Mr. Speaker, I rise to call the attention of this honourable House to the present condition and management of Her Majesty's Dockyards; and I should wish, in the first place, to explain to the House my reasons for bringing forward this question at the present moment, when the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty is about to make his Report upon the Navy Estimates. I am fully aware that the House would be far more pleased to listen to his voice than to hear what I have to say. For that reason I should wish to put myself right with the House, and to explain to it the grounds on which I have risen before my right hon. Friend. In the first place, then, I not only speak for myself, but for a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who are extremely desirous that their intentions should not be mistaken, and that any observations which may fall from myself or front them this evening might not be supposed to be a comment upon the Report of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord. Had we waited until we had heard his Statement, then such an opinion might have been formed of the observations which we are about to make. Another reason is, Sir, that I hold that this House is mainly responsible for the system which now prevails in Her Majesty's Dockyards; that that system is seriously defective, and dangerously impairs the material power of the British Navy; that it has not been 820 founded upon any military necessity, but chiefly upon political expediency; and for this reason I think that now that in this House the military or rather the naval element is strongly represented, it is our duty, and high time to step forward and endeavour to show to this House the dangers of the system which has been pursued. Sir, the personnel of this House has of late been greatly changed; and for that reason, also, I contend that it is desirable that hon. Members should have laid before them, at the earliest possible moment, the condition of the Dockyards; in fact, that as trustees of that property, they should take stock of what is handed over to them before forming any judgment as regards the Navy Estimates which are about to be proposed. Again, I hold, Sir, that the observations which may be made this night will not affect the amount of the Estimates. They will not affect the amount of the Expenditure, but they will affect the mode of applying the moneys which this House may think proper to grant for the support of the Navy of this country; and I therefore think that those observations, coming before the Statement of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord, may enable him to judge whether in the mode of applying the amount of money that may be voted he may not see, in this earliest stage of his administration, the means by which something may be done towards remedying the evils which I am about to complain of. Another reason for my rising is that I consider the system has completely broken down as shown by the important changes which have taken place since the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) became the First Lord of the Admiralty. I trust that my right hon. Friend the present First Lord of the Admiralty will believe me when I say that all hon. Members of this House who belong to the naval service of the country have entire confidence in him. More than that we are pleased to think and to know that he brings to the office of First Lord of the Admiralty a practical turn of mind. We feel that the Navy has been too long dealt with theoretically, and we are glad to think that we have at the head of the Department a Gentleman who comes without prejudice to his work, and who, I believe, will bring practical 821 views to bear in its performance. I have no doubt that he would make inquiries for himself, but surrounded as he is by a permanent Staff connected with the system which now prevails. I think it is unnatural to suppose that he will have these errors which I am about to point out brought before him by others so readily as he will be likely to hear them from me—the permanent Staff would be more likely to stifle than promote inquiry. On that point I would like to quote an expression, in which I perfectly agree, which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), but who I regret is not now in his place. He said before the Select Committee of 1861—There is beneath, in the lower regions of the Department, the ris inertiœ and the resistance of the great superstructure of officialism, that permanent, obstructive, and irresponsible body which so largely controls the Board, and represents so many external private interests the motive cause of so many indefensible jobs.If this existed in a Department the heads of which were old and tried servants of great experience—who had not been selected under one Government, but under each as it came into power—is it not likely that the permanent Staff of this Department, which I may say is almost entirely indebted for its existence to the late Government, would offer still greater resistance to the First Lord than that described by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax? I expressed the opinion that Parliament was mainly responsible for the system that prevails in our Dockyards, and my reasons for expressing that opinion are founded on the evidence which Hansard affords of the debates in this House, and in the Reports of the Committees of Inquiry which have been made during the last 10 years. There was a Committee on Economy in our Dockyards in 1859, and more than 10 years ago a Royal Commission inquired into the control and management of our Dockyards. There was also a Select Committee on Admiralty Administration in 1861, and a Select Committee to inquire into Admiralty moneys and accounts in 1868. Now, Sir, these inquiries were asked for by a particular section of this House, forming a powerful party both within and without this House, and if you look through the whole of the evidence you will find there was not a single question asked 822 as to whether or not this or that measure affected the military power of the Royal Navy. As there is no digest of any of the evidence taken before the Committees or the Royal Commission it is difficult for me to prove my case. I have, however, waded through the evidence, and no doubt other hon. Members have done the same, and so far as I can see, the Reports are not supported by the evidence. I see pervading all the inquiries nothing but an effort to disparage the Dockyards, and that the object to be attained was simply what I call disestablishment, and also to confiscate the moneys from their legitimate purpose—namely, that all the money voted for Dockyards should be spent within the establishments, and not for the benefit of the private trade of the country. I shall be able to show many good reasons why it should not be done. In calling it disestablishment, I mean that the labourers in the Dockyards, instead of being established men, in the service of the Crown, are hired men able at a week's notice to leave the work on which they are employed. In Vote 6, to be proposed this year, it will be found that for the Dockyards there was to be a sum of £1,180,376 asked for, while no less than £1,851,067 was to be distributed among the contractors of this country, so that half of the whole amount proposed to be voted, nay the larger half, would go into the pockets of the private shipbuilders. I do not know whether I may say that coming events east their shadows before, but I found a very startling statement on the Dockyard question in The Times newspaper of the 4th inst.—Happily we have outlived at least one of our troubles in these matters. There is no longer any 'Dockyard mystery' to irritate economists and perplex the public. We no longer hear much even of Dockyard extravagance.Feeling that it is an inspired article is the reason why I have quoted from it, and I am not surprised to find that at last those who have brought our Dockyards almost to a state of disestablishment should wish to be allowed to "rest and be thankful." We have had signs of disestablishment in Woolwich and Deptford Dockyards. I was at Pembroke the other day, and it looked very much to my mind, as a Dockyard officer, as if Pembroke is to follow in the same direction. I also see the same 823 signs at Sheerness, and when I hear of a civilian superintendent, and when I know as a fact that the great originator of the system which now prevails had actually recommended to the Admiralty that all the men in the Dockyards should be disestablished, that the establishment should cease altogether, and that we should trust entirely to hired labour, I say that I am justified in the supposition that I have expressed. If we look to the United States of America, and if we turn to the evidence and the Reports of the Secretary to the Navy you will find there what America has experienced during the late War ought to be a warning to this country. I have referred to those Reports because we are often called on to look to the United "States as an example. I have stated that in my opinion the present system has proved most fatal in its results, and a noble Duke has stated in "another place," that our Dockyards are the backbone of the Navy, and that if we wanted a lest of the material power of those establishments we could not do so better than by counting the number of men on the establishment lists. Now, I believe that this House will agree with me that the noble Duke is an authority on naval affairs, and whilst on one side he tests the material power for war of these establishments by the number of established men on the lists of the Dockyards, we have the late Controller of the Navy actually recommending to the Board of Admiralty to disestablish the Dockyards altogether. In the Estimates for this year, I find that we have on the establishment lists the names of 6,080 men, and on the hired list, 8,220 men, and taking the amount of money which it is proposed to spend in building ships by contract, and having taken the opinion of a very efficient officer who has given rue the number of men required for that purpose at 4,000, there are 18,300 men to be employed this year in building and repairing Her Majesty's ships, out of which 6,000 only are on the establishment. Is not this, I ask, partial disestablishment? But, Sir, I shall come to that subject again presently. I have said that this is an opportune time for bringing this subject before the House, and I would wish to explain my reasons more fully with regard to it. At the late Election hon. Members on both sides of the House in their addresses to their con- 824 stituents deemed it a very popular thing to advocate the maintenance of Her Majesty's military and naval establishments. Now, Sir, I ask any hon. Member who is likely to reply to me to-night, what is meant by maintaining the establishments of the Crown? Is it to be done by hired men who will be at liberty to leave their work any day they like, or does it not mean to maintain these establishments, as they have hitherto been maintained, by engaging the permanent service of the working-classes? If these addresses were favourably received by the constituencies, I have a right to claim from this House—returned, and as it were pledged, to maintain these establishments—that they should look well into this question and see whether these establishments, as at present existing, are in that state of preparation for a sudden outbreak of war that they ought to be; that they are intended to be; and which I believe the country believes thorn to be from the representations that have been made. Another reason why I think it expedient that this subject should be discussed thus early and before the Navy Estimates are taken into consideration is, as I stated just now, that in my opinion the system which has been introduced has completely broken down—the system originated out of the Royal Commission of 1861. At any rate, we have it in evidence on the loss of the Megæra, and we have heard it from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) that he took the advice of the late Controller of the Navy, and that he carried out his scheme with regard to Admiralty reform almost entirely in its details. The right hon. Gentleman could have done nothing else I suppose in a matter of the kind than to take the advice of his naval colleagues. The system is fully stated in the Report of the Royal Commission of 1861, and it says—The control and management of the Dockyards is inefficient. This inefficiency may be attributed to the following causes:—1st, the constitution of the Board of Admiralty; 2nd, the defective organization of the subordinate departments; 3rd, the want of clear and well-defined responsibility; 4th, the absence of any means, both now and in times past, of effectually checking expenditure, from the want of accurate accounts.The Report recommends, with a view to remedying these alleged defects, that a 825 Minister of the Navy Department should be appointed; and it goes on to recommend the appointment of a Controller General, who should have almost unlimited power over most of the establishments connected with the Admiralty. It so happens that this system was introduced and carried out under the most favourable auspices as regards the late Controller of the Navy, inasmuch as he himself was appointed Controller General. What occurred? We were told that the first advantage to be derived by the change was direct responsibility. A most lamentable occurrence happened shortly after the loss of the Captain; and what did we find? Why, we found that the Controller General threw the responsibility on the shoulders of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and up to this day it has never yet been brought home who was responsible for that sad affair. I am not going to leave anything in doubt with regard to my opinion. I speak in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontfract. Captain Coles was a great friend of mine; and I for one consider it was a cruel injury to endeavour to settle the responsibility on the shoulders of the right hon. Gentleman. I hold him entirely irresponsible. I also hold that Captain Coles was irresponsible, for it can be proved in the numerous letters that he wrote that he positively refused to have anything to do with the naval architectural qualities of that ship. I shall say no more upon that subject, except that it shows that the system broke down in one of the first recommendations made—namely, the establishment of direct responsibility. Then, also, in the case of the Magara it was impossible to establish direct responsibility. It is only to look into the working of the other portion of the system to see that it has also broken down. I am aware that this is not an interesting subject to this House; but I have a duty to perform. I know that I have difficulties to encounter, and to contend against vested interests which are strongly represented here and also outside the House. Sir, the chief objections which I hold to the present system are the transfer of the work to private firms; the hired system of workmen; the redundant accounts and returns; and the insufficient stock in hand of imperishable stores. The right hon. Gentle- 826 man the Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) will not, I am sure, feel hurt if I attribute in a great degree to him the carrying out of a system of accounts, and of the store supply of the Navy. The right hon. Gentleman has expressed himself strongly upon the satisfactory results obtained by that system. He has spoken of measures which he designates as being of a magnitude and importance unexampled in history; and has said that his consolation for the change of opinion which had been exhibited by the late Election was that not one of those grand achievements would ever be called in question. Well, Sir, I am afraid I have already commenced to call in question one of those "grand achievements;" and I say that the fault, as it appears to me, lies entirely in the misconceived notion that the Dockyards are to be dealt with as commercial establishments, and in the fact of legislators having lost sight of the military element which, in all matters connected with these departments, ought to be first considered. I will refer to these establishments under two heads—first, as regards their matériel; and, next, as regards their personnel; and, in each case, I think I shall be able to prove that neither as to economy nor efficiency is the present system at all satisfactory. Now, Sir, these Dockyards are very valuable property. If you were to capitalize them, their value—without overstating the case—would be between £50,000,000 and £100,000,000. They are placed in trust of this House; and this House appoints stewards to take care of that valuable property. Now, if they are to be dealt with as commercial establishments, would not commercial men consider it their duty to endeavour, to the utmost possible extent, to turn that vast property to the most profitable account? Would they not try, in every way, to realize the largest amount of profits out of those establishments? If they received orders to build ships, would they hand them over to other firms—to that of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda), or any other firm of shipbuilders? Would they pay interest on the capital of that private shipbuilder, while they allowed their own property to be fallow? A great question is involved, and if is this—You have from 50,000,000 to 100,000,000 of money, and the more 827 work you can do, the move likely you are to pay a profit upon the capital invested; but if you take only half the work you could do, and have the remainder done by private firms, are you not betraying your trust to this country? I am not a financier, but I can understand that; and I want to know how it is that the present state of things has been brought about. I shall presently hear some reason advanced for it, I dare say; but, as yet, I have not heard a good reason why we should deal with these establishments, if they are to be treated as commercial concerns, differently from what any commercial man would deal with his own establishment, or with his own capital, if it were invested in property of this kind. Supposing there were no great shipbuilding firms on this side of the channel, and there were such firms on the other side, would this House be prepared, for a moment, to hand over to the shipbuilders of France and Belgium the building of ships which now fall into the hands of private contractors in this country, so long as we had plenty of space in our Dockyards? I say, No, Sir. Why, then, should we do it to contractors in this country, if it is not done for the purpose of benefiting a particular class of trade? Sir, I have heard this side of the House accused of class legislation; but if that is not class legislation, I do not know what it is. It is only one class that is benefited—namely, the great shipbuilding class of this country—the great contractors for scores in this country: while all the vest of the community suffers. If you deteriorate the value of your property—if in fact, you put money, which ought to go into the public Exchequer, into the pockets of a particular class instead, then I maintain you are neglecting your duty—those who are acting as stewards of the property, are neglecting their duty to this House, and the Board of Admiralty, who are the stewards, will have to render an account of their stewardship. I have heard as one reason for this—that you ought to train the men, in these establishments, in the art of building ships-of-war. Now, Sir, is there any hon. Member of this House who would get up and say that if a war broke out to-morrow, we should have time to build one of our large ships before the war was ended? The war would, in all probability, break out with sudden- 828 ness, and end with equal suddenness; and I question whether, even within a fortnight's time of the declaration of war, the supremacy of the sea would not be decided in the Channel if the war were with any of the European maritime Powers. In what condition do you now find your Dockyards? You find them, in some of the most important elements of storage, with not six months' stores; and if two or three ships were commissioned to-morrow, you would not have enough to supply them with. Out of 18,000 men employed you have only 6,000 in the establishment. The other 12,000 are trades unionists. Your factories are full of trades unionists; and they have told you as much in the memorials they have sent to the Admiralty. These very men have actually come forward to teach the Government what they ought to do, and why they ought to do it. They say—" Place us on the establishment; "and they have given their reason why they should be so placed.
It was presented in 1859. There was more than one memorial addressed to the Committee on Dockyards from workmen at Portsmouth and other yards, all of them being equally strong. Here is one front Portsmouth. It states that labour being a marketable commodity those obtain the best description of work who pay the best price for it and hold forth a prospect of permanent employment, and that the Government by adding superannuation would obtain what is most desired by masters—namely, good, steady, and industrious workmen. I will not trouble the House further on this point as the Report of the Committee is in the hands of hon. Members; but I may observe that the memorials from these workmen show in every way why they consider it desirable for the benefit of the country at large that they should be placed on the establishment. Before I was asked the question to which I have now given an answer, I was remarking on the difficulty in which we might be placed in the event of war by the present system pursued at the Dockyards with regard to our unprepared state for war. If you look back to the Crimean War you will find that the Russian fleets were blockaded during the whole war, And 829 why? Because we produced an overpowering naval Force at the very commencement of the war, and they never dared to come ant to sea. What would occur if the Dockyards were left as they are now? You have 6,000 men on the establishment, and you have 12,000 hired men; 8,000 of these being in your Dockyards, and 4,000 out of them. By doing away with the hired system you would have a force of 18,000 workmen, skilled and disciplined, in your own Dockyards, available for any emergency. It would not cost you a penny this year, the only eventual cost being, that you would have to pay the men their pensions earlier than they receive them at present. Are you not helping to make the men discontented when, giving them what is called a pension, you do not count time for it till they reach the age of 40 years? It is a farce to tell them they will have a pension under a rule like that, for a man might be 15 years on the hired list before being put on the establishment, and hired time does not count for pension. It is a farce to say that a man shall have a maximum pension of £60 a-year when he has reached the age of 60 years, when at the same time you prevent his serving long enough to obtain it. Suppose you do not put these men on the established list, and a war breaks out, what may happen? They will probably strike to a man for higher wages. This has happened before: and to a certain degree I was the cause of it. Not many years ago I was visiting the French naval forts, and observing the great activity going on there, I came home at once and acquainted the First Lord of the Admiralty with the fact. A Supplementary Vote was taken; and the Achilles, the largest ship we then had building, was ordered to be hastened forward. The workmen got the hint that something was wanted, and they immediately struck for wages. They knew there was some threatened danger, and they turned the occasion to their own advantage, as they thought. What had we to do? Father than hold to these men who struck for wages, we discharged them, and we put in their place the established shipwrights—all of them experienced only in wooden ship-building—and they built the Achilles; and the First Lord of the Admiralty complimented them on the excellency of their workmanship. It is worthy of remark 830 that Dockyard men have never been known, on any one occasion, when placed on the establishment, to threaten to break their contract with the Government. They have been loyal to the Government at all times—in peace and in war, and have never, during wartime, talked of higher wages. Therefore I say that the difference between the efficiency of our naval administration now, and what it would be if the men were all placed on the established list, is beyond description; the advantages would be so incalculable to the Government and the country. If you are going to keep up the hired system, my experience induces me to say that you had better at once commercialize the Dockyards altogether, and hand them over to the private firms. Where your men may discharge themselves at a week's notice, you cannot have proper discipline. You are even obliged to submit to bad workmanship. First of all, you do not get skilled workmen to enter. I have ascertained from officers in the Dockyards that they get an inferior class of men—that is to say, less skilled. "We have to put him to machinery," said my informants, "when he first comes to the factory, and we have to teach him his work; and after being there a few years, he becomes a skilled workman. If you do not give him exactly what he wishes for—if you do not put him on the highest rate of pay—he goes off to a private builder's yard, and you have to begin again with teaching unskilled men." In fact, these factories are nurseries for the private tirade. Another objection is this:—Out of the 8,000 hired men, you have no selection for officers. You make your selection only from the established list. The men on the hired list are certainly expecting to get on the established one; but "Hope long deferred makes the heart sick," and no wonder there is discontent in the Dockyards. They have not the same social position in the town where they live, nor do they enjoy the same credit that the established men command. Therefore, in every sense of the word, it is desirable that the hired system should be discontinued. I fear I am wearying the House, but I trust that as this is the first time I have had the honour of addressing it, hon. Members will grant me that indulgence which they are always generously disposed to give on such occa- 831 sions. By this system of subsidizing the private trade, the Government get no return for it, except it be an inferior article, and that not at a less price. I have read all the Reports on the subject, with a view to ascertain whether we get the work done at a less price than we could do it for ourselves; but I find that exactly the contrary is the case, and I hold that, unless you add to the price of labour and material some extraordinary percentage for what is called "Establishment charges," it cannot be possible that the cost should be greater in the Dockyards than it is. I know that complaints have been made that Dockyard men on daily pay have been found skulking, and that it has been said supervision was wanted to prevent that. But what did they do at the very time they complained of the want of supervision? They took away the Inspectors from the Dockyards. In the present Estimates I find a charge of £10,000 to be devoted to defraying the expenses of Inspectors to watch the building of ships in the private yards; so that you take away your own supervision and hand it over to the private firms. These Inspectors must necessarily be men of great discernment to be capable of watching building operations in private shipyards. In one of these yards, which I visited the other day, I found that a ship was being built there entirely tinder sub-contracts, the sub-contracting parties being, for the most part, men who had risen from the ranks, with little or no education, and having undergone no competitive examination. They were men with a turn for making money, and after taking these sub-contracts they employed the labour. There were some 20 or 30, perhaps as many as 40, sub-contractors engaged on that vessel—every man interested in doing his work in such a manner as to make the most profit for himself. I maintain that you do not get the work done cheaper in the private shipyards. It is only due to those professional officers who are experienced in these matters to say so. I was once Superintendent of a Dockyard myself; and I found by my experience that you do not get a cheaper article in the private dockyard. But suppose, for the sake of argument, you do get as cheap an article, there are several reasons why the present system should not continue; and some of them I have 832 already mentioned. As regards the perfection of the workmanship, we have only to refer to the evidence of all experience, and we ought to have learnt a lesson in the loss sustained on the gunboats in the Crimean War. It was only the other day that I received a letter from Bermuda; and as it is dated the 11th January, it is evident that the letter was not prepared for the present occasion. It is written by an officer, and he says that—The captain hits been on shore for the last fortnight on account of his cabin being in such a defective state, all around it, there being nothing but dry rot." (The vessel is Her Majesty's ship Niobe.) "But consider the Plover—Commissoned the same day as this ship, she was so rotten that she had to be patched up in order that she might be sent home with safety.
This year; either in January or February, I cannot make out which. The writer goes on to say—Our boilers were in such a bad state that our stoker actually put his fingers through while he was feeling for something the other day.
I believe she was. But if she was not, the case still shows that our stores were so defective that, for the first time in the history of the Navy, we built ships with bad timber. Now, Sir, I have dealt with the matériel; and I next propose to refer to the personnel our Dockyards. I have said that the fluctuating number of workmen at the Dockyards, taking the average of the past few years, may be put down at 2,000 or 3,000; and what I suggest is that, out of the total number of 18,000 men employed, 15,000 of them might be placed on the Establishment. That would make our Dockyards three times as powerful as they are at present, according to the opinion of the noble Duke I before referred to, besides the advantage to the Government and the country of having the men under control: and I regard the question of discipline as a most important one. The only mode of punishing a workman is to keep him from coming into the dockyard for a few days, or discharge him. But if the workman is a hired one, you have no control over him whatever, 833 Only a short time since an occurrence took place in a private building yard, which might as easily happen in one of our own Dockyards. The officer whose duty it was to superintend such matters, went to complain of some rivets that had been improperly secured, and he was nearly "lynched" by the workmen before he left the yard. During the Russian War the workmen received 10s. and 15s. a-day, and their demoralized state, when they were receiving those wages in the private yards, was such as to offer an example to us that we ought to provide against. I believe I shall be borne out by the recollection of hon. Members when I say that those men were in such a demoralized state that it was only with great difficulty the private shipbuilders could get their contracts completed. The question is, whether you would have such men to deal with in case of war, or disciplined, skilled workmen, who would never fail in time of need? Now, Sir, I am told that, independent of the question of cheapness of work, and independent of the question of teaching shipbuilders in the private trade to build men-of-war, we should encourage the growth of plant in private yards. But surely it would be bettor to put the plant into our own yards. The argument is this—"If you employ private builders, they will enlarge their establishments; they will get more plant into their yards, and will be more ready to serve you at the outbreak of war." But why should we not put the plant into our own yards? It is curious that the annual requisition of the officers for machinery to make the Dockyards more productive, is a requisition that is always scratched out at the Admiralty; and I have ascertained within the last few days that it was intentionally done. Not only are we disestablishing the Dockyards, but they are intended gradually to become simply repairing yards, or perhaps there might be a ship or two built in them. If you go down to Portsmouth, Devonport, or Chatham, you walk almost through a wilderness, so little seems to be going on; and at Keyham we have 14 acres of boiler ground not utilized, while we are paying 20 per cent more to contractors than we can make boilers for ourselves. I have that on the very highest authority, and I could name other stores which, as regards the comparative cheapness of 834 manufacture, have been tested very closely; and the evidence was much in favour of the cheapness of manufacture in the Government establishments. If that be the case, the three points of objection raised to the Dockyards have fallen to the ground; but I will leave-some of my supporters to deal with those questions further when they are raised. As regards plant, there is a further point connected with the docks. I was at Pembroke the other day, where the Fury, one of our largest ships is building. A requisition was made that the Dockyard authorities should be allowed to widen the bottom of the dock in order that the Fury might be completed there, because she could not be so completed on account of the dock being too narrow. An estimate was made—it was very small in amount—and yet it was refused. That ship will have to be sent from Pembroke to another yard. All the iron plates are to be bent at Pembroke, and then the plates and the vessel will be sent to another yard where she will go into dock in order to have these plates put on. Then she will return to Pembroke to be finally completed; and the expense of all that will be quite as great as the cost of enlarging the dock at Pembroke would have been. I ask, why these refusals are given? Is it in pursuance of the system of disestablishing our Dockyards, and of going to war in future by contract. In regard to dock accommodation, it has been known that, even in times of peace, ships have been compelled to wait a considerable time in order to get into the docks. At Sheerness there is a deep water inlet of the sea admirably situated for the repair of any North Sea Fleet; and by an arrangement of having two docks thrown into one, you would have a deep water dock that any ship could go into even if she were sunk below her usual water-line. I see no attempt made in that direction; but I see great centralization at Chatham. I question now whether, looking at all things, it would not have been wiser to have retained Woolwich Dockyard. Chatham is not too large for our wants if we only utilized the place; but while we are going on employing private contractors, I cannot see why we should have enlarged the Dockyard at Chatham. Another feature of this system is the breaking up of ships. We have been breaking up ships by contract, 835 or we have been selling them to be broken up. The Report of 1868, which goes fully into this subject, appears to have been totally lost sight of, and we are still pursuing the old system. Here is a case which came to my knowledge yesterday. A vessel, perfectly sound—the Pelican—was sold for £5,000; and she was re-sold to the Portuguese Government for £40,000. It was always known that, in the breaking up of ships, the price of the wood paid for the work.
The information is contained in a Return asked for by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Seely) in 1867.
If the right hon. Gentleman is inquisitive, he will find all the information contained in the correspondence. These vessels were often sold for a small sum, and the Government sometimes bought back the copper which was taken from them. There was one case in which we sold a vessel for £300, and then paid £1,500 for the copper upon her; and, as the late Controller is reported to have said, it would have been better to have burnt the vessel, and allowed the copper to fall out in the Dockyard. The breaking up of those ships is a valuable feature in the Dockyard. It occupies labour; it increases the number of men you have there at the outbreak of war; and it gives them the opportunity of making higher wages, because you can break up a ship by task and job work. It is work to which you can put your men at any time if you happen to have a slack week or so; and yet these vessels have been sold wholesale to the private trade in the manner which I have described. There is another point to which I wish to allude—the employment of the Reserves of our Elect when at home in working in the Dockyards, and in performing the work which ought to be done by Dockyard labourers. I have been told lately that this is not so, because these men are employed in the Steam Reserve, and that only ships whose repairs are completed are in the Steam Reserve. But every ship that is not actually at the time being in the hands of the Dockyard is in the Steam Reserve; and these men, while in the 836 home ports instead of being employed for the benefit of the naval service and being instructed in their own duties, are employed in the Dockyards. I say that in employing these men in Dockyards you are doing a great detriment to the service. These men have been sailing abroad. You have them collected together at home for one year, and instead of taking that opportunity of improving their discipline and increasing their instruction, you put them into the Dockyards to supply the labour of the yards. I say that that is a most objectionable system. It is time when you have abolished hulks, even as habitations for convicts, that you should abolish them as habitations for the seamen in your Navy. I hope the question of naval barracks will soon receive the attention of Parliament; and I believe it is from want of naval support here that the subject has not before been taken up. I now come to the question of pay and pension in the Dockyards. I have said that if the men are well paid you will encourage good men to come to you. That is the best test of whether the pay of your Dockyard men is sufficient. If you find that the best class of men desire to enter the service, you may depend upon it that the men are sufficiently paid; if you find that you only get an inferior class of men you may depend upon it that they are not sufficiently paid. I am not going to deal with the question of the actual pay; but I must say here, in presence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen), that I believe that while he was at the Admiralty, if he had not the opportunity or power, he had the heart to have done all that he could for the good of the service with regard to the pay of the men, and that he acted to the best of his ability so far as he was advised. There were different ways of giving the advance of pay which he conceded; but it so happens that the way in which it has been done has raised old questions, and has made certain classes of men discontented. I hold Petitions in my hand from 10 different classes of workmen in the Dockyards complaining of the irregularity and injustice with which they have been treated in the late increase of pay. It was my intention to-night to have moved for an Inquiry into these matters; but looking to the advanced state of the Session, and to 837 the fact that it would probably be next year before a Report could be made, I am induced not to move for a Committee of Inquiry but to be satisfied with the assurance I have received, that every just claim will be fairly considered by the First Lord of the Admiralty. Now with regard to pensions, I have a few remarks to make. I say that the men do not get the pensions which are held out to them, because you do not allow them to come into the established class until they are too old to reap the full advantage. I find by tables showing the payments required for different amounts of pensions, that a man of 21 years of age entering the Navy, can receive £40 a-year at 60 years of age, by a payment of 2½d. a-day. I find that every man in the Dockyard may be insured against accident by a payment of a halfpenny a-day, and for that he would receive £ 1 a-week for six months if disabled, and £100 for his family, if killed. That is, a sum of 3d. would secure for each man a pension of £40 at 60 years of age, £1 a-week for six months if he were injured, and £100 for his family if he were killed. I think this mode of dealing with the question of pensions is well worthy of the attention of my right hon. Friend. I have already said that stores are not sufficiently supplied, and as regards the question of purchase, there is no doubt that we have sold stores out of our Dockyards at very low prices, and shortly afterwards repurchased stores of the same character at high prices. I do not think that is in the spirit of economy. I think that in the purchase of stores what we chiefly require is publicity, and that if we advertised more the prices that we pay for stores, we would by that means get better stores at lower prices. I hold the joining of the offices of master shipwright, engineer, and storekeeper, to have been not only a great mistake, but to have proved a dead failure. I have often heard great economists say that the expending officer ought not to be the custodian of his own stores, but that is exactly what has been done. When I was at Portsmouth Dockyard, when ships came in for repair, the officers had to send up an estimate of the cost of repair. It was afterwards found that the estimates in some cases were exceeded, and the officers got a severe reprimand. On the next occasion, not wishing to be reprimanded, the officers opened up the 838 ship to make sure of their estimate, and then the expenditure upon the ship was considered to be so great that they got another reprimand. There have been, however, no reprimands of late, and on enquiring why, I was told that the officers so managed the labour and the ships' stores, that they rectified the expenditure, and everybody was contented at the end of the year. Had I been in the place of these officers I would have done the same thing. We have a book supplied to this House called the Parliamentary Blue Book. It costs a great deal of money. I do not know whether any hon. Member has looked at it; but I am sorry to be obliged to tell the House that if hon. Members consider that that book contains an accurate statement of expenditure they are much mistaken. It is balanced at the end, I know; but its accuracy depends entirely on the system which prevails in the Dockyard. You have stock-taking in the yards, and instead of taking stock accurately you have fallacious ledger entries. There is a short story which I will tell the House on this point. There was a master painter in one of the Dockyards whose tanks were empty of paint. He goes to the store office and says—" I have got no paint." The clerk brings the ledger and says—" No paint! You have got five tons of paint in the ledger." The painter touched Ids hat and observed—" I am glad you have got paint in that book, because I have got none in the tanks." It is impossible that these Returns can be correct; but as this question will come on again I shall make no more remarks on it at present. The expenditure in the Accountant General's department is £15,000 more than it was seven years ago. You have just appointed what they call a book-keeper at £800, whilst your responsible officers in the Dockyards are not receiving anything like the same salary. If a Committee had been appointed I would have been able to prove that these Returns are perfectly useless and inaccurate, and when the Vote for the Accountant General's department comes on I will propose to reduce it by £15,000. I have detained the House longer than I should have done. I wished clearly to bring before hon. Members the state of our Dockyards. I wished to show that they were in a most unsatisfactory condition, and that this was due to the 839 policy which had been pursued, and which I hold was intended to place them in the position of which I complain. It was intended to disestablish the Dockyards—it was intended to confiscate money from the Dockyards so that it might benefit a particular class of trade. The question of the efficiency of our Dockyards has been totally neglected; and if in their present state war broke out, there would be imminent danger to the country. I trust that this discussion will not fall idly upon the House—that we may commence a course of reaction, and return to the state of things when our Dockyards did serve their purpose as the history of many wars has plainly proved.
§ MR. HUNT
said, he must congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Admiral Elliot) on the very able manner in which he had enforced his views, and begged to assure him that the different matters on which he had spoken would receive his most careful attention. But his hon. and gallant Friend must be well aware that it was too early in his (Mr. Hunt's) official life as yet for him to have made up his mind on the different matters which he had discussed. The question what part of the shipbuilding of the Navy should take place in the Dockyards, and what part should be performed by private contract, was one on which there were great differences of opinion. The question, also, as to what should be the proportions of hired men and established men was one which would require very careful examination. The other matters also to which his hon. and gallant Friend had alluded required attentive consideration. He had only been able up to the present time to make a very cursory inspection of two Dockyards, and as soon as the Session was over he would devote a very considerable time to Dockyard questions, especially to those which had been brought before the House. He was very glad that his hon. and gallant Friend was satisfied to leave the matter as it stood without moving for a Committee, because, as his hon. and gallant Friend had himself said, no Committee could complete their task in the course of what was left of this Session; and suppose any changes were found necessary by his (Mr. Hunt's) Colleagues and himself in the course of their investigation nest autumn, it would be impossible 840 to make those changes when the Committee had not completed their inquiries, supposing they were to be re-appointed next Session. He was exceedingly anxious not to lose an opportunity that evening—it being so late in the Session—of explaining the Navy Estimates in Committee, and he therefore trusted that his hon. and gallant Friend would be satisfied with having called attention to the subjects he had dealt with in his speech.
§ MR. E. J. REED
said, it was very desirable that, before the House went into Committee of Supply, some remarks should be made upon the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Admiral Elliot)—a most unfortunate speech for our Dockyards. He had laid down propositions which were not essential to the well-being of the Dockyards, and, at the same time, would be very injurious to the country. He had protested against the policy of Government Business being done by the private trade of the country, but a more questionable doctrine was never propounded to the House, for everybody who had thoroughly considered the subject must be aware that it was one of the most fortunate things that had ever happened to the shipbuilding industry of this country that a considerable part of the shipbuilding ordered by the Government had been given to private firms. The hon. and gallant Member had argued that the Government Dockyards ought to be the only establishments in this country which should be allowed to build iron-clad ships. Why, it was the competition of the private yards which had rendered this country the principal resort of the world for the production of iron-clad vessels. Indeed, considering the enormous stimulus which the shipbuilding trade had given to the iron and coal interests of the country, he wondered that anyone should declaim in that House against the system of constructing some Government ships in private dockyards. No doubt the system required regulation, and of late he had noticed a tendency to place ships at low prices in the hands of inexperienced persons to an extent which was not altogether prudent. Still, he hoped we should never see the Government Dockyards converted into close establishments in which alone iron-clad ships could be built. As for the persistent efforts of different Ministries to disestablish all the 841 Dockyards, that was a phantom which existed only in the imagination of the hon. and gallant Member. For himself, he was not disposed to believe there had been any desire on the part of recent Ministers of either party to cut down the number of Dockyards improperly. Certainly, the Dockyard he represented ran no risk of being closed. Great additions had been made to the plant, and in the Estimates for the coming year, the First Lord of the Admiralty would propose to execute one-third of the iron-clad shipbuilding in Pembroke Dockyard. Again, with regard to the administration of the Dockyards, he was unable to concur with the hon. and gallant Member. For instance, the hon. and gallant Member objected to the placing of a mechanical officer over the shipbuilding, the machinery, and the stores, whereas that was one of the best arrangements ever made, and one, moreover, which existed in every private establishment in the country. An Admiral had never been appointed to the charge of a large private shipbuilding establishment, although one was frequently nominated to a similar post in the public service. He agreed that an Admiral was in his place at the head of Portsmouth and Devonport Dockyards, which were closely concerned with the outfit of ships, but he doubted the propriety of retaining such officers in Dockyards where the operations were purely mechanical. He approved the appointment' of mechanical chiefs by the right hon. Member for Pontefract, but thought their salaries ought to be increased to £1,000 a-year, as they would thus be placed in proper relations to the Naval Superintendents, who were at present, perhaps, too prone to use their position for the purpose of interfering with those mechanical operations of which they knew little or nothing. The hon. and gallant Member had invited the House to discuss the responsibility of the loss of the Captain, and although there was a time when it might have been desirable to discuss that sad and lamentable catastrophe, yet it was not his present intention to take up the challenge of the hon. and gallant Member, for he felt sure he should consult both the good feeling and the good taste of the House in declining to do so. He would next say that he was surprised that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should have directed so many of his re 842 marks against an officer of his own profession, who was unable to reply to him in that place, and he must say that the hon. and gallant Member had attributed to Sir Spencer Robinson views and opinions which he (Mr. Reed) had never before heard attributed to him.
§ MR. E. J. REED
If the handwriting was not in a public document I think it is unfortunate that it should have been produced here.
§ MR. E. J. REED
Then I hope the hon. and gallant Officer will, when we are in Committee on the Estimates, give us the date and the occasion of that document.
§ MR. E. J. REED
said, the assertion that Sir Spencer Robinson desired to abolish the Dockyards was in direct contradiction to all he knew of that gallant officer, and he (Mr. Reed) had enjoyed a long and intimate connection with him. It might, perhaps, be supposed from the tenor of his remarks that he was wholly opposed to the hon. and gallant Member who brought forward this Motion, whereas, in truth, he was opposed only to the spirit of the speech, and to the general statements which had been imported into it. In his opinion, the officers and men in our Dockyards were labouring under considerable disadvantages, but the general statements of the hon. and gallant officer were calculated to prejudice their case, especially on the Opposition side of the House, where some economists still survived. The hon. and gallant Gentleman attacked the hired men, but the question of the admixture of hired and established artizans in the Dockyards was a very serious one, and one in which a Minister might easily go wrong. Unlike the hon. and gallant Member, he was fully prepared to maintain that the hired men had behaved well, and were a thoroughly valuable and reliable body. It was said they were union men, but it was a very prudent thing that they were so, because workmen were as entitled as themselves to look after their legitimate interests. Besides, the hired men, being members of trade societies, were in good relations with working men in other parts of the 843 country, and that circumstance naturally tended to pull up the wages of the established men. He concurred in much that was said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman as to the redundancy of Returns, because the abnormal activity of the House on that subject had been very injurious in its effect upon practical work in the Dockyards. He would not stand any longer between the House and the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, but would conclude by expressing his hope that those interested in the Dockyards would lay their heads together to devise a practical remedy for existing defects, instead of indulging in vague and general statements.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
said, he was not surprised at the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Admiral Elliot), as during the late Election, that hon. Member had carried messages from one Dockyard to another, and had thereby raised expectations which he must do something to meet. The House would, therefore, do well to entertain, with great care, any statements coming from interested parties. There was a time when the Dockyards were managed with reference to politics, and when the Members for Dockyard towns were considered Government Members; but the Duke of Somerset was the first to lay it down, that the Dockyards should be managed without any regard to political considerations, and that course had been followed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite when before in office, and also by the late Government. He (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) was sorry that the system appeared about to be revived again. He should have been glad to have acceded to the request of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hunt) to go into Committee at once, were it not that there were some observations which he wished to make upon what had fallen from the hon. and gallant Member for Chatham. When his right hon. Friend (Mr. Goschen) undertook last year to raise the wages of Dockyard men, he did it in such a way that it should not become a subject of discussion in that House, and that capital could not be made out of it by Members for the Dockyard towns. The main subject upon which the hon. and gallant Gentleman had addressed the House was what he called "the disestablishment" of the Dockyard men, and he gathered from his rather discursive speech, that 844 the two points to which he specially referred were what he held to be the undue proportion of non-established to established men in the Dockyards, and the great amount of work given to contractors outside the yards. For many years past it had been the custom to give some of the work to contractors outside, and he believed it to be a very wise course, for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Reed). But there were other reasons; it excited emulation, and enabled us to compare the one class of work with the other. Besides, in time of peace it would not be wise to employ all the labour of the Dockyards in building, for, if we did, we should not be able to execute the repairs which might be required. He did not think the late Government had exceeded the usual proportion of work put out on contract, the proportion given out by the previous Administration being, he was informed, larger. New machinery had always been done by contract outside. With regard to the question of established as compared with non-established men, he, equally with the hon. Member for Pembroke, regretted to hear the observations made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman with respect to the latter. The conduct of the non-established men might compare favourably with that of any other men in the United Kingdom, and certainly with that of the established men. There was no intention on the part of the late Government to disestablish a greater number of dockyard men than now existed; but whether it would be wise to increase the number of establishment men, and to extend the system to the factory to which it had never been extended hitherto, was a question well worth the attentive consideration of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Admiralty. For his part, he did not think it would be wise to extend the system of establishment to the factory. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had pointed out that some years ago there was a practice of selling ships, with a view to their being broken up by contract. That was a very faulty practice, and it was put an end to by his right Friend the Member for Pontefract some years ago. The practice for the last five years had been that, where the Admiralty thought it right that a vessel should be broken up, it was done in the Dock- 845 yards, and where it was not thought proper to break the vessel up, she was sold, and fetched a good price. The hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the Pelican, which, he said, was sold in 18G7 for £5,000, and was afterwards resold to the Spaniards for £40,000. That was, no doubt, a very serious case; but, as it occurred in 1867, it was not during the tenure of office of the late Administration. [Admiral ELLIOT: The vessel was sold between 1859 and 1867.] That merely carried the matter a great deal further back; and as to what Administration had sold it, he did not care, but certainly it was not the late Administration. But those who had listened to the hon. and gallant Gentleman would conclude that it had been done either by the right hon. Member for Pontefract or by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London. He agreed with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Pembroke that the arrangement made five years ago with the object of concentrating in one hand the business management of the Dockyards, putting under the master shipwright not only all questions relating to engineers and machinery, but also to stores, was a wise one. He was aware that this arrangement met with great opposition from naval men, and that it was considered by many to be a prelude to doing away with the naval superintendents of the Dockyards. He was never in favour of doing away with them; but, at the same time, he could not look upon them as good business managers of those great establishments. He did not think they were, as a rule, qualified to act as business managers. What was required on the business side was to have really sound business managers, and that improvement was made by his right hon. Friend behind him. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had found great fault with the system of accounts; but in the main the Admiralty accounts might be looked upon as accurate, and as giving a correct account of the money spent, and with regard to them, the charge of falsification was brought before the Committee of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Seely), and disapproved. It might be questioned, however, whether it was worth while printing the accounts in such voluminous and costly detail.
ADMIRAL SIR WILLIAM EDMON-STONE
said, he did not believe it was the intention of his hon. and gallant 846 Friend (Admiral Elliot) to asperse the hired men; all that he did was to show the difference there was between the establishment men and the hired men, and he (Sir William Edmonstone) fully endorsed what his hon. and gallant Friend said. It was obvious that a great establishment like a Dockyard must rely upon established men if we were to be prepared for an emergency, and although he had not any fault to find with hired men, yet the proportion employed should be limited. He was thankful for the opportunity of protesting against, the assumption that Conservative Administrations were extravagant and careless in their accounts. It was true they did not conduct business on "commercial principles;" for instance, they kept up their stores so as to be prepared for any emergency, but they were not extravagant. He had himself held office in two Dockyards, and he knew that that was the case.
said, that it had been contended that there was an advantage in getting ships of war built by private contract, because it accustomed private builders to that kind of work, and caused a great demand to spring up from foreign countries. Now it was the first time that he had heard that this was an advantageous course for this country. It was private firms being experienced in building war ships that got us into the Alabama difficulty. No doubt a certain proportion of ship building should be given to private yards, but more than half the iron-dads in the British Navy had been built by contract, and that in addition to many other kinds of vessels being so built. At present there were being built by contract the Ant, the Hyena, and the Weasel, wretched little gunboats, besides three or four sloops and corvettes, a tug, and a troop-ship. The private yards did not want the latter class of work to keep them in practice; and why, therefore, should it not be done by our own established men? Why should we maintain in private yards plant to be used in building ships to be employed against ourselves? It had been laid down in a text-book that it was cheaper to build ironclads by contract than to build them in private yards, and the reason given was that builders did not look for any profit. The author of that remarkable text-book was the hon. Member for Pembroke. As to the state of our stores, the fact was that 847 from motives of what was called economy we had been living of late years upon capital. Our coal stores, for instance, had been very considerably reduced, and taking into account the rise which, had taken place in the price of coal, this could not be called an economy.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
could not but think that both the House and the country were indebted to his hon. and gallant Friend (Admiral Elliot) for the very able way in which he had brought forward the subject. Never was there an attack more undeserved than that of the hon. Member for Beading (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) upon his hon. and gallant Friend, for he had almost impugned the motives, and certainly had impugned the qualifications of his hon. and gallant Friend to deal with it; but he was quite sure the House would not endorse that opinion. A more clear, able, and conclusive statement he had never heard; it was so complete that it appeared to be incapable of contradiction. His hon. and gallant Friend had shown that the present condition of the Dockyards was dangerous to the best interests of the country, because, in fact, the country was not prepared for war; and that it would be impossible to put it into that necessary condition, if it should become necessary, within a reasonable time. It was no doubt quite natural that the Government should ask for time for consideration; but he trusted that in considering the matter they would be as brief as possible, and would be to some extent guided by what they had heard that day. The case of the Pembroke Dockyard showed that the practice which had been pursued of late years, was a system which was crippling our resources. He believed that the present state of things had been brought about by the wretched system of Government after Government competing with one another for what was called economy, but which, when tested practically, amounted to nothing but extravagance. He did not understand the hon. and gallant Member who brought forward the matter, to attack private building yards; but he must say that the practice of so many hired men being employed in the Dockyards was properly attributed as a fault to the Government.
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.848
§ SUPPLY—considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee).