called attention to the system of testing heavy guns for the Navy, and contended that it was advisable to defer the completion of Her Majesty's ship Inflexible, or any ship being specially constructed to carry 81-ton guns or guns of a weight of 35 tons and upwards, until those guns had been subjected to such a trial as they might reasonably be expected to undergo in war time. The hon. and gallant Member said, he brought this subject forward now in consequence of what he regarded as the unsatisfactory Answer he had received to a Question he had put a short time ago. Parliament had been asked to vote very large sums of money for building certain ships specially constructed to carry very heavy guns. Those guns had never been tried because as yet none of them were completed; but the 35-ton and 38-ton guns had been tried, and had, as he ventured to maintain, proved to be excessively deficient in endurance. As he recently stated in a letter printed in The Times, the 35-ton and 38-ton guns required repairs after from 50 to 70 rounds had been fired from them, and he believed the endurance of the 81-ton gun would be still less than this. He desired that our guns should be tested as they would be tested in action. Within a month of the outbreak of a war our large guns might be called upon to fire, in addition to the ordinary practice, 280 or 300 rounds. Had we 473 any proof that they could do so? He maintained that we had not. The vessels of the Inflexible class cost us £500,000, and the trial which he wished to be made as to these large guns would cost only between £200 and £300. The officers of the War Department were prejudiced on this subject. They had staked their reputation on these guns, which were called "Woolwich Infants." If we went on making more of these guns we should incur great expense which might hereafter be found to be a great waste.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
said, that no persons could have given more earnest attention to the improvement of ordnance than the officers of the War Department. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was entirely mistaken in thinking that the officers of that Department were prejudiced or interested on the subject of these large guns. The officers of our Ordnance department were probably the most skilled officers with respect to ordnance in the whole world. He wished the question raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman to be thoroughly investigated. But it would be impossible outside of the Ordnance department to investigate the minutiæ of this subject; and he, therefore, suggested that if information was wanted with regard to it, the Ordnance Department ought to be asked to appoint a Committee of Investigation.
§ MR. E. J. REED
said, he remembered very well when the War Office were going to commit the gross absurdity of manufacturing bronze field-guns for India. They were told in the most earnest manner that they must incur a great failure, but it had no effect on the War Office, and the guns were made and thus £1,000,000 of money was thrown away. He believed the new Director of Ordnance was a most valuable officer; but then he had been connected with the present system for many years past, and to tell them that that officer was the only person they could go to on this subject was unsatisfactory. He recollected when a very high officer of the War Department went down to investigate a new material for the manufacture of guns, and a more absurd and unsatisfactory Report than he made was probably never penned. He knew it was too late in the Session to hope to elicit from the Government much information on the subject; but he main- 474 tained that the War Office would fail in these matters, however honourable they might be, from the simple fact that it was no part of the duty of a soldier to manufacture guns.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he hoped the Government would neither postpone progress with the Inflexible nor defer the making of experiments with the heavy guns referred to in the Question of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Both matters were of great and pressing importance, and as there seemed to be material difference of opinion with regard to the question of guns, he felt sure that the country would not grudge a sum of money sufficient for the making of such experiments as would set the matter at rest. For his own part, he believed the Government guns would come out well from any ordeal to which they might be submitted.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, he hoped the Government would not take the advice which had been given them to suspend the building of the Inflexible. Such a course, he thought, would be most unwise. To his mind, the duty of the Government was to push forward the building of the Inflexible, and in the meantime to consider with what kind of ordnance she ought to be armed. The hon. and gallant Member for Devonport (Captain Price) was an officer of great experience in gunnery; but his argument that the 81-ton gun was unfit for service was hardly an effective one, seeing that the gun practically was not yet made. It was to be hoped that no gun would be adopted until the War Office had tested it thoroughly and ascertained that it was capable of performing its work. Why, the 35-ton gun was not as likely to last as any gun which might be brought against it he was at a loss to imagine. His hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Price) called in question the present system of rifling; but it was a matter on which the most competent authorities differed. Under these circumstances, it was surely the duty of the House to rely on the Reports of its Committees, who had investigated the question most carefully, rather than to adopt any view brought forward by individual Members. The present system of rifling was adopted on the recommendation of several Committees; and, therefore, however anxious he was for improvements in gunnery, he could not support 475 his hon. and gallant Friend on the present occasion.
§ MR. HUNT
assured the House that the Government had not the slightest intention of suspending the construction of the Inflexible. On the contrary, he had asked the House to sanction the employment of an additional number of men at the dockyard in order to facilitate the completion of this ship. As to the durability of the 35-ton guns, he might mention that one of them had stood 600 rounds without re-venting, which he believed was the kind of repair alluded to by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Price) in the latter part of his speech. [Captain PRICE: The 600 rounds were not fired continuously.] It was quite true they were not fired continuously; but the fact remained that they did no serious damage to the gun. Moreover, it did not by any means follow that a gun was unfit for further use because the re-venting of it might be desirable. He was informed that a gun might have its vent enlarged, and yet be perfectly capable of firing. It was asked whether one of the 81-ton guns could be re-vented in the turret. According to his information that could be done. The hon. and gallant Member seemed to think it would be necessary to re-vent those guns after every 50 rounds; but if they fired 50 rounds in action there would probably be very little left for them to fire at. A charge was made against the professional advisers of the Government that they were prejudiced and interested parties. Well, he did not claim for them infallibility, and was glad to have their opinions considered; but he believed they were the least interested and least prejudiced persons who discussed these matters. Inventors, who were interested and sometimes prejudiced, brought their notions before the professional officers who advised the Government, and if those notions were not approved or were rejected, they persuaded some clever Member of that House to bring forward the case and allege that the professional officers were interested or prejudiced people.
§ MR. E. J. REED
rose to Order. The right hon. Gentleman was imputing discreditable motives to Members of the House, which he objected to have imputed to himself.
was sure that the First Lord of the Admiralty did not intend that. He himself was not in the slightest degree interested in any person connected with the manufacture of guns; but he had had interviews with Sir Joseph Whitworth, Mr. Krupp, and Colonel Scott, and had derived a great deal of information from them; but he had invariably told them he would not advocate their claims in that House.
§ MR. HUNT
said, the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Reed) had completely misunderstood him. He had no intention of suggesting that hon. Members brought forward these questions from interested motives, and he did not impute any motives. He merely pointed out that inventors whose schemes had been rejected sometimes maintained that the professional advisers of the Government were prejudiced, and persuaded Members of that House that the views they held were right. When the professional advisers of the Government were charged with prejudice, he though it was only fair to show how such charges originated. As to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) in regard to making experiments, that was a matter on which he was prepared to consult with those who were more especially concerned; but such experiments if made would be rather to satisfy public opinion than to remove any doubts at the War Office or the Admiralty as to the propriety of the course which had been adopted. He had to inform the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) that the question of engine room artificers had engaged his attention, and although he was not ready to give an answer at present he hoped that the matter would be gone into carefully during the next six months, and that he would be able to make a more definite statement with regard to it next year.
§ MR. E. J. REED
wished to say that he took exception to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, because after expressing his belief that the professional advisers of the Government were the most disinterested persons who discussed these subjects, he alleged that hon. Gentleman were instigated by inventors to bring cases before the House.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.