§ MR. T. BRASSEY,
in rising to move the following Resolution:—That this House, while approving the programme of work on iron-clad ships for the ensuing financial year, is of opinion that the present is a fitting opportunity for reviewing our shipbuilding policy and the resources of the Mercantile Marine for naval purposes; and this House is further of opinion that this inquiry should be held by a Royal Commission,said: The Resolution I am about to move is drawn in terms which cannot be regarded as unfriendly to the Government. I regret the large expenditure on unarmoured ships which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty has hitherto refused to recognize as forming part of the effective strength of the Navy; but I am not aware that the designs for the iron-clads now in construction have been 236 disapproved by any competent critics. Having disclaimed any intention to criticize the ships at present being constructed, still less am I disposed to speak unfavourably of the designs approved by the late Government. Turning from the past and present to the future, I may remind the House that it was stated by the First Lord of the Admiralty, in his speech on moving the Navy Estimates, that it had been decided not to lay down any new iron-clads during the ensuing financial year. I do not accuse the Admiralty of unnecessary hesitation in coming to a decision on the infinitely vexed question of naval construction; but, if no new ships are to be laid down, it cannot be urged that our shipbuilding will be delayed by further inquiry. It may be said, however, that the Department is at least as competent an authority on shipbuilding questions as any Royal Commission that could be appointed. I gladly acknowledge that the present Naval Lords, if they were not in office, would constitute a most able Commission. But my fear is that they have no leisure to investigate new problems of armament, tactics, and construction. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda), in seconding a similar Motion by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Seely), in 1868, said, as I think, truly, that—When a great policy had been inaugurated, he could well understand that a Department of the State might efficiently carry it out; but it was unlikely that such a policy could be initiated by a Government Department."—[3 Hansard, cxciii. 1118.]In the same debate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) said—That he could at the same time have wished that the noble Lord (Lord Henry Lennox) had been able to lay before the House some plan, which, without diminishing the responsibility of the Constructive department of the Admiralty, or diminishing its responsibility for all that was done under its superintendence, would give it the advantage of a certain amount of scientific investigation and advice."—[Ibid. 1139.]The controversy as to the continued use of side-armour must naturally arouse the greatest anxiety in the country. It is said that unless armour be strong enough to keep out shells, it is worse than useless; and armour, more or less impenetrable, even when limited to vital places, involves a large addition to the cost, and an increase of dimen- 237 sions, tending to diminish that mobility, which is of the last importance, if, as Admiral Jurien de la Gravière predicts, ships will fight in the future with the rams alone. In our Navy there is an almost hopeless conflict of opinion. Captain Noel insists that excessive top-weight should be avoided. On the other hand, I am assured, in an able letter from an admiral in a high command, that our men would have no chance if they had to contend with heavy guns, protected by a turret, and therefore fired with confidence and precision. The painful uncertainty, in which we are placed in this country, is shared by every Maritime Power. In Russia, attention is being directed chiefly to the circular iron-clads, the Popoffkas, which are intended solely for coast defence. In Germany, it has been decided to lay down no more iron-clads at present. M. Dislere, one of the constructors of the French Navy, says that the progress made by artillery has rendered it useless to retain armour for ocean-going cruisers. The views of M. Dislere are borne out by the passing events in naval construction. The Inflexible, which has just been launched, is protected by 18 inch-armour, and the Dandolo by 12 inch-armour. When the progress of gunnery has rendered 22 inch-armour insufficient, Messrs. Cammell undertake to roll plates of 30 or even 40 inches—For the moment," as it is observed in The Times report, "the advantages seem to be in favour of armour; and yet a target, representing the strongest portion of the armour of the Inflexible, was penetrated a few months ago at 1,800 metres by a Krupp gun. "While, however, we find an eminent French authority announcing that armour will shortly be laid aside, in his annual report, published last December. Admiral Porter says that the aim of the United States should be, in making changes, to resist the shot from the 12-inch 35-ton, which at 200 yards perforates 15 inches of solid wrought iron. He asks for 24 first-class ships; but such vessels will represent, in his opinion, no decided power for offence or defence, unless they carry sufficient thickness of armour to resist the average rifled gun, and have speed to get within striking distance of the enemy. Wooden vessels add nothing to the fighting force, just as, in former days, engagements fought with frigates never materially affected the result of a war. For fighting purposes, he prefers a turreted vessel to any other.I do not pretend to offer an opinion of my own. When, however, we observe such a wide difference of view, it is our 238 duty, as representatives of the taxpayers, to take care that these subjects are thoroughly investigated before we commit ourselves to large ships, which may be condemned as obsolete before they are completed. Since this subject was last reviewed by the Admiralty Committee on Designs, great progress has been made in perfecting offensive torpedoes. Many authorities declare that the most effectual defence against the torpedo is to be found in further developments of the cellular system of construction. According to Mr. Barnaby, on the other hand, it is idle to attempt to form the bottom of a ship strong enough to resist a fair blow from a powerful torpedo. Each costly iron clad should be defended against the torpedo and the ram by a number of small unarmoured vessels. But how are you to keep such a flotilla together? If, however, our great iron-clads are to be attended by a cloud of skirmishers, they cannot venture far from their base of operations. Great coal-carrying capacity will no longer be necessary, and the high free-board and other features of a sea-going ship may be materially reduced. The Motion I originally placed on the Paper contained a recommendation that designs for various types of fighting vessels should be invited from private shipbuilders. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) has recently constructed for the Chilian Navy two vessels, each of 2,000 tons, armed with six 12-ton guns, protected by armour of 8 and 9 inches. Messrs. Ronnie have built two gunboats for the Peruvian Government, little larger than the gunboats of our Staunch type, but carrying 26-ton instead of 18-ton guns. Mr. Mackrow has recently designed the Vasco de Gama for the Portuguese Government, which vessel carries two 18-ton guns, protected by a circular breastwork, armoured with 10-inch armour. The ship carries in addition one 6½-ton gun, and two 40-pounders, and has, I believe, been built for £100,000. These examples suggest the expediency of following the precedent of 1867, when six of our most eminent firms were invited to submit competitive designs. Having regard to the danger to which the most powerful ships are exposed when attacked by the ram or torpedo, I should like to fix 239 the limit of cost at £150,000, or even £100,000. A perfect ship could not be built for such a sum; but the attempt to unite in a single vessel every quality can only end in an unsatisfactory compromise. On a former occasion, when a similar competition took place, Sir Spencer Robinson and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pembroke were called upon to decide between the respective merits of the various proposals. The anomaly of this position was pointed out by Sir Spencer Robinson. I have thus far confined my allusions to the fighting Navy, but the naval resources of this country are not limited to the fleet especially constructed for war. The latest Returns show that, in our Mercantile Marine, we have 419 steamers of 1,200 tons register, and upwards. The extraordinary regularity of the passages made between Queenstown and New York is sufficient evidence of the steaming and coal-carrying capabilities of these ships, and the torpedo provides the means of defending them against the most powerful vessels of war. It therefore makes them a source of great naval strength. The owners of ocean-going steamers should be encouraged by judicious subsidies to build their ships of such a type that they could be converted, if necessary, into armed cruisers. This object can only be attained by making arrangements beforehand, when the designs are being prepared. Numerous precedents might be cited, of independent inquiry, by Commissions and Committees, into the condition of the Navy. It may not be equally widely known that a Commission, precisely similar to that which I propose, has recently been authorized by the United States House of Representatives. This Commission is to consider the great changes which have taken place of late years in naval warfare, and to recommend the best type of ship to meet these changes. They are to report on the whole subject, and to enable Congress to consider intelligently, and to legislate upon, naval affairs in all their branches. The last is precisely the object I have in view. Under our Parliamentary system, it is essential that every Department of the Government should carry with it the approval of the public, even in matters of administrative detail. There is no alter- 240 native, therefore, for the Admiralty but to satisfy the country that the expenditure they propose is unnecessary, that their designs for ships are well-considered, and that everything that it is practicable to do is being done to make the great resources of the country available as a reserve for the Navy, and so to diminish, as far as may be, the cost of our standing force in time of peace. The Report of the proposed Commission should be an invaluable document in the hands of the First Lord in pleading with Parliament on behalf of the Navy. It will not be necessary to make disclosures on points of detail. In Parliament we want only that general information which will enable us to determine whether or not armour should be retained. We want advice as to the relative value of armoured and unarmoured ships, and as to the necessity or otherwise of building unarmoured ships of the vast dimensions of the Inconstant or the Raleigh. Thus far I have referred to the different modes in which money may be spent to strengthen the Navy. May we not venture, however, to hope that the Commission might be able to suggest economies in other directions? I noticed only the other day that £23,000 had been spent in repairing the Salamis. Can it be supposed that any private shipowner would have allowed such a sum as I have named to be spent in repairing a despatch boat of 835 tons? Admiral Porter has suggested in his last Report that iron cruisers should be built for the United States Navy, and kept on the stocks until the outbreak of a war. In this way all waste from wear and tear and dry-rot would be avoided. Might not we do the same thing with advantage? In conclusion, assuming that such an inquiry as I have suggested were to be ordered, the question is whether it should be conducted by a Committee or a Commission. A Commission is to be preferred as being more independent. It may be that the Report would be wholly in favour of the designs submitted by the Admiralty. If such were the result, it would be eminently gratifying, both to the Constructors' department and to the public. If, on the other hand, the result should be that some suggestions were obtained, which had not hitherto been adopted by the Admiralty, that again would be valuable, 241 as tending to make our Navy stronger and more efficient than before. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution.
§ MR. HANBURY-TRACY
said, he had great pleasure in seconding the Motion. His hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey) had, in his able statements, made the case so clear in favour of a Royal Commission that he would only occupy the attention of the House for a very short time. Since the Committee on Designs sat in 1871, enormous changes had been effected in naval warfare. In gunnery great advances had been made. Hydraulic machinery enabled us to carry guns capable of piercing armour far thicker than could possibly be carried afloat. The 81 and 38-ton guns could now be carried and worked with greater facility than the 25-ton gun could be worked in 1871—and a very limited number of men were required. The power of the ram had been shown with deadly effect in the case of the Vanguard, and no doubt existed that it must prove a most important weapon in any naval action. Lastly, the knowledge of the locomotive torpedo had advanced with marvellous strides, and month after month great discoveries were made which proved the fearful power of this weapon. He believed we had entered into a new phase of naval warfare, which must, to a great extent, revolutionize our ideas of modern shipbuilding. The great problem of the day was how to protect the vitals in a ship, and how to render her unsinkable in the face of these new weapons. He believed that however unpalatable and worrying such an inquiry might prove to the Admiralty, it could not fail to be of great service, and must be economical. It would enable us to have access to information now practically closed, and bring in the able, healthy, and intelligent criticisms of clear and impartial minds. He thought it would certainly bring one matter into prominence, and that was the urgent necessity of diffusing our strength over a greater area, of having smaller ships and a greater number of them, so as not to have our eggs as at present in a very limited number of baskets. The loss of one ship now was a great national disaster. He thought serious attention ought to be speedily drawn to the enormous power developed by the Whitehead 242 locomotive torpedo, and to the present unprotected condition of our great iron-clads. Up to a short time ago, this weapon could only be fired out of particular vessels properly fitted, and at a speed of only 9 knots. Now that was entirely changed. Experiments had shown at Portsmouth that we could launch it from the surface with the greatest facility, even from the bow or beam, and without any special fitting. These torpedoes were now being made to go from 20 to 22 knots an hour to a distance of 300 yards, and at a lower rate to travel no less than a mile. In stating this he was revealing no secret, as he saw it announced quite recently in a newspaper report. The Committee would see at once what a vast change this had effected in modern warfare, every little steamer, every passenger steamer, and every tiny boat could now use these terrible weapons. The effect of a single torpedo of this description fired against one of our iron-clads, if it did not send her to the bottom, would undoubtedly do her enormous harm. It was to his mind a question of the gravest importance, and one well fitting special inquiry. How were their present ships to be protected? The cellular principle carried out to a great extent and double iron bottoms might in some measure offer protection, but it must be remembered that even now the locomotive torpedo was only in its infancy. If the right hon. Gentleman granted the Commission or Committee, he hoped that special steps would be taken to see if the proceedings could not be kept confidential. A general Report might be issued, but he thought the details ought not to be made public. It appeared to him that we were a great deal too open to foreigners. We spent large sums in costly experiments year after year, and in building vessels of the most approved type, with all the latest improvements, and then deliberately showed them all to any foreign officers who desired to become acquainted with what we were doing. Not only did we do this, but we actually went out of our way to show to the foreign officers what we kept a secret from our own officers. It appeared to him that this was most suicidal. If it was impossible to keep matters secret from foreign officers, then let your experiments be made public, and invite that wholesome criticism from our own 243 officers, and from engineers of eminence, which could not fail to be of great benefit, but he deprecated most strongly the present system of only giving the information to foreign officers. It was sometimes said that we obtained reciprocal advantages. He doubted if there was any reciprocity whatever. He had spoken to officers and civil engineers of great standing, and they all concurred that we got nothing of any importance from foreign nations—but that, on the contrary, they took great care to keep any discoveries they made to themselves. Only the other day the newspapers announced that Admiral Pop off, the Russian Naval Constructor, had been to Chatham; that the greatest civility had been shown him, and that all the latest designs and improvements had been laid before him. The next day we were told he had been to Portsmouth, and that he and his official staff had spent the whole time inspecting the various improvements. This condition of things had gone on for a long time. It was well known that some years ago the percussion fuze, "Moorsom's Fuze," was a secret jealously kept, and none of our officers were able to obtain any information about it. At last a translation was obtained from a Russian pamphlet, containing a full account of it. Again, only about two years ago, a diagram was carefully made out, showing the various distances at which British and foreign iron-clads could be pierced by our large guns. This was by way of being a most confidential document, and was allowed to captains in command of vessels, and certain other high officials, but the information was denied to everybody else. After this state of things had gone on for some time, it was discovered that the Foreign Attachés had been allowed copies, and the result was that this valuable and authentic information was circulated amongst all foreign Governments, whilst our own officers were not allowed the privilege of becoming acquainted with facts of great importance to them in their profession. Perhaps nothing more absurd could be imagined than what happened last year at Portsmouth. It was well known that for some time past we had been conducting great experiments with locomotive torpedoes before a very able Committee of naval officers. Many most valuable discoveries had been made, and 244 the Reports were supposed to be of a strictly confidential character. We had it the same time a number of officers going through a torpedo course of instruction, and with them, as usual, two or three foreign officers. The torpedo school was, of course, quite distinct from the experimental Committee. One day some of the officers under instruction were discussing amongst themselves how the experiments were progressing, and wondering what was being done, when, to the astonishment of everyone, one of the foreign officers present said—"Oh! I can tell you, here is the last Report." It was only too true, the Report was produced from his pocket, and on it was seen the Admiralty stamp, proving that it had been obtained direct from that quarter. He thought this sort of thing was most suicidal. It was a question which the Treasury ought to take up, and with a strong hand prevent the Departments giving away the benefit of the large expenditure we annually incurred in experiments. No doubt, after a certain time, all new inventions became public; but he ventured to think that for some few months, or for a year or two, we might keep our own secrets. He hoped, if the Commission or Committee were granted, that this matter would be well considered in framing their instructions. There could be no necessity to make known the evidence, or the detailed statement of such a body, and a short Report would be quite sufficient for the general public. He begged to second the Motion.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, while approving the programme of work on iron-clad ships for the ensuing financial year, is of opinion that the present is a fitting opportunity for reviewing our shipbuilding policy, and the resources of the mercantile marine for naval purposes; and this House is further of opinion that such inquiry should be held by a Royal Commission,"—(Mr. T. Brassey,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Brassey) practically comprised two parts. It approved the programme of the Government so far as iron-clad 245 building was concerned, and it invited the Government to appoint a Royal Commission. He thought the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty would do them the justice to admit that while they had endeavoured to perform their duties as critics with regard to naval administration, they had been moderate in their criticisms on the proposals he had made. They had never divided against the sums of money he had asked the House to vote, and had scarcely offered any opposition to his policy, so far as he had a policy, in the matter of shipbuilding. While they had criticized the statements he had made and sanctioned the reasons he had assigned for the course he took, he was not sure they had not gone far in the direction of supporting his proposals and somewhat exposed themselves to criticism on their own side for their too great alacrity in supporting those largely increased Estimates demanded by the right hon. Gentleman. At all events, he thought the right hon. Gentleman would admit, so far as he had a shipbuilding policy, they had not offered any opposition to which he could object in the carrying out of that policy. He would endeavour to deal with this question also in the fairest spirit to the right hon. Gentleman. When the House was called upon to vote for a Royal Commission he ventured to ask himself what would have been his answer had such a proposal been made when he was at the Admiralty. Of course, much would depend on whether one had a policy of one's own. If the Government had got a distinct policy upon any one particular subject, then a proposal to appoint a Commission was considered rather in the light of a somewhat adverse Motion, and it was the tendency of Government to resist such Motions. But what the House particularly wished now to know was what were the views of the right hon. Gentleman. Had he a policy as regarded iron-clad shipbuilding? During the tenure of office of the last three First Lords of the Admiralty there had been a distinct policy of shipbuilding, approved by some parties, disapproved by others, but, at all events, a distinct policy. The late Mr. Corry had a policy, which he proposed and carried out. He proposed the building of six ships of the Audacious class. They were a new class. He had a strong opinion in regard to 246 them. They involved an increase of expenditure; but the House approved his policy, and he carried it out. He was succeeded by his (Mr. Goschen's) right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), to whom was due the policy which created the Devastation class, the Thunderer and the Dreadnought. That policy was greatly questioned at the time, but ultimately approved by the House. The Hotspur was a ship for which the credit was due, so far as it was successful, to Mr. Corry; so was the Glatton. The Rupert and the Ram belonged to his right hon. Friend. By both those First Lords a distinct policy was submitted to the House. When he (Mr. Goschen) had the honour to be at the Admiralty, it was his duty to propose a certain advance in shipbuilding policy, and it fell to his lot to submit designs of the Inflexible, the Téméraire, and the Superb—all ships of a novel kind, which involved a new policy. One point was the central citadel and the development to a greater degree of the bow fire. The question had always been, what was the policy of the Admiralty? In quoting the policy of these three Administrations his object was not to revive any controversy about the credit of one Administration or the other, but to point out that, for good or evil, there had been a distinct policy in the Admiralty. They knew what ships they wanted to propose, and on what class it was desirable to spend the funds that were voted. It would not have been right to demand of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he adhered to the policy of his Predecessor, or if he had a policy of his own during his first two years of office; but he had now entered on his third year of office, and he thought he would admit they might now appeal to him to state whether he had a distinct policy as regarded iron-clad shipbuilding. The right hon. Gentleman had made proposals to continue the repairs of iron-clads of a smaller class than the ships he had enumerated; but we had now arrived at a point when we must know from the right hon. Gentleman what line he intended to adopt—whether ships of the Inflexible class, or of a smaller class were to be continued, or whether ships of the Inflexible class were to be abandoned. It was known that the right hon. Gentleman had ordered two Inflexibles and also two ships of the 247 Shannon class, a design which had been brought to the notice of Parliament before the right hon. Gentleman acceded to office. Now, the offer he, so far as he was personally concerned, would make to the right hon. Gentleman was that if he stated he had, with the assistance of his able advisers, clear views with regard to iron-clad shipbuilding, he (Mr. Goschen) would support the policy of the right hon. Gentleman just as he would a policy of his own, and would vote against a Commission; because during the whole process of a Commission the responsibility of the advisers of the Admiralty was greatly embarrassed and hampered, and they could not be expected to perform their duties as they would in ordinary times. But if the right hon. Gentleman would state that he had no policy, though the Naval Estimates had been increased £400,000 a-year each year he had been in office—if he would state that he did not see his way, but would like to call in assistance from without, the House would do well to assist the right hon. Gentleman in finding a policy. If the right hon. Gentleman consented to a Commission, he would, no doubt, get the best advice he could from all quarters. In that way he would obtain the great advantage of getting the brains which were outside the Constructor's department; but he must take that advantage with the corresponding disadvantage of conducting the inquiry in the face of the public and of other nations. What would be instructive in the history of Commissions would be to see how the appointment of those which had been previously made had assisted the Executive Government in the discharge of its duties. We had had a notable instance in the Commission which sat on the Bill that had occupied the House in the earlier part of the evening, and the whole Report of which had been practically disregarded in the legislation which had followed. However, nothing could be worse than that we should go on without any policy. He would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to pursue one of two courses—either on that, or a future occasion, to take the House into his confidence, and explain his views with regard to iron-clads, or to accept the suggestion that the composition of the Fleet should be determined by the advice which the right hon. Gentleman 248 would call in from without. Whichever alternative the right hon. Gentleman adopted, he might rely upon fair criticisms of the plans which he might submit to the House.
§ MR. SAMUDA
said, he believed that the proposals made during the three previous Administrations had been arrived at in precisely the same way as those of the present Admiralty. The same officers had produced their plans, and the present First Lord had dealt with them in the same way as his Predecessor. Now, he had long ago expressed the opinion, which he still entertained, that when people were engaged in one groove of thought they were not so likely to develop new and valuable plans as to enlarge upon that which had been their practice hitherto. He therefore thought the remarks of his right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London would have been more valuable if he could have shown that the three previous Administrations of the Admiralty had pursued a policy that was superior or more likely to be permanent than the one at present pursued. With regard to the position of our Navy, some things had been stated with which he could not agree. For example, we had been led to believe that the country ought to be exceedingly uncomfortable on account of the building of circular iron-clads in Russia. There could be no greater bugbear. At the Institute of Naval Architects he had shown that the best of these vessels was taking five times as much power to propel it as the ordinary vessels we were constructing, and that, notwithstanding this enormous power, it had only acquired the means of going something like 8 knots an hour; and Mr. Froude informed him that if these vessels had been driven at 9 knots an hour, they would have been driven under water. In fact, they were nothing more than floating fortresses and in that capacity might be of some advantage, but as ships of war they might be disregarded; at all events, they were of no serious importance. Then we had been told about certain vessels built for the Chilian and Portuguese Governments. These vessels were not of a size or construction which would be suitable for a great country like our own. At the same time the Portuguese Minister had laid down some conditions which were worth considering. Instead of prescribing 249 a plan to the builders, thus shutting out possible improvements, the Portuguese Government said—"Construct for us the best vessels you can construct for a specified sum." That example deserved imitation. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) asked what assistance previous Commissions had given in this matter. Not much, certainly. The late Mr. Corry, to whom the country owed great gratitude for the immense improvements he introduced into our steam Navy, saw the great advantage which was to be gained from external assistance, and with this view called upon a number of the best constructors in the country to place before him their plans for the best class of vessels. After Mr. Corry had obtained that information from the private firms, it was rendered nugatory by the course subsequently pursued by the employés of the Admiralty. The particulars were handed over to the Controller of the Navy and the Chief Constructor, the upshot being that all the plans were thrown aside, and that a proposal of the Chief Constructor was substituted for all the rest. This was a policy which he hoped his right hon. Friend would not adopt. He might here remark that he entertained the very highest opinion of the officers who were now engaged under his right hon. Friend in the construction of ships. His hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey) had led the House to imagine that the German Government had ceased to build iron-clads, but the truth was that no other Government in Europe was so actively engaged in constructing them. At this moment Germany had seven iron-clad ships which were not completed. These had been in course of construction between three and five years, and the reason why they were not yet finished was simply because sufficient manual labour could not be obtained. The most important point which had been alluded to was that of speed. This was one of the elements which was daily growing more important, and he believed it would become a positively exchangeable term for thickness of armour. If we had a greater amount of speed and a less thickness of armour, we should have an equally if not a more formidable ship. Under the circumstances, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, although he was not inferior to his Predecessors in his policy for giving 250 the country an efficient Fleet, would derive considerable advantage from external assistance, and he should be glad if the Admiralty could see their way to fortify themselves by some such arrangement as that proposed by his hon. Friend.
§ MR. HUNT
said, his hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey) had remarked that that was a favourable opportunity for reviewing our shipbuilding policy and had asked the Government to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into it and into the resources of our Mercantile Marine for naval purposes. His hon. Friend founded his opinion that that was a favourable opportunity, on the fact that it was not proposed to lay down any new iron-clad during the present year. His hon. Friend, however, was mistaken in thinking he (Mr. Hunt) had said that no iron-clad would be laid down until the vessels now in course of construction were completed. He had not bound himself to that course; but what he really said was that, in the present state of things, looking to the comparative state of our armoured and unarmoured fleet, he did not think he should propose to Parliament to lay down an iron-clad this year. He admitted that if there were to be such a review as his hon. Friend proposed, this was not an unfitting opportunity for the purpose. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) proposed to him to meet this apparent dilemma. The right hon. Gentleman said—"Either you have no shipbuilding policy—and in that case you will do well to accept the invitation of the hon. Member for Hastings—or else you have a shipbuilding policy, and then you must resist the Motion." Now, he did not consider that was a proper alternative, for he might have a shipbuilding policy and yet be willing to accept the proposal of the hon. Member for Hastings, or something like it. The right hon. Gentleman pointed to the shipbuilding policy of Mr. Corry and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, and said to him—"What shipbuilding policy have you?" He would come to that presently. During his administration Mr. Corry, whom the right hon. Gentleman said had a shipbuilding policy, invited designs from outside in aid of the resources of the Admiralty; and it seemed, therefore, that he (Mr. Hunt) might accept the suggestion 251 of the hon. Member for Hastings without at all admitting that he had no policy. It was said when the last change of Government was made that larger demands for the Navy were to be expected. No doubt; and no one had better grounds for expecting those increased demands than the right hon. Gentleman who preceded him at the Admiralty and who knew what state the Navy was in when he left it, and what were its deficiencies. Then it was asked, what was the shipbuilding policy of the Government. Well, he defied any man to lay down a definite shipbuilding policy for the future—for this reason, that inventions and discoveries were daily being made which upset all previous calculations. Why, within a comparatively short period they had changed from the wooden ship to the iron-clad, from the iron-clad to the turret, and now they reached the armed citadel ship. However wise First Lords of the Admiralty might be, could any one, in view of these facts, venture to decide, three or four years in advance, what particular type of ship should be built? His shipbuilding policy was this—to keep pace with the inventions of the day and to keep ahead of all maritime Powers. Well, how was he carrying that policy out? When he came into office he found a great number of ships called obsolete—that was to say, ships which we would not lay down at the present day, but which, nevertheless, if put in proper order, would be able to meet vessels of other Powers built about the same time. Some of those ships he found in so defective a state that they were unfit to be sent to sea, or, at all events, to take part in an engagement; and, accordingly, he asked the House to increase the resources of the Admiralty in order to put these ships into a proper state. As hon. Members knew, it was a work of much less time to repair ships than to construct new ones, and the result was that from the time he took office the number of effective sea-going iron-clads had increased from 14 to 20, not to speak of those two powerful vessels the Devastation and the Thunderer. The latter, he might say, was not actually completed, but for all practical purposes might be considered so; and in two months another ship would be ready. Thus a great improvement had been made in the capabilities of the Navy, notwithstanding that great disas- 252 ter the loss of the Vanguard. Concurrently with the repair of the ships he had mentioned, four new iron-clads had been laid down. Well, the right hon. Gentleman said—"You have laid down two iron-clads of the Shannon class and two iron-clads of the Inflexible class; which do you prefer? because by laying down two ships of one kind and two of another, you seem to be halting between two opinions." [Mr. Goschen: No, no!] At any rate, if the right hon. Gentleman did not say that, he asked what the shipbuilding policy of the Government was. His answer to the right hon. Gentleman was, that different classes of iron-clads were required for different purposes, and that in considering what policy they were to pursue, it was necessary to bear in mind the purposes for which ships would be required. They had, for instance, to meet an enemy in battle, to protect our commerce against an enemy's armed and unarmed cruisers, and also to inflict injury on an enemy's commerce in return. Well, for the protection of our commerce from armed cruisers, he had laid down two ships of the Shannon class of an improved type, a knot an hour faster, carrying more coal stowage, and armoured at the stern as well as at the prow, and therefore more efficient as fighting ships. As regarded line-of-battle ships he had followed the type of the Inflexible, and had laid down two ships of a less size and less costly, with an armed citadel in the centre, and with less tonnage than the Inflexible, not quite so powerfully armed, carrying not such thick armour, and with a less draught of water, preferring to build ships of a smaller size, as he recognized the truth of the saying that we ought not to put all our eggs into one basket. For the purpose they were designed to serve, he believed those ships were the best that could at the present time be devised. However, he was not prepared to say that as new discoveries were made the Inflexible type might not be improved upon, and it was for that reason that he declined to pledge himself to any particular class of ship for the future. All he would say was, that so far as their present knowledge went they had laid down the best type of ship they could, and that if in future any improvements were made upon it, they would not be slow to adopt them. This year he proposed to build un- 253 armoured ships, because at the present time we had not enough of them. He had recognized it as his first duty to provide a sufficient number of ships of battle, but the protection of our commerce was a very important consideration. Well, he had to tell the House, and it was really a very serious statement to make, that if war broke out to-morrow he had not a single unarmoured ship to dispose of that was not already in commission. Under these circumstances, it seemed to him his bounden duty to lay down unarmoured vessels for the purpose of protecting our commerce in case of war, and, without saying that our naval power was as great as could be wished, we had certainly arrived at a point where we were practically safe and able to meet any combination that would be likely to be brought against us. But it seemed to him our unarmoured ships should not only be able to protect our commerce, but also to annoy an enemy's cruisers, and if necessary take part in a naval battle. The unarmoured ships which he asked the House to sanction were ships of a class which he believed would be exceedingly useful for the double purpose he had named. They would be useful as regarded the protection of our commerce and the annoyance of the enemy's commerce, and as auxiliaries to the iron-clad fleet. It was proposed they should have a speed of 13 knots and—this was a new feature—an armoured deck 3 feet below the water-line, which would entirely protect the machinery and boilers. They would also have a ram bow, and they would be armed with torpedoes. He believed ships of this class would be useful in times of peace; and in times of war they would be absolutely essential to protect our commerce from vessels like the Alabama. Some of those vessels would take about two years to complete, and the design upon which they were laid down was, as regarded the armoured deck, upon a principle recommended by Admiral Elliot in his Report on Designs of Ships of War. As to the question of using the Mercantile Navy in time of war, he had not been neglecting it, and he had very valuable information as to the number and classes of vessels which might be dealt with for this purpose. Though they might be considered useful auxiliaries, no one could look on merchant ships in their 254 present state as war vessels. The matter was undergoing careful consideration as to how they could be strengthened for war purposes, but he ventured to say this, that at the outbreak of war it would be impossible to find them serviceable for war purposes without considerable alteration. It was not desirable to rely on assistance from that source without being ready with a certain number of fast cruisers to take the sea. It was with that view that he had proposed to lay down these corvettes. He held that the present Admiralty had something like a shipbuilding policy, and when he was asked what it was he hoped it might be considered he had given a sufficient answer. The question was, how was he to deal with the Motion of his hon. Friend. He had the greatest confidence in the Constructor's department at the Admiralty. He could not accept the Motion, but he was prepared to agree to the appointment of a Committee such as sat in 1871, to consider whether, in view of the great development of modern weapons of offence, any material variation should be made in the type of ship which had been laid down during the last few years. He believed such a Committee would not seriously interfere with the business of the Admiralty, and would be able to conclude its labours within a reasonable time. In assenting to this Committee, however, he hoped he should not be considered to show the slightest want of confidence in his advisers, or any doubt as to the shipbuilding policy they had been pursuing; but in these days, when every fresh invention required almost a corresponding alteration in the plan of our ships, it seemed to him not unreasonable to accept all the assistance they could obtain, both outside and inside the Admiralty, as to this important question upon which the safety, honour, and dignity of the country mainly depended. He did not wish designs from outside to be submitted to this Committee; because as a ship progressed, the designs needed constant modification, and it was absolutely necessary that somebody should be responsible from beginning to end for the designs. Those submitted from outside could only be provisional and sketch designs, and it was necessary that the constructors of the Admiralty should be responsible for the design of a ship in all its stages of progression. 255 Of course, they would be perfectly ready to receive suggestions. He hoped his hon. Friend would be satisfied with the undertaking he had given and not press his Motion.
§ MR. T. BRASSEY
said, that after the statement of the right, hon. Gentleman, he felt that his object would best be attained by the course suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, and upon the understanding that such a Committee would be appointed, he begged to withdraw his Motion.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, before the Motion was withdrawn, he wished to express his gratification at hearing the very clear statement of policy made by the right hon. Gentleman, and especially his determination to maintain unimpaired the responsibility of the Department to Parliament, without the shield of a Royal Commission being interposed. With respect to the Committee which it was proposed to appoint, he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that in appointing the Committee in 1871 the late Government distinctly refused to refer to it the general question of shipbuilding; but limited its inquiry to the policy of the Government in constructing vessels of certain specified classes. He trusted that the Committee about to be appointed would also be limited in its investigation. It would be most dangerous to call for the production of plans and designs from the general public, and leave their adoption practically to an irresponsible Committee.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.