§ SUPPLY—considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ (1.) 61,000 Men and Boys, Sea and Coast Guard Services, including 14,000 Royal Marines.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I rise to move that 61,000 men and boys be employed in the Sea and Coast Guard Service for the year ending March 31, 1873; and in making that Motion and in laying the Estimates before the Committee, I trust that I shall be pardoned if I do not go into many of the controversial questions which have so much occupied the attention of the public with regard to the Navy. It is my duty to-night to explain as well as I can to the Committee and to the public what the taxpayers of the country can expect for those £9,500,000 which are annually voted by this House for the purposes of the Navy. For that expenditure ample reasons ought to be given; and it is also my duty to touch, not on those controversial questions to which I have alluded, but on the policy of the Government with regard to shipbuilding, and many other important questions connected with the administration of the Navy.
Allusions have been made to the responsibility of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and allusions have also been made to the view that it would be far preferable if these Estimates were submitted to Parliament by a sailor instead of a civilian, and it has been argued that much greater confidence would be inspired if such were the case. No one could be more aware than I am myself of the immense difficulties which a civilian must have in the conduct of the business of the Department, and few men who have not occupied the office can be aware of the intense anxiety and the intense care which a post of this kind entails. Hon. Members who have alluded to this subject need not think that because the First Lord of the Admiralty is not a sailor, therefore he can relieve himself from the immense amount of that responsibility which hon. Members sometimes say does not fall upon the Admiralty, but which I think they 427 generally and justly bring home to him. I deny in the strongest manner that I have ever attempted to evade any responsibility that attaches to the Office, though there have been several cases cited where it is alleged that that has been done. I repeat that anyone who says that the course taken by the Government in any question of naval administration has been to evade and shrink from responsibility, says that which has no foundation in fact whatever. It is not my duty to-night to allude to several of those disasters which have darkened the last year of naval administration. When the time comes it will be my duty to express the immense regret of everyone at the Admiralty for those events, and how far and in what measure we consider the responsibility is to be divided. It was said that last year we had attempted to evade responsibility by appointing a Royal Commission to inquire into the causes which lost the Megœra. But it was asserted in this House and in public that any investigation by the Admiralty itself into the causes of the disaster would not be satisfactory to the public; and it was on the ground of that expression of opinion in this House and among the public, and not because we wanted to shrink from responsibility, that we yielded to what we thought the general desire, and appointed a Commission of Inquiry. Without discussing the results of that question to-night, I think I am justified in saying that the gentlemen who were appointed to the Commission, on their appointment enjoyed the confidence of the country; that the country believed it was a bonâ fide Commission; and that the Commissioners have received the thanks of the public generally for the able and searching manner in which they have conducted a most arduous investigation.
I now proceed to state to the Committee the proposals which we have to make. I have to lay before the Committee Estimates amounting, in round numbers, to £9,500,000. Those Estimates are less than the Estimates of last year by the sum of £282,000. They show an increase over the Vote of 1870–1 of £138,000. With regard to the increase of the Estimate over that of 1870–1, and its decrease compared with that of 1871–2, I wish to make this remark. In 1870–1 the lowest point was 428 reached in the Estimates for a certain course of years. In August, 1870, a Vote of Credit was obtained for £600,000 in consequence of the disturbances on the Continent, and certain measures were taken under that Vote of Credit. The Estimates in the year that succeeded were £400,000 larger than those for 1870–1, so that by that time £1,000,000 extra had been voted to the Navy since my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) prepared the Estimates for 1870–1. It may be asked—"What has been done with that £1,000,000, and why have your Estimates this year not gone back to the figure at which they stood in 1870–1?" The Committee and the country are entitled to know the effect that the addition of the £1,000,000 has had on the Navy. The fact is, that almost the whole of that £1,000,000 has been spent on a branch of the Navy which, till a very few years ago, did not exist at all, and that is on home defence. Therefore it has not added to the normal strength of the fleet compared with what it used to be, although that strength has been increased by other Votes. I can show the Committee that more than £1,000,000 has been spent on what I may strictly call home defence. There are four ships, the Cyclops, Hydra, Hecate, and Gorgon—four of the most formidable ships—which have cost nearly £600,000, and 18 gunboats—not sea-going gunboats, but what may be called floating gun carriages—which, including their engines, fittings, and all appliances, have cost about £180,000, making a total of nearly £800,000. Then there are three ships—the Rupert, the Glatton, and the Hotspur—which must also be considered as for home defence, on which a considerable sum has been spent during the last year and a-half. But we have now arrived at the point of having to ask ourselves what should be the policy of the Government in respect to building further ships for home defence. I wish to say in distinct terms that looking to the condition of the Navies of other countries, and at the amount of the offensive forces of those countries we might be likely to be engaged with, I do not think it would be right to ask Parliament to devote any further large sums at present for the strengthening of our home defences. We believe this is one of the points on which we are 429 strongest, and on which we need not fear, at present at least, there is any country that can equal us. I state this to show how the extra £1,000,000 which the liberality of Parliament placed at the disposal of the Government has been spent. Leaving that out of the account, the Estimates for this year very nearly approach those of 1870–1. They exceed them by £138,000. As I pointed out to the Committee last year, it is important to remember how much of the £9,500,000 which forms the aggregate of the Estimates is devoted to those great divisions into which the expenditure of the Navy is divided—first, the personnel of the Fleet; secondly, the materiel of the Fleet, including the increase in our dockyards; and, thirdly, administrative charges, including what may be called the miscellaneous services. We spend upon the personnel in wages to seamen, Marines, on Reserve Forces, on victualling and victualling yards, on half-pay and pensions, hospitals, residences, and on several minor Votes, the sum of £5,600,000. On the matériel we spend £3,400,000, including a Vote of £979,000 for wages in dockyards, £700,000 for extension of dockyards and new works, £930,000 for naval stores, £459,000 for machinery and ships building by contract, £309,000 for civil pensions—making in all £3,400,000 for the matériel of the Navy. The administrative and miscellaneous services cost £500,000, of which the Admiralty administration costs £140,000, the scientific department £73,000, miscellaneousservices£111,000, and the conveyance of troops £156,000. Contrasting these figures with those of last year, I can state precisely to the Committee the amount of increase or decrease in each item. On the personnel there is a net decrease of £8,400, which, looking to the largeness of the figures, can be scarcely regarded as a difference in amount. On the matériel there is a net decrease of £258,000, including a decrease of £65,000 for extension works of dockyards, and there is a net decrease of £15,000 upon the miscellaneous Votes.
Before I approach the question of the personnel and matériel of the service, I will proceed to clear off some of the minor Votes. There is a decrease on the Vote for the conveyance of troops, arising mainly from the fact of there being less changes of troops and fewer troops in 430 the colonies. It is a decrease the credit of which belongs to the War Office, and not to the Admiralty. On Vote 14 there is a decrease of £14,000, owing to one Vote from its nature not re-appearing in the Estimates—namely, the cost of £16,000 for the purchase of a torpedo invention. On the other hand, there are several items of increase. There is a charge of £5,000 for a graving dock at Table Bay, Cape of Good Hope; £1,500 for water supply at Gibraltar—two matters over which we had very little control, by reason of the fact that they resulted from arrangements previously made—and a gratuity of £2,000 to Mr. Archibald Smith, Q.C., for the great services he has rendered to the Admiralty, not in his professional capacity, but from his love of science. I am glad to take this opportunity of saying that his researches into matters connected with magnetism have been of great service to the Navy and the country, and I am sure that the Committee will not grudge this £2,000, not as compensation for his laborious services, but as a mark of their appreciation of eminent scientific research. There is another increase in the same Vote, which I think will meet with the approval of the Committee. It is in connection with the very interesting expedition that is to be undertaken, under the auspices of the Royal Society, for deep sea explorations. I will not describe at this moment the very interesting investigations that are to be made in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, with reference to researches into the depth, temperature, composition, circulation, and distribution of animal life in those oceans, from which the greatest results to science are expected. A sum of £10,000 per annum for two years and a-half will be granted—an expenditure which the Government think, in the cause of science, will not be refused by the Committee. There is another small addition in Vote 5, amounting to £2,500, for the better education of Navy surgeons. It is intended that in future these officers shall, at Netley, receive an education such as is afforded to Army surgeons, and it is anticipated that one of the results will be to attract more men into the service and raise the general skill and knowledge of Navy surgeons.
I now come to the really important Votes in the Estimates—namely, those 431 connected with the personnel of the Meet. On the Victualling Vote there is an increase of £24,000, the main increase being for clothing. There is a decrease of £11,000 for provisions. I am happy to say that during last year provisions did not cost so much as was anticipated, because we were able to purchase for the same money a larger quantity, and by that means we were able to add largely to the stocks, and consequently we require less money this year. The stocks of all those items in which it is necessary and desirable to keep up large stocks have been rendered perfectly satisfactory and ample, and I venture to suggest the course which we think it desirable should be adopted in future with regard to stores in general. We do not think it right to lay in large quantities of perishable articles, stores that we can buy immediately, as they are wanted, in the market—that we can find any day and in any quantities in the London Docks, such as wheat, tea, and sugar; but with regard to such stocks as timber, rope, and hemp, articles of which the supply is somewhat limited, or which require time to season them, we consider it would be false economy to reduce them, and we have made satisfactory provision in that respect. The increase in the amount of clothing arises from the same cause as that of last year. The stores having been gradually intrenched upon, it was necessary to take a large sum of money to replace them. To show how large increases take place from slight causes, I will instance an increase of £6,000 for staves for making barrels and packages. On so large a scale are our operations, that our stock of staves being low has caused the increase I have named. I may state, in passing, that more satisfactory arrangements have been made with regard to the sick mess fund.
As regards the important question of manning the Navy and the Vote for wages of seamen, there is a decrease of £19,000. I have noticed that those who read the Estimates without explanation consider that this decrease is due to the probability that fewer officers are to be put on full pay during the year; the diminution arising not in the wages of the men, but in the payment of the officers on full pay. Now, the facts of the case are these. This Vote has always been made up, as regards officers, 432 on a miscalculation. There is an error running through the account for many years past. The mode in which the sum has been calculated is this. So many officers are on full pay on a particular day, and the problem to be solved is of this kind. Then an arithmetical problem is made of the following kind: there are 4,000 supernumeraries in the ports; supposing all these supernumeraries to be employed—which they never have been in any one year—how many officers would they require in proportion to the sailors forming the complements of the various ships? Supposing there are 30,000 men actually in the ships in commission, and 4,000 in the ports, the full pay for the officers was taken in proportion to the 4,000 as well as for the 30,000. In point of fact, the Estimates included the full pay for an imaginary number of officers, forgetting that the additional number of officers employed on full pay are taken from those on half-pay. There has actually been a sum taken for a certain number of officers on half-pay and full pay over again. Of course, there has been an excess on the Vote pro tanto; there will now be a saving on it. What has been done by us is this—we have taken the actual number of officers on half-pay and provided for them, and the actual number of officers on full pay and provided for them; and in order to cover the amount calculated on the probability of putting into commission more ships during the year we take £15,000 to cover that contingency. The right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir John Pakington) will find on calculation that £15,000 will in that way provide for a vast number of additional ships being commissioned. [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON: A vast number! How many?] I will supply that information afterwards. But the sum will supply more ships with officers on full pay, unless some tremendous catastrophe should occur, than will probably be employed in any one year; and the Vote is not likely in any case to be exceeded. I, therefore, wish to remove the misapprehension that, looking to the diminution of the Vote, there is a diminution in the pay or employment of officers.
I have next to deal with the question of the number of men; and we propose, speaking generally, to take the same number of men this year as we did last 433 year. There will be 500 more boys, and between 200 and 300 men less; but practically we take a Vote for 61,000 men and boys, as we did last year. The allegations that are continually made that the number of our sailors is rapidly declining, and that there is a waste going on that we cannot deal with, are incorrect; on the contrary, the progress has been satisfactory as regards the manning of the Navy. On the 1st of July, 1870, before the loss of the Captain, we had 18,758 blue-jackets; on the 1st of January, 1871, we had 18,541; and on the 1st of January, 1872, we had 18,726—that is to say, within 30 of the number we had a year and a-half ago. Therefore, that decline in the number of sailors to which attention is sometimes called is no longer going on. I am not sure that in the Estimates the Indian troop ships are included; but the figures I have given are correct; and they show no further decrease in the number of our sailors. In connection with this point I have also looked carefully into the subject of desertion. Some hon. Members, who wish to say that everything is wrong in the Navy, say that desertion is increasing. That is not the case. The number of desertions in 1867–8 was 1,353; in 1868–9 it was 1,219; in 1869–70 it was 1,406. That was, no doubt, the year of alarm; but in 1870–1 the number had declined to 1,116—less by 250 than in the previous year. Full credit cannot be taken for the full amount, because there has been a diminution in the number of sailors since 1867–8; but I do find that desertions are declining. And I am bound to point out to the Committee that the crime of desertion, serious as it is, does not necessarily, under the present system, prove what is called the unpopularity of the service, owing to the circumstance that our sailors are now engaged as boys, coming in at 16 and binding themselves to remain till they are 28. There may be a number of circumstances to cause them to desert—such as a quarrel in the ship, the immense temptations on shore, and the disinclination to follow a sea life. It does not necessarily prove that there is anything wrong in the Navy to cause them to prefer the merchant service. On the contrary, we believe that the service is growing in popularity. Notwithstanding the rigid conditions—for rigid they are—under which they are engaged, 434 in having to serve from 16 to 28, there is no indication to show that the reverse is the case. I may point with satisfaction to the fact that the supply of boys now got is improving in quality. There are excellent boys to be got in unlimited numbers of the age required, and, as I stated last year, though we are now paying a somewhat expensive price for the training of our sailors, the training is a most efficient one. We have 3,500 boys in training-ships, and it is important that the Committee should know what we pay for what I may call the procuring of our seamen. Before they are of use to us they cost us not much less a sum than £400,000 a-year. That is the sum we pay for getting the best materials that we can, and for the system which is maintained at present. It is constantly urged, and with some truth, that there is a difficulty in getting men from the shore. Various reasons have been assigned for that difficulty. One, no doubt, is, that men coming from the shore enter ships where everybody else has been entered on a different principle; and therefore they find themselves, not amongst men of their own class, and who have followed the same pursuits, but in a separate society, springing up from time to time from the training-ships, in which the sailors have all been brought up in the same way. That, no doubt, is a disadvantage as regards the expansive powers of our Meet; and it is very difficult to see how the advantage of training our own boys can be combined with the procuring of a sufficient number of men from the shore. It was said that another difficulty in getting these men is that our terms are not sufficiently liberal; that if we supplied a free kit when the men first entered, instead of afterwards, it would make a great difference. We have tried it, and I am bound to say that the result of doing so, and the giving as an inducement to those who bring men from the shore of 10s. a head, has been to enter almost as many men from the shore in one month as during the whole previous year. In this way, the number of re-entries obtained in a month has been 63, compared with 83 during last year; and there have also been obtained 173 older, first-class boys, who will not have to go through such a course of training as the others. These results show that by making changes we are 435 able to get men and boys; and I wish that to be understood, and not that there is any wish to supersede in any way the system of training men and boys. That would be the last thing we should wish to do—indeed, we should regard such a change as calamitous; but we have wished to test whether we can get the men and boys if they are wanted, and we have now obtained indications that, to a certain extent, we can. Most of the officers of the training-ships, and those engaged in that part of naval administration, have been cold about encouraging entries from the shore, and alarmed lest success in that direction should induce the Admiralty to suspend its efforts in educating boys; such an apprehension is groundless, but still we shall be glad if men can be got from the shore.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
asked, whether the boys would be entered at once for service without going into a training-ship; and, if so, at what age?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Boys will enter the training-ship at 16½ years. Those from shore will enter at the age of 18. They will go through a short course of training. We have 3,500 boys turned out every year. One great difficulty, however, in training them is in getting ships for them. The same difficulty is experienced in the merchant service, where ships take a certain number of boys in comparison with the number of the crews. If we were to train 1,000 more boys than we have at present, we should not know how to distribute them in ships; and it is admitted that seagoing training-ships, though valuable, are not so valuable for training seamen as men-of-war are. Such is the statement that I have to make with regard to boys. I may, however, add that strict orders have been issued that a preference should be given to seafaring lads, rather than to those who know nothing about the sea.
Before proceeding to the question of Reserves, which is intimately connected with manning, I may say that we have made some other reforms in the direction of making the non-combatants more useful than they are at present, by attempting to induce men to have two trades instead of one. In that way we shall relieve the ships of non-combatant men, and make more room for fighting men. Many of our modern vessels have so little room that it is a great advantage to have as few non-combatants as 436 possible. "Stoker mechanics" have been engaged, and an increase of 3d. a-day has been offered to men of useful trades who pass the necessary examination for stokers. In this way it will be possible to reduce the number of artizans—such as blacksmiths and plumbers; and in small vessels this will be a very great advantage. Another change we propose has reference to the divers. With few exceptions seamen gunners were the only men who had been taught diving; and it will be apparent to every one who considers the matter that a seaman gunner was not the most qualified person to go down to examine a ship's bottom. In their stead we propose to induce shipwrights, engineers mechanics, and that class of men to learn diving, by offering to them certain extra payments, so that, in such unfortunate cases as the Megœra, the damaged bottom of a ship may be surveyed by a man technically acquainted with the thing he has to examine. Better arrangements have also been made with reference to the payment of seamen. I took a supplemental Estimate some little time ago, and this step was taken in consequence of the recommendation of the Ships' Books Committee, who looked carefully into the matter, and the result of their labours will be, not only a more satisfactory mode of paying the men, but also great economy in the pay for clerks on board ships.
The question of Reserves I will not dwell upon this evening, as I shall have an opportunity of speaking upon it when my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) brings his Motion forward. The Vote for Reserves is less this year by £13,000, in consequence of the amount voted last year not having been spent; and I may observe, in connection with the question, that there has undoubtedly been a diminution in the number of the Royal Naval Reserve. The Committee should, however, draw a distinction between such Reserves as arise from our own trained men and such men as are secured by offering inducements to the merchant service. With regard to seamen pensioner reserves, so far they have not been a success; and we have taken steps to introduce certain improvements, by which we hope to secure a larger number of that class of men. Then there are the continuous-service men who, having entered at the age of 16½ years, 437 and being rated as seamen at 18, remain under a 10 years' engagement—namely, from 18 to 28 years, at the end of which time they have the option of either going without a pension or re-enlisting for another 10 years, after which they leave the service at the age of 38, and in many cases receive a pension of £36, and even £38 a-year. It may be said that is a large pension for a man at 38; but the Committee must bear in mind that in all such cases the recipient has done a considerable amount of hard work during his service to the country. The question arises, how can we induce these men, who leave the service at 38, to join the Reserves. The pensions have been given to them without any obligation to serve, except the general obligation to serve in time of war. The present plan of inducing them to continue their services for a time, though it makes a certain addition to their payment, has proved insufficient for the purpose we had in view. One of the chief causes of the failure of that plan is, that men who have occupied the position of petty officers are naturally loth to accept pay in the rank of able-bodied seamen. As a remedy, we propose to give these petty officers the same ratings when serving in the Reserves as they had before, instead of putting them down in the lower rank, which acts as a deterrent rather than an inducement. The Committee will see that it is of the greatest importance that we should retain these men who have been petty officers, because in times of emergency they are the very men who will readily and efficiently man our ships. By carrying our plans into execution, we hope to secure a large number of the men who are now leaving our service for our seamen pensioners' reserves. But those plans are still under consideration, and I think the Committee will agree to this proposition—that, taking into account the very early age at which our sailors receive pensions, the arrangement should be distinctly made that, if they would have a pension at all, they must join the Reserve when they leave the service. The question also arises, ought the men who leave the service at 28 to receive pensions or not? At present they receive none, and a great controversy is going on among naval officers whether it is right or wrong that they should receive a pension. Many are of opinion that it would be wise to give a pension 438 of 6d. a-day at the end of 10 years, to induce men to join the Reserve. The great difficulty of that would be that the men would leave the service, and in that way the standing force of seamen would be diminished by more men than we could afford to lose. If the matter were left optional with the Admiralty to offer or withhold the pension, according as it was desirable to retain the men in the service or draw them into the Reserve, the exercise of the discretion would be a constant source of dissatisfaction. Men would grumble that their hope of being entitled to a pension was disappointed, and I really cannot recommend that the Admiralty should have the option of giving or withholding a certain number of pensions. It may be asked, what proportion of men do we lose of those who have passed through their first 10 years? An impression has got abroad that a large number leave the service at the end of 10 years, and do not re-enter. I think that is not so; for I find that, after being 10 years in the Navy, 80 per cent re-enter the service and engage themselves for another 10 years. To my mind this is a conclusive proof that the service is not so unpopular as those who criticize the Admiralty so sharply appear to believe. It is quite impossible for the service to be unpopular when sailors, after having served for two years as boys, and for 10 years as men, voluntarily engage for a further period of 10 years. They re-enter the service, not because they could not get employment elsewhere—for such men are held in esteem for civil employments—but because the service is attractive to them. The difficulty of following the plan so often recommended of passing men rapidly through the Navy, and then putting them into the Reserve, is greatly enhanced by two peculiarities in the naval service. One peculiarity is this—we train our own boys. We train them now, say for two or three years, in order to get 10 years' service from them, with the chance of 10 years more; but if we were to train them for two or three years in order to get only seven years' service from them, we should have twice the number of boys, with the enormous difficulty of getting employment for such an increased number of boys. Another difficulty is, that we should have exceedingly young crews, and it is questionable how far we ought to rely 439 on young crews on distant stations and in unhealthy climates. Indeed, I have already received complaints from admirals that the crews are too young. The Admiralty cannot, therefore, see their way to saying that men should pass into the Reserve at an earlier age than 28; because, if we are to continue to train our boys—and everybody seems to cling to that system—10 years' service afterwards is the minimum the country has a right to expect from them. Of the 20 per cent who leave the service now after the first period of 10 years' service, a considerable number join the Royal Naval Reserve, and thereby get an annual pension of £10—£6 as a retainer, and £4 for their allowances. What I think we ought to do is this—Give them pensions at the end of the 38 years—the age at which they leave us, as we do now; but we must have better hold of them, by inducing them to join the Reserves. The number of men in the Royal Naval Reserve, which consists mainly of men belonging to the merchant service, is no doubt decreasing. One reason for this was urged by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) last year—namely, that we are too stringent as to the requisite height of the men. We have been unwilling to make any changes in the Royal Naval Reserve until we were able to deal with the subject as a whole. We now, however, propose to reduce the height from 5 feet 5 inches to 5 feet 3 inches, because it has been found that many men who have actually been in the Navy, where the standard is rather shorter than in the Royal Naval Reserves, have been rejected on that ground. Accordingly, this change has been made, and it is also hoped that in the Navy greater facilities will be given for re-enrolment than has been afforded hitherto. It is doubtful, however, whether these changes will lead to any large increase in the numbers of the Royal Naval Reserve, and, therefore, it is intended to make changes in the Second Royal Naval Reserve, which has hitherto not been successful. I believe my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) has himself pointed out that fact. The truth is, that the men in the Second Reserve are now required to stay on board a ship for 28 days in each year. This Reserve is for ordinary seamen; whereas the First Royal Naval Reserve is for able-bodied seamen. According 440 to the existing arrangements, an ordinary seaman will have to remain on board a ship for 28 days in each year, and it is believed that this has deterred them from joining. It is therefore proposed that henceforth they should only be required on board of ship for one period of 28 days, after which they would be placed in the First Naval Reserve, and become entitled to the higher pension and allowances. These are the minor changes proposed to be made in regard to the Reserves. The Admiralty has, indeed, a larger plan under consideration; but I am not yet prepared to lay it before the House. It is hoped that in connection with the new class of gunboats it might be possible to organize a system by which the country might have a new class of naval volunteers in all our large ports. We have been steadily increasing the number of the gunboats which would be available for the defence of those ports. As the Government make some contribution to Volunteers who act as Reserve forces on land, we think we shall be able to make such an arrangement as will enable us to place the gunboats at their service, and so organize a large force for the defence of our coasts. It may, perhaps, be said that this experiment has been already tried, and that the Royal Coast Volunteers has been a failure. I do not think, however, that the plan has ever been tried of localizing ships at the various stations. When the men are merely enrolled for the purposes of drill it is exceedingly difficult to maintain a force for coast defence; but if an opportunity were afforded to them of exercising in gunboats attached to particular localities, it might be found that the same spirit which has induced so many individuals to volunteer on shore might assist us largely in the defence of our coasts. It is for this reason that I shall ask for a further sum of money this year to be applied to the building of gunboats. Otherwise, as I have stated, as regards building vessels for home defence, considerable progress has been already made.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, he did not see any statement of the number of the Royal Naval Reserve men.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I believe there has been no change in the Estimates in this respect. The number of men is between 13,000 and 14,000.
441 I now come to another point. It has been alleged, on the authority of Admirals Elliot and Ryder, that our Fleet is undermanned from motives of economy. Nothing can be more incorrect than such a statement; economy, at all events, has nothing to do with it. At this moment we have 3,000 blue-jackets who could at once be put on board ship, if there were room for them. We have a larger number of supernumeraries at home than we consider desirable, and we have been obliged to commission the frigate Aurora in order to give them employment in sea training. The truth is, that the ships of the present day are so constructed as not to require such large crews as were necessary for vessels in old time, and this circumstance explains why some officers came to the conclusion that our vessels were undermanned. Turret-ships, for example, do not require such complements as ships in the old days; but there is no truth whatever in the allegation that there is a desire on the part of the Admiralty to underman ships. On this point I have questioned several officers on their arrival from abroad, and they all deny that their vessels are undermanned. Then Admiral Elliot and Admiral Ryder said that, at all events, there was not a sufficient number of stokers on board our ships, and that they did not believe our ships, if tried at full speed, could be managed with their present complement of stokers. Now, I am ready to admit that there has been scarcely sufficient testing of our big ships under steam at high rates of speed, and that it is highly desirable for us to ascertain the truth in this respect. We have, therefore, given orders that an experiment shall be made. The Bellerophon and Sultan, two ships of our Channel Squadron, are to proceed for 24 hours at full steam at the highest speed of which they are capable, in order to show whether those ships can be worked with the present complement of stokers. I think the Committee will agree that the trial is a severe one. If that is so, then there is all the more reason for the experiment, and to make sure that our ships can go at the top of their speed for several consecutive days. It is an experiment that is much looked forward to by naval officers, because it will also test the relative rates of speed of the ships, and train the 442 stokers and the officers to the performance of their duties. I have had the opportunity of questioning many officers on this point—whether they can see any deterioration in the character of our seamen; whether they are generally satisfied with the training-ships and the calibre of the seamen; and I am glad to say that those officers who have lately gone afloat again after a long interval have expressed their astonishment at the splendid crews which they now see on board our ships. On a recent occasion—the Thanksgiving at St. Paul's—a number of seamen passed through London, where they were seen by hundreds of thousands who had scarcely seen a body of sailors before, and the House will remember the immense impression they made. I am glad to add that their conduct was most exemplary, there not being a single case of misbehaviour, notwithstanding the temptations to which they were exposed.
I now proceed to discuss the question as to the officers. The present system of educating officers is this. Boys of 13 are sent to the Britannia training-ship, where they remain till they are 15; then they pass into a sea-going training-ship till they are 16; then they serve for three years as midshipmen, till they are 19, and then they pass their examination for lieutenants. This system appears to have some drawbacks. The Britannia is not the best place for the education of boys from 13 to 15. In the first instance, you have an establishment where you have nothing but boys of the same age; and an assemblage of boys of the same age, from 13 to 15, in the same confined area, is in many respects undesirable. Then when they go into the sea-going training-ship they are crowded together more than is desirable. It is asked, what is the advantage of the boys being on board a stationary ship instead of on shore? The boys do not learn seamanship in the Britannia, for the Britannia does not go to sea; they have the advantage of boats, and that is all. Then, having been taken away from school at the age of 13 and trained in the Britannia, they go into a sea-going training-ship, which is neither a man-of-war nor a perfect school ship. They go on with their education, and the time devoted to this education, including steam and French, is 14 hours a-week, the intellectual studies 443 during the time being about 8 to 10 hours a-week. That is not very satisfactory. But are they learning seamanship? I am told that they do not learn as much as they would on board an ordinary man-of-war. There are so many hands, that many can only look on instead of doing the work themselves. At the age of 16 they go as midshipmen in a sea-going man-of-war, and then they are placed under naval instructors; but the 14 hours of general education which they receive weekly on board a training-ship is reduced to seven or eight on board a man-of-war. Then at 19 they pass an examination in seamanship, and on the first occasion of reaching England after the age of 19 they pass an examination in gunnery and navigation, being allowed six weeks' preparation for such examination. I was not surprised to learn that six weeks were insufficient even to rub up the knowledge they possessed. I have conferred with many officers, and with the authorities of the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth, and am told that the number who pass after six weeks' preparation is almost nil. A further period must nearly always be allowed them. It is acknowledged that the naval officers ought now to be educated more than ever they were before; the ships are so different, and their qualities so complex, that superior education on the part of the officers is absolutely indispensable. Reviewing the general system, the first question we have had to solve is accordingly this—At what age should we take boys? Should we continue to take them from school at about 13? We are of opinion—and I have the concurrence of many naval officers in this opinion—that it would be better to leave the boys at school till the age of 15, rather than to take them at 13. The question as to the best age for sending them to sea does not enter at this point, because even under the present system they do not go to sea till they leave the Britannia at 15. I wish also to improve the system of nomination, with the view of "tapping" the public schools to a certain extent, and of avoiding the sending of boys for two years to cramming establishments, which would be worse than the present system. Parting with a certain amount of patronage, I hope to secure boys from the public schools, under a limited competition, the details of which I cannot at present describe. 444 Then comes the second question—Assuming that 19 is the proper age for their becoming lieutenants, what should be done with them for the previous four years? Some hold that they should go to a Naval College, with training-ships attached, like the great naval establishment which the Americans have for this purpose at Annapolis; and that they should work at the college for two years, going to sea for four months in each year. It is, however, the opinion of some naval men that if the boys were to remain two years at the college under this system, the two years which would remain before they came up for examination would not be a sufficient preparation in sailoring. What we would propose is this—The Committee will remember that we have had very trying times during the last 12 months; and on this, as well as on the question of Reserves, I must claim the forbearance of the Committee, if I am not able to fully explain the system we propose to adopt. But the general outline is this—We propose that the cadets at 15, having received two years more education than they do now, should go to a Naval College for a year, or a year and a-quarter, to be specially advanced in some of the rudiments of their profession, cruisers being attached, so that they may be able to go to sea, and that at the close of the year they should be sent out in a sea-going vessel of war, with naval instructors, and that then they should have three years in a sea-going man-of-war, as now. In that case we should have nearly the same amount of experience at sea before 19 as we now have. It would then be desirable that they should have six months' teaching preliminary to their examination, instead of six weeks as at present. Many young officers would at this point ascertain which way their bent lay, and whether they should apply themselves to higher courses of study, for which arrangements would be made, but which would not be entered upon till they had passed the lieutenant's examination. The next question which arises is this—Where are the officers to be trained? This brings in the question of the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth, which at present is conducted on the following basis:—They receive there young officers who are to pass their examination for lieutenants, they also teach Marine offi- 445 cers, and provide a course of study for captains, commanders, and lieutenants on half-pay. The name, however, of the Royal Naval College is scarcely applicable to the institution, although it has undoubtedly done very good work. It is not worthy the name of a Naval College, either as regards its architecture, or its internal constitution, or the education which it gives. The system under which the commissioned officers study there is rather one of private tuition than such as might be expected from its name. The question that we have before us in reference to this subject is how to unite in one establishment all the various branches of naval study which are at present taught in the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth and in the Naval School of Architecture at South Kensington. At present the Instructors of the Royal Naval College conduct the examination themselves—that is to say, they first teach and then examine, which is not at all a desirable state of things. It is now proposed to combine the scheme which I have described as regards the education of the young officers with one for the education of the commissioned officer, and also to make better arrangements for the education of the engineer officers. In order to carry out these and other objects it is proposed to found a Royal Naval College at Greenwich, where all branches of a general naval education will be taught, and to do so upon a scale which will be calculated greatly to raise the educational tone of all grades of the naval service. There will be received in the college both acting sub-lieutenants, who will be kept there for six months before passing their examination for lieutenants, and also captains, commanders, and lieutenants on half-pay. It is proposed that after the sub-lieutenants have passed their examination and have been again to sea, those who choose to avail themselves of it shall have an opportunity afforded to them of pursuing a higher course of study, of which half-pay officers may also avail themselves; and the establishment being so near London, we shall be able to offer a better course of study, under more able professors, than it would be possible to give at Portsmouth. But, in addition to thus offering an education of this description to the young officers and to the commissioned officers who now go to Ports- 446 mouth, we trust to be able to make arrangements with regard to the education of engineers. At present these officers are all brought up in our own yards, which they enter at about 15 or 16 years of age, and in which they remain for four or six years as engineer apprentices, and at the end of the fourth year three are selected to go to the School of Naval Architecture at South Kensington. In the same way, from a certain number of shipwrights' apprentices three or four are also selected every year to go up and study at the same school. As regards the engineers, it is proposed that not merely three or four out of the 23 who are entered half-yearly should be selected to be sent to South Kensington, but that all of them, after having been four years in the yards, shall have the advantage of going through a course of one year's education at Greenwich, which shall include all the higher branches of engineering education, such as metallurgy and chemistry. Although we are justified in priding ourselves upon an excellent class of engineer officers, still, looking at our immensely complicated arrangements, and at the constant progress of engineering science, it must be admitted on all hands that they must be greatly improved by going through a year's course of study at Greenwich. It is further proposed to take a similar course with reference to the shipwrights' apprentices, but only as regards a limited number, who will have an opportunity of studying naval architecture at Greenwich. The South Kensington School will be removed to Greenwich. While I fear that I have done but scant justice to the scheme, I trust that the general effect of the proposed arrangements will recommend itself to the judgment of the Committee and to the public; and I feel sure that in endeavouring to carry out the proposal we shall meet with the support of the most enlightened naval officers, the more so because I have found a great disposition on the part of naval men to concur in the plan which I have sketched. The hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. G. Bentinck) must not think that the scheme has been hatched by a civil Lord of the Admiralty. The scheme has been prepared in concert with naval officers of the greatest experience, and they concur generally in the scheme which I have sketched. Of course, arrangements will 447 be made at Greenwich for the reception of the officers and others who will go there; but the Committee will perceive that by concentrating all the education in one place there will be more economy of professors to undertake the education of the various classes systematically than would be possible if the places of education were to be scattered. With regard to the cadets, it is not proposed that they should go to Greenwich, which is not regarded as a very desirable place for them, neither is it thought right that they should be associated with the other classes of officers who will be established there. No definite arrangements have as yet been proposed with reference to them; but the Committee will see that there is no great hurry in the matter, because in future they will not be taken under 15 years of age, and it will be as well to wait until those who have entered at 13 have attained the latter age before new arrangements are entered into with regard to them. In the meantime, those who have already entered will continue to study where they are at present. I regret that owing to the immense number of subjects which are embraced by a naval system, I am scarcely able to do justice to the many subjects which I have brought forward. I will only add, with regard to the scheme of education, that I think that Greenwich is far better adapted for the central educational establishment than the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth. I have now only one more point to touch upon with reference to the officers—namely, that which relates to their retirements. The number of officers has been considerably diminished, owing to the operation of the retirement scheme of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Childers), and that scheme has doubtless occasioned hardship in individual cases; but it has led to as much employment as possible being given to officers on the active list, which is a most desirable result. Early in February last the Admiralty re-considered some details of this retirement scheme, and it was found that, while the principles upon which it was founded were nearly correct, the operation of the Order in Council had been to retard promotion as regarded commanders and lieutenants, although it had worked well in reference to captains. The Admiralty had, therefore, retarded the operation of the scheme by ordering one promotion for every two 448 instead of every four vacancies, and also by including in their calculation the vacancies which occurred among the lower ranks. [Mr. CORRY: The number of cadets was reduced considerably.] I do not wish to contradict the right hon. Gentleman; but I will quote the figures. The number of cadets entered in 1863 was 171; in 1864, 169; in 1865, 176; in 1866, 160; in 1867, 136; in 1868, 118; and in 1869, 92. In 1867 there were also 39 second-class cadets, making the total number of cadets entered in that year 175. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, therefore, is right as regards the first-class naval cadets, but wrong as to the total number of cadets, because they were 160 in 1866, 175 in 1867, 142 in 1868, and then in 1869 they were 106, thus showing a diminution of nearly 40. In 1864 they were 209; and in 1865, 186; or 10 more than the numbers of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. But, from whatever cause, a large number of cadets were entered in those years, and the consequence has been a stagnation of promotion as regards sub-lieutenants—a stagnation, however, that would have occurred if no retirement scheme had passed. The position of sub-lieutenants has not been in the least degree due to the retirement scheme of my right hon. Friend. But to prevent their remaining sub-lieutenants any longer than four years, which was undesirable, we have taken power to promote them, notwithstanding that the list of lieutenants is in excess, and accordingly we passed an Order in Council to that effect some months ago.
I will now pass on to a subject—namely, the programme of our works—of perhaps even greater interest to the Committee, although I cannot but think that the education of our officers and men and the number of our seamen are matters of as vital importance as any other relating to the service. This leads me to make one general observation—namely, that we must pay increased attention to the principle of affording every possible opportunity for the studying of seamanship. We propose, on this head, that training brigs should be attached to the Mediterranean Squadron. The opportunities afforded by our iron-clads for the practice of seamanship are so small that it is necessary to give our men further opportunities of learning seamanship. It 449 has been suggested that iron-clads ought not to be used so much as they now are as schools for our seamen; but that there should be tenders attached to the ironclads for the purpose of giving them opportunities for learning sailing. The ships necessary for the purpose are somewhat peculiar, and of training brigs there are but a small number in possession of the Admiralty. In the programme of the year's work, it is proposed to build a training brig at Pembroke to be sent to the Mediterranean for exercising the crews there; and, further, I can assure the Committee that every opportunity will be taken which may help the seamen to make progress in that direction.
I now come to the question of shipbuilding and to Votes 6 and 10. I wish to treat that question in this way—What have we actually got? What do we want? What do we propose to do? And, where do we propose to do it? As regards what we have got, there has been an immense amount of criticism on our existing ships. There never was a naval debate in this House without some hostile criticisms being made upon some of the ships in Her Majesty's service. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry) takes such an interest in the welfare of the Navy as to wish that every ship built by every Administration of this country shall be able to perform its duty. In many of the pamphlets which have been issued, and in many of the opinions put forward on this subject by hon. Members, admirals, and others, this matter has been considered not so much from the point of view of what force this country might require as of what should be the ideal Fleet which England should possess. For example, as regards our wooden ironclads, we have been told that they will not last. It may be perfectly true that they will not last; but we were not told at the same time that, while the majority of our iron-clads are real iron ships, the majority of the French iron-clads are wooden ships. Therefore, if our ships are likely to go, the French ships are much more likely to go, as the French have many more that are perishable than we have. We ought to ask ourselves what are the relative forces at the disposal of other Governments, and what have we got to meet them? The case of the Prince Consort, for instance, has been brought before this House, and it is a matter for most serious consideration whether she 450 ought or ought not to be repaired. But the French—and I say this not at all to make any odious comparisons, but because it is right that the Committee should know not only what we have, but also what other countries have—the French have had the Rochambeau condemned. This was a ship bought from the Americans for £400,000, which has been condemned as rotten from dry-rot. Then they have the Normandie—another of their old iron-clads of 1860—which has been condemned; with L'Invincible and the Gloiré much in the same position. No doubt we shall have to replace, as we have began to do, our older iron-clads by other ships, and other countries will be under the same necessity. All this is relative. It cannot be said that we ought to have a certain absolute number of iron-clads, but that if our neighbours have much fewer, we also require much fewer. It is a question of proportion. We have been asked what steps we propose to take to replace our wooden ships? During the last few years we have added six sea-going cruisers of the Audacious class to our iron-clads, and we are therefore relatively stronger than ever we were before. The Audacious was the child of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. We have also added quite lately to our force, the Hotspur, the Rupert, the Glatton, the Cyclops, the Hecate, and the Gorgon. These are all ships of a new class, and the French have none to compare with them. Since 1865, there is an enormous difference in favour of the Fleet of this country as compared with that of France. In the beginning of 1866, we added to the Fleet the Monarch, and six ships of the Audacious class—the Sultan, the Hotspur, the Glatton, the Rupert, the Devastation, and the Thunderer. The French during the same time only completed two or three iron-clad ships. Although 10 floating batteries have often added to the figures of the French Fleet, in order to swell the number for the purposes of comparison, three of those were condemned, and the remaining seven have been found to be in such a bad condition that it was very doubtful whether they could ever be brought into action. None of, them were employed during the late war. Not only are our ships said to be rotten, and our Navy generally inferior to the Navies of foreign Powers, but a favourite matter for com- 451 ment among naval critics is the alleged ill-success of many of the latest ships; they speak of the loss of the Captain, and other similar mishaps. No doubt the loss of the Captain was most disastrous; but we have now no ships which have not proved satisfactory as regarded the purposes for which they were designed. You cannot expect incompatible qualities in the same ships. You cannot build strong fighting machines and compare them with the old three-deckers. I will allude to the Hotspur by way of illustration. Within the last week I have seen a story repeated in an influential paper that this ship was pronounced by competent critics to be a failure. The Committee will remember the story about Lord John Hay and his crew appearing on deck with cork jackets, and about the vessel only escaping through good luck. I need not say that these stories are utterly unfounded. I could read extracts from the report of the captain of the Hotspur expressing his full satisfaction at the behaviour of the ship at sea, even in severe weather. No doubt the vessel returned to port; but that was because the instructions to the captain were that, being of a new class, she should be very carefully handled. Caution must be used in the trial of all those ships; but there was nothing to prove that she was not equal to any weather she might encounter. Lord John Hay repeatedly assured us that no officer of that ship could have had any part in spreading such a report. In the same way the Cyclops made a very good journey from Sheerness to Portsmouth in rather a heavy sea. But I do not hesitate to say that our policy is to have these ships handled with most extreme caution, though I hope the effect on the public mind will not be that they are therefore mistakes. They are built for home defence and for Channel service, and it ought not to be expected that being so built they should be condemned because they were not perfectly fit for another. Now, a great deal has been said as to the appointment of the Committee of Designs. Why was it appointed? Not to shift responsibility, as was suggested the other evening by the noble Lord (Lord Henry Lennox), but simply to satisfy the public mind, which had become exceedingly agitated as to the construction of these ships, and I doubt whether anything short of taking the 452 most competent ab extra opinion on the subject would have satisfied it. The Committee was composed not of "philo-phers," as the noble Lord had styled them, but of eminent naval officers, as well as of distinguished men of science. They have examined the various classes of our ships; and the Devastation, for instance, has been pronounced by them to be the type of the fighting ship of the future. Some doubt has been expressed as to the capabilities of the Devastation if steamed head to wind; but if her freeboard was found too low on trial she could be raised at the forecastle. Well, we have had that Report, as well as the Report of Admiral Elliot and Admiral Ryder, and a letter from Admiral Robinson, and they were studied with the most extreme care when we had to settle the programme for the year. The substance of the Report of the Committee is this—that the Devastation presents the best type of the fighting ship of the future; that the Monarch and the Hercules class, though they may do good active service, belong to a type that ought not to be repeated; and that the Cyclops class is one well adapted for home service or coast defences. Now, the question between the types represented by the Devastation and the Hercules is one of extreme importance.
§ MR. SAMUDA
May I ask whether there was on the Committee of Designs any person accustomed to the building of iron ships?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Does my hon. Friend ask the Question for the sake of information, or in order to make a point? It would be difficult at this moment to go into the constitution of the Committee; but the names of its members have been before the country for 18 months. Now, looking at the requirements of the Navy, I am bound to say that we do not concur in that part of the Report of the Committee which refers to ships of the Hercules type—that is, sea-going cruising ships of the first class. It is a matter of great anxiety to differ from the Committee; but they have proceeded, as they frankly admit, on the rule of not looking mainly at the existing Fleets of foreign countries, but rather at the future requirements of naval warfare. They have given weight to the possibility of producing a gun capable of penetrating any armour which can be put upon a ship; but they have not ascertained with any degree of certainty whether such guns can be mounted on ships. We, on our part, 453 have looked at the matter as a practical one, and we have asked what would be our position in the event of a war, not in the remote future, but with the Navies of other countries such as we are now familiar with. Now, France has got two first-class sea-going cruising ships built and five building. We have three built—the Hercules, the Monarch, and the Sultan—and we have two building. Again, the Prussian Government is building fast sea-going iron-clads. Now, the Devastation is a vessel chiefly suitable for a pitched battle. It is in such a case that her great qualities would come out, and therefore we quite concur that she belongs to a type that ought to be repeated, but not to the exclusion of seagoing iron-clads. The Devastation will steam at 12½ knots, the Hercules at 14½ knots; on the other hand, the Devastation carries 1,600 tons of coal, while the Hercules carries only 600, and at a speed of 5 knots an hour the Devastation could go for 9,000 miles. Therefore, the Devastation would be invaluable for expeditions; and, in consequence of her double screw and double set of engines, she is protected, to a great extent, from the danger of being disabled. But there are a large number of first-class iron-clad cruisers belonging to other countries which can cruise under sail, and we should be in a dangerous position in regard to our distant possessions in the event of hostilities if we were not able to match those ships, which would be able to elude vessels carrying a limited quantity of coal, and therefore capable only of short expeditions. The Report of the Committee, indeed, recommends that we should have central depôts, from which a number of Devastations ought to issue in time of war; but those centres would have to be supplied with coal, because vessels like the Devastation can only steam. The supply of coal would involve convoys, and immense arrangements necessary to such a system; and, after all, any hostile iron-clad able to cruise under sail might be able to elude us, or, being faster, to escape. Therefore we have decided that it shall be part of our programme to lay down a new cruising iron-clad of the first class. We have arranged that her armour shall be much thicker than the Hercules or the Sultan. [Mr. CORRY: Upon what principle will it be armed?] It is to be armed on the broadside principle, for this reason—that as she would be em- 454 ployed to go to distant stations, we think the broadside principle preferable; because, without for a moment disparaging the turret principle, when a vessel has to go far away from the dockyards it is better that she should not, to use a common saying, carry all her eggs in one basket. With regard to the turret-ships I may here mention that we intend to make another experiment on a large scale. There has been so much legitimate discussion as to the probability of a turret vessel being able to withstand the heaviest ordnance of the present day, that we propose to try an experiment on the Glutton with a 25-ton gun. We think that the experiment should be tried with the strongest turret-ship we have, and with the 25-ton gun—in fact, the gun of the Hotspur; and the experiment will be made in a few months—as soon, that is, as we can ensure smooth water. We propose to fire at two or three points, to see whether there is any likelihood of the turret being jammed from one of two causes—namely, from the exfoliation, so to say, of the metal at the base of the turret on its being struck by the shot, or from its being injured by an immense weight striking it at the very top of the turret. An experiment of this kind will be somewhat costly; but I am sure the Committee will feel that it is absolutely necessary to be done before we build any more turret-ships. [An hon. MEMBER asked whether the experiment was not likely to be attended with serious injury to the turret?] The precision with which aim can be taken is so great that the shot may be expected to strike only that part of the turret which it is necessary it should do for the purposes of the experiment. A certain amount of injury will certainly be done; but it is far better that we should discover for ourselves in time of peace the value of the system than have it taught to us in the time of war, because if it should prove that the turret jammed, the ship would be practically disabled. We also propose to await the completion of the Devastation, and to try her at sea, and according to the result of that trial to proceed or not with a second iron-clad; and we also think that, until the result is known, it will be wise to defer any further work on the Fury, which is the third ship of the Devastation class. No doubt at all is entertained as to her being a formidable vessel; but we may 455 learn some matters as to her construction for a trial at sea. When she is completed, and if she is satisfactory, we shall proceed with the Fury, and make as much progress with her as we can; but we have arranged in the Estimates that, if it is found undesirable to proceed with her, we shall then build some iron gunboats, for 18-ton guns, at Pembroke instead. I should add that it seems to me that, as soon as we are clear as to the iron-clads that we are to build, it will be desirable to press them forward with all speed, rather than to occupy ourselves over gunboats, which can be built at very short notice. Accordingly, we propose to commence two iron-clads in the course of the present financial year. The description of one iron-clad we have settled upon, and as to the other, and the progress of the Fury, I hope that the Committee will think that we are right not to hurry them until we can see by actual results what the Devastation will be able to do. But we do not wish to lose time in consequence of this uncertainty, and we shall increase the number of the most useful class of ships that we have at present, those of the Encounter, Blanche, and Modiste class—ships of 1,400 tons burden. Besides that, we propose to commence to make good progress with two large covered corvettes, of the class of the Active and Volage, large unarmoured cruisers, going 15 knots—for this is a class that we think we could increase with great advantage. We propose, also, to complete within the year the frigates Blonde and Raleigh; but we do not propose to lay down any new frigates. Neither Prance, Russia, nor Prussia is building any frigates, and it appears that the time of the large frigates—once a most useful ship—has passed. The two large corvettes will be of iron, sheathed with wood and copper, and they will be rather larger than the Active and Volage. Again, we have been obliged to dissent from the Committee of Designs, who pronounced against these covered corvettes; but we have taken the best opinion of sailors upon the question, and we have decided to act upon that opinion. These covered corvettes, however, will be an experiment.
I will now enumerate clearly what we propose to do this year. In the first instance, we have got to finish about 10,000 tons of ships in hand, and we propose to finish this year every ship now on hand 456 except the Fury, and with her it is intended to make as much progress as is possible. It is proposed, also, to build two large covered corvettes, one corvette of the Blanche class, and five sloops of about 720 tons each, faster than the Rinaldo, but rather in the same style. This is a class of ship in which the Navy is at present singularly deficient, notwithstanding that they are ships of a most economical class, for the reason that, as in the case of the Australian stations, for instance, they can be employed in the performance of duty for which, in their absence, much larger vessels have to be employed. These five gun-vessels will be superior to the Bittern class, and will be as heavily armed as vessels of that class usually are, and will prove useful as cruisers. Of these five gun-vessels proposed, it is intended to build four in the Government yards and one by contract. We propose to commence four gunboats of the Snake class at Pembroke, and to build four more of the same class by contract. In the course of the year it is also intended to commence the building of a troopship, and I hope that in the course of the financial year a greater portion of the work will be concluded. There are several other small vessels that will be built by contract; and I ought to state that the total tonnage we propose to build is 20,400 tons, about the same as we built last year. Of these, 17,500 tons will be built in our yards, and about 3,000 tons by private contract. I ought to explain to the Committee why we build so large a proportion in our own yards, and so little by contract. We are anxious to pursue a policy of not disturbing the number of men employed in our yards. We propose to employ the same number this year that we employed last year, for we do not think it a wise policy to discharge workmen from our dockyards in order to increase the amount of shipping built by contract. Contract work is now exceedingly dear, and it would be now about the worst time to contract for new ships that we could possibly have chosen; we should not only have to pay a high price, but our workmen would probably go to build these very ships for us in the private yards. I am anxious to keep as much continuity in the number of men employed in our dockyards as is possible. Another reason is that the men work at somewhat lower wages in our dockyards than they do in private yards. 457 It should, however, be remembered that the men receive pensions, and they have the great advantage of being employed the whole year round, and have no change of employment from one place to another. They never lose a single day unless at their own desire, and though the wages are nominally lower I believe the men practically feel themselves as well off as in the private yards. This advantage, however, would be greatly lessened by frequent discharges, or by the idea in the minds of the men that they might be discharged; and therefore we desire to calculate how many men we should be likely to continue to do the regular shipbuilding in the yard, and that we should do the extra work by contract. If we were to diminish the number in the dockyards this year by 2,000 or 3,000 men we should have also to diminish our establishments, and we should not be able to expand them again suddenly; whereas the private dockyards remain to us a resource in any emergency, and we can always increase shipbuilding in private yards if we will only pay the price. Consequently, I believe we are in a stronger position by maintaining a number of dockyards and keeping the private trade in reserve. I think that we ought to act in this way as regards ships, as I have already said that we should act in reference to stores—that we should keep in reserve the private establishments and rely upon them in emergencies to build ships to patterns which are well known. In new designs there are often changes which cause great trouble in the course of the work. The increase in Vote 6 of £11,000, although the same number of men are to be employed, is due to the fact that in certain departments wages are to be increased in a way which will, I hope, receive the sanction of Parliament when it comes to be explained. I have omitted to state that we propose to build at Portsmouth a torpedo vessel of 540 tons. We think that it is necessary to have a small ship of very great speed, for speed is one of the chief points to be attended to in reference to torpedoes. The engines are to be exceedingly powerful in comparison with the size of the ship, and the conditions must be such that she must be a fair sea-going vessel. This ship is to be built with the view of making an experiment as to the class of ships best fitted to carry torpedoes. The 458 ship must be specially arranged for it: there are holes to be cut in her bows, and there are other arrangements that it would be impossible to adapt to our present ships even if they had the speed. It will not be a very costly ship, and if it should not be necessary to use it as a torpedo ship it could be turned into a gunboat. The torpedo vessel is to have a speed of 11 knots, with twin screws, silent working engines, and is to be without masts, and she is further to have as many water-tight compartments as possible and as low a freeboard as is consistent with meeting any weather, however rough. She will have two Gatling guns, and her cost will be £30,000 for hull and engines. Experiments will be made with various kinds of torpedoes to ascertain how far sea-going torpedoes, if I may use the phrase, may be used. Let me now recapitulate our shipbuilding programme. Our arrangements for the present year include two new ironclads, two large covered corvettes, one corvette of the Blanche class, five sloops, eight gunboats, a torpedo vessel, a training ship, and a troopship. We shall do nothing more with iron-clads till we know something more about them. I should also mention that we contemplate more perfect instruction in torpedo practice, and that we are making new arrangements, which will be placed under the charge of an experienced officer who has a speciality in the higher and more scientific departments of that branch of the naval service. With regard to Vote 10, Section I., for Naval Stores, we have been able to increase them considerably. There have been considerable savings during the financial year on Vote 10, Section II. All these savings have been expended in increasing our stock of stores, and that has been all the more necessary because the prices of most articles have gone up enormously. The Vote for the year 1872–3 nominally shows an excess of £92,000, a very large portion of which, amounting to a sum of nearly £56,000, is due to additional purchases of timber. [Mr. CORRY: What is the amount of the savings applied to the purchase of stores?] I cannot exactly tell; but I should think about £50,000 or £60,000. I must admit that a portion of these nominal savings has arisen from the want of the ability of the contractors to fulfil their bargains in time, so that all the money taken could not be spent 459 within the year. As to the stock of coals, there has been a rise in the price of coals, which has affected the stock. Great exertions are being made by the Admiralty for the manufacture of ropes, because we find we cannot get them of such good quality in the open market as we can make them ourselves. There is an increase in Vote 11 in respect of certain machinery which is required for increasing the Admiralty's power of manufacturing rope. It has been found that the rope manufactory at present does not turn out a sufficient amount of rope. The diminution in Vote 10, Section II., arises from our having got rid of a great portion of the liabilities for engines. In that respect we are freer from liability than we have been for some time. On Vote 11 there is a decrease of £65,000, a part of which arises from two satisfactory circumstances—namely, the completion of the works at Bermuda and Malta, which gives a saving of £27,000. The completion of a portion of the works at Chatham gives a decrease of £70,000. On the other hand, we take £33,000 for the completion of the machinery at Chatham—regarding which, allow me, in passing, to say that had the machinery been erected there, as was suggested, five years ago, it would now have been found to be obsolete. The great thing, however, which we have achieved at Chatham is what cannot be got at a moment's notice—deep water docks. We propose to go forward steadily, but not with too great rapidity, in erecting new factories and getting new plant. On Vote 3 for the Admiralty there is an increase of £10,000. [Mr. MAGUIRE: What do you intend to lay out on Queenstown Harbour?] The same sum as we expended last year. £3,000 of that £10,000 is due to the progressive increase in the salaries of the staff, and £3,000 is due to the other arrangements which I endeavoured to sketch out last week. I cannot this evening go into this Vote; but I am prepared to answer any Question which may be put to me by any hon. Member on the subject. I labour under the difficulty of having detained the Committee too long already; but the ground covered by our work is so large that I could not refrain from detailed comment and explanation.
Only permit me to say one word more as to the general duties discharged by the Fleet. Hon. Gentlemen must 460 not think that the £9,500,000 which they are called upon to vote are devoted simply to offensive and defensive warfare. The fact is that the duties of the Fleet, even in time of peace, are enormous, and our ships are doing an immense amount of work which is not immediately connected with a war establishment. If we were no longer to compete with foreign countries as to which shall have the most iron-clads or the mightiest Navies, we should still find ubiquitous duties to be performed by the Navy of England, and I do not see any disposition on the part of the House of Commons to lessen those duties. If, therefore, we do not build ships for fighting, we shall still have to build them for other purposes; our policy will still be an expensive one, so long as the House resolves to keep up, not for ourselves alone, but for the benefit of the world at large, the police of the seas, and endeavours to stop such practices as the traffic in labourers in the Polynesian Islands, and to check the slave trade on the coast of Africa—or is always disposed, if we hear of an Englishman or woman stranded or kept on any barbarous island, to send a man-of-war to their relief. This disposition on the part of the public ought to be taken into consideration by hon. Gentlemen when they come to vote these Estimates. They must not think that all this money is spent on war; but that a great portion is spent on duties which, notwithstanding the reputation this country has most unjustly got of pursuing a selfish policy, redounds to the benefit of the world at large as much as of our own country. I venture to say this because it is not right that hon. Gentlemen should complain of the Estimates being high, as if all the money were required for war purposes alone. Much is spent on the performance of those expensive duties in every part of the world, which consist in keeping the peace, in preserving our commerce secure, and in carrying civilization to the most distant shores.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That 61,000 men and boys be employed in the Sea and Coast Guard Service for the year ending March 31, 1873.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
said, the Committee would be both surprised and disappointed that it had devolved not on his right hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry), whose long experience of dockyards and shipbuilding en- 461 titled him to be heard with the greatest deference, but on himself, to explain the views of the Opposition with respect to the statement which had just been made. As must have been apparent to everyone who heard his right hon. Friend on Monday last, he was struggling against physical difficulties then which to-night rendered him totally incapable of a lengthened effort. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite was most amply and clearly given, and with that fulness of information which his position as Minister placed at his command. Not having had access to the same sources of information as the right hon. Gentleman, he should have to appeal to the indulgence of the House in touching casually upon the different topics. On Vote 1 the right hon. Gentleman said that the naval service was losing none of its popularity. He was delighted to hear it. He was never one of those who dreaded that the service should permanently lose any of its popularity; for there was in it something dear to the heart of every Englishman, and it would be a bad day for this country if want of popularity were to take any definite form with regard to the naval service. He was glad also to hear that there was no difficulty in recruiting for the Navy. From information which had reached him, and judging by the Estimates themselves, he was surprised to hear that statement; but he was delighted to accept it on the official authority of the right hon. Gentleman. The next point to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded was the course he intended to take in regard to the later stage of the training of young officers of the Navy, and the use he intended to put these officers to. The right hon. Gentleman did not specifically state whether he intended to close the Britannia at once, or whether the operation was to be little more gradual. The new scheme to which Greenwich Hospital might be applied, and the closing of the Naval Hospital at Portsmouth, were matters of such grave importance that the Committee would think it wrong if he were to dwell at any length upon them now, especially as they had only now for the first time heard the scheme propounded by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to training-brigs for the Mediterranean, and also said that he was going to impress on the officers in charge of these ships caution in deal- 462 ing with them. He greatly approved of impressing on the officers the necessity of caution in dealing with these experimental ships. He would go further, and say that the system popular at the Admiralty of late years of sending ships to sea to look out for bad weather was a mistaken policy. Of course, any English ship getting into bad weather would try to get out of it as best she could; but it was very doubtful policy to send out heavy experimental ships to stormy seas to look out for bad weather with a view to test their sailing qualities. The right hon. Gentleman had treated in his usual genial manner some observations which he (Lord Henry Lennox) made the other evening on the Committee of Design. The right hon. Gentleman said he (Lord Henry Lennox) had been pleased to call them philosophers. In using that word, he had no intention of saying anything derogatory either to the dignity or intelligence of those gentlemen. What he did mean was, that as our iron-clad Navy was on its trial with regard to stability, the Report of a Committee, upon which there was not a single gentleman who had ever designed an iron-clad or superintended the building of one, would have little weight on his mind or on that of professional men. In that opinion he was more than justified when he found that the right hon. Gentleman, who was going to make two additions to our Navy in the shape of iron-clads, had spent 20 minutes explaining why he did not adopt the advice of those gentlemen with regard to whom he (Lord Henry Lennox) was twitted for calling them "philosophers." The right hon. Gentleman said he would not trouble the Committee with any remarks upon Vote 3, and in that course he was perfectly justified, because the Prime Minister had promised that they should have an entire and separate evening for its discussion. But he could promise the right hon. Gentleman when the new scheme came before the House he would give his opinion very freely and strongly upon its extreme demerits. There was one point which seemed to require further explanation, and that was in Vote 10, Section II., with regard to engines for the Navy. In the Estimates of 1871–2, the right hon. Gentleman asked for £751,716, of which £368,476 was for shipbuilding, and £334,490 for engines, stating that £195,690 was to complete the payments 463 for engines already ordered, leaving £14,400 to appear on the Estimates of the next year. The total to be spent on engines already ordered in 1871–2 was £181,290. A further sum of £156,200 was asked for engines to be ordered, the whole of which it was proposed to spend in 1871–2, with the exception of £3,000. The residue, therefore, of the Vote of last year, which would appear in the Estimates of 1872–3, would be £14,400 and £3,000, or a total of £17,400. But, on looking to the Estimates for 1872–3, he found that, instead of £14,000 for engines already ordered, £106,782 was asked for, being, as far as he could make out, an excess of expenditure of about £90,000 over what was sanctioned by Parliament for this one item last year. Next came the Dockyard Vote. The right hon. Gentleman said he would not decrease the strength of the dockyard men, and he was to be congratulated upon having come to that decision. Our dockyards were one of our national insurances, and the country would certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman in the propriety of maintaining them. The number of dockyard men taken in the present year, 12,858, was 1,586 in excess of the number taken by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Childers) in 1870. Deptford and Woolwich were then closed. An economical fever had seized the House of Commons, the result of economical views throughout the country on the eve of a General Election, and the result was a reduction in the dockyards; but before the men who were then sent as emigrants to Canada touched the soil of their new homes they were much wanted in our own dockyards. He was glad that the First Lord had been statesmanlike enough to take warning by the mistake of his predecessor, and play none of those sudden economical pranks with our dockyards, but maintain the men there at the same strength as in the previous year. While the number of men stood at 12,858, against 12,850 last year, the increase (in wages was £9,000. This was a policy which he approved. When he was Secretary to the Admiralty there was a demand for increased wages, and he felt it was a demand which must be conceded. At that time the men were receiving wages inferior to those paid in the private trade, but agreed to accept smaller wages because they felt they were secure of employment in good and 464 in bad times, with the chances of a pension at the end of their service. The sudden reductions, however, which afterwards were made, very much shook the confidence of the dockyard men, and he was glad that the right hon. Gentleman had acceded to the demand for raising the wages of men who were so essential to our naval strength. He now came to Appendix 11—"Statement of the number of steamships afloat and building, and of the number of effective sailing ships." If that meant anything it was a statement to the House of Commons and the country of what was the strength of the British Fleet on which the nation might rely in case of sudden invasion. Having agreed with much that had been said by the right hon. Gentleman, he could not agree with him as to what he said about the French Navy. In the first place, he deprecated comparisons with the French or any other Navy. We had in this country only to consider what was the proper strength of our Navy for the performance of the various duties so graphically described by the right hon. Gentleman at the close of his speech, and we ought not to enter into a race of building with other Powers. Secondly, considering the condition in which France was now placed, any comparison between her Navy and ours would be more than ordinarily fallacious. In dealing with this question he regretted very much that the right hon. Gentleman had not alluded to our wooden ships; and he regretted this the more because his right hon. Friend (Mr. Corry) last year warned the right hon. Gentleman in general terms of the unsatisfactory state of that portion of our Navy. He hoped also that another year there would be some change in both the form and substance of Appendix 11, because it really gave no proper idea of the effective strength of our Navy. Having gone carefully through the Appendix, and referred to other sources of information, he had made up a classification of the Navy, which he believed to be correct. In Appendix 11, the iron-clads were put down at 55. Now 55 seemed a fine total; but on looking closely into it the number dwindled down to small proportions. Three were being built. Then there were seven wooden iron-clads, of which the right hon. Gentleman himself did not the other day speak in very complimentary terms, stating, for example, with regard to the Prince Consort, 465 that it was a question, whether it would be better to repair her or build another; while he spoke of the other six as avowedly stopgaps, not knowing whether they wanted repair at that moment or not. If the right hon. Gentleman had looked into his Appendix of last year he would have seen that all those wooden iron-clads were down for repairs in 1871–2 and 1872–3. Of the 55 iron-clads, then, three were in course of building, seven were "stopgaps," and then we came to a class of unclassified sloops and gunboats, five in number. Among these figured the names of the Viper, the Vixen, and the Waterwitch, which were unable to face the sea. They were happily housed in harbour; it was a great mercy they ever got there, and no human being in his senses would dream of sending them into the open sea. Then there were in the list of iron-clads some fit only for harbour defence, and which must be handled with the greatest caution—such as the Royal Sovereign, Prince Albert, Wivern, Scorpion, Clyclops, Hecate, and Gorgon. The last item in this imposing list consisted of four floating batteries, of which one, a wooden one, was safely moored in Bermuda, and would never leave that port, while the other three had their engines partly out. These four vessels, therefore, could hardly be included in our available iron-clad Navy. The next class of vessels to which he came were the wooden ships, and those the right hon. Gentleman did not touch upon. The total number of wooden ships was put down at 348. This imposing list was headed by 38 line-of-battle ships, of which two were said to be building. They were the Robust, and the Bulwark, which had been on the stocks 14 years, were no nearer being fit for sea than 14 years ago, and he believed would never be completed as line-of-battle ships. Three others had their engines out, and should not appear among the available force of the Navy. As far as he could make out there were nine or ten which could be deemed fit for service with moderate repairs. Many of them were very old indeed. Some were never built for screws at all, and could not be expected to be fit for active service every long. Eighteen others remained, which were condemned long ago to harbour service, many having their engines out, or partly out. Thus 38 line-of-battle ships dwindled down to 10, which were of great age. As to the 28 466 steam frigates, two were now being built, one had her engines out, and one had been on sale for 12 years, being only fit for firewood, 18 were either in commission or ready to be put into commission, seven had been condemned to harbour service, and others to be sold as soon as a decent price could be got. Only 20 were therefore available, and of those one was 17 years old, only two were less than 10, and 16 varied from 10 to 17 years. Only one, the Inconstant, went 15 knots an hour, the two being built were to go 14 knots, four went 12, and 11 went from 9 to 11 knots, so that they were no great element of strength. As to the battle frigates and sloops, he was authorized by Sir Alexander Milne to say that, under the present conditions of warfare, they were only fit for towage or the transport of stores. Of our 26 corvettes, the speed of 15 averaged only 9 to 11 knots, and their age was considerable, so that they were no great addition to our strength. The 38 sloops were also aged, and of the screws three were available only for harbour service, and only 12 were of the modern type and speed, so as to be deemed fighting ships. He hoped next year the right hon. Gentleman would classify the ships, so as to show what were really fighting ships, and what only fit for harbour service, or to be sold. Of the gunboats, 28 were China gunboats, which, when he was himself in office, the Admiral in command had to repair without communicating to the Admiralty, thereby putting the Estimates out of gear, and they were all either rotten or rotting. Eighteen others were only fit for harbour defence. As to the three mortar ships, one could not be traced in the Estimates, and he presumed had been broken up, while the others he remembered as being transformed into coal hulks, and were now safely moored in the dockyard. They certainly should not have been included as part of our naval force. The right hon. Gentleman had advised caution in condemning a new type of ship such as the six frigates of the Landguard type. He was justified in giving those frigates a high character, for they were admirable vessels, and he himself was glad he defended and carried the Vote for them when in office. Caution should be displayed in laying before the House the ipsissima verba of the reports of captains on experimental trips, for if officers knew they were reporting to the House and 467 the public they would not be so frank as if reporting confidentially to the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman, misled probably by the ostensible strength of our Navy, had taken too rose-coloured a view of the powers of our dockyards in carrying out his programme. In common with most First Lords of late years, he deceived himself and the country as to the amount of tonnage which could be given to the country in the course of a year. He contemplated building 16,741 tons of shipping, and employing 5,639 men. This would present no difficulty could those men be kept to building work; but experience showed this to be impossible. A great variety of duties came within "repairs and refits." He remembered himself coming down to the House with a splendid clap-trap speech, in which he announced that the Admiralty were going to inaugurate a new policy by taking every man off repairs and putting them on the building of new vessels. Repairs and refits, however, governed the distribution and strength of the Fleet, and if the Channel Squadron came in requiring repairs the men had to be diverted thereto from less urgent work. The men were taken off the building of ships and put on repairs and refits, and therefore it was impossible to calculate the amount of tonnage which would be given to the country in any one year through the dockyards, unless a more than usual liberal allowance of men were made for repairs and refits. But the right hon. Gentleman had adopted a contrary policy, and while he put 400 more men on to the building of ships, he took 400 less for repairs. With regard to the duties of the men taken off for the repairs, he (Lord Henry Lennox) might say that we had five wooden iron-clads this year for repair which ought to have been repaired last year. The defects in those vessels had been allowed to accumulate, the vessels themselves had deteriorated, and the cost of repairing would be greater now than it would have been last year. The duties of the men told off for repairing at the Deptford Dockyard were to make good defects in the Channel Squadron, in all troopships, in all Coastguard ships and tenders, to do a variety of other work, and to break up 3,000 tons of old shipping. That was the programme laid down for one yard, which showed that the distribution of men for repairs and refits must be greatly 468 in excess of that for building, if that programme was to be carried out. But he might be told that the Committee were not bound to believe what he asserted, and would be more inclined to believe the statement of the First Lord, that 16,741 tons of shipping were going to be built by 5,639 men. Now, in February, 1870, the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) said that from the normal condition of their dockyards they ought to have annually built between 19,000 and 20,000 tons of shipping, of which 4,500 ought to be built in their dockyards, and the rest by contract. That was a policy which he (Lord Henry Lennox) entirely approved of; but let them see what had been their experience in past years, in order that they might ascertain whether the House of Commons could place any faith in the Estimate submitted to them that evening. In 1866–7 it was proposed to build 16,446 tons of shipping, with 6,632 artificers; but there were actually built only 15,142 tons. In the following year, when his right hon. Friends the Members for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) and Tyrone (Mr. Corry) were in office, it was proposed to build with 10,025 artificers, 23,544 tons of shipping; but it was only by increasing from November to April the number of men by about 1,500 that that policy was carried out. In 1868–9 it was proposed to build 14,469 tons of shipping, and 4,421 artificers were told off to do the work; but the result was that the programme was not fulfilled, the tonnage built being 14,163 tons. That the deficiency was so small was owing to the fact that in the previous year there had been laid down an enormous fleet of small vessels, and therefore the Admiralty was not called on to repair so many old wooden ships as it was before obliged to do. The next year was the year when the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) was in office, and he proposed, with 5,899 men, to build 13,483 tons of shipping; but he only built 12,895, though the right hon. Gentleman was still reaping the benefit of the fleet of small vessels which the previous Board of Admiralty had laid down, and established the Flying Squadron, so that he was consequently not called on for so many repairs. In 1870–1 the same right hon. Gentleman proposed to build 15,232 tons of shipping with 6,349 men; but, war breaking out in Europe, the men were in- 469 creased to 8,573, who were kept on from August to April. But with those increased men for eight months, instead of building the estimated tonnage, the right hon. Gentleman only managed to build 14,400 or 14,500 tons. He did not mean this as any reflection on the right hon. Member for Pontefract; but he gave it as an instance of the extreme difficulty of fixing the amount of men to do a certain amount of shipbuilding, when the men might be occasionally required for doing repairs, and he asked, could the Committee place any greater amount of reliance on the amount of tonnage which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen) now proposed to build? He might be wrong in the elaborate calculations he had made; but he should be very much mistaken indeed if the right hon. Gentleman could make out that he was right in the shipbuilding programme he had announced. In 1871–2, the right hon. Gentleman opposite professed to build 15,512 tons, with 5,203 men, with 7,500 men told off for repairs, but only some 13,000 tons were really built.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
In 1871–2 we have got 20,000 tons, or we shall have that amount up to the 1st of April, as against 21,000 in our programme.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
The right hon. Gentleman must be including contract ships; but he (Lord Henry Lennox) was speaking solely of the work done in their dockyards; and if he was not greatly mistaken the right hon. Gentleman would find that he was correct when he went back to Whitehall. But he never went near Whitehall, nor had he any communication with anybody employed there; for if he wanted any information he went to his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman proposed, with 400 men to build, and 400 less for repairs, in the year in which their fine large iron-clads were coming home for repairs, to give to the country 16,741 tons, or nearly 17,000 tons. He should be very glad next year to find that the right hon. Gentleman had carried out such a programme; but if he did he certainly would be something of a conjuror. What he had stated were reliable facts, and the Committee might draw from them what deductions they pleased. He did not place them before the Committee in any party light. Indeed, he had spoken more severely of 470 his own administration than of any other. They were facts which the Committee must take into consideration if they would know the really available strength of the Navy at present. He must express his regret that the right hon. Gentleman did not think fit to build another ironclad by contract in their private yards. He thought with the knowledge they now possessed, and considering their weakness in the number of iron-clad cruisers, such a proposal would have commended itself to the House. Under Vote 10, Section II, there was another cause for regret. He supposed it was in the amended Estimate; but he did not perceive it. The right hon. Gentleman said last year that he was going to spend £47,000 in the course of the year for unarmoured ships, leaving the remainder to be voted this year. He (Lord Henry Lennox) hoped to see in that £47,000 the nucleus of many ships, and, amongst others, of ships of the sloop or corvette class, of which they were so much in want. He regretted to see in this year's Estimate £106,345, which he supposed was the amount remaining from last year for unarmoured ships. He had nothing but praise to say of the vessels the right hon. Gentleman proposed to build in their dockyards. The right hon. Gentleman said he was going to build two iron-clads; and here again he (Lord Henry Lennox) must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having had the courage to set aside the opinion of those 16 gentlemen who, individually, he (Lord Henry Lennox) admired so much, but on whose judgment collectively he did not rely. Besides the two iron-clads, which he supposed would be something like the Sultan or Hercules type, the right hon. Gentleman proposed to build two corvettes; but he did not gather whether they were to be of the Active or Volage class.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, they would be a little larger than the Volage, in consequence of their being covered.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
supposed the right hon. Gentleman had not got the designs approved, or he could tell them the exact tonnage.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
said, the launch vessels he also approved of. As to the torpedo vessel, that was such a new kind of vessel that he could hardly say much about it, except that in this 471 matter he fancied they ought to be more advanced. But that, like too many other naval matters, had been delayed owing to the protracted inquiries which had taken up the time of the gentlemen who might otherwise have been employed in designing improvements in their ships. The right hon. Gentleman said he was going in the dockyards to clear off their building by 10,000 tons of ships, and so leave 6,700 tons to be spread among the other yards; but he was afraid the right hon. Gentleman would not advance those ships much during the year. There was another point on which he wished for information—the building of another troopship. Of what class and what tonnage would she be? Would she be like the Crocodile, fitted with every comfort and convenience for the troops? There were other topics on which he wished to have touched; but there would be plenty of opportunities of taking up any point on the different Votes. In naval matters they could not expect to be all of one mind; but, so far as he was concerned, he must say no greater privilege could be allotted to any man than to have a hand in administering the affairs of that most splendid service. And when once a man who had had that privilege, having been brought into close contact with naval officers, came into Opposition, no matter what his politics, he must lose all party feeling, and cordially co-operate in every endeavour to add to the strength and contribute to the welfare of the service.
§ CAPTAIN F. EGERTON
said, bethought the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty did wisely in increasing the Monarch and Sultan class of vessels, which were of an extremely useful character. He also very much approved the measures his right hon. Friend proposed to take for the education and training of naval officers. Perhaps the Royal Naval College might have been allowed to remain at Portsmouth; but when they had such a large building at command, which had for so many years been devoted to naval purposes, considering also the great economy of the measure, he had no doubt it would be satisfactory to the Navy to find the education of the officers transferred to Greenwich Hospital. There was one class of officers who, he thought, had claims for more rapid promotion than they received—he meant sub-lieutenants. After passing their examination, they 472 were detained four or five years in a very inferior rank, with very little chance of promotion. He was glad to hear that something was to be done for the education of young officers, and that they were not to be compelled, as hitherto, to go to the "crammers" for the education they required.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, it was gratifying to observe that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty had not entered on his new duties in any niggardly spirit, and that his programme with regard to stores was satisfactory. He doubted, however, if he could reconcile the country to his statement with regard to our unserviceable iron-clads because France was similarly situated in that respect to ourselves. The country had a right to demand that her unserviceable iron-clads should be replaced by serviceable ships without reference to the state and condition of the Navy of any other country. The discussion of the Navy Estimates ought to be conducted annually without reference to any other country; for he believed it was such comparisons that led to jealousy between different countries, which resulted in a rivalry that led to enormous unnecessary expenditure. He was surprised to hear the statement of the First Lord with reference to the Devastation, because she was the least suitable for home service. She drew 28 feet, and she was built at an enormous cost to enable her to carry 1,600 tons of coals, and be able to perform distant voyages.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he had been misunderstood. He had always said that the probability was that the Devastation would be employed, if war should ever arise, in fighting pitched battles in the Channel.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, if she was to be employed in fighting battles in the Channel he could not understand why she was built to carry so much coal. They were told that the surplus of £70,000 of unexpended Votes had been spent in renewing the stores; but it must be remembered that their reduction had been offered to the House as a great proof of the economical policy of the Government. As these stores were renewed out of the surplus arising from the unfinished work of contractors, the unexpended Votes must be re-voted; therefore, there was no saving at all, and the country had been deluded. Much had been said during the last year or two 473 about the Naval Reserves. If it was important that there should be an efficient Army Reserve, it was far more important that there should be an efficient Naval Reserve. The First Reserve—namely, the Coastguard, had been weeded, and doubtless was now composed of efficient seamen; but in point of numbers the force was ridiculously small. The Naval Reserve was in a failing condition. They were told it was this year 13,000 men, but last year it was 14,800, which showed of itself the unpopularity of the service, and he should like to test the accuracy of the First Lord's statement, that 20 per cent of the 10 years' service men who left the service joined the Naval Reserve. When the Vote came on for consideration he should certainly question the Vote more closely. It was not a comforting sign to find that the Naval Reserve was diminishing in numbers. Naval Reserve men complained that they did not know who were their masters—whether they were under the control of the Board of Trade or the Admiralty. He did not think that the Naval Reserve included in large numbers the best men of the Mercantile Marine, and he doubted in case of emergency if more than one-third of the force could be made available. He would recommend that the Reserve should be put under the Admiralty; that there should be in each port an Admiralty officer of a certain rank with his own office; and that every Naval Reserve man should enter himself there, and be connected with a particular ship. The men ought to be annually trained on board a particular ship, to which they should consider themselves to be specially attached. By this means a great deal of the unpopularity and the inconveniences which at present prevented men from joining the Reserve would be removed. He regreted to hear that greater efforts were not about to be made to provide additional gunboats for harbour defence. They now had 18 gunboats built or near completion, and it was proposed to increase that number by eight during the present year. In his opinion, however, the country would not be satisfied with so slight an extension of our home defences. Considering that the Coastguard was at the lowest point; that they had a declining Naval Reserve; and that the Reserve of Pensioners was an admitted failure, he could not regard the right hon. Gentle- 474 man's statement as satisfactory. In bygone times they trusted to the British tars, but now the question of Reserves was of immense and increasing importance because the use of steam was unfavourable to the formation of real sailors. The engine-room was no nursery for British seamen, to whom in times to come they would have to look, as they had done in former days, for the maintenance of the honour and the dignity of the country.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
said, there had been great stagnation in the promotion of officers since the introduction of the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), and he asked what steps it was proposed to take with a view of remedying this defect. He had little doubt that a considerable number of captains would be willing to retire if adequate inducements were offered to them. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty proposed to re-establish the Royal Naval Volunteers, and he trusted they would be of more use than their predecessors. Some years ago he had to convey some of these Volunteers along the coast of Ireland, and nearly all of them were so sea-sick that he did not know what to do with them.
§ MR. MACFIE
pointed out that the right hon. Gentleman had not alluded to the defence of the outlying parts of the Empire, and expressed a hope that he would take an early opportunity to inform the Committee what naval forces at the disposal of the Empire had been provided by the colonies. He also wished to know whether the projected collegiate establishment at Greenwich would be extended for the benefit of the Mercantile Marine?
§ MR. CHILDERS
sincerely thanked his right hon. Friend for the clear statement, and, speaking generally, the sound proposals he had made to-night. His right hon. Friend appeared to have gone most thoroughly into those great questions which, during the last few years, had so much agitated the country. There were one or two points in regard to which he should like on a future occasion to ask a question or two; but he was glad to say that, so far as the main features of the statement were concerned, he should give a cordial support to his right hon. Friend. On the question of the improved education for the naval 475 service, he thanked him sincerely for having taken up in so thorough a spirit the Report of the Committee he (Mr. Childers) had appointed, and which reported in 1870, although there would probably be considerable difficulty in increasing the age at which cadets were to enter the Navy. On this point, the testimony of naval officers was most conflicting. On the other hand, he felt convinced that his right hon. Friend's proposal to establish a great naval college to which all ranks of the service would be able to go was a most admirable one. Allusion had been made to what was popularly called a "scheme" of retirement proposed by him in 1870. He did not much like the word "scheme," because, as a matter of fact, the orders of 1870 provided for an entirely new set of regulations with respect to promotion, retirement, and half-pay; and he was gratified to find that, although those orders had stood the test of two most difficult years, his right hon. Friend had found it necessary to alter them only to a very slight extent. Even in this respect, the proposals with regard to sub-lieutenants had been in an advanced state before he left the Admiralty. As to the programme which his right hon. Friend had explained that evening, he concurred with him generally, and he was glad to hear of the intended improvement in the Volage. With regard to dockyards, also, he did not question that he was about to take the right amount of provision under Vote 6, although he was of opinion his right hon. Friend hardly laid sufficient stress on the advantage of contracting for a certain amount of annual tonnage, and he did not quite concur with his doctrine as to the status of mere great Government establishments.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
briefly replied to some of the Questions which had been put to him in the course of the discussion. In answer to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Macfie), he stated that the officers of the merchant service might be present at the lectures which would be given at Greenwich Hospital; while, with respect to the Devastation, to which the hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) had alluded, he said that, although in the case of an European war it was desirable large ships of her class should be kept close at hand for the purpose of fighting a pitched battle, she would be capable of going across the 476 Atlantic and fighting a pitched battle there also. The noble Lord the Member for Chichester (Lord Henry Lennox), he might add, seemed to think that the Admiralty were not likely to be able to carry out the programme which had been sketched for the present year; but that programme, he must remind him, differed from that of other years, inasmuch as there would be more building of wooden than iron ships, the former being less costly. As to the list in the Appendix to the Estimate being delusive, as the noble Lord seemed to suppose, he could only say that that list was given in the usual form, and that it did not appear, on the face of it, to be a list of available ships. The noble Lord also asked a Question with regard to the Vote for machinery, and the discrepancy to which he had referred was due to three sets of engines having been ordered and to the amount on boilers not having been expended. As to naval retirements, an Order in Council had been issued, and he hoped the stagnation in promotion in the ranks of commander and lieutenant would be removed. A large number of sub-lieutenants had, he might add, been promoted.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ (2.) £2,674,145, Wages, &c.
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow. Committee to sit again To-morrow.