§ (In the Committee.)
§ MR. HUNT,
in proposing Vote No. 6, said, it was his duty to make a short explanation with regard to certain changes which had been made in the Programme submitted to the House on a former occasion, which the Committee would probably like to hear of. If those changes had not been of a very simple character, he should not have proposed to take that Vote to-night, but the alterations related more to the time to be taken up by certain works than to anything else. Under the original Programme it had been intended to commence by contract certain unarmoured ships. They would not have been completed in this year, with few exceptions. They had also proposed in the Dockyards to undertake the repair of the boilers and the machinery of certain iron-dads. In the ordinary course of things the repairs for those iron-dads, being spread over a longer time, would not have interfered with the requirements of the Service; but, at the present time, they had a larger number of ships than usual afloat, and he thought it desirable, in the present posture of affairs, that they should have more iron-clads ready sooner than might have sufficed if no European disturbance had existed. It was now proposed to get the boilers put in, in the case of five ships, by contract, and thus save a certain charge. If they had proposed to accelerate that operation in the Dockyards it would have involved taking on more men. Such a step was always followed by the discharge of the men, and the usual consequence of that was bad feeling and other evils, which it was well, so far as they could, to avoid. Therefore, the unarmoured ships in the original contract Programme would be postponed for the sake of what was more desirable—the having the repairs of their iron-clad ships accelerated. It had been proposed to construct and complete in the year certain torpedo lighters intended to be used by the War Office in connection with the protection of harbours. Such vessels might be wanted; but they were not of special construction, and they could, if needed, be hired. He therefore wished to post- 1988 pone their construction for the present, and to substitute for them what could not be hired—namely, some fast vessels for torpedo purposes. Accordingly, he had taken out of the contract Programme those torpedo vessels of a minor description which could be obtained if there was an emergency, and inserted those which they must have specially constructed. Again, they were at present in want of a despatch vessel, and therefore it was desirable to hasten the repairs of the Lively. Those changes would make some difference with regard to the tonnage. The work in the Dockyards was left the same as before, and the iron-clad work by contract remained unaltered; but there was a loss of 1,840 tons on the unarmoured ships to be built by contract. The original proposal was to build altogether 20,488 tons, while the amended arrangement showed only 18,648 tons to be built; but then, on the other hand, they would secure the earlier readiness for sea of the iron-dads. That would cause some re-adjustment of the figures of Vote 10, Section 2, partly in consequence of their not having to order the machinery for the unarmoured ships which they did not intend to commence. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Vote for Dockyards and Naval Yards at Home and Abroad.
(1.) Motion made, and Question proposed,That a sum, not exceeding £1,341,680, he granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expenses of the Dockyards and Naval Yards at Homo and Abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1878.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he did not propose to go into the question of the original Programme at great length; but he should prefer to give special prominence to one or two questions which he desired to put to the right hon. Gentleman, and which he should be sorry to see lost sight of in the wider range which the discussion might take hereafter. With respect to the amended Programme just described, he thought there might be very good reasons for hastening on the iron-clads, instead of proceeding with the building of unarmoured ships. He understood that about 1,800 fewer tons than were at first contemplated, or 18,000 odd tons, instead of 20,400, were to be built in the course of the present year, 1989 with the view of accelerating the repair of the machinery of the iron-dads. He commended the decision of the Admiralty to the special attention of the Committee, and trusted that both the Committee and the country would see in the altered proposals of the right hon. Gentleman some cause for satisfaction. If in the present state of affairs the First Lord of the Admiralty was able to propose, on his responsibility, and without detriment to the Service, the reduction of the tonnage he had originally intended to build by nearly 2,000 tons, they might reasonably infer that the Navy, so far as shipbuilding was concerned, was in a tolerably fair position, and that there was no necessity for the increased Estimates which had been thought requisite in some quarters, where considerable apprehension had apparently existed. The two questions, however, to which he desired to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, and that very specially, were, in the first place, as to the stability of the Inflexible, and other ships designed after her model; and, in the next place, the question of torpedoes. With regard to the question of torpedoes, he thought the Committee would decide that it might be wise to increase the number of fast torpedo vessels by two, as the right hon. Gentleman now proposed to do. Recent events had called the attention of the public and the Press very prominently to the subject of torpedoes. He had seen comments in the newspapers which implied that what had lately occurred on the Danube had taken the Admiralty by surprise—that events had occurred they had never thought of, or which, at all events, might not have come within the range of their past experiments. It had been suggested that they must bestir themselves about resisting the attack of torpedoes which were now in use, and so forth. Now, if he (Mr. Goschen) was not mistaken, the right hon. Gentleman opposite would be able to inform the Committee that all those matters had been already considered by the Admiralty for years past—that experiments had been conducted with the view of testing the efficiency of all the various modes of using torpedoes in warfare; and that, therefore, the country need be under no apprehension that those contingencies had not been foreseen. The School for Torpedoes, which was estab- 1990 lished before the First Lord came into office, had been already doing good work for years, and it had devoted much of its attention to destroying torpedoes in rivers and in forts by various ingenious contrivances, and in protecting ships, whether in motion or at anchor. He was quite sure the Committee would not expect any details which it would not be proper for the right hon. Gentleman to give; but if the right hon. Gentleman was able to state, as he (Mr. Goschen) should have been able to state some years back, that this question of defending ships against torpedoes had been for many years under the thorough and careful consideration of the Admiralty and its officers, he would be saying something which would be most satisfactory to the public. With respect to the other subject, a statement had appeared in the leading journal of that morning with regard to the Inflexible which was calculated to alarm the public as much as those had done which had been made respecting that most efficient ship the Devastation. No vessel had passed through so severe a criticism as the latter; but it was now generally admitted that she and the Thunderer were most efficient ships, and he believed the Devastation had shown herself to be a thoroughly sea-going ship during the time she had been in service in the Mediterranean. He believed the right hon. Gentleman himself had retracted the doubt which he expressed when he came into office as to the sea-going qualities of the Devastation. [Mr. HITNT: Hear, hear !] The Inflexible carried four 80-ton guns, and was defended by 2 feet of armour in certain parts; she was a ship of great power, and with the Agamemnon and Ajax following, was so important to the country that it was most essential that any doubt with regard to her should be cleared up at once in the frankest and clearest manner possible. The statement which had appeared in The Times of that morning was to the effect that if her unarmoured ends should be penetrated by shell she would not have sufficient reserve of buoyancy to preserve her from sinking. He trusted his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. E. J. Reed) would not accept that statement as correct, and that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to hold clear language with regard to it. The Inflexible was a ship which 1991 was designed during his (Mr. Goschen's) tenure of office at the Admiralty, and the principle on which she was constructed was that the whole of her armour was concentrated in the centre, She carried her guns in a sort of central tower, which was defended by enormously thick armour, and to enable her to carry that weight, and also to give her the necessary reserve of buoyancy, notwithstanding the penetration of her unarmoured ends, she had been made with a beam of 75 feet. His scientific advisers at the time the ship was under consideration, advised him as follows:—We hope, by sub-division and cellular sides, to prevent any appreciable increase of immersion or decrease of stability, but we should not be satisfied with the ship if we could not say, as we now can, that with any possible amount of damage to the unarmoured ends by shot or shell, the ship will continue to float in perfect safety before any damages are made good.—[Parl. P. 293, p. 3.]They further said that—It was possible that both cork and canvas would be used to some extent outside the battery or citadel; but that the security of the ship would not be dependent on them.And that—Should the parts of the ship before and abaft the armour become wholly water-logged, the ship would sink one foot deeper than her normal fighting draft."—[Ibid. p. 7.]He would now ask whether the scientific Constructors were able to express with satisfaction that they had carried out that which was the original Programme of the ship. Looking at what he said in that House on the 24th July, 1873, upon the authority of his scientific advisers, he would be glad to know how far the promises made to him had been carried out?
§ MR. HUNT
said, he should not under the circumstances have risen at that period of the discussion; but the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen) had put to him questions of such grave importance that he thought it desirable that the Committee should be re-assured as soon as possible in regard to the matters at issue. In common with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, he had read the statement to which he referred, and also the leading article founded upon it in The Times of that morning. He could only say that when a statement of such a grave character was put forward with regard to the most powerful ship 1992 which was afloat, it should be signed by the person making it, so that it might be seen whence the writer obtained his information. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was on the faith of a statement furnished by officers of the Admiralty that he gave orders that the ship should be laid down, and the right hon. Gentleman wished to know whether the opinions of the present Board of Admiralty confirmed the propriety of the orders he gave. He (Mr. Hunt) could assure the right hon. Gentleman that the opinion of the present Board unhesitatingly confirmed the decision that he gave. The design that was adopted for the Inflexible had the sanction, in addition to scientific gentlemen concerned in making designs, of the eminent naval gentlemen who advised the right hon. Gentleman at the Board of Admiralty. The ship was now far advanced towards completion, and there had been every opportunity, by means of a model, of testing the ship, not only theoretically but practically. It had been said that if the unarmoured ends of the ship were seriously damaged in action, and if she merely depended upon her centre armour, she must capsize. Now, that was a very serious accusation to make against a ship. The matter had been duly examined by his naval Colleagues. They were satisfied that it was impossible, if the ship were in action, a destruction of her unarmoured ends could take place. They were also satisfied that if the unarmoured ends were blown out, she would not capsize. Therefore, he hoped the Committee and the public would be reassured on this subject. The present Board of Admiralty entirely accepted responsibility for the ship. With the sanction of the Committee, he had laid down the Ajax and the Agamemnon on the same principle as the Inflexible, though they were smaller than the Inflexible; and if the Inflexible ought to be condemned or distrusted, then, of course, the Ajax and the Agamemnon ought to be distrusted too. He was asking the Committee that evening to sanction the construction of a third ship of the same character, and he had no hesitation in recommending the Committee to sanction the laying down of another ship. The right hon. Gentleman had asked him a question with regard to torpedoes, and some writers had thought that the ex- 1993 perience of the war now going on ought to make a difference in our views as regarded shipbuilding in connection with their use. He must say he thought we had learnt very little by the war now going on as to torpedoes. If we had learnt anything, he thought we must have learnt that they were not so formidable as we thought. A Turkish monitor had been blown up by a torpedo. Well, several accounts had been given as to how that was done, and they did not agree; but he thought they all came to this—it was done by stratagem. The most circumstantial account was that the ship was approached by a beat manned by men in a certain uniform and commanded by an officer; that they approached as friends, and that while conversation was going on an explosive substance was attached to the cable of the ship. Another account was that they stole by night, under the cover of darkness, and attached this infernal machine to the ship. He ventured to say that if the ship had been a British ship such vigilance would have been exhibited that this could not have taken place. We had had in the last few days an account of an attempt on the part of the Russians to destroy certain iron-dads, and we found that, an Englishman being in command, such vigilance was displayed that the attack of the torpedo boat was entirely frustrated. He thought this was rather re-assuring, and that it showed that the time was not comp for dispensing with iron-dads. His own surprise had been that torpedoes had played so little a part in engagements. We were told that torpedoes had been laid down at all the ports and fortified places in the Black Sea. Then we had heard, on the other hand, that Turkish divers had been fishing up torpedoes or cutting the wires which conveyed the electric fluid. In his opinion, torpedoes up to the present had played a very unimportant part in the present war. We had for years been carrying on experiments with regard to torpedoes. One unfortunate ship had been repaired over and over again for the purpose of being knocked to pieces by torpedoes, in order that we might know at what distance a certain charge would take effect on that ship, and he believed we had obtained precise knowledge on that subject. A vast number of officers were acquiring skill in the torpedo practice 1994 which was instituted by the right hon. Gentleman. He believed that great perfection had been attained by our officers in the practice of mining and counter-mining. It was said the torpedo was so formidable a weapon that the building of iron-clad vessels ought to be abandoned. He could not bring himself to that conclusion. No doubt, the weapon was one of a very destructive character, but of the use of it in actual warfare we had no experience whatever. Certainly its employment required great judgment and very careful manipulation. We had come to be very perfect in its use in the canal at Woolwich, and in certain basins at the dockyards and in similar places; but we had yet to learn whether it would be efficient in the sea-way. It would be a bold thing to depend on its efficient use as a certainty in circumstances of which we had had no experience. Then the right hon. Gentleman asked him whether any steps had been taken to protect the ships from this machine. This was one of the most anxious questions he had had to consider during the time he had been at the Admiralty, and experiments had been going on continually in connection with it. One of the means of protection was the electric light, which could be so used on beard ship as to illumine an immense expanse of water, and in that way reveal the approach of torpedo beats. Another question, and one which had not been lost sight of, was that of producing special ordnance for the destruction of those beats when approaching. There was also the question of wire-netting for the same purpose. Experiments in connection with these matters were still going on, for it was a matter that we could not afford to lose sight of. It was said that one blow from a torpedo properly charged would sink any of our iron-dads. He was informed, however, by his scientific advisers that that was not the case, because the number of compartments into which our modern iron-dads were divided would be a protection, to a certain extent, against that result. Of course, in these matters one ought not to be too positive; but he was told that the Inflexible might receive three successful blows from the Whitehead torpedo, and still retain its fighting power. If that was the case, he thought it might go far to re-assure them as to the propriety of continuing to build 1995 iron-clads. Much had been said about the desirableness of building a great many fast vessels for the discharge of torpedoes. No doubt these would be valuable vessels, and in his Estimates he had provided for some; but it must be remembered that they would have but a limited use, inasmuch as they could not serve as general sea-going vessels. The Admiralty was taunted sometimes with not ordering as many as other countries. Perhaps those countries required such vessels to protect their estuaries and harbours; but the Admiralty had ascertained that the fish torpedo could be fired from any of our men-of-war; and so far as the Whitehead torpedo was concerned, he did not think there was any Navy more completely equipped than that of England was at this moment. He had been anxious to show to the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee that the question of torpedoes had received due consideration from the Admiralty, and that it had been gone into with regard both to the offensive and defensive part of it. He hoped the statement he had made would be deemed satisfactory.
§ MR. E. J. REED
said, that in reference to what the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty had noticed About certain articles which had appeared in The Times on the subject of the Inflexible, and in particular to the remark, that the author of the statements they contained ought to have put his name to them, he (Mr. Reed) thought it right, as it was he who had been the first to point out the real state of the Inflexible, to inform the Committee that the articles had not been written by him; and he must add that the right hon. Gentleman could not fail to know, if he had used his memory, that he (Mr. Reed) was not in the habit of shrinking from putting his name to what he wrote. If the First Lord of the Admiralty had been as fully informed on the subject as he ought to have been, he must have known, indeed, that he had been doing his best for some weeks to keep the discussion in question out of the newspapers. He wished to tell the Committee what he knew of the matter. The discussion had been brought to the narrowest point by the extracts which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) had read to the House from papers which 1996 had been submitted to him. If the promises made in those extracts had been carried out, then his (Mr. Reed's) view of the Inflexible was wrong; but he was equally entitled to say that if his calculations were correct, then those promises had not been fulfilled. It had been the rule, to which there had been only one or two exceptions, that the iron-clad ships had been so constructed that while the armour remained intact the ship was safe from destruction by shot or shell fire; but this rule had been departed from in the case of the Inflexible, which might be destroyed without touching the armour at all. When this vessel was described at the Institution of Naval Architects, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) and another gallant officer questioned the officer of the Admiralty, and asked this very question. The answer given was not of the most explicit kind; but it amounted, substantially, to what the First Lord had stated to-night—namely, that with the citadel alone, the ship would have the necessary buoyancy and stability, however much injury might be done to the unarmoured ends. On visiting the Inflexible from time to time, he (Mr. Reed) found that the unarmoured ends were so very large in proportion to the citadel, as to raise in his mind a doubt as to this important condition being fulfilled. Observing this, and also the introduction of the corked. chambers, he designed an Inflexible in his own office, and had the whole of the calculations made, the result showing that when these corked chambers were destroyed the vessel would have little or no stability, but would be in a condition to capsize. He had intended to read a paper on the subject before a professional institution; but he thought the matter was so serious that he withdrew that paper and. entered into a private correspondence with the present Constructor of the Navy, who was a close connection of his own. That correspondence with the Admiralty was very unsatisfactory in spirit and in substance. In the course of it he was allowed the privilege of seeing the document which would be sent to the Board of Admiralty, in reply to the doubts he had expressed. That document, he thought, was wrong in almost every paragraph, and was of a nature to mislead the minds of civilians and naval officers. This 1997 being so, he was placed in a difficulty, and he determined that when this Vote came on, and when the Committee was asked to sanction the laying down of a fourth ship with these features in it, he would not formally oppose the Vote, because that would be a very delicate thing for him to do in the circumstances, but would state his objections to the Committee. At that time it came to his knowledge, in an indirect manner, that it was the intention of an important journal to publish an article on the subject. He had no connection whatever with the journal in question; but he did what he could to prevent the matter from being made public until the Admiralty had had an opportunity of thoroughly considering it. They had now taken it into consideration, and he never gathered, until the First Lord made his statement to-night, that his position was questioned as to the "capsizeability" of the ship when the unarmoured ends were destroyed. He must assure the First Lord that if he desired to get to the bottom of this matter he must not be content with the statements which he had sustained to-night, as those statements were in distinct discordance with facts and figures which attached to the Inflexible. Until to-night he understood that the only difference between the Admiralty and himself was as to whether the corked chambers were incapable of destruction by modern shells. The naval advisers of the Admiralty believed that they were, and it was not his intention to ask the Committee to take any action in the matter. He would suggest that the Admiralty might have adopted the following course for their own satisfaction. They might have had a target of a similar kind made, and have called on the gunners at Shoeburyness to say whether they could not readily destroy it. Or, again, they might have instituted some inquiry in which the evidence of persons outside the Admiralty could be taken. They had not, however, adopted either of those courses, and he did not go so far as to blame them for not doing so. But he deeply regretted that the ship being what she undoubtedly was, that fact had never been stated to the House. All the documentary evidence which had been brought forward had tended to give hon. Members great confidence in the ship. He had acted in this matter because he believed the 1998 plan of constructing this ship was entirely wrong; and that being so, it was a consideration for the Committee whether some further inquiry was not necessary.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
thought his hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Reed) was scarcely justified in expressing regret that the question should arise now, because it was of the greatest importance that it should arise at the present time and not later.
§ MR. E. J. REED
explained that he had distinctly stated that it was his intention to raise the question to-night. He did not wish, however, to raise it before the Admiralty had had a proper opportunity of considering the matter.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
meant to say that his hon. Friend, instead of being to blame for raising the discussion, had only done his duty in expressing his doubts to the Committee. The matter could scarcely be allowed to rest in its present position. His hon. Friend had said that no public statement had been made in regard to this ship; but hero he thought his hon. Friend was slightly in error, because he (Mr. Goschen) had himself stated, when the ship was first sanctioned by the House, that the requisite of buoyancy would be secured after the unarmoured ends had been shot away. The naval advisers of the Board of Admiralty had asserted that the stability of the citadel was sufficient, and that the suggestion of his hon. Friend was wrong. He trusted that there was no misunderstanding with respect to the words stability and buoyancy; but it had been suggested that as the unarmoured ends were honeycombed into compartments they would be safe from shot or shell. He never know that his hon. Friend was investigating the matter, and he imagined that they were dealing only with anonymous criticism; but the Committee would think it very satisfactory if, at a later stage, documents could be laid on the Table of the House by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord which would re-assure them beyond all doubt that the necessary amount of stability and buoyancy was secured. The matter was one which was capable of being settled with mathematical accuracy; and their alarm would not be allayed unless these assurances were given.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, that when the Inflexible was designed, the right hon. 1999 Gentleman had very wisely permitted a discussion on its merits at the United Service Institution. On that occasion he (Sir John Hay) took part in the discussion. There were two questions raised—first, whether a ship of this kind, if her forecastle and stern, unarmoured, were attacked and destroyed, would she topple over; and, secondly, if her centre, being properly armour-plated, and in good condition to resist shot or shell, would continue to float when the unarmoured ends were destroyed; whether, in fact, she had buoyancy and stability. In both those respects the vessel was pronounced satisfactory. Now, this ship Inflexible cost half a million of money. She was the strongest ship the world ever saw, and before further steps were taken with respect to her, and after what the hon. Member for Pembroke had said, it might, perhaps, be desirable that the House should hear these assurances from some other independent Body or Commission. He could only trust, for the sake of alleviating the anxiety of the country, and of its shipbuilding credit, that the hon. Member might be wrong; but until that was proved there would always be some suspicion as to her seaworthiness in the minds both of the country and the vessel's officers and men.
§ MR. T. BRASSEY
wished briefly to refer to the opinions of eminent foreign authorities. A careful review of the arguments advanced by the most competent naval officers abroad showed clearly that it was desirable that our armour-clad ships should be for the most part of smaller dimensions than those already built. For many years past there had been so great a difference of professional opinion on the subject, that it might be very profitable to compare the varieties of foreign opinion with a view to forming our own. He would refer, in the first place, to the opinion of the French Constructors, who were second to none. So long ago as 1873, M. Dislere, an able Member of the staff of Constructors in the French service, had expressed an opinion that armour-plating was obsolete for seagoing cruisers. M. Dislere thought that enough attention was not paid to the new weapons, the ram and the torpedo, against which the iron-clad Colossus lest all its advantages. The difficulties produced by torpedoes were, in his opinion, 2000 not yet overcome, and it was on that account the more desirable to reduce the dimensions and displacements of fighting ships. Another great French authority laid down the axiom that in future ships would fight with the ram alone. Admiral Jurien de la Gravière said that naval battles between iron-clads would resemble the ancient tournaments, inasmuch as they would consist of a series of charges. After two fleets had thus advanced upon and passed through each other, it would be necessary for them to turn again to renew the attack, in the execution of which manœuvre the slowest vessels would offer their broadsides to their assailants, and would thereby expose themselves to the risk of being destroyed by ramming. At the close of the War of Secession in America, the most distinguished officers were invited to report the result of their recent experiences to the Naval Department. He would more particularly refer to the Report of Admiral Goldsborough. That gallant officer stated that, in his opinion, the ram was the most effective of all methods of attacks, but that its value depended entirely upon the "handiness" of the attacking vessel. Now, to attain this essential quality, it was necessary to avoid the construction of vessels of overwhelming size. The Austrian officers engaged in the naval battle of Lissa, where the ram was used with triumphant effect, were unanimously of opinion that, with skill and pluck, this weapon of attack would always prove invincible. The Chief of the Austrian Constructor's Department had called it "the bayonet of naval warfare." Turning from the foreign services to our own professional advisers, we found that the Chief Constructor of the Navy, Mr. Barnaby, at the Institution of Naval Architects, had read a paper showing that auxiliary squadrons of rams and torpedo vessels afforded the best means of defending our large iron-dads against attack from similar weapons. This paper was received with the highest favour. Sit Spencer Robinson said that no more valuable suggestion had ever been made in his experience. He regretted that the First Lord had not framed his Programme of shipbuilding in accordance with these views. He could not see in it a proposal to increase the number of such vessels in our Navy. He (Mr. Brassey) also advocated the building of ships carrying 2001 a larger number of guns. Our large iron-dads were lamentably deficient in the number of the guns with which they were armed. In addition to the very heavy guns which had been proposed, an armament of non-armour-piercing guns should be provided. There was a wide difference of opinion as to the efficiency of armour protection. In his opinion, a large proportion of the money voted should in future be given to the weapons of attack, of the efficiency of which there could be no doubt, and a smaller proportion to the means of defence, the success of which was doubtful.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he was sorry he could not feel the satisfaction which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) had told him he ought to feel with the present state of things as regarded the Navy. When this subject was last discussed, he had some reason to think that the tone of that right hon. Gentleman was anything but courteous towards himself in remarking on some observations that fell from him. But courtesy was like poetry—it must be innate; and therefore he need not further descant upon that topic. The right hon. Gentleman had entirely misquoted his remarks and argued on his misquotation. But he was quite sure the right hon. Gentleman had misquoted inadvertently. He (Mr. Bentinck) admitted that we had a large number of full-rigged ships; but they were quite unmanageable under canvas, and their masts and yards were in consequence a mere encumbrance. One of the great problems of the future was, to devise how best to construct a ship with high steam power, whose really vulnerable parts would be safe, and which ship would yet be thoroughly manageable under canvas, and would, by means of that agency, be able to go to any part of the world. He contended that a ship which could not be handled under canvas, looking to the requirements of the British Navy, ought not to be sent to foreign stations. He objected to the comparison of our Navy with the Navies of other countries, because some of these countries would gain financially if their Navies were sunk, while we depended upon ours for the defence of our coast and Colonies and our supply of food; and it might be that we ought to be able to contend against the Navies of the world. Was 2002 the Navy in a condition to do these things? If not, let the Navy be placed in that condition. He was sure that the country would give its cordial support to any Minister who would, at any expense, carry out those great objects. We were not in the condition we ought to be—not that we could not meet any probable contingency, but we ought not to expose ourselves to the necessity of making the efforts and the sacrifices involved in insufficient preparation.
§ MR. SAMUDA
said, that even if the worst were to be realized that was predicted by such hon. Gentlemen as the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Reed), the catastrophe would not be so great as was imagined. With respect to the Inflexible, the errors could be corrected; but he thought it was disgraceful that a newspaper should have published such an article as that published this morning without attaching a name to it. No man's professional reputation ought to be attacked without some justification. He hoped the First Lord of the Admiralty would, by a Committee or some other way, satisfy the public mind that there was no occasion for anxiety. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hunt) in thinking that there was nothing really alarming in the effects of the torpedo as shown in the present war, the Americans, in their Civil War, having accomplished quite as much with that weapon as the Russians had done. At the same time, he thought the events which had occurred on the Danube ought to suggest to the Admiralty the expediency of adding a number of small vessels to our Navy—vessels which would be less liable to torpedo attacks than gigantic iron-dads. It would be unwise, however, to build vessels of the Alpha Beta class, recommended by the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Brassey), because having a speed of only 7½ knots an hour, it was impossible that they could cope with larger vessels capable of making 13 or 14 knots an hour. As for the ram, it was a mistake. It was only useful for attacking ships which were riding at anchor or incapable of defending themselves. An officer could not make an attack with a ram upon a vessel which meant to elude him, unless he had at least 50 per cent more speed, and was capable of going 15 knots to his enemy's 10. Then, even when a ram could come to close quarters with her adversary, the 2003 danger of a fatal entanglement was very great. But although a perfect ship had not yet been designed, the right hon. Gentleman ought not to cease building, for the experience of the Austro-Italian, the Franco-German, and the Russo-Turkish wars had shown that, irrespective of the merits of particular vessels, the larger and more powerful fleet kept the sea, and that the smaller and inferior one did not venture out at all.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
could not agree with the hon. Member who had just spoken (Mr. Samuda), that the "ram" was not a formidable mode of attack upon an enemy's ships. In the war between Austria and Italy the Austrian Fleet—a small fleet—beat the Italian Fleet—which was a large one—by means of the "ram." In other words, the smaller fleet, by the use of the ram, beat the larger fleet.
§ MR. SAMUDA
explained that his information on the subject was from the very highest authority—namely, Admiral Tegethoff, who was in command of the Austrian Fleet. That gallant officer gave directions to his men to approach the Italian Fleet in a line, and on a certain signal to turn and endeavour each to ram the ship opposite to itself. The orders were obeyed, but the only ship that rammed any of the Italian vessels was the Admiral's own, and he said the effect upon him was so terrible, that nothing would induce him ever again to ram a vessel though he should live 100 years.
§ MR. SEELY
said, that all our interest ought to be centred in the ships about to be built. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) having pledged his reputation, which was European, that the Inflexible was not seaworthy, he (Mr. Seely) contended that in a question involving so much the value of our Navy, and the lives of so many men, some means ought to be taken to ascertain the correctness of his statements, especially as it was intended to build another ship on the same principle, besides the two already in progress. Such a procedure was the more necessary, seeing that in opposition to the opinion of the hon. Member they had the unanimous opinion of Mr. Barnaby, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and certain Naval Lords. It was a difficult problem to be solved, but it was one that must be solved. He thought he might add that the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for the 2004 Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda) with reference to the article which had appeared in the leading journal were most uncalled-for and most unjust; for had it not been for the light which had been thrown on the subject of naval construction by the Press, he doubted whether our Navy would be as efficient as it was at present. As matters stood, he felt disposed to object to the passing of the Vote, unless some assurance was given by the Admiralty that the question at issue would be inquired into. There were several ways in which that might be done. It might be done by means of a Royal Commission, which would have many advantages; but which, however, was open to the objection that, being appointed by the Admiralty, it might be suspected of not being altogether an impartial tribunal. Again, a Committee might be appointed, such as that which sat upon the designs of ships; but that, too, might be supposed to be influenced by professional prejudices. Perhaps, therefore, the best tribunal would be a Committee of that House; and he trusted such a Committee would be appointed. It might be urged against such a Committee that its Members would know nothing About ships, and he admitted that; but then they would bring common sense to bear on the subject, they might take any evidence they deemed necessary, and they would bring to the inquiry unprejudiced minds. Entertaining these views, he should move that Progress be reported, in order that the Vote might be postponed; so convinced was he of the necessity of inquiry.
said, it was not competent for the hon. Gentleman to move the postponement of the Vote.
§ LORD ESLINGTON
pointed out that, with the exception of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) and the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda), there was scarcely a single Member of the House competent to guide a Committee on so important a subject as the construction of ships, and that the inquiry could, therefore, scarcely be committed to a more unsatisfactory tribunal than that suggested by the hon. Member for Lincoln. The construction of ships was so involved a matter that it ought to be left to the responsibility of the Government of the day. It was a question as to which men of science differed, and they should, 2005 therefore, trust with respect to it to the Executive Government. If the Executive failed, let them be turned out; but while they were in power, to them and to their responsibility the matter of construction ought to be left. Unless the House gave them that power, Parliament would sacrifice the right they now had of controlling the expenditure with regard to the construction of ships of war.
§ MR. RYLANDS
called attention to the importance of the Vote after the statements made by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed). The Committee were asked to vote a sum on account of an expenditure of over £500,000 for a new iron-clad, in the face of a statement that that type of vessel was utterly objectionable. But the Committee were invited by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Eslington) to submit their consciences and their judgment to the judgment of the Admiralty. Hon. Members were to be shut out from all criticism, because they knew nothing compared with the Admiralty, to whom all was known. But what proof was there that the Admiralty had that amount of knowledge? Had the noble Lord looked back at the history of the Admiralty for the past 25 years? If he had looked back, he would find over the course of that quarter of a century a succession of the most monstrous blunders and dangerous mistakes. Looking back over that period it would be found that when everybody with judgment had come to the conclusion that our old system of three-deckers was obsolete, when as was said by naval officers in 1853, after the destruction of the Turkish Fleet by Russian shells, "there was an end to wooden ships, for they would be blown to lucifer matches," and that they were nothing better than slaughterhouses—in the teeth of the judgments of the greatest authorities in Europe—our Board of Admiralty after the French Administration had begun to construct iron vessels, our Board of Admiralty from both Parties—for the course was adopted by Sir John Pakington as well as the Duke of Somerset—after the idea of three-deckers had been exploded, spent millions of money on wooden line-of-battle ships that were now rotting at Portsmouth, if they had not long since been broken up for firewood. [" No, no!"] These were facts in history. Perhaps some hon. Members were not 2006 aware that after the period he had named, we actually, in 1860, spent £13,331,000 on our wooden Navy. And now what had become of those ships? Had they been of any service to the nation who paid for them, or had they done any good to the country? Not a single ship had been of real service, out of those built by the wasteful expenditure of many millions by the Duke of Somerset and Sir John Pakington. The next step taken by this infallible Admiralty Board was to rush at once into the building of iron ships of the Warrior and Black Prince type. In 1861 they proceeded to build 11 of that class with iron armour 4½ inches thick! 1861 was not so very long since, and then the Admiralty made that great mistake and found their ships with 4½ inch armour were unserviceable. Why, they might as well have covered the vessels with brown paper. No doubt in former days, when Sir John Faking-ton made the great blunder of re-constructing the British Navy on the "wooden-walls" principle, when wooden-walls were obsolete, no doubt if any criticism had been offered the reply would have been similar to that just made by the First Lord to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen)—"We entirely accept the responsibility of the course we are prepared to take in the same direction followed by yourselves." We are prepared to go in this direction, said the First Lord, because we have the sanction of the eminent naval officers of the Board. Now, a short time ago he saw in The Times an interpretation of the expression " Board of Admiralty." The Board was described as a body of naval men who by no means adopted the science of administration as a profession, but tried their prentice hands at it for two or three years during their intervals of service afloat. [Admiral Sir WILLIAM EDMONSTONE: No.] Was it not a fact? ["No!"] Surely the hon. and gallant Admiral was not able to say that they were placed on the Board because of their previous knowledge of dockyards and shipbuilding, and, having been found competent, remained permanently in that position? He did not think that. Did he not know they were shifted every few years? [Admiral Sir WILLIAM EDMONSTONE: No, he does not.] They were continually changed, and the appoint- 2007 ment of naval men to such important offices as that of the management of dockyards was made for a term of only five years, or three years as suggested by an hon. Member. In three years they were expected to learn the entire business and acquire all the technical knowledge of this difficult question, and the House was told to bow down its intellect to their superior ability. The First Lord thought himself justified in making a complaint of the article in The Times of that morning, but he (Mr. Rylands) thought The Times had done a great public service; and the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) had added to the many good services he had rendered the country and the House in having brought the matter before their attention. However right hon. Gentlemen might give themselves mutual support by quoting one another's opinion, and however they might rely on the Board of Admiralty, that reliance was not shared by the country. He thought at the present time there was no doubt whatever that no branch of the Administration of this country stood so low in the opinion of the country as the Naval Service. [" No, no "] He was stating what he believed was a fact, and anyone who had watched the course of public opinion which found expression in the Press must be aware that there was great dissatisfaction in this respect. If his hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Seely) took the course he proposed, he should support him; for he did not think the Committee should allow themselves to support expenditure for vessels of this new type without insisting that the Government should take some satisfactory means to assure themselves that it was wise to adopt a proposal of the kind. Without such an assurance the Motion to report Progress would have his support.
§ MR. HUNT
said, that in the speech they had just heard they had an instance that naval subjects were not discussed in that House with that knowledge of the subject which hon. Members should possess. He should like to know the names of the wooden three-deckers laid down by Sir John Pakington and the Duke of Somerset. Lord Hampton, when at the Admiralty, distinguished himself by laying down a new class of ship which was quite in advance of the age, and which, in fact, had been fol- 2008 lowed as a model for subsequent ships. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) had talked of brown paper armour defences, but he could not have recollected the nature of the ordnance then brought against ships. As soon as armour of a certain thickness was adopted guns were made to pierce it, and the battle between iron plates and guns had been going on ever since. The hon. Member ought not to throw a slur over the able men who had formerly presided over the Admiralty, merely because they did not provide armour-plating of double the thickness required at that particular time. The hon. Member had certainly not contributed much to the information of the House. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Seely) said the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) had staked his professional reputation upon the Inflexible being an unsafe ship. He (Mr. Hunt) had not heard the hon. Member say that; and he should be very much surprised to hear him make such an assertion. If the hon. Member for Pembroke did not do it for himself, he did not see why anyone should do it for him. He complained, not that the article in The Times was, but that the statement of fact was, not signed by some authority. The doubts suggested in The Times had previously been conveyed to the Admiralty, and the Admiralty, having gone into the question of the capabilities of the ship with reference to the points there mentioned, had fully made up their minds that there was no ground for such apprehensions. With regard to the suggestion that the matter should be referred to a Committee or Commission, he might point out that the public would not be likely to have more confidence in the decision of a Committee or Commission than it had in the decision of the Board of Admiralty. Whatever body the subject was referred to, the Admiralty must be eventually responsible. His noble Friend below the Gangway hit the right nail on the head when he said—"You must either trust the Board of Admiralty, or else get rid of them." That was what he himself said. Whatever fell from the hon. Member for Pembroke on such a subject was of course well worthy of consideration. As he had told the Committee, the hon. Gentleman had corresponded with the Admiralty on this matter. They had considered what the 2009 hon. Gentleman had to say, and had come to the conclusion that his apprehensions were groundless. No doubt the hon. Member was an authority on these matters, but he was not at the present time responsible to the public. The Admiralty, however, had responsible advisers, and they could not accept the hon. Member's doubts. The Admiralty stood upon their own responsibility, and it was impossible that a Committee of Supply could be a Committee to inquire into the kind of ships or a Council of Construction. The question was one of technicalities, of science, and of experiments, and the Executive must be trusted in this matter. If hon. Members did not trust the Executive, they should frankly say so and change it; but as long as they had an Executive they must trust it on a question of this sort, and he could not consent to trust it to a Committee or a Commission. The Admiralty had taken the greatest pains to ascertain the truth, and had come to an unanimous decision. As Head of the Department, he fully accepted the responsibility in this matter, and asked the Committee to give them their confidence.
§ MR. E. J. REED
hoped nothing had fallen from him that was inconsistent with the doctrines laid down by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Eslington) and by the First Lord of the Admiralty. He entirely agreed, that it would be a great mistake for that House to attempt to override the well-considered decision of the Admiralty on a question of the kind. But he was sure the Committee would feel it was very desirable to have an assurance that the true question had been considered by the Admiralty. In the beginning of the discussion he thought it was a question of opinion, and was anxious to hear the decision of the Government; but he was placed in a difficulty, because the figures produced to-night by the late First Lord, and on which he now based his responsibility, were distinctly at variance with the figures which were at this moment recognized within the Admiralty, and which were handed to him as the figures relating to the ship. The two sets of figures were entirely inconsistent with each other. The right hon. Gentleman had read statements to-night in which it was distinctly laid down when the ship was designed that if her unarmoured 2010 ends were destroyed she would be submerged I foot extra. He had seen statements to the effect that the ship with 800 tons less of coal was submerged, not I foot, but more than 2 feet. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to assume that the statements read to the House by the late First Lord were unquestioned; whereas he maintained that they were utterly inconsistent with the paper which he had himself seen at the Admiralty. He concluded by expressing his firm conviction that the First Lord of the Admiralty had committed his responsibility to a decision without knowing the actual facts at issue.
§ MR. SEELY,
after what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, thought they ought to have a clear and distinct answer from his hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke to this question—"Do you think the Inflexible is a safe ship?"
§ MR. E. J. REED
said, that what he had distinctly stated was that he believed the Inflexible might go to sea with perfect safety for any length of time, provided she did not enter on a naval engagement; but that if she did enter on a naval engagement and was attacked by a shell fire and her unarmoured ends were destroyed, she would be left without stability, and would then capsize.
The Committee divided:—Ayes 231 Noes 14: Majority 217.—(Div. List, No. 183.)
(2.) Motion made, and Question put,That a sum, not exceeding £1,207,300, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expense of Naval Stores for Building, Repairing, and Outfitting the Fleet and Coast Guard, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1878.The Committee divided:—Ayes 220; Noes 5: Majority 224. — (Div. List, No. 184.)
(3.) Motion made, and Question proposed,That a sum, not exceeding £1,042,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expense of Steam Machinery and Ships built by Contract, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1878.
§ MR. PARNELL,
in moving that the Chairman report Progress, said, that he was glad the hon. and gallant Member for Waterford (Major O'Gorman) had shown, by challenging the decision of the House on the two last divisions, what obstruction really meant if carried out with determination.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."— (Mr. Parnell.)
§ MAJOR O'GORMAN
said, he desired to make a few remarks, though he thoroughly believed he should be called to Order. It was often difficult to know when one was in Order in the House and when one was not. His reason for the proceeding he had adopted on that occasion was that on Friday night last, when the proposition was made that Ireland was entitled to the same borough franchise as England—[Cries of "Question!" and "Order!"] Oh, he did not want to speak all, if hon. Members did not wish to listen to him.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that having been offended by the conduct of the House on a former evening, when the subject under discussion was quite distinct from that now before the Committee, the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Major O'Gorman) had by acting as he had done that evening, being in a minority at one time of 15, and another of 5, taken a course which practically amounted to refusing Supply, thus abusing the forms of the House in a way which almost amounted to contempt of the House and its proceedings.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, he had voted for the Government, and not with the hon. and gallant Member for Waterford, in the two divisions which had just been taken; but he must protest against the views of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Newdegate). It must not be supposed that Irish Members were not entitled to refuse Supply under such circumstances as they might deem proper. Whenever Irish Members thought it necessary to take a particular line of action, they would not be precluded from doing so by any smallness of numbers.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
also protested against the doctrine of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. Any two hon. Members had a right to divide the House.
§ MR. E. J. REED
appealed to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Parnell) to withdraw the Motion, as the Vote was one of urgent importance, and as the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord had evidently come down in great pain to further the Public Business.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow, at Two of the clock.
§ Committee to sit again upon Wednesday.