HC Deb 08 March 1880 vol 251 cc562-88

Mr. Speaker, I rise to call attention to the state of the Navy, and I ask the attention of hon. Members, as the subject is one of the deepest importance; indeed, this House has placed on record how thoroughly it understands the value of the Navy to the nation, in the Preamble to the Naval Discipline Act, 29 & 30 Vict. c. 109, where it is clearly laid down that upon the Navy depends the wealth, the safety, and the strength of the Kingdom.

If that be so, surely the time has arrived when a thorough exposure of the real state of the Service upon which the safety, nay, the very life, of the British Empire depends should be made.

I suppose hon. Members will agree that the Navy of England should be strong enough to overcome any probable combination of Fleets which might be brought against her, and to clear the ocean, and keep it clear, of the armed vessels of any enemy in the world, besides defending our Colonies and coal depots, which means, at the very least, some 20 strategical points. I suppose hon. Members will also agree that this can only be done by real men-of-war, by which I mean vessels capable of at least performing like services to those carried out by our forefathers, who, with a Navy Estimate of £5,000,000, and a population of 13,000,000, did that which we now cannot do with a population of 33,000,000, and a Navy Estimate of £10,000,000.

I have no hesitation in saying that neither in number nor in character does the so-called Navy of this country fulfil the wants of the Empire. But hon. Members may say—"Prove this." I will do so, and show the evils which beset the Service and prevent that efficiency without which any Navy is practically useless. For the sake of convenience, I propose to treat the subject under the following heads:—1, Administration; 2, Personnel; 3, Matériel; 4, Reserves.

1. First and foremost, I hold the Admiralty administration to be in fault; but I do not propose to travel over the old ground, and repeat the censure and satire which has been justly levelled at the Admiralty in this House and outside for, say, the last 25 years.

What I shall endeavour to show is that the Admiralty is quite unable to manage even itself; and, therefore, it is hopeless to expect it to control and make efficient such a Service as the Royal Navy, and hence its present degraded position.

During the last 15 years, Admiralty re-organization has been a favourite amusement with First Lords of the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract tried his hand, then the junior Member for the City of London, and now my right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster is taking his turn. The result of all this may be stated in a very few words, and will show, I think, the mal-administration of the Admiralty very clearly.

I find in the Navy Estimates for 1855–6, before the present rage for reorganization began, that the Vote for Civil Pensions and Allowances amounted to £149,558; but in the Navy Estimates for this year—1880–1—I find that this sum is more than doubled, and reaches the enormous total of £322,428.

These are the figures for the interval—1855–6, £149,558; 1865–6, £208,033—increase of £73,669; 1875–6, £284,529—increase of £76,496; 1880–1, £322,428—say, fiveyearsonly—increase, £37,899.

Hon. Members may suppose that this enormous increase has caused a corresponding reduction in Vote 3 for the Admiralty Office; but this is not the case, for I find that Vote in 1855–6, £140,469; in 1865–6, £175,605; in 1875–6, £183,915; and in 1880–1, £179,485.

This is not to be wondered at, considering that the clerical staff has increased from some 70 before re-organization in 1835, to 432 in 1869, and is, I believe, now not far off 600. In a Return presented March, 1879, I find the increase in the Admiralty Staff no less than 65 in one year.

These facts alone ought to open the eyes of hon. Members to the value of Admiralty re-organization; but it is right that the House should, have some particulars of how re-organization is carried on at the Admiralty. I promised Mr. Speaker that I would not travel over old ground. I will, therefore, only describe the modus operandi in cases which will be in the recollection of the House.

Take the present Accountant General of the Navy as an example of Admiralty administration. It will be in the recollection of the House that, during the Session of 1878, I had the following Notice of Motion on the Paper:— To call attention to the appointment of Mr. R. G. Hamilton as Accountant General of the Navy; and to move, That, in the opinion of this House, the appointment of a gentleman as the head of a Department with which he has not previously been connected, and without any experience of its working, and over the heads of tried and competent servants of the Grown, is unjust, and has a tendency to seriously weaken the Public Service. Now, what are the facts about Mr. R. G. Hamilton's appointment? Does the House suppose that this gentleman had any special qualifications for the post. I will give hon. Members some ideas on that point.

Mr. Hamilton was one of three—himself, Mr. Lingen, and Mr. Swainson, presided over by my hon. Friend the Junior Lord of the Admiralty (Sir Massey Lopes), appointed as a Committee to re- organize the Admiralty Department. Mr. R. G. Hamilton was brought from the Education Department to fill the post of Financial Secretary of the Board of Trade, on the ground that there was no person in the Board of Trade capable of carrying out the duties. At the time of Mr. Hamilton's appointment to the Board of Trade a Mr. Stoneham was Chief Clerk in the Finance Department, and in order to satisfy the latter for being passed over he was made Registrar General of Seamen.

Mr. Stoneham, who, as Registrar General of Seamen, had been employed for some years in work quite foreign to that of accounts, has now been brought back to fill Mr. Hamilton's place at the Board of Trade as Financial Secretary, although, at the time of the latter's appointment, he was not thought worthy of the post.

During the time Mr. Hamilton was at the Board of Trade he was engaged on different Committees a greater part of the time, the work of his Department being carried out by his subordinates, and such seems to be the case even now in his new appointment; for I find that, at the present moment, he is on a Committee instead of attending to the duties of his Department.

Take another case, that of Mr. Rowsell. He was taken from the position of a third class clerk, and, notwithstanding his long and repeated absences from ill-health, and in spite of the regulations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, was made Director of Contracts by the right hon. Member for Montrose; but, in the Navy Estimates now before the House, I find this gentleman retired on a pension of £600 a-year, although at this moment he is employed in Egypt at a salary of £3,000.

Here is another case, that of the Private Secretary—a very good man indeed—of the hon. Member for Lincoln, who has done so much, as the House knows, to expose Admiralty mismanagement. This gentleman was pitch forked into the Admiralty over the heads of men certainly as good as himself, and is now, after a very few years' service, say as long as Mr. Rowsell's, about to be retired on a similar pension.

But, perhaps, the most curious instance of Admiralty re-organization is that of another member of the Reorganization Committee—Mr. Swainson. I see, by comparing the Navy List with the Navy Estimates for the year, that 'the Chief Clerk and all the principal clerks senior to Mr. Swainson have had to retire, and that Mr. Swainson has advised, in point of fact, the placing of himself at the head of the Civil Department of the Admiralty, and, accordingly, he figures under the new, and I venture to think useless, title of Assistant Secretary; for we have a First Secretary, a Naval Secretary, a Private Secretary, and now an Assistant Secretary.

I hope I have said quite enough to prove to the House the wretched system into which the Admiralty has fallen; and I ask how is it possible, while such a state of affairs is allowed to exist, to expect an efficient Navy?

The House will see that, what with the £322,000 Civil pensions under the Admiralty, and £645,000 Retired and Reserved Pay for officers obliged to leave the Service, whether they liked it or not, the Navy Estimates are saddled with a sum of £967,000, or nearly £1,000,000 of dead money, one-tenth of the entire Estimates thrown away upon what the authors are pleased to call "reorganization."

The provoking part of the matter is this—that nothing is easier than to reorganize the Admiralty, and that without any additional cost. The United States Navy is administered, I venture to think, at least as well as that of England; and yet the Staff, consisting of clerks, draughtsman, and messengers, only amounts to 72; but then let me only take one instance of the manner in which their business is transacted. The Secretary of the American Navy lays before Congress an exhaustive Report—which I hold in my hand—of the condition and movements of the Service over which he presides. I informed my right hon. Friend directly the House met of this fact, and, in the form of a Question, begged him to lay a similar document before this House, instead of a ponderous mass of figures, which only tend to mislead, and which have misled this House for years.

I could say a great deal more on the point of Admiralty administration; but it must already be clear to hon. Members, from even the brief statement of facts I have made, that the nation does not possess competent Admiralty officials. Let me just recall to the memory of the House the facts I have stated—namely, that since re-organization has been the fashion the Civil Service pensions have more than doubled—namely, from £149,558 to £322,428; and Vote 3 for Admiralty Offices has increased in 20 years from £140,469 to £179,485; and that the Staff of the Admiralty has grown from 70 to 600. To reconcile such a state of affairs with efficiency is impossible; and for my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty to claim a saving is absurd, in face of the fact that Admiralty Office Expenditure has risen from £290,027 to £501,913 at the present moment.

2. I now come to the personnel of the Navy, and I hold that the officers and men are in quite as unsatisfactory a condition as the Admiralty itself.

Let us take, for example, the Naval Cadets. They are educated on board the Britannia (as the House knows by a Return I obtained on the matter), at a cost of about £300 per annum for each young gentleman. But have the officers educated at this enormous outlay proved as efficient and useful as those who came from the Royal Naval School at no expense whatever to the country? Some of the brightest ornaments in the Navy were educated at that school; and those who remain, whether on the active list, or the retired list, are men who would be a credit to any country. I am sorry to say that since the Britannia has been the training school for the officers of the Navy the courts-martial have been more in number than was ever heard of before. Drunkenness has been seriously on the increase; and the number of young gentlemen who have been unable to pass the examination, who have left the Service, or who have been turned out with disgrace, has assumed alarming proportions.

It is needless for me to say how the other ranks of the Service suffer in consequence. Not a single class in the Navy, as I pointed out to the House some years ago—and this is still the case—is contented, and, consequently, really efficient.

I will not weary the House by quoting from the printed "causes of discontent" which I possess in support of my assertion; but I can assure the House that there is no difficulty in proving my words.

With regard to the seamen, the case is even worse. The system of short service is a delusion. It is very difficult indeed, in consequence of "short service," to find petty officers of sufficient age and experience to command the men, and without such petty officers it is not difficult to foresee the results in the day of trial. How can it be expected of a parcel of young men, mere boys as the seamen of the present day are, that they should look up to and follow with pride and confidence men of very nearly their own age who have had but little more experience than they themselves have had. A seaman after 10 years' service is only 28; and, of course, if he can see his way to better himself, he will not stay a day longer in the Navy. But although this evil is very great the want of discipline in the Service is even worse; for I find by the last Return to this honourable House, No. 114, 24th March, 1879, that the amount of summary punishments in one year—1877—reaches the enormous total of upwards of 60,900.

In fact, it would be very difficult indeed to exaggerate the gravity of the situation so far as the personnel is concerned.

Why continue the heavy and most unsatisfactory expense of the Britannia, when by a mere scratch of the pen it would be so easy to obtain any required number of Naval Cadets through the portals of the Royal Naval School, without the cost of a shilling to the State?

The very best officers in the Service are on the Retired List. It will hardly be credited; but these officers actually number no less than 2,400, requiring a sum of £644,628 in the present Estimates, leaving, with the Civil pensions, nearly £1,000,000 of dead money to provide annually, for no earthly reason that I can discover, while a deadly blow has been struck at the efficiency, the zeal, and the discipline of the Service.

3. Now, in respect to the matériel of the Navy. Our war ships, it is quite clear, should be thoroughly efficient, and in every respect competent and sufficient in number to perform the duty of meeting and defeating any probable combination of Meets which could be brought against us; of blockading an enemy's coast; of clearing the ocean of enemies' cruisers, and keeping it clear of them; of convoying our merchant ships; and of defend- ing our Colonies and coaling stations, which means, at the very least, some 20 strategical points, as I said at the commencement of my speech.

With regard to the number of our vessels of war, I am sorry to say that our ships, so far as number is concerned, are quite unable to meet and defeat any probable combination against us, and for this very simple reason—that the French alone, for war purposes, possess a Navy superior to ours, not only in the nature and strength of their ships, but in the better quality and discipline of their seamen, to say nothing of their enormous Reserve of real seamen ready to fill up the gaps on the shortest notice.

Then, with respect to blockading an enemy's coast. Our iron-clads, which could be detailed for that service, are utterly and totally unfit for any such work. I do not say this on my own authority alone, but on that of the most distinguished Admirals in the Service, who have practically experienced the worthlessness of these so-called men-of-war. To make this perfectly clear, I will, with the permission of the House, quote the recorded statement of a late senior Sea Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Sidney Dacres, who also had command of the Channel Fleet—"That he did not think they—the iron-clads—could cruise in company with safety." Also that of Admiral Sir Thomas Symonds, one of our most distinguished and experienced officers, lately in command of an ironclad Fleet—"That they—the iron-clads—are unable to save themselves under the commonest circumstances." And that of Admiral of the Fleet, Sir George Sartorius— That our iron-clad ships of war are equally unfit for the exigencies of coast or distant warfare, and for the blockading of an enemy's ports impracticable. While Lord Clarence Paget, who a few years ago commanded the Mediterranean Fleet, was equally uncomplimentary. Besides these distinguished authorities, there is a general consensus of opinion amongst naval officers as to these vessels; indeed, it is impossible to speak with too much contempt of the whole of them. It will be in the recollection of the House that I repeatedly endeavoured to call its attention to the true nature of these vessels. This is a Motion which I was most anxious to discuss as early in the present Parliament as 1875— Navy (Construction of Vessels), Select Committee to inquire into the particulars of the design, construction, cost, seaworthy, and other qualities, as well as the present state and condition of the following ships and vessels designed by the late Chief Constructor of the Navy, Mr. E. J. Reed, C.B., M.P.:—Unarmourcd Vessels—Amazon (foundered); Niobe, Vestal, Blanche, Nymph, Daphne, Dryad, Minstrel, Cherub, Helicon (P.W.), Osborne (P.W.), Inconstant, That is, Blazer, Comet, Scourge, Snake, Vigilant (P.W.), Lively (P.W.), Shah, Plucky, Woodlark, Vulture, Bittern, Druid, Briton, Tenedos, Dido, Thalia, Active, Volage, Raleigh. Armoured Vessels:—Pallas, Favourite, Research, Enterprise, Waterwitch, Vixen, Viper, Audacious, Invincible, Vanguard (foundered), Iron Duke, Triumph, Swiftsure, Repulse, Sultan, Monarch, Hercules, Bellerophon, Penelope, Lord Clyde, Lord Warden, Glutton, Hotspur, Rupert, Cyclops, Hecate, Hydra, Gorgon, Thunderer, Fury, Devastation. Transports:—Euphrates, Serapis, Jumna, Malabar, Crocodile. A total of no less than 68 of Her Majesty's ships. One fact alone is sufficient to condemn the majority of these ships, and that is that they are heavily ballasted. Fancy ballasting an iron-clad steamship! Why, the veriest tyro in naval architecture would be ashamed of such a proceeding; but I am bound to say that the ballast was only put on board when it was found that the ships alluded to would not stand upon their legs without it—that is to say, not until after they were designed, built, launched, and on their trial trip, and the fear arose that without ballast they would capsize on the smallest provocation, or even without any provocation at all.

I will not weary the House with further details respecting the disgraceful nature of our armoured ships; but it is perfectly clear that they are quite unfit for blockading purposes.

With respect to clearing the ocean of enemies' ships, and keeping it clear, I must confess with shame and sorrow that I know of none of Her Majesty's ships capable of performing this duty. The very first vessel on the Motion to which I have just alluded with the ominous word foundered after her name—the Amazon—was designed and built, as announced by Lord Clarence Paget, when Secretary to the Admiralty, as an "improved Alabama." Mr. Speaker, what was her fate? She came in collision with an Irish pig boat in the chops of the Channel, her stem, or rather ram, fell off—actually fell off—and she foundered, barely giving her crew time to save themselves in their boats.

Then, again, take the case of the Thetis, about which I questioned the late First Lord of the Admiralty, who told this House, with so much truth, in his first speech in 1874, that we had only a "paper Fleet." Her Majesty's ship Thetis, supposed to be one of the finest corvettes in the Service—her name will be found on the list I have just called attention to—had the misfortune to break down her machinery a few hundred miles to leeward of Malta; the crew were at once placed upon short provisions, and the vessel gallantly attempted to beat up for Malta; but, happily for the men, the Devastation picked her up, and towed her into that port. What our forefathers would have thought of this, Mr. Speaker, I leave this House to guess. But it is quite clear the Thetis class of vessel, of which there are a good many, I grieve to say, could not clear the ocean of enemy's cruisers, much less keep it clear.

To take one more instance, and I have done—the Volage. Perhaps the House will permit me to quote from the Report of the captain of that ship to the Admiralty, as follows:— At the Capo we had taken on hoard four bullocks and 100 sheep. Owing to the immense quantities of water shipped over the lee nettings, on the 5th and 6th, three bullocks and 30 sheep were drowned or died from the cold and injuries received. All the poop cabins were deeply flooded, and on several occasions the depth of water on the lee side of the quarter deck was such as to cover the guns, and two men were carried off their legs, washed over the guns, and nearly over the netting. The freeing ports under the gun ports relieved the ship very soon of the water; without them such an immense weight of water accumulating each roll, and rushing from side to side, would have been most serious. As neither I nor any officer in this ship had seen a vessel ship water in this way, perhaps you may think fit to draw their Lordships' attention to it. Why, Sir, the little merchant vessel Supply, which was with her on that occasion, could with ease have sunk her with an old 32-pounder.

In respect to convoying our merchant ships, I confess my utter ignorance as to what ships on the Navy List the Admiralty would employ for this purpose. Two ships, the Nelson and the Northampton, have been ostentatiously put forward as capable of performing this work. But, Sir, I am sadly misinformed, if either of those ships, at full speed, carries more than three days' coal. Under sail—for they are fitted with full sail power—I venture to think that both ships would be simply useless, and for this reason—they have been fitted with twin screws, which, I need hardly say, would act as such a drag in the water that it would take half a gale of wind even to move these vessels; when, if they were attacked by a properly armed gunboat, and they happened to be rolling in a seaway, as these ships know how to roll, their capture or destruction would be inevitable. I can only say that I would give a very great deal for the chance of attacking either of these vessels, with even such a gunboat, say, of the Algerine class, as we had, 25 years ago, in the China War.

In respect to defending our Colonies and coaling stations, I suppose no one will deny the absolute importance of doing this efficiently and well; our Colonies must be defended, and we must have coal. I will not trouble the House with a long list of our Colonies and coaling stations, but simply say that there are at least 20 strategical points of vital importance to the nation which must be defended. Each of these ought at least to have one iron-clad there, until placed in a proper state of defence. My right hon. Friend is, I see, commencing this work, by ordering the Wyvern to Hong Kong. I have no fear that this ship will arrive safely at her destination, because she was not designed at the Admiralty; although my right hon. Friend has done his best to insure her going to the bottom by entertaining the proposal, for one moment, of taking out torpedo boats on her upper deck. I should like to know who was the sapient gentleman who made this proposition? I hope I have made it clear to hon. Members that the state of the Navy is simply disgraceful. We were told in 1874 that we only possessed a Fleet on paper. I tell this House now, most solemnly, that the state and condition of Her Majesty's Navy is not a bit better at this moment. There is not a single vessel in the Service really fit for the purpose for which she was designed. They are wonderfully and fearfully made by narrow-minded, incompetent officials, unequal to their work, and without any sense of the gravity of the situation. This is the more provoking, when it is considered: how easy it would be to make our country once more the "Mistress of the Seas" by the addition of real gun-vessels such as I have described, and drawings of which I have had suspended in the Tea Room for a whole Session, 100 of which could be built in a few months, and that at a cost of much less than that we shall have to pay for the mastless, useless, iron-clads now in course of construction. I can only say that other nations are stealing a march upon us in this matter, and that it will go hard with us in the day of trial. I must warn hon. Members and the Press generally not to be guided by The Navy List in forming their estimate of the strength of our Navy. For instance, in The Standard of the 21st January, 1876, there is an article headed "Our Power by Sea," of which, with the permission of the House, I will read the opening sentence:— As an introductory remark, it may he stated that the total number of vessels of every class and description entitled to he termed 'Her Majesty's ships' amounts to no less than 560, with an armament of 3,600 guns; and of this number 240, mounting nearly 1,700 guns, are in commission, the remainder (that is, 320) being in reserve or employed on harbour service. Now, Mr. Speaker, let me tell the House the real number on The Navy List at that date. These are the figures—

Navy List 546
Numbers overlooked 256
Add gunboats, numbered from 572 to 736, both inclusive, 166, but actually only 64
Deduct yachts, drill ships, and other non-combatant vessels 126
Thus, instead of 546 ships and 166 gunboats—a gross total of 712 on paper—the force of fighting ships is reduced to 228; but of these there were building 22, leaving 206, out of which 50 were unseaworthy, or not designed to keep the sea; therefore, the nation only possessed 150 vessels more or less inefficient.

The state of the guns is also most discreditable, not to say dangerous; and instead of boldly facing the difficulty, Her Majesty's Government resort to the usual expedient of weakness, and try to put a piece of new cloth into a worn-out garment by means of a Departmental Committee. If only this House could have a thorough sifting of the Ordnance Department, hon. Members would, indeed, be startled.

4. With regard to the Reserves, the importance of having a powerful and efficient reserve of seamen ready for service on the shortest notice has been over and over again fully acknowledged in this House. I brought the matter myself before this House on the 8th August, 1878, but found it quite impossible to penetrate the armour plating of the Admiralty. To show that I have some experience of this subject, I may mention that I was sent to the Northern ports in command of Her Majesty's ship Gorgon, in 1859, to raise the seamen for the Royal Naval Reserve then authorized; so that I may fairly say that I know personally the great importance which has always been attached to a Royal Naval Reserve.

I will not weary the House by going in to details about this force; it will be sufficient to point out that the number even then, 20 years ago, was set down at 30,000 men. That this number was never reached, and, indeed, does not now much exceed, 12,000 men, as reported by Admiral Tarleton in 1878, and repeated by Admiral Phillimore, in his Report laid before the House at the commencement of this Session.

Mr. Speaker, I have no hesitation in saying that for all practical purposes the Royal Naval Reserves are a sham and a snare, because, when wanted for the Navy, none of these 12,000 men would be forthcoming; not a man of them could be spared from our merchant vessels, and, in a few words, I will give the House reason for this.

The Mercantile Marine of this country employs upwards of 200,000 men; but since our one-sided, so-called Free Trade has been the fashion, the British seamen in our Mercantile Marine have been supplanted by the cheap foreigners who are not even seamen, but the offscourings of the ports of all nations, cut-throats and thieves of the worst description—a fact proved over and over again. Take, for example, the case of the Lennie and the Caswell, and many others which I could mention, where the crew were nearly all foreign outcasts, the very scum of the earth.

In fact, Sir, after careful inquiries and some practical acquaintance with the subject, I have no hesitation in say- ing that some 80 per cent of the seamen in our merchant ships are foreigners. I know of some 8,000 to 10,000 Russian Finns alone, and I can assure the House that hundreds of our ships flying British colours leave this country without a single Englishman on board, not even the master. In fact, I believe it is within the mark to say that 80 per cent of the crews of British merchant ships are foreigners. It is true that, by the Board of Trade Returns, the foreign element is calculated at only 10 per cent of the gross number of men employed in the Mercantile Marine; although even such a number as this would be, in my opinion, a gross scandal and a danger to this country. But this Return of the Board of Trade is either a wilful misstatement, or proves the ignorance of the Board of Trade officials. I have seen myself crews shipped at the shipping office under English names and with good certificates, which the crimps had bought for them, who could only speak the few words of English taught them by those crimps for the occasion. I have seen numbers of certificates marked very good conduct and very good ability as a seaman offered for sale for a few shillings; and this fact came out very clearly in the evidence at the inquest on the Princess Alice disaster, on which I was engaged from first to last. Of course, in the event of war, we should be on the horns of a dilemma with the foreigners manning our Mercantile Marine. Either they would leave us, or, if they remained, we must run the fearful risk of these men saving the enemy the trouble of capturing our ships, for such crews would be more than human if they did not take our vessels into the enemies' ports themselves. If these foreigners left us, or we, of necessity, discharged them, what becomes of the 12,000 men now enrolled in the Royal Naval Reserve? Can any hon. Member for one moment think that a single man of this number could be spared from the Mercantile Marine? Why, to say nothing of the food supply which must be brought here to prevent our people from starving, we have to lay out coals, transport troops, and keep open communication with all parts of the world. I repeat, not a man could be spared from the Mercantile Marine; in fact, the 12,000 men would not even be half enough for any of the purposes I have mentioned. I re- peat, Sir, that it is not so much the danger, as the stupidity, of allowing such a state of affairs to exist which disgusts me. Why, at this moment there is a "re-organization"—Heaven save the mark!—Committee sitting on the Marines, with a view to extinguish a portion of them at least—I mean the Royal Marine Artillery—but, instead of committing suicide in this way, if the Admiralty would only increase this magnificent Corps—I venture to say the finest in the world—to 50,000 men, our large merchant steamers could then be each supplied with the nucleus of a crew of highly-trained men simply invaluable in the moment of fire or any other danger, and who would, I feel sure, be eagerly sought for by our shipowners, and who, being better paid than when in barracks, would gladly serve on board such. steamers. So that, without the extra cost of a shilling, we might have a splendid Army, a real Naval Reserve, and the backbone of ships' companies for our Mercantile Marine. But, Sir, I do not expect it will suit the Re-organization Committee to even consider this easy and simple expedient.

The condition of our Mercantile Marine, which I have earnestly endeavoured to improve by introducing the "Training School and Ships" Bill, the "Mercantile Marine Hospital Service" Bill, the "Shipowners Liability" Bill, and the "Measurement of Tonnage" Bill, is quite as discreditable as that of the Royal Navy; and this, when there are hundreds of thousands of British boys who would gladly devote themselves to a sea life, and who would become useful, very useful citizens, instead of, as is only too often the case, adding to the criminal and pauper class, as I have pointed out over and over again when speaking to my Training Schools and Ships Bill, introduced no less than four times to this House. Mr. Speaker, I said just now that I had been sent by the Admiralty, 20 years ago, to start the Royal Naval Reserve. I have no hesitation in saying that I could, with ease and certainty, and within the space of one year, raise a body of Volunteer Seamen round our coasts numbering at last 50,000men, unequalled in the world, at a less cost than the Volunteer Rifles of this country—men, moreover, who would be ready for service on the shortest possible notice. We ought, in fact, to have at least 100 gunboats capable of keeping the sea in all weather, always ready for service, in our harbours, and then we should possess a Volunteer "Fleet which could defy the whole world. Mr. Speaker, I have endeavoured to make my remarks on this all-important subject as brief as possible. I have on many occasions called the attention of this House to the bad state of the Navy; and I think I have proved to the House on this occasion that the state and condition of the Navy is really a disgrace to the nation. I beg to move— That the Navy, whereon, under the good providence of God, the wealth, safety, and strength of the Kingdom chiefly depend, 29 & 30 Vic. c. 109, should be administered by competent officials; should he manned by crews permanently attached to the Service; should consist of ships capable of keeping the sea in all weathers, of blockading an enemy's coast, and of convoying every class of merchant vessel; and should possess a powerful and efficient Reserve ready for service on the shortest notice.


in seconding the Motion, said, he hoped his hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Pim) would excuse him from referring to more than three points to which he had referred, as it would be difficult to induce the present Parliament to take an interest in the larger questions to which he had referred. As to the question of retirement of officers, it appeared that the full benefits of the scheme adopted by his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract, then the First Lord of the Admiralty, would not accrue until 1895, and would not in reality deal for 15 years to come with the evil to which he wished to draw attention. He had given Notice last Session of his intention to move early this Session for a Committee on Retirement and Promotion in the Navy; but, conferring with his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. W. H. Smith), who, doubtless, had the interesting announcement of the Dissolution made an hour ago in his mind, he was advised that, in so short a Session as this was likely to be, the appointment of a Committee would not be advisable. However, if his right hon. Friend should be elected in the new Parliament, and if the result should be as he wished, he hoped his right hon. Friend would appoint a Committee to inquire into the subject. In speaking upon the subject, he wished to point out at starting that the basis of all promotions was the Lieutenants' List. There must be four or five lieutenants to every captain. They must introduce young gentlemen into the Navy to be lieutenants, and they must have lieutenants who could do active and useful service. He found that in 1870 the average age at which lieutenants were promoted to commanders was 31, whereas at present it was 35. The average in 1870 was taken from a very much larger number of officers, of whom a large number attained the rank at a younger age than at present, and many were retained upon the list to more advanced years. In 1870 the average age for promotion from commander to captain was younger, being then 35, and now 39. That state of things proved that lieutenants had now a very bad chance of getting on, and prevented the Navy from having the use of such young and efficient officers as should be the case. He could not propose, without further inquiry, a remedy for that condition of things, but wished to state the nature of the evil, which certainly demanded the serious attention of the House. With regard to the personnel of the Navy, his hon. and gallant Friend referred to the condition of the Navy with regard to the operations in Zululand. It had been falsely asserted, no doubt, that some of the troops had not done their duty, although that was completely contradicted by the Secretary of State for War; but no such charge was made against the Navy. On the contrary, the Naval Brigade, under the command of its gallant captain, Fletcher Campbell, who he was delighted to know had been promoted, had done remarkably good service, and had been in every point all that could be desired. With respect to the Naval Reserves, he did not come to quite the same conclusion as his hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Pim), but he did recognize the disadvantage of the great and increasing number of foreigners at present in the Merchant Navy. The Board of Trade Returns showed that there were 207,436 men employed in the Merchant Navy last year. Of these, 121,000 were not seamen; and, exclusive of 3,972 masters and apprentices, of the 82,474 seamen no fewer than 16,070 were foreigners, leaving only 66,404 British able-bodied and ordinary seamen. That he con- sidered a great misfortune, considering the number of boys in this country who might be trained to be seamen. It was much to be regretted that a country like England should be so dependent upon foreigners for the manning of its Mercantile Marine. There were 66,404 English seamen in the Merchant Navy; but of these, 38,000 were so constantly deserting or getting into scrapes that their services could not be relied upon. Over 27,000 seamen, however, were available for the Reserve, and he regretted that only 12,000 had been as yet enlisted, leaving over 15,000 unenrolled. There were, no doubt, 4,000 men in the second class, but he thought-some step should be taken to induce the 15,000 to enrol themselves also. He had recently heard an address delivered on this subject by Mr. Donald Currie, who pointed out what he thought would be a great service to the Merchant Navy. He stated that many ships of the Merchant Navy were capable of being fitted as men-of-war; and he believed his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty had a list of the vessels which could be readily made available in certain circumstances, the owners being willing to employ retired commanders or lieutenants of the Royal Navy to command their ships, and undertake that they would be manned only by men of the Naval Reserve. If some arrangement—which would be economical—could be made to carry out that view, it would be very beneficial to the Merchant Navy. He trusted that his right hon. Friend would not lose sight of that important subject, and if he made inquiries he would ascertain that many owners entertained views similar to those which were expressed by Mr. Donald Currie. The only other subject on which he desired to touch related to our ironclad Navy. Although he did not come to exactly the same conclusion as some of the gentlemen who recently addressed the country on the subject through the public Press, yet, looking at a Return which was laid on the Table at his instance last autumn, he did not regard our ironclad Navy as being in a satisfactory position, when it was compared with the number possessed by other Powers. It would be remembered that we had not been building and adding to our Navy during the last 10 years as rapidly as the French had been, and it was also a fact that the rest of the world had been increasing their Navies with great rapidity. Russia had 9 first and second-class sea-going ironclads, and of third-class ironclads, such as gunboats, she had 20; Sweden had 14, third-class; Norway 4, and Denmark 6, whilst Germany had 7 first and second-class ironclads, and 10 third-class, and Holland 2 of the second and 22 of the third-class. In the Baltic and North Sea there were altogether 18 first and second-class sea-going ironclads, and 76 of the third-class. In the Mediterranean, along which so much of our commerce passed to India, France had 22 first and second-class sea-going ironclads, and 37 of third-class; Spain had 5 first and second-class, and 3 third-class; Portugal I third-class, Italy 6 and 9, Austria 5 and 7, and Turkey 6 and 15 remaining, after those she had sold to us; whilst even Greece had 2 third-class ironclads. The South American Powers had 3 first and second-class, and 24 third-class ironclads. The United States 24 first-class monitors, China 4 third-class, and Japan 1 of first and 2 third-class ironclads. Taking the whole world, the various Powers possessed altogether 270 sea-going ironclads of the first and second-class, besides the 69 which belonged to England. He wished the House to consider what was represented by those 69 ironclads of England. There were 3 ironclads for the defence of the Colonies, but they were not sea-going vessels. In the Return which was in the hands of hon. Members it would be seen that there were 10 ships which were put down as inefficient. He wished that they were written off altogether by his right hon. Friend. They were not ironclads, but rotten wooden vessels having some iron on them; but they were useless, although they might be used, perhaps, as training vessels, for which purpose, however, they were not very well suited. They had only 26 seagoing ironclads ready for service. It was held recently, in a most careful analysis, that it was necessary, to maintain England's naval supremacy, to have 62 sea-going ironclads. It was clear, if this were so, that they wanted a large addition. If there were 11 building, that would make 37; but one of them was not, he believed, to be considered in the character of an ironclad. But there was nothing like 11 ironclads to be added to the Navy this year. Notwithstanding their distress, the French had gone on steadily adding two ironclads every year to their fleet; but England had done nothing like this during the last 10 years. This country required to build 30 ironclads, and it would not be extravagant in the Government to call upon the country to support them in making this addition to the Navy; £15,000,000 would be required, but what was that sum distributed over three years? It would only raise the Estimates from £10,000,000 to £15,000,000. He was sure that if the country was alive to the fact that England had 35 ironclads and the rest of the world 135, it would at once ask that the Navy should at least be put on a footing of superiority to the number of ships which could be mustered by Europe in a short time in the Mediterranean. With regard to the necessity for repairs, he would refer hon. Members to the speeches of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) and the hon. Member for the Elgin Burghs (Mr. Grant Duff) who had stated his belief in the necessity of a strong Navy. No doubt he had mistakenly assumed that the Navy in 1874 was strong, but he might claim his support to obtain the increase he asked for. These opinions were also fully borne out by statistics. In the year 1870, the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) stated on various occasions, and on the 1st August, 1870, on the outbreak of the Franco-German War, that we had 40 ironclads ready for service, and 8 nearly ready. The obvious reason of the decay of the Fleet between 1870 and 1874 was the determination not to spend money on repairs. The proportion of men employed on repairs as compared with those employed on building had been reversed; and instead of being as 9 repairing for every 4 or 5 building, it was altered to 4 repairing to every 5 building. The result was that when the present Government came into power, in consequence of the deficiency of repairs, there were only 16 ironclads fit for service, and 6 in fair condition, or 22 in all; whilst of 16 requiring repair, only 2 were taken in hand, leaving 14 inefficient ships as a legacy to their Successors. At present, the Return showed36 ships fit for service, but of these 2 were described as indifferent. The sooner we got rid of the two vessels that were described as "in- different" the better; they might be useful for harbour defence, but otherwise they were an illusory addition to our strength. It was sad to think that in spite of all the exertions of the Government during the last five years, and their exertions in repairing ships was most praiseworthy, they had only now 34 efficient ironclads ready, as against 40 in 1870; though, of course, the principal share of blame was due to those who, from 1870 to 1874, allowed the Navy to dwindle to 22 ironclads ready for sea. The proportion of vessels that were under repair, or required repair, seemed to him to be reasonable. There were now only 3 not yet taken in hand. Vessels ought to be repaired as soon as they came back, and a sufficient number of men ought to be employed to prevent delay in the execution of the repairs, so that vessels might be ready as soon as possible for further service. One of our great mistakes had been that when our ironclads were first built we thought they were going to last for ever. That was not so, and the boilers alone had cost, in 1870–4, £138,875; and from 1874–9, £475,800, an average of 15 ships a-year requiring new boilers, or 149 in the 10 years. The sum of about £12,000,000 had been spent in bulling and repairing ships during the last six years—or a little over £2,000,000 a-year; but that was by no means sufficient. It was perfectly evident that we were not in the condition we ought to be in, or that we had anything like the supremacy we ought to have. With 10,000,000 of armed soldiers on the Continent, we ought to be superior, not only to France, but to the whole Mediterranean in armour-clads; but, at this time, the Mediterranean fleets altogether were double the strength of our own. He should vote for the First Lord as a candidate for Westminster, for he and this Government succeeded one which had sadly neglected the Navy, and had done much to repair their shortcomings; but trusted to hear him say in an election speech that ho was about to increase the force of the Navy and give us the supremacy which the hon. Member for Elgin thought we ought to have, but which he hoped to have convinced the hon. Member we did not now possess.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Navy, whereon, under the good providence of God, the wealth, safety, and strength of the Kingdom chiefly depend, 29 and 30 Vict. c. 109, should be administered by competent officials; should be manned by crews permanently attached to the Service; should consist of ships capable of keeping the sea in all weathers, of blockading an enemy's coast, and of convoying every class of merchant vessel; and should possess a powerful and efficient Reserve ready for service on the shortest notice,"—(Captain Pim,) —instead thereof.

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


appealed to hon. Members on both sides of the House not to protract the present debate, which could be continued with more advantage on one of the Votes, after the First Lord of the Admiralty had made the usual Statement. He would not himself discuss any of the points that had been raised, and he would speak only of the personal appointments which the hon. and gallant Member for Gravesend (Captain Pim) had criticized. The appointment of Mr. Rowsell was made by himself, and not, as stated, by the right hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) in violation of his (Mr. Childers's) regulations; and its wisdom had been distinctly conformed by a Select Committee which inquired into the whole subject during two Sessions. Mr. Rowsell's health had broken down, and he was distinctly entitled to the pension he had received from the present Government. Mr. Fellowes had been appointed for a specific purpose in which he had showed great ability; and great economies had admittedly resulted from his work. His appointment was the outcome of the Committee of 1868, which showed the unsatisfactory state of the Dockyard and other accounts. Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Swainson had received their appointments from the present Admiralty, and he had only to say that he thought they had acted wisely in making them. The hon. and gallant Member's statement about Mr. Hamilton was entirely inaccurate.


said, he could not accede to the appeal just made by the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers). He had never known a First Lord of the Admiralty, or an ex-First Lord, who did not deprecate discussion on going into Committee of Supply on the Navy Estimates; and after the announcement which had been made this afternoon as to a Dissolution, it was possible the right hon. Gentleman might think that when the House met again he might occupy the official position now held by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster, and that he was therefore speaking quite as much on his own behalf as on behalf of his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. H. Smith). He entirely agreed with the remarks made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) as to the present unsatisfactory condition of the British Navy. It was a melancholy fact that the discipline of our Navy had largely deteriorated, owing, he believed, to the dissemination of so-called Liberal principles. The whole object of hon. Members opposite in their dealings with both the Navy and the Mercantile Marine was to uproot and to destroy discipline. Nothing could be more deplorable than the fact that 80 per cent of our Mercantile Marine consisted of foreigners, upon whom we could not depend for manning the Navy on an emergency. This was the result of the repeal of the Navigation Laws, a course of legislation which had lost us our supremacy at sea. In his opinion, this was the most suicidal act ever perpetrated by any Government. It was impossible to account for the indifference which the Government, the House of Commons, and the country itself showed on the subject of the efficiency of our Navy. It was upon the efficiency of our Navy that our very existence depended. It was unfair to compare the cost of the Navy in former times with its present cost, at a time when the price of every necessary of life was far higher than it was some years ago. In his opinion, the amount appropriated for the service of the Navy was wholly inadequate for its requirements. It was also a mistake to compare the strength of our Navy with that of foreign nations, who maintained a Naval force simply for purposes of aggression to be directed against this country; whereas our Navy was essential to our very existence as a nation. It was our weapon for repelling aggression, and our food supplies depended on our supremacy at sea. The protection of the Colonies also depended on our Navy. If we allowed our Navy to fall behind in its efficiency, we should lose our Colonies to-morrow. To make our food supply safe we must have a class of ships which did not exist, large ships which could carry a considerable supply of coal and could be handled under canvas. Again, he would ask, could an ironclad fleet keep under canvas in all weathers and yet have a large supply of coal on board? At present they were obliged to coal once a fortnight, and that in a protracted war, conducted in any quarter of the globe, might be a cause of serious misfortune. Then the fragility of our ironclads was such that the slightest touch sent them to the bottom, while you might riddle one of the old wooden liners through and through, and yet she could be made as serviceable as ever. Sir Spencer Robinson, a distinguished Admiral, and for many years Surveyor of the Navy, in a recent article had said what we imperatively wanted was superior ships in greater numbers. The House should remember that war was of sudden growth, and might arise from disturbances in another country, and yet the Inflexible, which was laid down six years ago, was not ready for sea. Ho contended that, practically, the Navy was not equal to the requirements of the country. There was no reserve of ships, and there was no attempt to create one. There were some men, called "the peace-at-any-price party," who thought that the best way to avert war was to reduce the Navy to the lowest point; but for himself, he would cordially endorse the Resolution of his hon. and gallant Friend. It had been said that he and his Friends told tales out of school, and had allowed foreign countries to know too much; but there was not a foreign Government that did not know to a man and a gun the strength of every ship in the British Navy, and those only who did not know these facts were the Parliament and people of this country. If asked for by the Government, he believed that Parliament would grant any sum which might be required for making the Navy thoroughly efficient, and that the people would endorse any Vote which was granted for that purpose. He hoped that the eyes of the country would be opened to the present condition of things, and that it would be said throughout the length and breadth of the country it should not continue in existence.


said, it was his intention to confine himself to the Resolution which stood in his name on the Paper, but first he must state that he disagreed from the melancholy statement which the hon. and gallant Member for Gravesend (Captain Pim) had placed before the House upon the present condition of the Mercantile Marine. They were a fine body of men, and he did not like to hear them cried down by those who seldom come in contact with them. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had stated, that of our Mercantile Marine 80 per cent were foreigners. This was very erroneous. According to the Returns of the Board of Trade for 1877 there were 207,446 sailors in British ships. Of these, only 21,023, or 10 per cent, were foreigners.


I expressly said that the Board of Trade Returns were fallacious from beginning to end. I have myself seen the certificates handed in by foreigners, and found these men were shipped with British certificates who could hardly speak a word of English and were not British at all.


observed, that in so serious a matter facts and figures ought to be stated for the guidance of Parliament and of the country. In the North of England there were only 5 per cent of foreigners among the seamen. The Notice he had placed on the Paper had reference to Vice Admiral Phillimore's Report on Naval Reserves. It was the most important document relating to Naval affairs that had appeared since the Report of the Commission on the Manning of the Navy. Admiral Phillimore led us to infer that the draught of water of the district ships was much too great, and he quite concurred with him on this point. That circumstance prevented these vessels from being of use in the protection of many of our harbours and of our coasts. He wished to know how these ships would be distributed and employed in case of emergency? The calibre of their guns was unsatisfactory, their decks required to be made shell-proof, their officers and men to be afforded greater facilities for being educated in their special duties, especially as regarded the navigation of the coasts of some of our neighbours, and their fuel-carrying capacity was dangerously small. The whole of our Naval Reserves was a conglomeration without system or organization. It was desirable, in his opinion, to reduce the number of Revenue cutters and to build steam-brigs with modern armour, on board of which sailors could be properly trained in every branch of duty appertaining to men-of-war's men. Admiral Phillimore in his Report referred to the Coastguard Service, and advised an increase in the number of Coastguard cruisers. He (Mr. Gourley), however, would sooner see a supply of steam-vessels constructed for that purpose. If there was much smuggling in the islands of Scotland and Ireland, a few swift, well-armed steam vessels would be much more efficient in looking after smuggling than would a much large number of Revenue cutters. The Coastguard Service was all very well 50 years ago; but since then, circumstances had very much changed, and we had now not only an efficient police, but an equally efficient body of Custom officers, through whom nearly all cases of smuggling were detected. The Coastguard system cost about £500,000 a-year, and ought to be utilized for a wiser purpose than that of looking for a "Will o' the Wisp"—the smuggler who had ceased to exist. It should be trained in connection with coast defence, and the men might be employed in building batteries, in lieu of the obsolete constructions which were now in existence. Unless things of this kind were done, the men would not receive that education that they should receive. He thought, also, that there should be a reserve of stokers and firemen created from among the men who served in these capacities on board our merchantmen. With regard to the building of 34 new Coastguard stations, as suggested by Admiral Phillimore, he thought it would be a total waste of money.


in reply to the appeal of the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), was willing to withdraw his Amendment to allow the House to go into Committee of Supply. He had made many efforts to arouse the attention of the House to the disgraceful state of the Navy. He hoped that at last he had been able to do so, and he had no hesitation in saying that the Royal Navy of this country was rotten from keel to truck.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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