Government, when his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract claimed credit for having produced Estimates which showed a reduction of £900,000, and he (Mr. Corry) proved that there had been really no such reduction on the part of the existing Board of Admiralty, but that two-thirds of the £900,000 for which they took credit should have been set down to the credit of their predecessors, a saving to that amount having been effected in the Estimates for naval services which he had prepared before leaving office. He now wished to call the attention of the First Lord of the Admiralty to the state of their unarmoured Navy, which was his reason for considering that the discharge of shipwrights had been carried to a most injudicious extent. The late First Lord (Mr. Childers) proposed a normal scheme for providing unarmoured ships at the rate of one frigate, one corvette, and six smaller vessels a-year. That rate he (Mr. Corry) showed last year was totally inadequate for the purpose of providing the ships which would be necessary for the protection of their commerce. Last year provision was made for building only 2,900 tons of frigates, corvettes, and sloops in the dockyards; this year provision was made for 6,752 tons. That showed a considerable improvement; but it was a curious way of carrying out a normal scheme. Again, of unarmoured vessels of all classes last year the Estimates provided for 4,312 tons; this year they provided for 10,265 tons. But even that fell far short of what was necessary to supply the waste of unarmoured ships, and in this description of vessels the Navy was never so weak as at present. The appendix to the Estimates showed that they had 27 screw frigates, 22 screw corvettes, and 32 screw sloops, making a total of 81; but of these there were fit for sea only 18 frigates, 20 corvettes, and 26 sloops, in all 64, the remainder being retained for harbour service, or to be sold or broken up. What did those numbers mean? They had now 18 frigates; in 1793 they had 155 frigates; in 1814 they had 87; in 1846 they had 64 frigates, all in good repair. Of those 64 frigates, corvettes, and sloops now on the list, 47 were in commission and 17 in reserve. That was to say, they had, with reduced peace squadrons, about three-fourths of their ships on active service, and the remainder was no more than a sufficient margin for ships under repair, and fitting for reliefs. If war were to break out it would be perfectly impossible for them to send an adequate reinforcement to foreign stations for the protection of their commerce. But to form a just estimate of their position, it was necessary to consider the ages and the speed of their ships, as well as their numbers. As to age, by far the greater portion were fast approaching the term of what was called the life of a ship. Last year he had said that the average age of screw frigates could not be estimated at more than 20 years. The late First Lord contradicted him; but he now found that the oldest screw frigate for sea service was only 17 years old. Of the 18 frigates only two were of less than 10 years of age, the remaining 16 varying from 10 to 17. The oldest corvette was also 17 years of age. Of the 20 only 7 were of less than 10 years old, the remaining 13 were from 10 to 17 years. The oldest sloop on the list for sea service was 19 years old. Of the 26 12 were less than 10 years old, the remaining 14 from 10 to 19 years. Of the 64 frigates, corvettes, and sloops, 43 were over 10 years of age, or over more than one-half their lifetime. Within the last 5 years 10 frigates had disappeared, being at the rate of 2 a-year. The same rate of waste must be anticipated—that was to say, they must expect that the 16 frigates over 10 years of age would disappear during the course of the next 8 or 10 years. Yet, in order to meet that waste, only two frigates had been ordered to be built during the present Ministry—the Raleigh and the Blonde—although this was their third year of office. They were of the collective tonnage of 7,750 tons, and by March, 1872, and they were to be advanced to only 4,900 tons by the end of the present financial year, leaving 2,850 tons to be completed in 1872–3. That was little more than equal to two frigates in four years, instead of two in one year, which he had showed was required as the maintaining rate for even their present reduced number. At that rate their frigates would be reduced to half-a-dozen in the course of the next 10 years. In the matter of corvettes they were still worse off. Only one new corvette had been ordered since 1868. This year 490 tons were to be built to complete her, and this was the only unarmoured ship to be launched above the class of gunboat. Then as to sloops, more than half of the 26 were above 10 years old. No new sloop was ordered in 1869 or 1870. In 1869, 1,546 tons of sloops were built to complete those he had left on the stocks; last year only 79 tons were built. This year an improvement had taken place; three new sloops had been ordered, and 2,350 tons were to be built. During the last three years the work on sloops had been inadequate, and wholly deficient as to frigates and corvettes. Then as to speed. Generally speaking the speed of the unarmoured ships was most insufficient. It would be almost as well to have no cruisers as slow cruisers. As large a proportion as two-thirds of the frigates could not command more than nine or ten knots. The Inconstant was the only really fast frigate afloat; her speed was some 16 knots, but the majority of frigates made only nine or ten. [Mr. SAMUDA believed the Agamemnon was faster than the Inconstant.] That strengthened his argument, for it was absurd to speak of protecting their Mercantile Marine by frigates that could be overtaken and destroyed by an armour-clad. Of the 20 corvettes, six only had any pretension to speed. Of sloops the maximum speed at the measured mile of 15 of the 24 varied from nine to five knots. Therefore, as to numbers, age, and speed, the condition of the unarmoured ships was most unsatisfactory. There was a marvellous indifference with regard to the means of protecting their Mercantile Marine. His hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) was quite right in calling attention to the necessity of providing for the defence of their seaports; but, in the event of war, Liverpool would have far more reason to fear for her merchantmen in distant seas, than for the safety of her great establishments on the banks of the Mersey. He hoped that the First Lord would turn his serious attention to these considerations, and make sufficient provision for a fast and numerically adequate unarmoured Navy. He had a few words to add in reference to the management of the dockyards by the present Government. A great mistake had, he thought, been made in discharging established men, and entering hired men in their stead, with no prospect of pension. The prospect of pension reconciled the men to lower wages, and was a security against strikes. But in the reductions which had been recently made more than the whole reduction had fallen on established men. The total reduction since 1868 was 2,420; the established men discharged had been 2,726, and the hired hands were increased by 301. He had heard it rumoured in the dockyards that the late First Lord had said he would never enter an established man again. The result of such a policy would be that the men would have no attachment to the service. The best men would not enter it, and in war there would be a strike for higher wages, and the men would dictate their own terms. He trusted that the First Lord would apply a little common sense to the consideration of this question. In respect of salaried officers the policy had been most injudicious. He was anxious to revise the Establishment in 1868, but was unable to do so, in consequence of the Controller's absence on account of ill-health, until immediately before he resigned office. But the reduction subsequently made was excessive. At Portsmouth the officers were reduced from 36 to 17, to superintend 3,800 men. There was a monstrous combination of the functions of master shipwright, storekeeper, and chief engineer in the hands of one officer. There was no uniformity; for at Devonport, with fewer men, three gentlemen filled the three offices, and he thought that when the First Lord visited the yards, and compared the state of Portsmouth with that of Devonport, he would have no difficulty in deciding which system was the best. At Chatham the same system had been adopted as at Portsmouth—that was to say, the master shipwright was also the chief engineer and storekeeper. The consequence was that the health of the master shipwright broke down from excessive work, and that most valuable officer, Mr. Thornton, had been away for months, and, it was feared, was not likely to return. When he (Mr. Corry) visited the yard, some months ago, there was only one assistant master shipwright to carry on the combined duties of master shipwright, storekeeper, and chief engineer. Everything in the dockyards, as at the Admiralty, was at high pressure; and there was no margin left for casualties. One result of the amalgamation of the duties of master shipwright and engineer was most disadvantageous. That was the equalization of the working hours in the factories and dockyards. At Portsmouth and Chatham, where the steam factories had been placed under the master shipwright, the working hours of the factory men had been changed from ten hours to eight. Formerly the factory men worked ten hours a-day on the average through the year, because in the shops they could work by gaslight; whereas the shipwrights at the dockside worked only eight hours on the average, being obliged in winter to knock off after dark. That reduction of hours was equal to a reduction of 13 to 15 per cent from the earnings of the men, or of from 5s. 6d. to 4s. a-day; and the consequence was that the most skilful of the hired men left. In that state of things, instead of reverting to the system of working ten hours in the factories, the rates of pay had been increased, so that they were now practically paying as much for eight hours' work as they used to pay for ten. That did not extend to the established men, who were paid the former rates, and they were therefore much discontented; but if they left they would lose their prospect of pension, which they could not afford to do. The system thus produced serious loss, together with great dissatisfaction. Moreover, the best hired men would not be tempted to come back; they felt that they had no secure footing in Her Majesty's service, and that their interests were safer in the private trade. He had good authority for believing that under the system one-sixth less work was done, or a loss incurred equal to that of about 45 days in the year. The present First Lord was not responsible for any of those things; but it was to be hoped they would receive his serious attention, and that the condition of the yards, both as to officers and men, would be thoroughly investigated by him on his next visitation. He had himself introduced large economies into the service of the ports in the year 1868, and no one was more sensible than he was that reform in the dockyards was needed, and he had already referred to his own intentions in that respect; but he thought the reforms effected, by his successor, whether at the Admiralty or at the dockyards, were rash and inconsiderate. The increase of 1,570 workmen in these Estimates was a practical admission that their number had been reduced too low, and he had shown that even as increased they were too few to execute the work on unarmoured ships which was necessary, even as a maintaining rate of their present reduced force. The supervision of the yards had been most injudiciously reduced, and the consolidation of offices in the hands of one officer had proved most injurious, and was universally condemned. Excessive labour was thrown on the officers, who carried on the duty neither with satisfaction to themselves nor advantage to the service. The wholesale discharge of established men had produced universal disgust. Formerly the best men were obtainable in any numbers, and discharge used to be a punishment. Now the best men would not stay, and when an increase was required only inferior men came in. These were most serious questions, and he trusted that they would be honestly and seriously investigated by the First Lord of the Admiralty.


said, that he was quite in favour, as he always had been, of employing men regularly instead of taking them on at intermittent periods, by hiring them as occasion required. They might easily adjust the work so as to make it continuous or regular, and thus be able to obtain the best men, because they would be able to use up any surplus time which the men might have on hand after executing the various works of repairing or re-fitting ships in commission, in strengthening the Navy, and rendering it more formidable in time of war. The policy of the Admiralty, in getting rid of their best servants from a desire to economize, was a mistaken policy, and one that could only result, sooner or later, in disaster. He regretted that the private yards were not more encouraged, because it was admitted on all hands that the work done in them was as good and very considerably cheaper in price than that done in the Royal Dockyards. The Admiralty ought to look principally to private yards for the building they wanted, and in time of war the auxiliary power of the private yards would be of extreme utility for the refitting of our fleets, and no element in the strength of a fleet was so important as the power of rapid restoration from damage of the ships after each engagement. Indeed, if one country possessed this power while another neglected it, the possession of it would render the smaller fleet more effective, even though it might, numerically, be not more than half that possessed by its adversary, who had not prepared for rapid restoration after the extent of disabling which certainly would follow every serious engagement. Another point to which he wished to direct attention was the absence of any general guiding and controlling policy in our naval administration. They went on, year after year, from one experimental ship to another; but they scarcely ever proposed to compare their experiments and to educe from them something like general principles, such as might place their shipbuilding upon a sound and permanent basis. The Admiralty had no right to look to the House for more than a general opinion on the subject, and it was bound to do all the rest itself. It was now some years since the entire re-construction of the Navy had begun; but no one could pretend that our present position, in respect to it was satisfactory in itself, or calculated to impart confidence to the nation. How could it be when they knew that when the Committee on the designs of ships was lately appointed there was not on the Committee a single practical man, experienced in the building of large iron-clad vessels? No amount of general ability or cleverness could compensate for the want of that special knowledge and experience without which the Admiralty would be for ever feeling its way in the dark from one experiment to another. Some of the recent changes at the Admiralty he also deeply deplored. Their troubles began when they deprived themselves of the services of three of the most celebrated naval architects which the country possessed. The retirement of Mr. Oliver Lang, one of the greatest men connected with naval architecture who ever lived, was a national misfortune. He hoped to see some change in the unsatisfactory position in which the Navy had been continually oscillating for the last few years. It would be well if the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty were to collect all the evidence that could be obtained in reference to the working of his Department, in order that he might be the better able to frame a new system upon which its business might be conducted.


said, he wished to take that opportunity of repeating the suggestion that had been constantly put forward during the last 30 years, to the effect that instead of depending wholly upon themselves the authorities of the Admiralty should rely in a large degree upon the assistance they might obtain in times of need from private enterprise. Nothing was more to be relied upon than the genius and enterprise of the country in the matter of shipbuilding. The Government should encourage the formation of a Naval Reserve in the form of yachts; but when he once urged that upon the Admiralty, he was met by the question, what could a yacht do with a 12-ton gun?


said, he felt somewhat embarrassed in rising to reply to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Corry), because, while some of the statements of the right hon. Gentleman required an answer from him at some length, he was conscious that in occupying the attention of the House by any voluminous explanations he should be unnecessarily delaying the progress of the Estimates. Therefore he wished it to be fully understood that, in replying to certain remarks only of the right hon. Gentleman, he by no means admitted that the charges brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman to which he did not reply were established. In dealing with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman he should divide it into two parts—that which referred to the past, and that which related to the future, and it would be unnecessary for him to discuss at length the former part. The right hon. Gentleman had referred at length to the naval management in 1867 and 1868, a period of some historical interest to the right hon. Gentleman, and had criticised freely the policy of the past two years, and he (Mr. Goschen) felt a sense of relief when the right hon. Gentleman approached real business by referring to the present state of naval affairs. The right hon. Gentleman had concluded his speech by adverting to the case of the artificers in the dockyards, and had remarked that it must be the wish of the First Lord to see them contented. The hon. and gallant Admiral opposite (Sir John Hay) had expressed a wish that the Admiralty should hold itself responsible for the management of naval affairs, and that the First Lord should be held responsible for their conduct to that House on all main questions. But what was the position of the Admiralty in the matter? How was it possible that they could manage matters so as to give universal contentment when every change among the higher officials, and in the terms upon which the workmen were engaged, became immediately the subject of hot discussion in that House? The Admiralty had been recommended by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Seely) to conduct its business upon the same principles that a private firm conducted theirs; but, at the same time, they were required to publish their annual balance-sheet, and to lay their private correspondence before the world. The Admiralty business in this country was conducted in a manner different from that followed in any other country, because every detail of it was made the subject of public discussion. The Admiralty were spending not their own money, but that of the taxpayers, and they ought to be responsible to Parliament for the manner in which they expended it; they ought to give their most perfect confidence to the public, and Parliament ought to be at liberty to discuss every detail of their management. He did not complain of this publicity; but he thought that the country ought to make some allowance on this score for the shortcomings of the Admiralty. The hon. Member behind him (Mr. Samuda) had asked that the Admiralty should be re-organized; but every change that might be made in pursuance of that recommendation would become the subject of hot discussion in that House. Not a single one of the higher officials could be displaced without the Admiralty authorities being called upon to state their reasons for dismissing him. During the three months he had been in office he had sometimes felt a doubt whether there had not been almost too much discussion of the details of the Admiralty machine, as compared with the work done by that machine. Not a week had passed without his having been called upon to re-consider the claims of some inventor whose case had been already determined by previous Boards of Admiralty, but which had been revived, owing to the efforts of certain Members of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman in his historical retrospect had repeated what he had already said six times on the question of the reduction of the Navy. [Mr. CORRY: On the reduction of the amount of the Estimates.] The right hon. Gentleman had done so six times without producing any effect It was some years since the right hon. Gentleman was in office, and as there was no doubt as to the facts, it was unnecessary at present to go over the reductions to which he had referred. He would come to the more practical point of the reduction of men during the last year and the increase which had taken place last August. Every Government increased its staff and placed its establishments on a war footing when war was actually going on. The right hon. Gentleman impugned the reasons for the increase, and then expressed his regret that it was not much larger. The right hon. Gentleman had cited 1859 to prove what he would have done under such circumstances, and stated that in 1859 8,000 seamen were engaged, and expressed his regret that greater naval preparations had not been made on the present occasion. But why was that course not adopted? Because the Navy was in such a condition that it was unnecessary to make enormous preparations. If that course had been adopted, the country would now have had 8,000 seamen more than were required in time of peace, and a large sum of money would have been wasted unnecessarily. The right hon. Gentleman stated that at the end of 1870, when the war was raging around us, we had not so many men as we had at the beginning of the year. True; but what had happened? He (Mr. Goschen) did not like alluding to events which were so disastrous to a neighbouring country; but in December, 1870, and at the present time, our position at sea was relatively much stronger than it had been for a long time previously, because the strength of one of the great naval Powers had collapsed. The right hon. Gentleman had also complained that the Flying Squadron, which had returned to this country, had again been dispatched to distant seas. Now was the naval aspect of affairs such as to render it necessary to keep the Flying Squadron at home? During the whole of the autumn and winter there was no naval danger threatening the country, and our strength was relatively greater than it had been before. Then, with regard to the statement which had been made as to the number of ships, assuming the correctness of the statistics of the right hon. Gentleman, what did they prove? The right hon. Gentleman stated that in 1793 we had 100 frigates, whereas now we had only 18. While frigates were formerly our chief engines of war, they now played a comparatively subordinate part. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman saw any distinction between the frigates of those days and the frigates of our own time; but there was a very great distinction between them, for the frigates of our own time were steamers, while their predecessors were not; and a frigate with steam could do a great deal more work than a frigate without. With regard to the building of ironclads, sloops, and corvettes, we must compare the condition of our Navy with that of the Navies of other countries; and he must repeat emphatically the statement he made the other day—that the great strength of this country at the present time was in her sea-going iron-clad cruisers—a force with which few other nations could at all compete. Russia and America had no force whatever of that kind. But it was not fair of the right hon. Gentleman to make comparisons with the Navies of other countries by counting ships without counting the power of their guns, and the services which they were able to perform. It should be remembered that since the telegraphic system had been called into existence and extended all over the world our ships were more available than they used to be, when they were at sea for months at a time without its being possible to communicate with them. The right hon. Gentleman had really underrated the strength of this country, and though that course might be useful in one sense, in stimulating the Admiralty to greater exertions, it was not useful to place naked statistics as to the number of ships before the country in such a manner as to lead the public to infer that our strength was not so great as it really was. Such statistics ought to be qualified by many considerations, and the inferences drawn from them might go some way towards alarming the country if they were allowed to remain unanswered. Without entering further into a comparison with other countries, he was quite sure that while there was every necessity for keeping up the number of our ships, the position of the other Navies of the world was such that we might well be proud of our own, and he hoped that when we brought together, as we should, in a few weeks' time, three or four squadrons, including 17 iron-clads, the country would not run away with the idea that we were in that utterly defenceless state in regard to iron-clads, frigates, sloops, and corvettes, which the right hon. Gentleman's observations would seem to point out. The Admiralty could not do everything at once, and they had already been engaged in very great operations, such as the extension works at Chatham and Portsmouth, and the construction of ships like the Sultan and others of the largest iron-clads, which had taken up considerable time and cost a great deal of money. No doubt there was plenty of work still to be done; but he demurred to the idea that it must all be taken in hand at once. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be anxious to undertake many things at once, and had acted upon that principle when he was in office, by beginning such a large number of ships at the same time that it had taken three or four years to complete them. The enormous legacy of work which the right hon. Gentleman left had prevented the Admiralty from going on until the present year with the corvettes and other classes of ships. As the whole system of warfare had been changed, it was a great question how far it was necessary to keep up the number of frigates. It was true that this year, as in the year when the right hon. Gentleman was in office, very little progress had been made with regard to that class of ship, the construction of iron-clads having demanded most attention. He admitted that corvettes were a very useful and necessary class of vessel, and an earnest had been given of the desire of the Government to build that class in the Estimates for the present year. In the Estimates first presented there were two sloops to have been built, only a quarter of which was to have been built in the year; but in the revised Estimates which had since been laid upon the Table that arrangement had been altered, and the Admiralty reserved their freedom for next year unfettered, rather than begin ships of a type that might be changed. At this moment the Admiralty were near the completion of the work they had in hand, so that next year they would start perfectly clear. A very large portion of the work in hand would be concluded in this financial year, and next year they would have the advantage of taking up the work of previous years, and would be able to review their position, see what were their greatest necessities in regard to shipbuilding, and consider the direction in which it seemed most advisable to advance. But during the last two years it had been impossible to make much progress with new ships, owing to the work which had to be done on the ships already laid down. And now he wished to say a few words on the question of the number of men who should be employed in the dockyards. An increase was made in the number of dockyard men in August at the commencement of the war, and the right hon. Gentleman had pointed out how desirable it was that there should be no ebb and flow of workmen, but that they should be kept continuously at work. But he supposed the right hon. Gentleman really wished the workmen to be found for the work rather than that work should be found for the workmen. [Mr. CORRY dissented.] If that was not the right hon. Gentleman's view, he (Mr. Goschen) confessed that he did not think that keeping the workmen, and then looking to see what employment could be found for them, was the proper way in which the business of a great Department ought to be conducted. They ought first to know what ships were wanted, and then they ought to employ the necessary men to do the work.


explained that the whole tenor of his speech was that the number of men should have reference to the work to be done.


said, the right hon. Gentleman had spoken of definite establishments, and had said that it was an uneconomical way of dealing with men to discharge them and give them pensions, and then to have to engage others. The proper way of doing business was to ascertain first what were your wants, and then to engage the necessary men to carry them out. In that case, of course, the Admiralty must make up its mind to discharge men when it had not work enough for them to do, and to engage men when a case of urgency arose. The establishment must be conducted with a regard to ordinary times, and not upon a war footing in a time of peace, for a peace and a war establishment never could be the same. The policy of the present Government had been to take the number of men required for the year, and so to arrange the establishment as to make it as elastic as possible, there being at ordinary times, not a maximum, but a minimum number on the establishment. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda) had spoken of the expediency of a large portion of the business being done by contract; but how could that be if the establishment were kept up to such a height as to render it difficult to discharge men on account of the pensions to which they would be entitled? The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the discontent arising from the discharge of dockyard men. But those discharges took place in every manufacturing dockyard, while the men employed by the Government had the advantage of pensions after a certain time. The discontent had arisen from the idea instilled into the men's minds, and encouraged even by hon. Gentlemen in Parliament, that they were to be kept on under all circumstances, and ought not, therefore, to be discharged. The right hon. Gentleman had gone into details concerning the management of dockyards and the abolition of certain offices. But he (Mr. Goschen) would not follow him through those details, especially as he believed the right hon. Gentleman had intended rather to call his attention to these points than to elicit from him an opinion upon them. He would therefore content himself with assuring the right hon. Gentleman that all those points should receive his most careful consideration. Before he sat down he wished to make an appeal to the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands). That hon. Gentleman had a Notice on the Paper to call attention to proceedings connected with the Agincourt; but as the documents connected with the Court Martial had only reached the Admiralty that day, he (Mr. Goschen) should feel himself precluded from entering into any discussion on the matter in the House until it had been considered judicially at the Admiralty with regard to any future proceedings that might have to be taken. He therefore thought it would be more convenient if that Notice were postponed.


said, he yielded to the appeal which had been addressed to him by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen), and would at once consent to postpone his Notice. At the same time, he desired to state that great dissatisfaction was felt in the country that the circumstances which had created much alarm, and might have entailed a large amount of public loss, and which arose from what appeared to be the culpable negligence of persons connected with the service, should have been followed by a verdict of a Court Martial of so ineffective a character. He hoped the Government would make public all material documents, and that an opportunity would be given to Parliament of reviewing whatever steps the Admiralty might take upon the subject. With regard to the question before the House, his complaint was that the Government had thought it necessary last autumn suddenly to increase the number of men in the dockyards, and he believed that if the House could have full information as to the mode in which that additional number of men had been employed, it would be found that the work accomplished by them was not at all material to the defence of the country. He challenged the Admiralty to show that their labour was not spent upon vessels that could be of little or no use. In the present state of the world, he would advocate the concentration of the naval force of the country on the home stations, within reach. He was glad to see that that system was now being adopted by the Admiralty, and that our foreign squadrons had been reduced during the last three years. He must complain of the practice adopted by some right hon. Gentlemen opposite of constantly telling the House what they themselves did when in office, and at the same time finding fault with the labours of those who succeeded them. A naval discussion in that House, instead of being devoted to points of practical value, degenerated into attack and defence of present and past Administrations with regard to the work they had done or left undone.


said, he concurred in the propriety of abstaining from any present discussion of the circumstances connected with the Agincourt, and thanked the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) for postponing his Motion, as it was important that the First Lord of the Admiralty should first have an opportunity of freely investigating the matter. With respect to the discussions on Admiralty affairs, he agreed with the First Lord of the Admiralty that one of the great difficulties in conducting the public business of this country was that there was no autocratic power or secrecy, or unlimited command of supplies in any department, and that all that was done was liable to constant and open discussion. But these were conditions that must be accepted; every First Lord of the Admiralty was aware of them, and must know that all he did must be done in the daylight, and must be subject to comment and criticism in the House. When the £2,000,000 were voted last year, at the breaking out of war, the lamentable collapse of the great and friendly French Power had not occurred, and it was uncertain in what direction the scale of war might turn. We had no right to anticipate that our Fleet would be required for the protection of Belgium; but the wisdom and prudence of our statesmen ought to have been prepared for such a contingency. The First Lord of the Admiralty had referred to our frigates. Now, at the present rate of decrease without a commensurate increase, we could only calculate that we should have no frigates at all in eight years. From the Supplementary Estimates of the 4th August it appeared that there were two frigates building; but they would by no means supply the waste going on in frigates. Perhaps we might be engaged in hostilities with Powers of vast resource, and it might become our duty to cripple the commerce of our opponent or to defend our own. Then there would arise a necessity for rapidity, and frigates were the vessels especially adapted for the purpose. It was, indeed, quite true that gunboats might be of use; but the merchant ships were of great speed, and therefore we should have a certain number of frigates for performing duties which the smaller and slower class of vessels were not calculated to perform. His hon. Friend the Secretary of the Admiralty was a Member of the Committee which had recently been sitting, and before which the great question of the Suppression of the Slave Trade was brought. That Committee had reported that it was necessary that the number of ships should be greatly increased on the East Coast of Africa; but the Committee gathered that there would be great difficulty in doing this without largely increasing the Navy Estimates. It was quite true that on the West Coast of Africa the slave trade had been entirely suppressed, and mainly by our squadron. The Flying Squadron had been manned from the crews of the Cruising Squadron. The former led to an enormous amount of desertion, and what with the wear and tear of ships, and their being at a distance from this country, in case war should break out, he had no hesitation in characterizing it as an impolitic project. What he wished to point out was that at this moment we required additional fast-sailing frigates, and a larger number of men, for the special purpose of the suppression of the slave trade on the coast of Africa—a subject on which the country was deeply in earnest. Now, we had not got the ships or the men. [Mr. GOSCHEN: The Admiralty have both the ships and the men for an African squadron.] He was exceedingly glad to receive that assurance from the right hon. Gentleman, and he hoped that before long arrangements would be made for sending out a squadron which would be employed in suppressing the slave trade on the East Coast of Africa. As to the dockyard labourers, the right hon. Gentleman had not exactly comprehended the point of his right hon. Friend's (Mr. Corry's) remarks. His right hon. Friend never suggested that work was to be made for the men, and the First Lord of the Admiralty had fixed on his right hon. Friend sentiments he never uttered and never acted on. What his right hon. Friend did say was that, with a Navy like that of England, we required immense dockyard establishments, and that a considerable number of established men should be employed in the building and repair of ships; and it was a matter of complaint that, accepting the minimum number of the Government as a standard, the establishment had been reduced below it. One great advantage of establishments was that the men engaged, looking forward to pensions, were ready to work day and night in times of pressure—a thing not to be expected from hired artizans, who would look for the market value of their labour at the moment, and strike if they did not get it. The establishments were reduced far below what was for the interest of the country, the result being that numbers of men were drawing their pensions and doing no work, while their places were filled by men taken on, who had also of course to be paid. He desired that something should be said in regard to the Flying Squadron, and he would call the attention of the House to the desertions which were now so frequent in the Navy, and which made our ships inefficient. How was it these desertions occurred? In the first place, it occurred in the Flying Squadron because of the temptations offered in Australia—a matter which was pointed out to the late First Lord, but of which he took no heed. Another cause was the hardships imposed on the seamen by this race round the world, and which conveyed to them the impression that their energies were being overtaxed, and for no purpose whatever. The Navy was no longer so popular as it used to be, and he trusted that on that account the present First Lord would reverse the policy that had been pursued by his predecessor. Part of the dissatisfaction was caused by the arrangements made by the late First Lord about the retirement of officers who had been educated at great expense to the country, and who in the contingency of a war would be able to perform good service. Under the old régime officers became attached to their ships and to each other, and the men experienced similar feelings towards their superiors, which were fully reciprocated. But the late First Lord, finding this would not work with his plans, introduced a system by which a captain was appointed to-day and was replaced by a successor a month hence, while a similar principle guided the arrangements regarding the lieutenant and the men. So that it was said in the Navy that an officer now came on board with his carpet-bag and left in a week; he had not time allowed for an interest to grow up in regard to the men and the ship; at least, such an interest as used to be felt formerly. Under such a system men could not get attached to their officers. [Mr. CORRY: It is the substitute for the regimental system over again.] This arrangement was at the bottom of the dissatisfaction which now existed in the Navy. Even flag officers were appointed for so short a time that they had no selection of the officers of their staff, and, consequently, between them respectively there did not exist that attachment which was traditional in the Navy. There was another matter he wished to refer to. The arrangements the late First Lord had made for the repair of ships abroad had been very detrimental to the interests of the service. Formerly, when a ship was sent to a particular station officers and men went with her and returned, after four or five years, proud of their ship, having, perhaps, meanwhile performed gallant, certainly having performed creditable and useful service. Instead of that, now, at the end of two or three years, ships were placed in harbour at the different distant stations, their crews were brought home, and a Megæra was taken out with several crews, the result being that men, being idle and receiving their pay, lost their discipline. He would give a striking instance. Two or three ships were to have their crews changed. The Vestal was lying at Bermuda, and her captain being asked how long she would run, he replied, a year if her boilers were repaired. A new crew was sent out for her in the Himalaya, which brought back the old crew. The new captain found on going on board that the boilers were in the state the old captain had reported, but that they could not be repaired in Bermuda. The result was that the Vestal had to be recalled by the next mail to have the boilers repaired in England, and she arrived soon after the Himalaya. The country had thus been put to the expense of sending out one crew and bringing back another. While such a system was pursued they would have an inefficient Navy. The Ocean was recommissioned while she was in China, but she also had to be ordered home, and as such cases were occurring every day, though, perhaps, not to such a degree, he thought it desirable that public attention should be called to the subject.


said, he would be brief in replying. He admitted that there had been a good many desertions from the first Flying Squadron; but the public would be glad to know that desertions had entirely ceased, so far as the Admiralty knew, none having taken place in the ships forming the present Flying Squadron, and the number of men was kept up, although the ships were for some time at Halifax. He would not enter upon a discussion as to the policy of re-commissioning ships abroad, beyond denying that such a case as that of the Vestal was constantly occurring. That case was caused by a mistake on the part of the engineer, who, in his report, stated that the boilers were in good order when they were in an unsatisfactory state, and a Court Martial would shortly be held to inquire into his conduct. With respect to the crew they were continuous-service men, and would, therefore, have to be victualled and paid wherever they were. As to the proportion of hired men to those on the establishments in the dockyards it had not been seriously altered. In the year 1866 the gross number employed was 19,000, of whom 9,610 were established men, and 9,390 hired; while at present the aggregate number was 13,000, of whom 6,050 were established, and 6,500 hired.