HC Deb 26 June 1876 vol 230 cc432-56

rose to move— That, considering the present administration of the Admiralty is practically that introduced and adopted by this House in 1833, on the recommendation of Sir James Graham; and considering the advance made in Naval armaments and the unsatisfactory condition of the personnel and materiel of Her Majesty's Navy, it is desirable that a Royal Commission be appointed to inquire and report whether the present system under which the Navy is administered is the most efficient and most economical, and what improvements or amendments, if any, it would be desirable should be introduced. The hon. and gallant Member said, that the wretched state of our Navy was every day becoming more notorious, and people began to understand that never before were our ships so indifferent and our officers and men so little cared for, and consequently so discontented. The House voted plenty of money to give the country a splendid Navy and the command of the seas; but under the present system this money was to a great extent wasted. When, in 1833, Sir James Graham, then at the head of the Admiralty, re-organized the administration and civil departments of the Admiralty in a fluctuating Board of Admiralty, personal responsibility as well as every check to extravagance came to an end. The effect of this change was anticipated at the time by every one experienced in the administration of naval affairs. Mr. John Wilson Croker, speaking on an experience at the Admiralty of 22 years, denounced the proposed change in strong terms, and said— That if such a system were adopted he knew what must happen—the subordinate or executive chief of the Department must obey without remonstrance, and they could be subject to no responsibility. What with despotic command on the one hand, and servile subordination on the other, all checks would be at an end, and responsibility nowhere exist. And similar opinions were expressed by such men as Mr. Goulburn, Admiral Sir Byam Martin, Sir George Cockburn, and other eminent persons. Well, what had been the result of the re-organiza- tion of the Admiralty by Sir James Graham? The consequence had been that our naval expenditure had increased from £4,500,000 in 1833, to an expenditure, on an average of 10 years, of £11,000,000 a-year. No doubt, the amount voted was of secondary importance, if only the Navy were kept in really efficient order; but the degree of inefficiency to which we had arrived only too clearly indicated the waste of this money. As to the personnel of the Navy, he deeply regretted to say there was not a single class in the Service without just cause of complaint. He had in his hands statements printed and circulated by nearly every class of executive officers, describing the grievances under which they lay. Such a course had never been known when he was young in the Service. From the cadet to the Admiral there was room for reform. The masters, engineers, surgeons, and Paymasters had all injustice and inequalities to complain of as respected pay, position, and promotion. The case of the masters was a disgrace to the Service; they were the very backbone of the Royal Navy—the best seamen and navigators in the Fleet, and without any substitute for them he could not conceive how they could afford to abolish them. The navigating officers were the most useful men in the Service. The treatment of the Warrant officers was such as to give the idea that it was the object of the Admiralty to get rid of them altogether. The policy adopted towards the Royal Marines was simply suicidal—they were a magnificent body of men, absolutely unequalled under arms—in fact, our men-of-war could not be manned without them. Yet their memorial set forth that the 22 senior lieutenants of the corps were not in the 16th year of their service; and such was the stagnation in the higher ranks that it amounted to an absolute block to promotion; 1,108 captains in the Army and several majors were actually junior in the Service to these lieutenants. With regard to the seamen the case was still more serious. The number of bonâ fide seamen (including pensioners) who had left the Service from all causes during the year 1872–3, the last printed Return, appeared to have been, according to the Return, as follows:—By purchase, 48; invalided, 647; died, 124; deserted, 800; disgraced, 6; pensioned for long ser- vice, 310; objectionable, 42; coastguard on shore, 265; other causes, 165;total, 2,847. Of this number, no less than 800 deserted in 1873. Last year no less than 1,100 men deserted; so that the discontent was steadily increasing. The men would not remain a moment longer on board a man-of-war than they could help. One glance at the youthful appearance of the crews proved that. They no longer saw the weather-beaten, grisly petty officers, prime seamen, the heart and soul of the ship's company, the natural leaders of the men in any emergency, whether of storm or battle. The men would not stop, and the House would be astonished at the number of commitments to prison, and other punishments inflicted, to keep up the very ordinary discipline of the present day in the Fleet. Take the case of the Challenger. That ship, as hon. Members were aware, had returned from an exceptionally pleasant cruise, where the men were well treated, no doubt, and more or less picked men; but out of a crew of 240, some 60 deserted during the cruise of the ship—say 25 per cent of her ship's company. As to the Royal Naval Reserve, it was thoroughly unreliable, not to say useless. This year Parliament had voted a sum of £240,000 to provide for 20,000 men; but he ventured to say that on an emergency not 1,000 men could be obtained even by pressing. In war time they could not take one single man from their Merchant Service; they must have food, and their merchant ships must bring in that food constantly, or they would starve, as the island never had more than two months' provisions in stock at the same time. Their so-called Naval Reserve was useless, and they were worse than wasteful in spending their money upon it. He now came to the matériel of the Navy. Our iron-clad ships were of so heterogeneous a description that it would be impossible to classify them; but he would take a few typical examples, sufficient to show how little they were to be relied on in the hour of need. The hon. and gallant Member proceeded, at great length, to read Reports on the efficiency of various iron-clad ships. The Research, he said, had proved such a bad sea boat that in a coasting voyage, in moderate weather, her captain was nearly washed overboard from the central battery; the Vixen and the Waterwitch rolled and pitched to such a degree that the crews went aft in a body, and protested against being sent to sea in such unseaworthy vessels. The Pallas was built expressly for speed, yet the Pallas and Research were the only two vessels that could not keep company with the squadron. The Bellorophon was to have surpassed every other iron-clad, but what was her practical performance? Admiral Yelverton reported of her that she ranked below the Lord Clyde, and on a par with the Caledonian and the Ocean—these last being wooden line-of-battle ships converted into iron-clads to meet an emergency. The Van guard class was to be weighed by the result of the trial trip of the Invincible, when that ship on her return had the appearance of being on her beam-ends. She was actually heeling over 17 to 18 degrees, and the greatest anxiety prevailed on shore for the safety of the ship. The Audacions, Iron Duke, Triumph, and Swiftsure were equally bad, and on an average 400 tons of ballast had to be placed on board of each of these vessels. Then as to our coast defenders, the Devastation and Thunderer class, Admiral Sir Thomas Symonds said— I should be afraid to go at any great speed at sea with, them (the Devastation class); I have seen very heavy seas, and I know no limit to their power. If steaming, you are obliged to go at a certain speed, or you drown yourself. All I know is, that so far as I am myself concerned, I should be very sorry to be in those vessels. He (Captain Pim) could hardly speak with patience of huge mastless iron-clads as coast defenders. Coast defenders, indeed! Why, putting on one side the unseaworthiness of these vessels altogether, what did they want, he asked, with such coast defenders? The first thing they must do in war was to blockade any enemy's ports—shut them up—fancy one Alabama only amongst their commerce! What they wanted was a vessel capable of keeping the sea under sail in any weather. He should like to ask hon. Members if it was possible for the Devastation to keep the sea off the Elbe in a gale of wind! Why, she would be smothered. What they wanted was a cloud of gunboats able to carry sail in all weathers, and to claw off a lee shore under sail; they should have a crew of above 25 men, one heavy gun, full brig or schooner rig, and steam power for action; with four of these vessels the finest iron-clad ever built in the world could be easily destroyed. In short, every one asserted in unmistakable language that their unwieldy, unmanageable iron-clads— were not safe when near land or one another, at sea, at anchor, or in bad weather, without steam power. The gallant Sir George Sartorius, Admiral of the Fleet, said— They are equally unfit for the exigencies of coast or distant warfare; and for the blockading of an enemy's ports, impracticable. The Report, 1872, of the Scientific Committee appointed by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to examine the designs of ships recently built, was to the effect that diligent research throughout the Royal Navy was in vain to discover even one type of ship as desirable to reproduce. He repeated that nothing could be more unsatisfactory than the present state of the Royal Navy. And nothing was more easy than to remedy it. The nation and the Navy united as one man in pointing to the Admiralty as responsible. And how could the country expect anything but mismanagement and misrule from a Department so curiously constituted? In less than 50 years there had been more than 20 changes in the First Lord of the Admiralty, whose tenure of office had, on an average, been about two years. The hon. and gallant Member then quoted from the Report of the Select Committee on Navy, Army, and Ordnance Estimates of 1858 numerous instances of waste and extravagance which had resulted from the bad constitution of the Admiralty— In 27 cases investigated, the Admiralty bought back the old copper from the purchaser of a ship at a greater price than that for which they sold the ship itself, including the copper, costly engines, and other valuable stores. Some instances were stated of fortunate purchasers of a ship receiving back from the Admiralty (for the old copper returned) two, three, four, and even five times over the original price they had paid for the ship, &c.


wanted to know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman was quoting now from the Report of the Committee, or the Report of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Seely), which was rejected by the Committee?


said, the hon. Gentleman would find it in the Library. He had found it there himself. He found that of the ships valued by the Dockyard authorities for breaking up, some were sold at about one-half the estimated value of the old materials. The Report went on to assert— If the cost of all the iron-clads built in Her Majesty's Yards between 1858 and I865 bears the same proportion to the cost, as that of Achilles to the Black Prince and Warrior, the excess cost of Admiralty-built iron-clads during these years has been £1,663,000 on an expenditure of £3,500,000. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose stated in that House— That the country was paying for stores and material at rates 20, 30, 60 per cent above the market value, and that a system of bribery by contractors had been established within the walls of the Admiralty. The cost of the Admiralty was somewhat startling, as would be seen by the following:—Sir James Graham's scheme of naval re-organization was to effect a saving in salaries under the head of Commissioners, secretaries, superior officials, inferior officers, and clerks, of no less a sum than £49,059 per annum, and— He hoped still further to reduce the professional and clerical staff of the Admiralty Office (Vote 3) from 70 in number to 40. That was in 1832. In 1872 Mr. Corry told that House— That the Admiralty staff numbered 432 individuals in 1869, and the personnel has increased since to 537 clerks and writers. Could any system of administration be good when the Board itself was radically wrong, both in its constitution and in its distribution of duties? Let them look for a moment at the opinions of those most competent to pass judgment on this subject. The Earl of Malmesbury said— My impression and conviction are, that if such a change took place—if the administration of the patronage of the army were assimilated to that of the navy, it would become the same hotbed of jobbing and trickery which has been, unfortunately, for many years a reproach to the Admiralty of this country."—[3 Hansard, cxxxvi. 1360.] [Mr. Hunt: What is the time of that speech.] In 1855. Sir James Graham would not hear of a Board for the War Department. He said— Having been six years at the Admiralty, he knew what a Board was. The machinery of a Board is known to be cumbrous and uncertain in its operation. It only works well when the head of the Board acts as if he were alone responsible. A Board, therefore, would be a retrograde measure, which your Committee cannot recommend. He might be told that in 1869 this state of things was rectified by the alleged reforms inaugurated by the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers). He would not trouble the House with the merits or demerits of those reforms, but what were the results—had our naval expenditure been diminished, or did they find the state and condition of the Navy in any respect improved? And as to responsibility, to quote the words of the right hon. Member for Pontefract, "has that been sheeted home?" He need only mention three notorious cases—the capsizing of the Captain, the loss of the Megæra, and the foundering of the Vanguard, to prove that such was not the case. Admiral Sir Spencer Robinson, late Controller of the Navy, in September 1873, said— As to the Navy, its management was simply deplorable. And further thus expressed himself— Is it wonderful with such an organization the working of the Dockyards is not satisfactory? If there were not waste, if there were not mismanagement, it would be a miracle. England at the present moment stood in a very precarious condition, her Navy being quite inadequate to protect either her coasts or her commerce; the personnel of the Navy was in a deplorable condition; the matériel was equally bad; and the Administration was notoriously inefficient. The hon. and gallant Member concluded—Sir, I am no alarmist; I firmly believe that if our seamen and Marines have anything that will float to fight upon they will give a good account of their enemy, but the nation must not expect a miracle in its favour in the hour of need. That the Navy has been, and always must be, the real strength and bulwark of England is acknowledged on all hands, and especially by this House in the Preamble to the Naval Discipline Act, 29 & 30 Vic, cap. 109, which runs thus— The Navy.—Whereon, under the good Providence of God, the wealth, safety, and strength of the Kingdom depend. Sir, it is because I am deeply anxious that the wealth, strength, and safety of this Kingdom should still be maintained that I ask the House for a Royal Commission, and I therefore now beg to move for it.


seconded the Motion.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "considering the present administration of the Admiralty is practically that introduced and adopted by this House in 1833, on the recommendation of Sir James Graham; and, considering the advance made in Naval armaments and the unsatisfactory condition of the personnel and matériel of Her Majesty's Navy, it is desirable that a Royal Commission be appointed to inquire and report whether the present system under which the Navy is administered is the most efficient and most economical, and what improvements or amendments, if any, it would be desirable should be introduced,"—(Captain Pim,) —instead thereof.


said, his hon. and gallant Friend had brought a very serious charge against not only the Admiralty of the present day, but against almost every Admiralty in his recollection, and he had attributed the faults he found with their acts and omissions to the constitution of the Board. He (Mr. Hunt), however, hardly thought he had made out his case in that respect. He was quite aware that a difference of opinion prevailed, and he believed always would prevail, as to the constitution of the Admiralty. At one time they had a Board with a Lord High Admiral at its head, and at other times a civilian with a Naval Council; but he did not know that the results had been very different from what they were now. The change would be only one of name, and the work would be found to have been done very much as it was done at present. There might be a difference of opinion on that subject, but he did not think the proof which had been brought forward would support the conclusions his hon. and gallant Friend had arrived at, or that he would induce the House, instead of going into Committee of Supply on the Navy Estimates for the current year, to appoint a Royal Commission on the constitution of the Admiralty. His hon. and gallant Friend had found fault with the personnel and Matériel of the Navy, and urged that it was necessary that the Admiralty should be differently constituted, saying that there was not a single branch of the Service which was not dissatisfied. A great many, however, of the complaints which his hon. and gallant Friend mentioned had already been removed. He asked his hon. and gallant Friend, when referring to the case of the Warrant officers, the date of the pamphlet he quoted, and the answer he received was 1874. His hon. and gallant Friend did not seem to be aware that since then a new Warrant had been issued, improving the position of the Warrant officers, and since then he had heard no complaint. With regard to the executive officers, he had not asked the date of the pamphlet quoted; but last year a new Warrant was issued, improving the flow of promotion as regarded the executive officers. It had effected a great improvement in their position, and gave a reasonable flow of promotion. In this case also he understood the complaint was dated before the issue of the new Warrant. He must protest against grievances which had been met being again brought up as if nothing had been done to remedy them. [Captain Pim: The men are just as discontented now as they were before.] His information was not to the same effect. He knew how difficult it was to satisfy every one in the public Service; a certain number would always be dissatisfied. Within the last few years they had had to deal with the Civil Service, and the other day with the officials of the London Custom House; but he was not aware that, because some of these officers might be dissatisfied, any hon. Member had thought proper to move that a Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire into the constitution of the Treasury. His hon. and gallant Friend had also referred to the medical officers; but either last year or the year before there was a new Warrant improving the condition of the medical officers. Again, he spoke of the engineers. Well, nothing had been done yet as regarded the engineers, but a Committee had been appointed by the Admiralty which had gone into the case of the engineers and how the service could be improved, and that Report was under the consideration of the Admiralty. The complaints of his hon. and gallant Friend had, therefore, to a great extent been already met or were under the consideration of the Admiralty. He spoke of the number of desertions as showing that the Service was unpopular. That subject had been discussed some few weeks ago, and he thought he then showed that the Service was not unpopular, and the places where desertion took place showed, not the unpopularity of the Service, but the great attractions of some foreign ports, where wages were high and land cheap, to which the men, unfortunately, yielded. He alluded specially to the desertions from the Challenger; but the Challenger had been over nearly all the world, and therefore the crew had been exposed to greater temptation than almost any other ship ever sent out from this country, because they had the attraction presented to them of the whole world except the Arctic regions. His hon. and gallant Friend had also referred to the iron-clad Navy. No doubt, after it was determined to turn our wooden Navy into an iron-clad Navy some mistakes were made. That was to be expected; but when mistakes were discovered, they did not continue to build ships on the same design. The Devastation had been referred to, and he was not surprised that great doubts should have been entertained regarding that ship. He himself, when he first spoke on the subject, had great doubts as to her sea-going qualities, but he did not entertain them now; with the experience he now had on the subject he had no hesitation in passing her as a sea-going ship. He had sailed in her company for some hours, and, although the sea was very heavy for the ship he was in, he was very much surprised at the way in which the Devastation behaved. He knew the opinion of naval authorities had very much changed in regard to the Devastation, and he believed she was commanding very great respect where she now lay in Besika Bay. One of the best proofs of the superiority of their designs was this—that whenever a new design of a ship was adopted almost the whole world followed it. All the naval Powers of Europe looked to the English Admiralty for new designs of ships. The other day he was in a German port, and there he found a ship just laid down on the same design the Admiralty had previously adopted. He did not pretend to say that there were no defects of admi- nistration at the Admiralty. Indeed, he was desirous that all shortcomings should be pointed out with a view to being remedied; but he hardly thought that, either as regarded the matériel or the personnel of the Navy, his hon. and gallant Friend had made out a case for a Commission. He therefore trusted they might be permitted to go into Committee to vote the supplies for the year.


said, the House would remember that the hon. and gallant Member for Gravesend (Captain Pim) read some passages strongly condemnatory of the administration of the Admiralty from what the House probably understood to be the Report of a Committee of Inquiry. He (Mr. Reed) asked the hon. and gallant Gentleman at the time whether He was reading from an actual Report, or only from a draft Report which the Committee had distinctly rejected, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman, with all his honour and gallantry, did not give him a candid reply, but referred him to the Library to discover the truth. Well, he (Mr. Reed) had consulted the Library, and he had to inform the House that the hon. and gallant Member's quotations were not from the Committee's actual Report, but from a draft Report which they had decidedly refused to adopt. Some of the other statements of the hon. and gallant Gentleman had been presented to the House with a similar amount of candour. He had read at considerable length Reports or extracts from Reports on ships. But most, if not all of them, were of old date, and referred to the ships in question at a period when they were entirely novel, and when, consequently, it was only natural that they would be exposed to no small amount of misconception and misrepresentation. Adverse opinions with regard to a novel type of ship were always to be looked for, and he might say he should despair of naval architecture altogether, if naval architects had to inspire every admiral with a favourable idea of the qualities of the ships he commanded. He believed that in the progress of naval architecture there would always be found, especially on the part of the senior officers, a tendency to take objection to great novelties, though such objections frequently disappeared as experience was gained. The objections formerly urged against the Devastation were no longer heard—she had lived them down; and so it was with other types of vessel. As for the Devastation, which many persons had suspected of being unfit to go to sea, but which had been to the Mediterranean, and engaged in a variety of service, he ventured to assert there was no ship afloat at the present time worth anything like so much to any country in Europe as she was to England; and he was certain that if the development of European complications should call upon us to vindicate our strength upon the ocean, she would prove herself to be a most important element of our naval strength. The Research had been alluded to by the hon. and gallant Member as if she were some first-class ship. In reality she was only a small vessel which was originally intended to be wood, but had afterwards been converted to an iron-clad; and, therefore, nobody expected that she would be a first-class ship. She, however, had been successful. She carried into the Mediterranean the largest guns that had then ever been taken into that sea in a man-of-war. There were complaints of a certain amount of wetness forward, until a forecastle was built; but that was no ground for condemning the design of the ship. The Holy head and Dublin packets were all built without forecastles, and had to have them added afterwards. If the House were to judge of her from the hon. and gallant Member's statements, they would make a great mistake. Another proof of the failure of the British Navy was drawn by the hon. and gallant Member from the case of the iron-clad gunboats Viper, Vixen, and Water witch. No doubt the Vixen rolled when she went to sea, but these vessels were not built for seagoing service. They were built for special service in a distant country, and for the purpose intended he maintained that they were perfectly fit in every respect. When the Vixen was finished she was thought to be so much better than she was expected to be, that she was put into commission and sent to the coast of Ireland, where the service was of the most trying description. It was true she rolled so heavily that the officer in command admitted to a Court of Inquiry that he was afraid she would capsize, which, he added, would have been a very serious matter; but, under the circumstances, there was nothing in her case or in that of her sister ships to justify a sweeping condemnation of the British Navy. The Research and Pallas might not have kept company with the other vessels when steaming down Channel against a head wind; but the Research was only a 10-knot ship, whilst the others were 13 or 14-knot ships. When he was asked how it was the Pallas, that did so well at the measured mile, did so badly after, the question, he said, should be addressed to her captain, and not to her designer; and when the Admiralty sent for her captain, although the hon. and gallant Member for Gravesend omitted to state it, on her next cruize she steamed away from all the rest of the fleet. He contended that the character of a British man-of-war or that of her designer ought not to be frittered away in consequence of occasional incidents of that kind happening in transacting the business of a great naval service. The hon. and gallant Member said that his (Mr. Reed's) shorter vessels required more horse-power than the majority of large ships to drive them through the water at the same speed. That was perfectly true, and it was what, he contended, that ships should require. The hon. and gallant Member forgot to tell the House that the Bellerophon, which required a little more steam power than the Achilles, had cost £106,000 less than the latter ship. They encountered this little extra cost as to fuel by saving £106,000. With respect to the Bellerophon he would relate a story. When she was ready for a trial trip, the then First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir John Pakington, came down to Portsmouth. The wind for several days had been against making such a trial, but Sir John said to him—"What speed do you expect from her?" He replied 14 knots an hour, and he felt confident he could do it, even if the wind was against them next day, if he was allowed to try. Sir John said—"I am told by several eminent officers that she will not make more than 11 knots, and then she will be one of the best ships in the Navy." He (Mr. Reed) did take the Bellerophon against the face of an unfavourable wind, and she made 14¼ knots, and even when steaming with half her engine power made 12¼ knots. It was true that some officers had said she did not always keep up to that; but of course the capability was there, and this defect must be attributed to the way in which the engines were worked. The blame, if any, could not be attributed either to the House of Commons, who voted the money, or to those who designed the ship. The hon. and gallant Member had been equally unfortunate in his references to the Caledonian, the Ocean, and the Invincible class of vessels. Instead of going for the latest information, he had taken that which he found in the Library, taken years ago. No doubt the Invincible class of ships did require some ballast, but then they were sailing as well as steaming ships. They carried a large amount of sail, and were excellent sea-going ships. It was too long a question to go into the vindication for the necessity of ballast, but he appealed with confidence to those who had served in the Admiralty to show that the value of the Invincible class had been fully ascertained. The ships when on active service were the very opposite of what the hon. and gallant Gentleman would have them believe. He spoke of the vessels having a certain amount of list, but no one could give a guarantee against that arising when first taken out; but it was not right to speak of their performance when in an incomplete condition. They had been tried, and a distinguished officer of the Navy—Admiral Ryder, whose flagship on the China station, he believed, was of the Invincible class—had written a most eulogistic letter upon the ship, pointing out that when in a heavy gale, in company with a ship of another great European Power, he could not help thinking with what ease he could destroy her, because of the superior qualities of his own vessel. Further, the Swiftsure and Triumph had both given proof of their excellent qualities. He thought, therefore, the hon. and gallant Member, in seeking to influence the judgment of the House, ought to be careful, for his own sake, to give the House the latest and most trustworthy information, and not spend his time in the Library in digging out statements which events had shown to be entirely wrong, and unworthy of the present consideration of the House. He (Mr. Reed) had always looked upon Admiral Sartorius as a man of advanced views. He was probably one of the oldest officers in the Navy; but it was necessary to take the opinions of officers of a past period with some care, and not be too ready in times of progress and change to take them as the true standards by which the judgment of the country was to be guided. During the seven years he served the Admiralty, and the interval that had elapsed since, he had not had any fault to find with the manner that officers of the Royal Navy had treated ships of novel design; on the contrary, he had often expressed his astonishment at the readiness with which they fell into the altered conditions of modern warfare, and the freedom of mind and breadth of view with which they were prepared to treat novel designs; and he believed that great credit was due to them for their general conduct in relation to the iron-clad Navy of this country. His object in replying to the hon. and gallant Member for Gravesend was not to influence his judgment in the least degree, because it was a matter of indifference to him (Mr. Reed) what his views were, and always would remain so; but it was necessary to prevent others being unduly influenced by his opinions; and if the British Navy had not been sufficiently vindicated by what he had said, it was due rather to the brevity of the defence than the force of the attack that had been made.


said, that from the discussions that had taken place in reference to our iron-clads he was inclined to believe that more could be said against them than in their favour; and when his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty informed them that foreign countries were in the habit of copying our ships, he (Mr. Bentinck) ventured to express a hope that they would not fail to copy the blunders as well as the merits of our ships. The Motion was one of such a comprehensive character that he would not presume to follow his hon. and gallant Friend throughout his speech. The abolition of Masters in the Navy was a grievous mistake, which he hoped would be re-considered, for junior officers had not opportunities of acquiring the experience necessary to navigate our ships. He believed that even the scientists of this country knew very little of what an iron-clad ought to be, and still less what would be the class of ship required if this country embarked in war. So long as we did not possess men-of-war which could be navigated at sea under canvas, and which could reserve their coal for emergencies or for going into action, so long should we be unprovided with a Navy which could defend the honour and interests of this country. There had been a great naval demonstration in the Mediterranean recently, but pending that demonstration he contended that our coasts were denuded of ships for defensive purposes. [Mr. Hunt: I say, no.] He quite understood what his right hon. Friend said; still he denied the existence of an efficient fleet at home. There was no use in mincing matters. We had no fleet now fit for home defence. If he was mistaken, the House and the country would be very much obliged to his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty if he would show that, independent of that naval demonstration in the Mediterranean, we had at home an adequate fleet for the defence of our coasts. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to inform the country where the fleet was to be found that could be depended upon for home defence in case of invasion. He quite agreed with his hon. and gallant Friend that there was an enormous amount of waste going on in the Navy, and that money was thrown away in a manner prejudicial to the financial interests of the country. It was the old story—a Board was responsible. The whole subject of the Motion amounted to a renewal of the Motion which he (Mr. Bentinck) brought forward a few months ago. He admired the abilities of his right hon. Friend the First Lord as much as anybody; all he regretted was that those abilities were entirely misplaced. He entirely and fully endorsed all the hon. and gallant Member for Gravesend had said upon the subject; but he did not suppose that the House would be disposed to grant the Commission asked for, because it was a remarkable feature in that House that to all matters relating to naval questions there was an utter and an entire indifference, and both sides of the House had an interest in suppressing all inquiries into naval affairs. He contended that placing at the head of the Admiralty a gentleman who knew nothing about naval matters was a rank and glaring absurdity. If his hon. and gallant Friend divided the House on his Motion he should gladly go into the Lobby with him.


After the statement of my hon. Friend, I wish to ask the in- dulgence of the House while I say a few words with regard to the question of our security. In the present state of affairs I hope that exceptional allowance will be made, and that I shall be permitted to state that my hon. Friend is not warranted in saying that the naval demonstration in the Mediterranean has denuded us of ships for the protection of our coasts. I beg to tell him that there are at this moment nine iron-clads in commission either at home or in the immediate neighbourhood of home, besides those which have gone to the Mediterranean; that in a month or five weeks I could commission two more, one of them the Thunderer, which would then be the most powerful ship afloat; and that in the course of a very short time, if need be, several more ships could be put in commission, not speaking of all the special defence ships which now are in commission and in Reserve, and the gunboats which are laid up at Haslar awaiting any emergency that may arise. I wish, therefore, without entering into details, to give the most positive contradiction to the statement that this country is denuded of naval defence.


I rose at the same time as the right hon. Gentleman simply to assure him that I felt certain that both this House and the country would accept his simple disclaimer that he had not denuded the shores of this country of the ships necessary to defend them, and that the country would be perfectly satisfied if even, without giving any particulars, the right hon. Gentleman simply stated that the insinuation of the hon. Member for West Norfolk was not based upon fact. The right hon. Gentleman and his Friends know that we on this side of the House have been most anxious throughout all these anxious times to let no single word fall from our lips that would in any way embarrass them, or that would add to those great anxieties which we know must be laid upon them. For my own part, I came down to the House prepared to debate the Estimates without any reference, if it were possible to avoid it, to matters that might embarrass the Government, or might call upon them to make any explanations which in the present state of affairs might have been inconvenient to them. We must, therefore, all the more regret the question, but for the satisfactory declaration which the right hon. Gentleman has been able to make. It was not necessary even for him to have given the numbers in the statement that he made, because the country and the House would be assured that no Board of Admiralty would venture upon such a proceeding as that which the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) seemed to think them capable of—namely, that of sending its forces into the Mediterranean without considering what were its needs at home. The right hon. Gentleman has very properly alluded to the fact that during the last four or five years special means have been taken to secure the coast defence, quite irrespective of sea-going iron-clads, and that when the moment should come, in consequence of this provision, it would be possible to make a demonstration such as had been made by the right hon. Gentleman. The House and the country will remember that there have been most powerful gunboats constructed, carrying each an 18-ton gun; that these have been laid up and are ready at any moment for any duty that they may be called upon to perform; and that there is also a class of vessel like the Hecate and the Cyclops which the right hon. Gentleman did not allude to. [Mr. Hunt: I did allude to them. I spoke of them as special ships.] There are four of these ships, and a ship like the Glatton. These ships are specially designed for the service, and the right hon. Gentleman has now been able to give effect to that policy which it has always been said it would be possible to adopt—namely, that by building these coast-defence ships he would be more free to handle the sea-going iron-clads. It was for that purpose that these coast-defence ships were constructed, and it shows the advance that has been made in the naval power of this country that they have enabled the Admiralty to take a step which otherwise it would have been unable to take.


said, he could assure the House that Her Majesty's Navy was not in the sad state of inefficiency that the hon. and gallant Member for Gravesend (Captain Pim) and the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) imagined. During the last six months he had—in company with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales—made a voyage to India, in the course of which he had had ample opportunity of seeing two-thirds of the Navy, including the Channel Fleet, the Mediterranean Fleet, the Flying Squadron, and the East India Squadron; he had been on board most of the vessels, and he asserted most distinctly that the Navy was not in the state of inefficiency that had been represented to the House. With the exception of the engineers and the Marines, respecting whose requirements a Commission of Inquiry had been granted, all branches of the Service were, he believed, perfectly contented. The hon. and gallant Member for Gravesend abused the men for being young, that was a thing one very often got abused for; but he (Lord Charles Beresford) thought these young men were better men than some of the grizzled old men who grumbled at them. They were taken in young that they might be the better trained. As to flogging deterring men from joining the Navy, he repeated what he had already said, that the men would like to see more of it. For a fine plucky fellow with lots of "go" in him who would always come out when he was wanted, was very often the man who would give his officer some "cheek" and be insubordinate. Well, under the old system, they could give him two dozen and "whitewash" him, and a week afterwards could make him a petty officer; but now they put his name down at the bottom of the list, and also in a book which went to the Admiralty, the consequence of which was that it might be brought against him for the next seven years as a bar to promotion. He wondered if he would have ever got his commission as a captain if there had been such a record kept of his delinquencies while he was a midshipman. He agreed with the hon. Member for Pembroke as to the Research and the Bellerophon, having served seven months in one and a year in the other of those vessels. The Research was a very bad vessel, but she was never intended to be anything else. The Bellerophon was an exceptionally fine vessel. The contention of the hon. and gallant Member for Gravesend that the Admiralty were to blame for the loss of the Vanguard was a most extraordinary one; the hon. and gallant Gentleman might just as well say that he (Lord Charles Beresford) was to blame because the favourite did not win the Derby. The Navy was not in the dreadful state imputed to it; on the con- trary, it was very far from it, and had considerably improved during the last five or six years.


, who had placed a Notice upon the Paper to move for a Select Committee to examine into the Designs upon which Ships of War had recently been constructed, as well as upon any new type of vessel or torpedo which might be placed before the Committee, said, the confidence of the country as to the state of our Navy had been very greatly shaken by the errors and disasters which had recently occurred. This question was too important to be lightly passed over, and he wished to know what ships we had really at home for home defence, what we had for convoy purposes, what for ocean fighting, and what system the Government meant to adopt for the purpose of protecting the various ports around our coasts, either by torpedoes or monitors? When he examined the concentration of our naval force in the Mediterranean he was unable to ascertain how the vessels were to be disposed of in the work required of them, supposing them to have been sent there for the purpose of maintaining the Treaty of Paris. With regard to the vessels which had been laid up at home, he held that we had not a sufficient force to protect us from the attack which might be made upon us, if Russia chose to accept the challenge which had been thrown down to her more than once by the present Government. Russia had in the Baltic for her protection a larger number of guns than we had at home—she having 1,032 against our 862. He wished to know how far the Admiralty had profited by the experience of those countries which had been the most recently engaged in naval warfare? One of the facts brought out by the Austro-Italian War was that rams and turret ships were of more use and possessed more destructive power that any other class of ships. The American Civil War placed before them the facts that unarmoured ships, such as the Alabama, possessing great speed, were to be preferred for ocean cruising and the destruction or convoy of commercial ships to other classes, and that vessels of the Monitor class were the best adapted for coast defence. During the Franco-German War the French iron-clads, deep down in the water, were unable to do any- thing either offensively or defensively, and even sailing colliers were able to pass them without being molested. The departmental Committee of 1871 unanimously held that the Devastation was the best kind of ship for offensive purposes, yet if she were sent against Sebastopol or some other Russian port the Russians would have it in their power to destroy her by a torpedo. With respect to the Iron Duke and the Vanguard, they reported that any new ships of this class should have the strength of their lower structure increased to prevent such disasters as the Vanguard had since experienced. Had the Admiralty acted upon that Report they would long ago have strengthened the lower structure of that class of ships. Our ocean cruisers of the Inconstant class would be found comparatively useless in real warfare. There was a want of system at the Admiralty with reference to the building of ships, and with one or two exceptions there was not a seaport in this country which had at the present moment any organized defence.


held that, without attempting to depreciate the efficiency of the Navy, it was quite open to hon. Members to declare that the administration of the Admiralty was not on the whole satisfactory. He was well aware that constant complaints were being made by officers in the Navy, and the Admiralty promised to inquire into them, but there the matter usually ended. There was the case of the Engineers. It was brought forward in the last Session, and hopes were held out that it would be inquired into, but nothing more was heard of it. As to the Marines, the right hon. Gentleman came to the conclusion at the beginning of last Session that reform was needed, but threw the blame of delay on the Treasury.[Mr. Hunt said, he threw no blame on the Treasury.] Well, he might be mistaken in that; but his impression was that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman led to the belief that the obstruction was not at the Admiralty, but at the Treasury. The country believed that the administration of the Admiralty was inefficient; but he made no personal attack upon the right hon. Gentleman, because any blame which there might be in the matter was much more attributable to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who had a great deal more to do with organizing the present system than right hon. Gentlemen now in office. The Constructive department of the Admiralty was also, he thought, not properly controlled or checked; and it was altogether impossible to settle the question of shipbuilding by desultory discussions in Parliament. Great changes were constantly taking place in the science of naval warfare, and the feeling of the public out-of-doors was that the Admiralty was a great deal too opinionated, and that there should be an investigation into the operations of the Constructive department. He thanked the hon. and gallant Member for Gravesend for having originated the present discussion, but hoped the Motion would not be pressed.


said, a departmental Committee on naval construction had been promised, but nothing had yet been done, and, owing to the pressure at the Admiralty to send out the powerful fleet now anchored at Besika Bay, he did not think the time an opportune one to revive the question.


said, there was no intention to evade the appointment of the departmental Committee; but some difficulty had been experienced in constituting it. It had been hoped that the Duke of Somerset would have presided over the Committee; but he had declined to do so. With reference to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Gourley), that a Select Committee should be appointed, he would only remark that early in the Session it had been shown that a departmental Committee was preferable. There was this advantage in a departmental Committee over a Select Committee, that it neither controlled nor hampered the action of the Admiralty. He could not accept the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) as a very powerful organ of public opinion, for he did not know what greater right that hon. and learned Gentleman had to speak for the public than he had himself. "The proof of the pudding was in the eating;" and the attitude of the House of Commons was a better indication of public opinion than the views of any single Member, whether he represented a dockyard town or not. He was sorry they had not yet been able to deal with the grievances of the Marines, but he hoped they would shortly arrive at a solution of the question, for it was under consideration both of the Treasury and the Admiralty. His hon. and learned Friend seemed to think that the grievance of the engineers should have been redressed in a minute; but the question was a very important one, and there was none which it was more difficult to handle. The Admiralty had not yet been able to communicate with the Treasury on the case, but the House would not be astonished at that when they considered what the work of the Admiralty had been during the Session, and especially in the latter part of it. If hon. Members saw his right hon. Friend's table, they would be astonished at the amount of work he had done, and would feel no surprise that he had been obliged to put off various questions. The recommendations of the Committee were being carefully weighed, and he trusted that on that point also they would soon be able to arrive at a decision.


said, that he had risen to second the Motion of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gravesend (Captain Pim), not for the purpose of encouraging him to proceed to a division, which he hoped he would not do, but in order to render him assistance in eliciting information on a most important branch of the public Service. He was glad to find that most valuable information had been given, and to give his tribute of respect and thanks at the same time to his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty for the zeal and earnestness of purpose with which he had discharged the very arduous and responsible duties of his office. But he must say he had felt much surprised with one statement in the right hon. Gentleman's speech—namely, that no dissatisfaction existed in any department of the Naval Service. Why, it was notorious, as had already been stated by the noble Lord the Member for Waterford (Lord Charles Beresford) and the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) that the greatest possible dissatisfaction and discontent had for some time existed, and still existed, in that gallant corps, the Royal Marines, who had during three sessions of Parliament been continually praying for the redress of their grievances, and he must say they complained most justly. On each occasion when their case had been brought before the House, they were told that the good time was coming and they must wait, among other reasons because the Army Pur- chase Commission, with which they had nothing whatever to do, had not reported. But hon. Members would recollect the well-known line—Rusticus expect at, dum defluat amnis, and they were thoroughly worn out with long and vain expectation. Their case proved that the administration of the Admiralty was not exactly what it should be. But he would proceed to another matter, to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Gourley) had referred—namely, the rapidly increasing strength of the Russian and German Navies in the Baltic and North Sea. That increase showed the necessity of making better provision for the safety of our North-east Coast and the security of our trade and shipping in those seas, as it was now well known that so far from our sea-coast defences being what they ought to be, there was not a single harbour to which our ships of war could resort, or where they could lie secure in tempestuous weather, from the mouth of the Thames to the Frith of Forth, or any batteries whatever by which they could be protected if overwhelmed by a superior force.


said, the hon. Baronet was out of Order in referring to a subject in reference to which he had a Motion upon the Paper.


said, he would at once bow to the decision of the Chair. He should not have alluded to the subject but for the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Sunderland, who had introduced the subject of the immense increase of the Navies of two great Continental powers. He must further observe that he had not felt quite satisfied with the refusal of the Admiralty to grant an inquiry into the accusation made lately against that Department by a private individual, who publicly challenged in every possible way the official conduct of Members of the Naval Administration, and asked that the charges he made might be made the subject of a public investigation. He confessed he had not felt satisfied with the reasons given by the First Lord why such an inquiry should not take place. It had been said in that House that it did not consist of naval architects, and they were not to be called upon to decide between rival claims. But his reply to that was they were English gentlemen, and if one of their body was thus publicly assailed by charges which were without foundation, they should render him every assistance in their power to scatter and overthrow them; indeed, he felt astonished when his hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke—


said, he must again remind the hon. Baronet he was out of Order, as he was not speaking to the Motion before the House, but to the subject of a late debate.


said, he had some knowledge of engineers and engineering, and believed the case of those employed in the Royal Navy to be exceptionally unjust and unfair. Even as regarded their retiring pensions the engineers in the American Navy had a better allowance. He hoped their case would be fully inquired into by the Committee now sitting on Naval Administration. He hoped the Admiralty would not listen to the complaints which were made in that House by Members representing dockyard boroughs. He believed there was no difficulty in securing the services of competent certificated engineers, because he knew that for every vacancy that occurred in the Merchant Service there were 20 applicants.


protested against the House being brought down to attend Morning Sittings, when so much time was wasted in discussions of that kind.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.