HC Deb 13 March 1876 vol 227 cc1891-918

, in rising to call attention to the number and condition of our Iron-clad Ships and to the strength of certain Foreign Iron-clad Navies, said, the standard by which they must judge the strength of the Navy was a relative, not an abstract one. No doubt it was somewhat invidious, for political reasons, to be continually referring to the strength or weakness of foreign Navies, and recently Ministers had avoided that. But there was no reason why he, a private Member, should not place before the House the information which he happened to possess about foreign Navies. Our strength in respect of unarmoured ships was of small importance in comparison with our strength in armoured ships, for we could quickly remedy defects in the former, but not in the latter. His present object was not to advocate anything like sudden or extravagant expenditure. Indeed, his object was an economical one, for he did not sympathize with those hon. Gentlemen who always regarded a reduction of expenditure as being synonymous with economy. He was in favour of the true economy which made the normal reasonable and proper expenditure equal to the occasions which might be fairly expected to arise. This had not been the case of late years. We had experience to guide us in this respect. In 1870 war was declared by Prance against Germany, and Her Majesty's Government did not say the Navy was sufficient, but hastily asked for an additional expenditure of £400,000 on the Navy, and laid down four ships—the Cyclops, the Hecate, Gorgon, and the Hydra. Being the designer of those vessels, he did not wish to disparage them; but he might mention that the design was prepared for a colonial Government and for a colonial purpose, and that the ships were not such as the Government of England would have sanctioned if they had not been ordered in the urgency of probable war. It happened that the war was at an end before we got even one of those vessels, and, consequently, that expenditure was useless for its purpose, and had given us four ships which we should not have built for English purposes under more deliberate circumstances. Any one who called attention to the state of the Navy was sure to be accused of creating a panic. Of late years, however, the grounds of the necessity for our expenditure had not been laid before us, and there was a tendency to glide into a purely artificial expenditure. It was, therefore, desirable that an independent Member should occasionally direct attention to our actual position. First of all, he would make a few remarks on iron-clad ships themselves, for some people asked whether it were wise to continue expending money on iron-clad ships, instead of constructing unarmoured rams and unarmoured tor- pedo vessels. Now, in his opinion, unarmoured rams and torpedoes could not possibly carry out the naval service of the country. Such rams and torpedo vessels could only attack ships, and were unfit for the general purposes of the British Navy. What was the last important duty which the iron-clad fleet of England was called upon to perform? It was the removal from under the guns of Cartagena of the two Spanish ironclads by Admiral Sir Hastings Yelverton. Those vessels had to be withdrawn from under batteries offering the most favourable position for attacking ships and armed with powerful ordnance. He would ask the House to consider whether an admiral in command of unarmoured torpedo boats could have attempted the operation he had described? The Spanish forts would have been able to destroy any unarmoured ships which had entered the harbour, even though those ships had, in the first place, destroyed the vessels of the insurrectionists—a very improbable event in view of the fact that the harbour was surrounded on all sides by forts armed with heavy guns. He therefore asked the House to consider very carefully before superseding iron-clads in the British Navy by vessels marked by so absolute a degree of inefficiency as was possessed by many of the ships to which reference had been made. For many years past the principal services which the British Navy had been called upon to perform had been executed against land forts and ports and harbours—a kind of service which could not possibly be performed in a satisfactory manner by unarmoured vessels. It was perfectly true that armour-clad ships cost large sums of money, and it could not but startle the country when an event occurred like the sinking of the Vanguard by her sister ship in an accidental collision. The loss of that ship was not, however, due to any intrinsic weakness in her construction, but to neglect of an obvious duty on the part of some one to close the compartments between the engine and boiler rooms. The officer who ought instantly to have closed these compartments, instead of doing so, applied himself to other duties, one of which was going on deck and imparting to the captain his conviction that the ship was sinking. The loss of the Vanguard, therefore, did not influence his belief that the ships of the Navy must be so armour-plated and so armed as to fit them alike for fighting at sea and acting on the offensive against land forts. There had grown up a habit in some quarters of slighting the importance of England having iron-clad ships in distant parts of the world. It was urged by some persons that, in reference to the matter, regard should be had to European operations only; but this view he held to be based on great and grievous error. For some time past England had had iron-clad flag-ships on the China, North American, and Pacific stations, and he did not think any one would be found bold enough to say that the circumstances of foreign countries were such as to diminish the demand for the presence of British iron-clads in distant waters. He would not refer to the Suez Canal further than to express his opinion that it would be necessary for England to station iron-clads at either end of the Canal in case of either war or the rumour of war in that part of the world. The fact of England purchasing or neglecting to purchase an interest in the undertaking would not, in his view of the case, affect this necessity in the slightest degree. Foreign countries all over the world were building iron-clads at the very time we were urged to cease doing so. Even the Chinese and Japanese Governments were having iron-clad ships built in England and Scotland at the present moment. Vessels of the kind were already possessed by the Brazilian, Chilian, and Peruvian Governments, and the Argentine Republic on the coast of South America; and the United States Government had a considerable number of powerful armour-plated ships for the defence of her coast and ports, which, though not exactly sea-going vessels, could yet make considerable coast passages. In view of the existence of these vessels it would be unreasonable to say that the demand for the use of additional ironclads abroad was likely to diminish rather than increase. He had gone carefully into the question of the amount of money expended during the last 18 years on the Navy, and he found that, although £200,000,000 had been so disbursed, not more than £18,000,000 had been expended in the building and first equipment of iron-clad ships. This statement might be doubted, and he would, therefore, mention, in illustration and further- ance of his view, that of the 16,000 workmen for whom it was proposed to provide in the Estimates for the-current year, not more than 3,000 were to be employed upon the construction of ironclad ships. He could not add anything about another part of our expenditure for the coming year, as there had fallen out of the Estimates for the last year or two a piece of information which was very valuable, and which he hoped they would have in future—namely, the division of contracts between iron-clad ships and unarmoured vessels. He now came to the relative position of this country and other nations with respect to iron-clads. He would throw out of consideration all wooden vessels covered with armour-plates, for this reason—that the greater part of them had been placed by the Admiralty on the list of ships which were not fit for sea-going purposes, and most of the remainder were known to be far gone into decay. He would not exclude all the wooden iron-clads of other countries, although he did the purely wooden ships, because some people believed in wood still. The French, for instance, had recently built wooden iron-clads, and it would be unreasonable to throw out new ships merely because they were wooden—his objection being to ships which were decaying or decayed. There were, as far as he was aware, two classes of vessels of ours which did not exist in any foreign Navy, the first a very curious class—one in which the armour was extended fore and aft all over the gun battery, but fell short at the water line, so that an enemy could riddle them at either end below the water line, and render them useless. Two vessels only of that class were constructed—the Hector and the Valiant—and these he would also leave out. They were among the earliest of our armoured vessels, but they had that very bad feature, and he did not believe in them, nor did he believe that any Board of Admiralty would send them into line in case of war, except when very hardly pressed. He threw out, also, the Defence and Resistance. Their batteries were small in proportion to their size. They could not be regarded as fit to work among armoured vessels, and he was not aware that any ship like these was to be found in any foreign Navy. Then, again, he would leave out another class—namely, long ships. They had five vessels of what he might call preternatural length—the Warrior, the Black Prince, the Minotaur, the Agincourt, and the Northumberland. He could not understand how any one could have made such ships of war, unless, indeed, for chasing purposes—for speed only. He threw them out because he believed they would become an easy prey to a powerful enemy. They were, however, valuable vessels for the purposes he had indicated, and if a part of their armour were removed, which might be easily effected without interfering with their speed, they would be still more valuable. That brought the number down to 12 vessels, and these he considered as extremely powerful vessels, although he had been reproached for including second-class iron-clads in his list. The 12 were the five of the Audacious and Swiftsure class, and the Hercules, Sultan, Bellerop hon. Monarch, Penelope, Devastation, and Thunderer; and he would also include the Alexandra, Dreadnought, and Shannon, which would be ready for sea early next year, and this he did to avoid, if possible, all cavil and question in reference to his figures. He would, of course, also take such ships into view in the case of other countries. Well, those 15 ships gave a total displacement tonnage of 113,500 tons, and an aggregate horse power of 91,300. A great deal had been said of their expenditure on iron-clads, and they were often told that they spent so much on the Navy in comparison with other nations, but what was the fact? He found that the grand total of English iron-clad displacement tonnage was 317,000 tons. That was the tonnage of all the iron-clads that had been built in this country from the commencement, while the grand total of the displacement tonnage of all European iron-clads during the same time was 697,500 tons. The first thing, therefore, he wished the House to understand was that this country had not built altogether nearly half as many iron-clads—comparing the displacement tonnage—as had the other European Powers. He had stated the tonnage of what he considered to be our efficient ships for general purposes at sea, and generally for the work of the country. He would now briefly refer to one or two other Powers. Germany had at this moment, including one or two vessels which were nearly completed, eight sea-going iron- clads. The weakest of these were not very strong ships, but they would bear in mind that he had not excluded from his list of English ships any iron-clad on account of mere weakness of armour. He had excluded none except where the armour was not extended over the whole water line. In addition to those vessels Germany had three ships with 10-inch armour and armed with 14½ton guns. Some authorities said 18-ton guns, but he preferred to state what he knew them to have when he last saw them. One of those ships had 18 of those guns, each of the others had eight, and not one of the German ships was armed with less than 9-ton guns. Two other of the ships had 9-inch armour, and they were armed with 21-ton guns. They had besides a small vessel, which he put down because she had 6-inch armour and at least a 9-ton gun. That was all he would say with reference to Germany. The next he came to was the Turkish Navy, because, curiously enough, Turkey, whatever she might have failed to do, had not failed to provide a goodly array of ironclads to he in front of the Imperial Palace on the Bosphorus. He was not aware that they did much else, or were very successful when they tried to do much else; but that was not the fault of the ships, for they were good ships, and would become formidable instruments in the hands of another Power. He had shown what would have happened if we had had to depend upon unarmoured rams and torpedoes at Cartagena. The Eastern Question had undergone great changes, and the House had been told that England had followed in the wake of three Great Powers and had not stood alone. But if he were to vaticinate, he would say that we might be compelled to stand alone, and that if the Eastern Question was to give us our next trouble in the future, the first duty of our Navy might be to he alongside the Turkish Navy and to take practical possession of it. Could such a duty be performed by unarmoured rams and torpedoes? The Dardanelles and the Bosphorus were strongly defended by batteries, against which unarmoured vessels would stand no chance, and if it ever became the duty of the English Navy to take possession of the Turkish Navy, it could only be done by iron-clads of the most powerful class. This was a list of the Turkish Navy. One ship had 12-inch armour and 15 guns, of which 12 were 18-ton guns. Then came four vessels of an earlier date, with 5½ inch armour, each carrying eight 12-ton guns, and a considerable number of 6½ ton guns. Those vessels were likely to receive a largely increased armament. Then there were two little vessels, one of which he had designed himself, with 9-inch armour and four guns, all of 12 tons; and there was another vessel exactly like her, which Turkey had had the skill to build for herself. Two more vessels he included among sea-going vessels though his hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda), who had built one of them, might perhaps take exception to his so including them. Had they belonged to the English Navy he should not have done so, but for naval purposes in the East they were very formidable ships, and therefore he did not exclude them. They had 7-inch armour, with four 12-ton guns. There were next some small vessels, each carrying a 12-ton gun; and three of them had been transferred from Egypt to the Sultan, when he objected to the Khedive having armoured ships of his own. Another vessel, which his hon. Friend had also built, had been recently launched, carrying 12-inch armour and four 25-ton guns. Altogether there were 13 ships, and the two most powerful of them were being repeated in this country; but he did not include these in the present calculation, as they were not likely to be completed within the coming year. The total tonnage of the Turkish efficient ships was 66,500 tons, with an indicated horse power of 50,000. He now came to the Navy of France, and here again some of the vessels were weak like the Penelope of our own Navy. He was, however, obliged to include such vessels, because they could not be altogether left out of the comparison. The French had very few finished iron vessels of war. They were believers in wood; they had been so from the beginning, and had paid for believing in it. This country also resorted to wood, and paid for doing so. But the French Government, resorting to it much more, had paid for it much more heavily than we had done, and he was quite alive to everything that had been said as to the decay and waste of the French wooden vessels. The oldest of the iron-clads of the French Navy which he considered as efficient was the Ocean, launched in December, 1868, the Marengo, and the Suffren. They were 7¾ inch armoured and carried eight guns, of which four were guns of 21 tons. France had also two iron ships of a less strength—the Couronne, of 5-inch, and the Heroine, of 6-inch armour—but both carrying 14-ton guns. She had also the Friedland, of 7¾ inch armour, carrying 14-ton guns; the Triomphante, Victorieuse, and Laga-lissonnière, of 6-ineh armour and 8-ton guns; and the Riehelieu, Colbert, and Trident, of 8½ inch armour and 21-ton guns. Some of them were not completed, but they were all likely to be finished during the year. Mr. Martin, in his Statesman's Year Book, said— By a Resolution of the National Assembly passed in the Session of 1875 large additions are to be made to the Navy of war, an annual credit of 30,000,000f., or £1,200,000, being set aside for the purpose, to be applied to 50 vessels, the construction of which is either to be finished, continued, or simply commenced within five years. Of these 50 vessels, there are to be seven iron-clads of the first class; five iron-clads of the second class; eight iron-clads for coast defence, of which five are to be of the first class and three of the second class; four gunboats of the first class; nine cruisers; four avisos; eight transports; and four gunboats capable of being taken to pieces. The vessels which have to be finished in 1876 are the following:—The Colbert and the Trident, iron-clads of the first class; the Triomphante and the Victorieuse, ironclads of the second class; the Tonnerre, ironclad for coast defence of the first class; the Lutin and the Lynx, gunboats of the first class; the Tourville, cruiser of the first class; the Deputit Thouars, cruiser of the second class; and the four gunboats which are to be capable of being taken to pieces. The greater number of these vessels are being or will be built in the Government dockyards at Brest, Cherbourg, and Toulon. The aggregate tonnage of the French efficient sea-going iron-clads was 84,000 tons, with an indicated horse-power of 55,500. He had excluded from the French, as from our own Navy and other Navies, all ships that had been ordered to be completed, but which would not be finished during the coming year. There were other vessels in the course of construction for France, and of these one was of 12-inch armour with 35-ton guns; another, 15-inch and 4 guns of 21 tons; a third of the same character, and four other powerful vessels. One or two of them had not been actually commenced, but he had also included in his English list ships such as the Ajax and the Agamemnon, in which progress would be made during the coming year. He would go lightly over the remaining Navies. Russia had, or would have at the end of the year, five iron-clad sea-going vessels. The names of these ships were the Prince Pajarski, with 4½ inch armour and 9½ton guns; the Peter the Great, with 15-inch armour and 40-ton guns; the General Admiral, with 6-inch armour, and 12½ ton guns; the Duke of Edinburgh, with 6-inch armour and 12½ ton guns; and the Minin, with 7-inch armour, and 12½ ton guns. The Peter the Great was not yet finished, and progress in constructing her had been very much delayed by the fact that two ships in succession went to the bottom with armour plates for the Peter the Great on board. He was laughed at when he talked of the Peter the Great; but he reminded the House that there were two ships of ours which were begun before he left the Admiralty in 1870; and one of which, the Dreadnought, was only to be finished next July twelvemonth. We had, in fact, been longer in building the Dreadnought and the Thunderer than the Russians had been building the Peter the Great. The Russian sea-going armour-clad Navy, however, was hardly worth discussing. Exception, indeed, might be taken to including three of their ships as armour-clads at all; but they were all protected at the water line, and came within the class to which he was referring. Besides, as he had said, they were all armed with 12½ton guns, and would be powerful as cruisers. The iron-clad Navy of Italy consisted of eight ships, four all alike, comprising 37,500 tons, with 30,500 horse-power. Besides these, Italy was building two very powerful ships, but he thought that neither of them would be finished during the present year. As to these ships he wished to say a word. Soon after he left office a powerful Committee was appointed to sit upon the British Navy, consisting of Gentlemen who knew very little about the subject, and not numbering among them a single shipbuilder. It was an unfair Committee, because, though consisting of able men, there were none who were masters of his work; but he was happy to say that this Committee, though probably brought together to ban his ships, really blessed them, and he had no fault to find with their Report. He was requested to go before the Committee, and he was asked by the Chairman, Lord Dufferin, to explain the project of a ship which he had designed to meet the future requirements of the country. He did so, and his successor was afterwards examined to give further information about it. What followed was, he thought, not creditable to our prudence in these matters. This Report was shown to him in Berlin, and it contained the description given by him to the Committee. This was many months before the Report was laid on the Table of the House, and the Department had not the courtesy to show him the Report. But it was, as he had said, shown to him in Berlin, and by the time he had got into Russia, it had become so cheap that he was offered a copy. The point to which he was coming was that the two Italian ships he had mentioned were the consequences of this Report. The Chief Constructor of the Italian Navy and his assistants tried their hands upon carrying out the plan he had described to the Committee, which was intended to give great superiority to the first Power who turned out a vessel upon this model. He thought, however, that the persons who had adopted his plan did not quite understand it; and he was of opinion that these vessels, when completed, could never be sent into action with safety, for if penetrated with shot and shell in their unarmoured part above the armour deck, they would capsize. This should be a caution to persons who undertook the construction of ships without sufficient information. The Italian vessels were the Venezia, with 6-inch armour and 18-ton guns; the Principe Amadeo, with 9-inch armour and 18-ton guns; the Palestro, with 9-inch armour and 18-ton guns; the Ancona, the Regina Maria Pia, Castelfidardo, and the San Martino, each with 5-inch armour and 12½ ton guns; and the Affondatore, with 5-inch armour and 12-ton guns. The Austrian iron-clad Navy consisted of the Custozza, 9¼ inch armour and 21-ton guns; the Albrecht, 8¼ inch ar-mour; the Kaiser, 6¼ inch armour; the Lissa, originally a wooden vessel, with 6¼ inch armour, the Kaiser Max, the Bon Juan, and the Prince Eugene, three vessels also originally of wood, but transformed now into iron vessels, with six inches of armour and 12½ ton guns. He had not mentioned Spain, Portugal, Denmark, or any of the Northern Powers, but confined his comparison to the six Powers, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, Turkey, and Austria. The results were these—France had 84,000 tons of these ships, or would have at the end of the year; Germany, 53,000; Italy, 37,500; Russia, 29,000; Turkey, 59,900; Austria, 35,500. The aggregate was 298,900, against 113,500 of English. He had been asked whether he could name any three Powers which, putting their efficient iron-clads together, would be equal to our own. His answer was that a combination of three Powers was not necessary. Prance and Italy, or Prance and Russia, or Prance and Turkey, or France and Austria would have a combined fleet which would come up to ours. He did not mention the combination of Germany with France, because he was asked not to put them together, and the chances were that for some time to come these two Powers would not be united. But there were four combinations of a single Power with France that would be equal to us, and a combination of three Powers would give a force that would exceed ours. As for Turkey, he did not believe in the fighting capabilities of the Turks; but a Turkish Navy existed, and if we allowed it, that Navy might fall into hands that might cause the consequences to be serious. The Turkish fleet was at present in hands that might act wilfully, and if offended with England, steps might be taken which we might have occasion to regret. If any one could show his figures to be seriously wrong by all means let it be done; but he had prepared them with the utmost care, and he had stated as to Foreign Navies every point of their weakness. He believed most firmly that our expenditure upon iron-clad ships was not what it ought to be. There might be room for many opinions as to our aggregate expenditure upon the Navy, but iron-clads we could not produce quickly, and he believed that it was the duty of the House, and even of the greatest economists in it, and for the sake of the economy which they cherished, to insist upon a due and proper expenditure upon our iron-clads in relation to the power of other Navies, so as to secure to us that great strength and that independence which we ought to have when any European complications might happen to arise.


said, the House was much indebted to the hon. Member for his interesting statement, and he himself derived great gratification from the views which the hon. Gentleman had expressed as to the necessity of keeping up our iron-clad fleet. He was aware, as the hon. Gentleman had reminded the House, that since the recent disaster the opinion was extending that we ought to discontinue the building of iron-clad ships. He did not share that view; for with regard to the disaster there was this to be said, that the ship was not prepared as a ship would be if going into action. If the Vanguard had been going into action all her water-tight compartments would have been closed; and, secondly, the blow which she received was struck in that part of the ship where she was likely to receive the greatest injury; and in war we should be very unfortunate if the impact of an enemy's ship would always find out the very spot where the greatest injury would be inflicted. It should be remembered, too, that, notwithstanding the great injury done to the Vanguard, she kept afloat for an hour and 20 minutes after she was struck, and therefore the system of water-tight compartments had answered to some extent. But it might not be in the knowledge of the House that very great improvements in the construction of water-tight compartments had been made since the Vanguard was built, both as regarded the height of the compartments and the number of them. The Vanguard had 23 water-tight compartments; but the Devastation had 68, the Dreadnought 61, the Nelson and Northampton, in course of construction, 83, and the Inflexible, 89. But it was not only the number of the compartments that was to be considered, but the way in which they were built. The compartments were now not only transverse, but longitudinal fore and aft, and if they had been so constructed in the Vanguard when she was struck, one set of engines would have been left untouched by the water, and could have been worked. He agreed with the hon. Member that it would be absurd to think of having our fleet composed of torpedoes and unarmoured rams, or to trust to unarmoured ships against armoured; because an unarmoured vessel in presence of an armoured one would be powerless, and they could not possibly meet upon equal terms. Therefore, whatever the expense, we must build armoured ships, since we might have to meet Navies com- posed of such vessels. He was anxious io say this, because, as he did not propose to lay down any new iron-clads this year, he might be thought to be taking what the hon. Member had described as a view that was extending in the country—namely, that the further building of iron-clad vessels ought to be discontinued. The fact was, we had a great number of iron-clads in hand, and he thought the proper course would be this year to proceed with unarmoured vessels, not, however, with any intention of relinquishing the building of armoured ships. The hon. Gentleman had gone over the question of the comparative strength of our iron-clad fleet and that of the iron-clad fleets of foreign nations. He (Mr. Hunt) had hitherto avoided discussing in this House that question, because he thought it a matter which would be better considered in his office, in the direction of determining what addition should be made to the strength of our own fleet, than made a subject of debate in the House of Commons. It was a matter of great delicacy for a Minister to criticize the naval force of another Power, though he found no fault with the hon. Gentleman for having done so. A celebrated cynical philosopher had said that we should treat our friends as if they might one day be our enemies, and our enemies as if they might one day be our friends. Well, we might, perhaps, carry our discussion on this subject so far as to convert our friends into enemies, but he doubted if by the same means we could convert enemies into friends. The hon. Gentleman, however, had rather forced this discussion upon him, and therefore he felt bound to take some notice of his remarks. He was not at all aware of the mode in which the hon. Gentleman would treat his subject, and he felt unable to follow him in the line he had chosen. He did not expect to hear the hon. Gentleman discuss the question as a matter of tonnage; if he had expected it he would have been prepared. But he had no Papers before him which would enable him to deal with it as a question of tonnage, though he had gone into it from every point of view. In a remarkable letter, signed with his name, and which all who took an interest in the subject had read, the hon. Gentleman discussed the composition of Her Majesty's iron-clad fleet. On that occasion the hon. Gentleman excluded all ships not yet ready for sea, but this evening he had included those which might be taken to sea in the present year. He (Mr. Hunt) preferred the hon. Gentleman's original classification for the purpose in view to that which he had adopted to-night, and if the hon. Gentleman would confine himself to the ships actually ready for sea, we should stand rather better than he had placed the case before the House. In the classification which the hon. Gentleman had given of those ships he did not agree; and, moreover, the hon. Gentleman had rather underrated the value of the ships which he said he put on one side. There were altogether 27 iron-clad ships, putting aside the two sea-going rams, the Hotspur and Rupert. He thought it was a mistake to put all our iron-clad ships aside except 12; but if only 12 of our iron-clad fleet were to be taken into account, the hon. Gentleman should have contrasted these with those of similar powers in other fleets. The hon. Gentleman had given them an interesting account of the Navies of other Powers; but he did not think he had dealt with the Navies of other countries quite as hardly as he had done with our own. It was exceedingly difficult to make any comparison as regarded numbers, for three or four different people would divide them in a different way. There would be a difference as regarded the numbers even in our own fleet, and some would reject ships which others would consider effective. And if there was that difference as regarded our own ships, there was far more likely to be such a difference with regard to the fleets of our neighbours. Then there was the difficulty of making a comparison as to their efficiency. We know all the imperfections of our own fleet, but we did not know the imperfections of our neighbours'; therefore, we were more likely to discard ships in our own fleet than in the fleets of other countries. The hon. Gentleman spoke of only 12 ships in our iron-clad fleet as being worthy to be taken into account as fighting ships. He (Mr. Hunt) would take the number at 11, excluding the Penelope and the sea-going rams; but what he would point out was this—if we were only to take account of 12 or 11 iron-clads in our fleet as fighting ships, we should apply the same standard to foreign fleets. If they did that, it would be found, he believed, that France, which had the most powerful Navy, had only five ships of that class, Italy four, Germany three, Russia one, and Turkey one. The hon. Gentleman had compared the tonnage of the different fleets, but he confined himself to this one view; and, taking that view, supposing we had only 11 ships for a great naval battle, they could not find, as regarded that class of ships, any combination of two Powers equal to our own, or of three that would be more than equal to our own. He ventured to think there was no ship now fit for service amongst the ships of other nations that was equal to the Devastation and the Thunderer. The hon. Gentleman told them that in the classification he had given to-day he had reckoned the ships to be completed in the course of the year; but with regard to such ships we were far ahead of other nations. We had now three iron-clads that were launched last year; in the course of the next two months one more ship would be ready, with another to follow; whereas of the ships building in France only one was launched last year, and another would be probably launched in July. So that we were three ships better than France. He had his account of the French Navy drawn up in a different way from that drawn up by the hon. Gentleman. It stated the case thus—Iron-clad ships in commission, 1876, English, 14, of which only one was of wood; French, nine, all wood. Iron-clad ships in First Reserve, 1876, English, 12, all of iron; French, 17, only three of iron. Ships completing for sea, 1876, including those repairing—English, nine, two of wood; French, three, all wood. Of those building, of which three were very nearly ready—English, six, all of iron; French, 13, only one of iron. And with regard to one French ship spoken of as likely to be completed this year, his information was that no work was going on upon her at present. He really hardly liked to go into the particulars of all the different Navies, although he had them all before him. He had endeavoured, however, to show that if we were to take only 12 or 11 as really fighting ships in our iron-clad Navy, as regarded that class of ships we certainly stood in a very fair position. He knew it would be said that a change of position made a great deal of difference in regard to a question of this kind—that two years ago he had made a very different statement, and that now he was inclined to take a more rosy view of matters. He had no wish to revive a controversy which he hoped to a great extent had passed away, but when he made his statement in 1874, he said that only 14 iron-clad ships, with the exception of the Devastation, were in an effective state in the proper sense of the word; at the present time, 20 iron-clads were in a thoroughly effective state in every sense of the word. The hon. Gentleman said that of these 20 ships a great many were not fit to be put in front of the battle, but they were effective for every purpose for which they were built—equal to meet any ship of the same character. In the course of two years, therefore, during which he had held his present office, the effective strength of these ships had been increased from 14 up to 20, setting aside the Devastation and the Thunderer, and notwithstanding the loss of the Vanguard, and in the course of August another ship would be ready. He therefore thought he was justified in taking a more favourable view of matters than he did two years ago. In addition to this, the ships laid down by his Predecessors had been very considerably advanced. Three ships could be completed in the course of this year—two certainly, if all went well, and a third next year. In addition to that, a fourth laid down had made considerable progress in the hands of contractors. He was quite aware that other countries were making progress with their iron-clad fleets. It was our duty to watch their progress and see that we did not fall off; but as things stood at present, without venturing to say that we had got a great preponderance over any two fleets of other nations, as far as we could judge, he thought we were in a safe state as regarded our iron-clad fleet. Taking France, which had the most powerful Navy next our own, his comparative estimate of the French and English fleets was drawn up by the most competent persons in his Department, and the iron-clad ships of the two countries stood thus—England, 100; France, 75. If that view was accepted, even in ease of the combination of France with any other Power, we might still consider this country safe as regarded our iron-clad fleet. He should have made this statement, or something like it, in Committee; but, in answer to the hon. Gentleman, he had been obliged in some degree to forestall it. Still he had been very glad to have had this conversation, and he should be glad to have the benefit of the hon. Member's remarks when he laid down any more iron-clad ships.


said, he was reluctant to interpose between the right hon. Gentleman and the statement he was about to make, but the question brought forward by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) was of such extreme importance that it ought not to be lost sight of in the details of a discussion on the Estimates. The statement of the hon. Member, which was somewhat difficult to follow, was likely to cause considerable alarm and apprehension, because, on a comparison of the tonnage of different Navies, he arrived at the conclusion that there were several possible combinations even of small Powers that would be superior to the naval strength of England; and if there were any hon. Member who agreed with this conclusion, it would be his bounden duty to give Notice of a Motion declaring that the iron-clad fleet of this country was not equal to its requirements. The country certainly would not be content that those combinations which the hon. Member for Pembroke pointed out as giving a superiority over our own naval power should be a possible danger to us. He would not dispute the figures of that hon. Member; but there were two views which could be taken of his general statement. It was made in answer to a challenge, and if he wished theoretically to show that the tonnage in iron-clads of various countries put together in certain combinations was superior to our tonnage, no doubt, if his figures were correct, he had proved his case. But if the hon. Gentleman went beyond that theoretical conclusion, and meant to say that the actual fighting naval power of those possible combinations which he had indicated—such, for instance, as that of France and Turkey, or that of Italy, Turkey, and Russia—was superior to our own, then it would be the duty of every one who agreed with him to push the Government to the utmost in order to increase our naval power, because the country would not be satisfied with such a state of things. But he demurred to some of the statements of the hon. Member for Pembroke. They had not only to count the number of ships or the quality of tonnage in instituting their comparison. Suppose they had the Devastation, the Thunderer, and the Dreadnought, and had with them to engage a fleet of 16 ships with iron plates of five inches in thickness, and with the guns which that class of ships would carry, was it to be said that because the tonnage of 16 ships was greater than that of the three, therefore they would be superior to them in fighting power? It was on the strength of the individual ships that reliance was to be placed rather than on the number of weak ships with their plates. The possession of one such ship as the Thunderer was of incalculable advantage, and as soon as we could multiply ships of such a character our means of safety would be greatly increased. Then there was the question of the difficulty which foreign countries had in building iron ships. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the Peter the Great and mentioned the delay caused by the loss of her iron plates on their transit from this country. Well, there was a foreign Power wanting to build iron-clads, but she could not build them without applying to this country for a portion of the material; and that was the case with many foreign Powers besides Russia. The completion of the Peter the Great was delayed because her iron plates had to be obtained from England, and they were lost on their way. Surely it gave us an immense superiority to be the great manufacturers of iron-clads, and those iron-clads which were on the stocks in this country could not be regarded as belonging to the foreign Powers which had ordered them until they were completed, because if, before they were finished, a war broke out between us and those Powers they would be confiscated and added to our Navy and deducted from the strength of our enemies. The hon. Member had compared the delay in completing the Thunderer and the Dreadnought with the delay in completing the Peter the Great, but he forgot to state that the delay in the former case was voluntary and intentional on the part of our Admiralty, while in the latter it was owing to the inability of Russia to make iron plates. The delay in regard to the Dreadnought was due to the desire to make alterations in her, and in regard to the Thunderer to the desire to introduce the new hydraulic machinery for fighting turrets. He was sure his hon. Friend would not by any means desire that the impression should go forth that we could not and did not build iron-clads much faster than other countries. Again, in instituting his comparison with the Turkish Navy, the hon. Member began by excluding in the most extraordinary manner about half the English Navy. He excluded, for example, the Minotaur, the Northumberland, the Achilles, the Warrior, and the Black Prince, which would be very awkward customers for some of the shorter Turkish iron-clads, mentioned by the hon. Member, to deal with. The hon. Member said, the reason he excluded them was because they were too long, but he (Mr. Goschen) thought that such vessels, manned by English crews, would be found very difficult to deal with by a hostile force. The First Lord of the Admiralty spoke of what he had done during the last two years, and told them that having had before only 14 effective ships in the Navy, he was now able to count 20, exclusive of the Vanguard. The right hon. Gentleman had also at enormous cost repaired six ships, yet those ships, with one single exception, were excluded from the hon. Member for Pembroke's comparison. That was practically rather a serious indictment to make against the First Lord of the Admiralty. He did not think he exaggerated the importance of the statements of the hon. Member for Pembroke, because, coming as they did from such a high authority, they were calculated to raise great alarm; and from the cheers which they elicited from some parts of the House, it would appear that they were accepted by some hon. Gentleman. If some of those statements were really correct, all he could say was that no time ought to be lost by the Admiralty in taking action. If the views of the hon. Member for Pembroke were only proximately correct, then our naval power was in a state which ought to be remedied by the Government. It was impossible for any one to support the views of the hon. Member for Pembroke and at the same time not to feel that the Government would incur a very grave responsibility if this year, instead of increasing our iron-clads, they turned their attention to any subsidiary object, however important. He (Mr. Goschen) had already shown that the hon. Member for Pembroke had omitted all the long ships—the Warrior, the Black Prince, the Achilles, the Agincourt, the Minotaur, and the Northumberland. He had also omitted some other vessels, such as the Repulse and the Hotspur, because he thought they were not sufficiently good ships, but in his (Mr. Goschen's) opinion they were capable of doing us good service. Again, why should a vessel like the Hotspur be excluded from calculation, if a naval action had to be fought? There was also the Glatton, which would be a match for many an iron-clad. The Cyclops, the Hecate, the Hydra, and the Gorgon were likewise vessels of a class likely to prove very effective. He would not go into further detail with regard to the statement of the hon. Member, but he thought the House would not be satisfied to leave the matter in its present state. It must be cleared up, and he trusted that the Government would enable the House to get as much information as possible on the subject. He hoped that the figures which had been published in that House by the hon. Member for Pembroke would be followed by the laying on the Table of the House such official information as could be got as to the Navies of other countries. It appeared that the horse-power of the Turkish Navy was 48,500, while that of the French Navy was 50,000. The hon. Member had done good service by bringing these statistics before the House, but he (Mr. Goschen) thought it was impossible to assent to the hon. Member's views with regard to a combination of various Powers, and an endeavour ought to be made to set the matter right.


The interesting statement of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) has, I am happy to say, confirmed the views which I have thought it my duty to urge upon successive Governments on whichever side of this House I may have had the honour of a seat. For several years I urged these views upon the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen), and I am glad to see that he has at last taken alarm. No doubt he has done so because the hon. Member for Pembroke has urged the subject with more knowledge, with more detail, and, I am sure, with much more ability.


I have not taken alarm. I said—if the statements of the hon. Member for Pembroke were correct, then our Navy is not in a satisfactory condition.


Well, the statements of the hon. Member for Pembroke have so entirely confirmed all that I have ever stated, and which I have continuously urged upon the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that if he has not taken alarm I am sorry for it. My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty has admitted that the relative proportion of the naval force of this country and of France in iron-clads is as 100 to 75. Now, I am not, one of those who depreciate the power of that gallant nation, nor do I believe that, because in a war in which 700,000 Germans, splendidly led, triumphed over 300,000 Frenchmen, ill-commanded, therefore their Navy may now be safely despised. The siege of Paris showed that the best of its gallant defenders were the French Navy, and Admiral de la Ronciére de la Nourry showed how gloriously the officers of the French Marine can conduct themselves in difficult circumstances. The House must remember that the iron-clad fleet of France is always at hand for European contingencies, and in European seas. They are to be found in Toulon or in Brest, or in Cherbourg. But if we take the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pembroke as accurate, then one-fourth of our iron-clad ships are in distant seas. I do not admit the entire accuracy of the comparison of the hon. Member for Pembroke, but it is absolutely necessary that in India, in the Pacific, and in the West Indies, we should have an iron-clad ship. It was from no vain desire that an ironclad was originally sent to those distant seas. Many Members of this House must remember that the Ocean, the first iron-clad sent to China, was sent there because the Spaniards had a ship, the Numantia, of equal, if not greater, power, which could do as it pleased; was, in fact, cock of the walk, unless we had sent a ship of equal power to maintain at least a just equilibrium. The House must also remember that the Zealous was sent to the Pacific, because an iron-clad in the harbour of Valparaiso made it impossible for Admiral Denman in a wooden frigate, which might have been blown out of the water, to enforce the just demands of this country. And now that Chili has two iron-clads and Peru one, as we are informed by the hon. Member for Pembroke, we are more than ever bound to maintain at least one iron-clad in those waters. I need not go into the reasons which make it desirable to maintain an iron-clad on the North American and West Indian Station. But necessities of this kind diminish our naval forces in European waters, and by so much altered our available power in these seas. I hold in my hand a Return, as I believe, quite correct, of the naval iron-clads of France; but before I come to that I should be glad to give the House, with its kind permission, my view of the available ironclads of this country as well as of France, and though I name as available more ships than the hon. Gentleman, I do so for both countries, and leave their relative strength much the same. Of sea-going iron-clads of the first-class now ready or nearly so, I believe we have three—namely, the Alexandra, the Hercules, and the Sultan. Of the second class we have seven—namely, the Audacious, the Bel-lerophon, the Invincible, the Iron Duke, the Monarch, the Swiftsure, and the Triumph. These 10 ships are equal to any other 10 ships belonging to any navy in the world. In the third class, most of which the hon. Member discards, I place 11 ships—namely, the Achilles, the Agincourt, the Black Prince, the Defence, the Hector, the Minotaur, the Northumberland, the Penelope, the Resistance, the Valiant, and the Warrior. I do not consider the Pallas, the Favourite, or the Research, in these days fit to be considered in the strength of our iron-clad Navy, nor so far as I am able to judge are the few remaining wooden ironclads worth much repair, or fit to be reckoned on in the event of a war. There are four of these, and I discard them, as the hon. Member for Pembroke has also done—they are the Lord Warden, the Repulse, the Royal Alfred, and the Royal Oak, and I am happy to think the latter name has only been by inadvertence retained on this year's Navy List. Of coast-defence ships we have the Devastation and the Thunderer in the first class, and though they would be very formidable vessels near home, in the Channel, or the Mediterranean, they cannot be looked upon as sea-going ships, and their great draught of water prevents them going through the Suez Canal, and they cannot be regarded as such valuable additions to our Fleet as the right hon. Gentleman seems to consider them. The second class coast-defence ships are the Glatton, Gorgon, Hecate, Hotspur, Hydra, and Rupert; but they would be of no avail for-sea-going operations, although invaluable for attacking a European fortress. We are building eight iron-clads, seven of them sea-going—namely, the Agamemnon, the Ajax, the Inflexible, the Nelson, the Northampton, the Shannon, the Teme-raire and one coast-defence ship, the Dreadnought. But the French are also building nine iron-clads—the Friedland and the Richelieu of the first class, nearly complete, and the Devastation, Du Guesclin, and Fowdroyant, also of the first class, lately commenced; and of the second class, the Condé, Tu-renne, Triomphante, and Victorieuse, now building in France. They have afloat, of the first class—Marengo, Ocean, Suffren, Magenta, Solferino, Flandre, Gauloise, Guyenne, Magnanime, Provence, Revanche, Savoie, Surveillante, Valeureuse, Heroine, Gloire, Couronne, Redoubtable, Colbert, Trident; and of the second class, the Galipomére, Alma, Armide, Atlante, Bel-liqueuse, Jeanne d'Arc, Montcalm, Reine Blanche, and Thetis, making 29 sea-going ships afloat and nine building, without counting 19 coast-defence ships. Now I do not know the condition of all these ships; but the French have 29 sea-going iron-clads afloat and nine building, to compare with our sea-going Fleet all told, and reckoning the three wooden iron-clads which my right hon. Friend desires us to reckon, of only 28 and eight building—that is, 36 to 38. Now, I do not wish to blame my right hon. Friend. He is gradually trying to restore our iron-clad Fleet, without any sudden or spasmodic effort. He is building eight iron-clads against the five which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London was going to build, and this the House must acknowledge to be a great improvement; but I cannot think that the country will rest satisfied until it is assured, not only that our Fleet is equal in number to that of France, but that it is sufficient to meet any possible combination of hostile forces.


considered that the naval force of this country, though great, was not so much in excess of that of other countries as it ought to be. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke on his general points, but with his details he did not feel the same concurrence. For instance, his hon. Friend was quite right in saying that but a small proportion of the money expended upon our Navy had been spent upon the construction of iron-clads. He could not agree with his hon. Friend, however, as to the number of vessels that should be discarded in estimating our naval force, and he did not think he was right in excluding from it vessels of such importance as the Minotaur, the Agincourt, the Northumberland, and others of that class simply on account of their length. His hon. Friend had designed vessels which were shorter, and therefore handier, but the longer ships would be, nevertheless, very powerful and formidable antagonists. His hon. Friend had dealt with the subject in a very practical manner by considering what was likely to take place, and the position we should be placed in if an European war broke out in which we were involved, but in such an event he would find that ships of the Gorgon and Hotspur class ought not to be excluded in reckoning the force we could take into Continental waters. They did not, it was true, possess the qualities of cruising vessels, or carry coal enough to take them across the Atlantic, but there was nothing to prevent them taking their places in line-of-battle in any of the European seas. If requisite, they could carry coal enough to take them to Gibraltar, and they could coal there and go on to Malta. With these corrections, 27 was nearer the number of our vessels available for line-of-battle than 12, as stated by the hon. Member for Pembroke. It might, however, be doubtful whether naval line-of-battle would ever again be formed, because, while the stronger Power would sweep the seas, the weaker Power would remain in harbour, under the protection of their guns, until an opportunity served for them to turn out and harass the enemy. France in the Franco-German War had a preponderating Fleet, and Germany, aware of that, kept her ships in port during that war. Germany had now, however, a formidable Fleet; but he believed, from the long friendship that subsisted between that empire and England, Germany would unite with England in any struggle; and with regard to Turkey, he believed the Turkish Fleet would also be with England. This country should keep a Fleet of the most powerful character, so as to have at all times a large available force ready, for in the number of her ships would consist her great safety. He agreed with his hon. Friend in thinking that, although unarmoured corvettes and torpedo vessels were of considerable value, the possession of such ships did not relieve the country from the responsibility of keeping up a complement of armoured ships sufficient, in case of war, not only for all possible service in case of an unexpected combination of Powers against us, but also to form a reserve force which could be called into action during the time occupied in repairing vessels which had been injured or disabled in action. In his opinion, it was perfectly right to spend the surplus wealth of the country in perfecting the condition of the Navy, if only as an insurance against foreign invasion.


said, attempting to estimate the strength of the British Navy by comparing it with the Navy of another great Power, was a difficult process by which to obtain a correct opinion. The right hon. Gentleman had quoted the strength of the British Navy 100 as against 75 of France. He did not know that that was correct; but he thought they would go a great way in arriving at a correct estimate by looking at the sum which their Navy had cost the country. He regarded the amount of money expended upon the maintenance of the Navy as a premium paid upon the policy of insurance covering the Mercantile Marine of the country. In 1860 the total value of the imports and exports of this country amounted to £375,000,000, against £682,000,000 in last year; the expenditure upon the Royal Navy to the same period being £12,324,000 in 1860 and £10,425,000 in 1875. In 1860 the tonnage of the ships employed in the Mercantile Marine of this country was 4,591,000 tons, while in 1873—the latest Return he had been able to obtain—it had increased to 5,682,000 tons, showing an increase of 25 per cent during a period when the tonnage of ships be- longing to France had increased by only 6 per cent. Dividing the tonnage into inward and outward bound craft, he found that in 1860 the tonnage of vessels entering British ports was 12,000,000 tons, as compared with 22,000,000 tons in 1873; while that of British and foreign ships cleared outwards from British ports was in 1860 12,500,000 tons, against 22,500,000 tons in 1873. The income of this country returned as taxable in 1860 was about £282,000,000, while in 1873 it amounted to no less than £511,000,000. If, therefore, the premium on the policy of insurance was to be based upon the imports and exports, it was clear, comparing the amount of them with the cost of the Navy, that in 1860 it was at the rate of 3½ per cent. and that in 1873 it was not more than 1½ per cent. If it was more correct to compute the premium upon the taxable income of the country, it was about 4 per cent in 1860, and not more than 2 per cent in 1873. He thought it clear, therefore, that the expenditure upon the Navy; instead of having increased in proportion to the wealth of the country, had positively declined, and that instead of having provided "bloated armaments," the country was not spending a sufficient amount on the Navy.


said, the amount of naval force, which it was necessary that this country should maintain, must depend on the naval strength of other countries. Various comparisons might be made; and he should make a comparison, in which all vessels should be excluded from consideration, which were plated with less than 7 inch armour. The able French writer, Dislere, had laid it down as an axiom that armour, which was easily penetrable, was a mere incumbrance; and that armour of less than 7 inches could not be reckoned capable of resisting the projectiles of the naval guns which were ordinarily carried in iron-clad ships. The French Navy had five vessels actually launched which had plating exceeding 7 inches in thickness, and they had building eight such vessels. The programme of the French Government for 1872 included seven first-class and five second-class ironclads, and eight coast-defence ships. Of the first class three were actually launched, three of the second were being built, and four of the vessels for for coast defence were built. The Ger- man Admiralty in 1873 proposed to build eight first-class frigates, all of which were now built; six iron-clad corvettes, of which one was built; and seven vessels for coast defence, of which two were built. The remaining five were abandoned and torpedo boats substituted. The Russian Navy had only two vessels built which had plating exceeding 7 inches in thickness. On reviewing our situation, he thought the House ought to be satisfied that even supposing such an inconceivable thing to occur as a combination against this country of France, Germany, and Russia we ought to be able to maintain the contest on very equal terms. It so happened that the annual naval expenditure of the three Powers amounted as nearly as possible to the sum now proposed for this country. He would not detain the House at a time when all were anxious to hear the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty. While it was important that our Fleet should at all times be maintained in a condition of efficiency for the emergency of war, he would remind the House, in conclusion, of our unrivalled resources for building iron-clad ships in case of need in the private yards. With those resources at their command, the handsome sums voted by Parliament should be sufficient, if wisely appropriated, to create and maintain a fleet of such incontestable superiority that the country must henceforth be preserved from the panics and alarms which had been far too frequent, and which at the present time were, he thought, wholly unjustifiable.

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