HC Deb 01 August 1882 vol 273 cc387-94

said, he rose to call attention to the Report of Admiral Phillimore on the Naval Reserve. His main object was to ascertain how far the Admiralty were advancing in shipbuilding, and what improvements that Department had effected as compared with the improvements introduced into their ships by the owners of our Mercantile Marine. In order to obtain the information which he desired to have, he would put a series of Questions to the official Representatives of the Admiralty in that House; and, in the first place, he would ask how many ships had been furnished with breech-loading guns, and whether the Admiralty intended to furnish the whole or some of the ships composing the Reserve Squadron with guns of that kind, they being much superior to muzzle-loaders? Secondly, he wished to know whether any improvements had recently been made in the fuel-carrying capacity of our ships? The Iris had capacity for fuel only to the extent of four or five days. A vessel of that description, in the event of our being at war with any Maritime Power, would be, instead of an element of strength, a source of weakness. In 1878 the Reserve Squadron, on the way to the Mediterranean, ran short of fuel before reaching Gibraltar. That, he contended, was a mischance which should be guarded against in the future. It was his opinion that in all ocean warfare a large measure of success would depend upon the capacity which our vessels had for carrying fuel. In the Mercantile Marine this had reached such perfection that a vessel had arrived in the United Kingdom from China in 30 days, carrying, besides a large cargo, fuel enough for a voyage of 5,000 miles. He should also like to know whether the Admiralty had got rid of the old machinery in order that our war vessels might be able to compete with war vessels supplied with modern machinery? Further, he de- sired to know what special work our reserve ships would be engaged in, providing we were at war with a great Maritime Power; whether the whole of the vessels had been fitted with shot and shell proof decks and water-tight compartments; or were we still in the same position in which we were when the Vanguard collided with the Iron Duke and went to the bottom? Had the Admiralty done anything to improve the water-tight compartments? Was anything being done to instruct the officers and men of the Squadron in the use of torpedoes and the other modern engines of warfare? He was strongly of opinion that non-combatants on board ship should be trained to take part in an engagement; and wished to know what was being done in that direction? We had a large number of young officers, the flower, of the Navy, who had to retire, against their will, on half-pay. Being without employment, they would in course of time become exceedingly rusty. He saw no reason why they should not be engaged in piloting our ships of war. Admiral Phillimore condemned the policy adopted in 1870 of selling a large number of our sailing cruisers, by which a great many of the Coastguardsmen were also kept in idleness; and he suggested the placing of some of them on board gunboats, and educating them in modern gunnery. We had no system of coast and harbour defence whatever; and he wished to know if the Admiralty had any programme on that subject? The men connected with the Coastguard might be very profitably employed on some description of torpedo service. He also thought they ought to increase the number of their Reserves by bringing in the stokers and firemen, who formed so large an element in their steamships; and in the event of their services being required for war purposes they would be able to do quite as efficient service as the seamen. Another point was the question of drill; and he hoped the Admiralty would provide for the Reserves being drilled at sea rather than at the batteries. With respect to the Naval Volunteers, he thought they should be increased by encouraging them in the way other Volunteers were encouraged—namely, giving them a capitation grant; and, if that were done, there was no reason why the Force should not be increased to 18,000men. We had never had more than about 12,000, although 30,000 was the number that had been recommended as being expedient for that service. He hoped the matters he had referred to would receive the consideration of the Admiralty.


said, he agreed with what the lion. Member had said as to coast defence. The £2,300,000, or more likely £5,000,000, which we were to spend in Egypt, would have provided several harbours along the coast; and there would be any number of Naval Volunteers if we had the harbours. He could bring forward in Scotland 1,000 of the finest men the world had ever seen, who would be very glad if they could get on board a vessel of war. The great point was to extend the defensive means of this country. [Mr. W. H. SMITH dissented.] He saw the late First Lord of the Admiralty shake his head; but the right lion. Gentleman would be glad to see as Naval Volunteers the men he had seen standing before him at his election in the North. In physical power, intelligence, and fitness for the sea, the men he referred to could not be surpassed; and he hoped the Admiralty would seriously consider the question.


said, he desired to express his great satisfaction that the condition of the Reserves had engaged the attention of his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Gourley). The hon. Gentleman represented a seaport, at which upwards of 500 men in the Naval Reserve were annually drilled. He was closely connected with a district remarkable for its maritime enterprize. The hon. Gentleman had, therefore, great opportunities of making himself acquainted with the requirements of the Naval Reserves, and any suggestions that he might offer with reference to the organization of the Force would receive the attentive consideration of the Admiralty. The terms of the Notice on the Paper being of a general character, it would not be expected that he should follow in detail the various interesting questions which had been raised. On some points, however, he was prepared to offer explanations, which he hoped would be entirely satisfactory to the House. His hon. Friend had particularly urged that the Coastguard should be sent to sea in small vessels, for the purpose of keeping up their seamanship. That suggestion could not be carried out without seriously increasing the expense of the Coastguard; and the limited training which could be given in a gunboat was not considered necessary by the Naval Advisers of the Admiralty, either for the maintenance of the efficiency of the men, or for the protection of the Revenue. The Fleet men in the Coastguard were most carefully selected. The number of candidates had for some time past been in excess of, and now were at least sufficient to fill, the vacancies; and he was assured by Lord John Hay, who was specially charged with the supervision of the Reserves, that men were never admitted unless they had had sufficient service in sea-going ships to make them thoroughly efficient in their duties afloat. It was the decided opinion of the Naval Advisers that the well-trained man-of-warsmen in the Coastguard would learn nothing in a gunboat or a cutter which would tend to make them more effective for their duties in manning the great iron-clad ships of the Navy. The drill at the great guns was, perhaps, the most important feature in their training, and great care was taken to maintain a high state of efficiency in gunnery. The Coastguard went through a complete course of gun drill every year, and the rule was that in alternate years they were embarked in an iron-clad squadron for an extended cruise. The testimony of Admiral Phillimore as to the condition of the Coastguard was in the highest degree satisfactory. The Fleet men on shore formed, as he said, the main reserve of the Navy, and they were a force of which any country might be proud. As an instance of their general conduct, he mentioned that in 1878 they completed the crews of eight district ships and nine turret ships, and though they were embarked for 98 days in those 17 ships, not a single case occurred in which any one of their names appeared in the defaulter's book. The same favourable report could be given on every occasion when the Coastguard were embarked. His hon. Friend had condemned the district ships as obsolete. He (Sir Thomas Brassey) was not prepared to accept that description; but he was sure it would be admitted that it was impossible that the Fleet in commission should consist exclusively of ships of very recent construction. The district ships were well adapted for the work which they had to do, and the Admiralty were well advised in keeping the latest and most powerful ships in reserve in the Dockyards, where they could be carefully preserved from deterioration, and where they could be commissioned at short notice in a perfect state of repair. Turning to the general condition of the Reserves for the Navy, at no previous period since the close of the Great War had we been so well prepared with the means of manning the Fleet. The masted ships of former days had been replaced in the line-of-battle by mastless ships, armed with a few heavy guns, worked by mechanical appliances. The three-decker, with 130 guns, had a complement of 900 men and boys; the Inflexible carried 400. Notwithstanding the large reduction in the complements, the force of seamen available for manning the Fleet showed a slight increase. The total number of blue-jackets was 18,624 in 1871, and 18,991 in 1881; in the same interval the non-seamen class, comprising the stokers and artificers, had grown from 10,956 to 12,221. Thus, the total number of Fleet men, exclusive of the Coastguard, was 29,580 in 1871, and 31,212 at the date of our latest Returns. We had in 1871 6,421 supernumeraries in excess of the total complements authorized for ships in commission. The corresponding number had since been raised to more than 8,000 men. In addition to the supernumeraries, we had the crews of the flag ships and receiving ships in the home ports. We had thus, at least, 10,000 in the Fleet available for immediate disposal. On shore we had 4,000 seamen in the Coastguard, and, prior to the recent despatch of forces to the East, and including a battalion in Ireland, we had a splendid force of 6,000 Marines. He fully agreed with his hon. Friend as to the importance of a strong re-serve of stokers. On the 25th of June the total number of first and second-class reserve stokers at the home ports, excluding first reserve ships and the Channel Fleet, was 1,272. Even under the pressure which had recently been felt, it had not been necessary to stop the usual leave, or to break up the reserves and take men from the harbour ships. It had, however, been arranged to increase the proportion of stokers in the Coastguard from 200 to 250, and to make ad- ditional entries, and to employ a few stoker pensioners at each of the Naval ports. To enter stokers for the Naval Reserve was not considered necessary. In an emergency, men could be obtained from the Mercantile Marine in sufficient numbers, and instruction in gunnery was not required as in the case of seamen. Turning to the Reserves, properly so-called, they had in the Pensioners' Reserve 1,560 men, and, in addition, a large force of able-bodied seamen pensioners, not enrolled in the Pensioners' Reserve, making a total force of about 5,000 men. In the first class of the Royal Naval Reserve they had 11,800 men; in the second class 5,600; and a small beginning of a third class of 150. Then they had in the Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers about 1,500. Putting those figures together, and the figures he had previously given with reference to the Reserves in the permanent service of the Crown, they had an efficient Reserve Force for manning a War Navy of not less than 44,000 men. With such a force, he ventured to think the country should be well content; and, speaking on behalf of the present Admiralty, he would say that they were resolved to neglect no opportunity of adding to the strength and efficiency of this noble Force. They had, at the date of Admiral Phillimore's Report, 30 batteries for the drill of the Coastguard and Naval Reserve. They had since ordered a battery at Barrow. They were rebuilding the batteries at Carnarvon, Fowey, and Hartlepool. Batteries had been ordered also at the Isle of Man and Kirkwall. The batteries at the Isle of Man and Kirkwall would be capable of drilling 1,000 men every year; and they had reason to believe that number would be forthcoming. It was equally interesting and gratifying to observe the marked success which had attended the efforts of the Admiralty to raise a force of Naval Reserve men in the Western islands of Scotland and in the Shetlands. It was an additional evidence of our vast and varied resources as a Naval Power. On the occasion of his recent inspection, the Duke of Edinburgh saw no less than 1,004 stalwart men on parade at Lerwick, and 1,100 at Stornoway. His Royal Highness was much impressed with the seamanlike appearance of that noble body of men, and the admirable manner in which they went through their drills. Both divisions of the Naval Reserve were thoroughly efficient, and the Naval Reserve men would be the first to acknowledge that their efficiency was especially due to the admirable manner in which they were trained by the gunnery instructors from the Excellent and Cambridge. The second-class Reserve, though not possessing the high qualifications required for the first class, were a most valuable body, thoroughly inured to the sea, and always within hail. They could be increased to any number which the Admiralty might consider necessary. With regard to the Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers, with whom he had the warmest sympathy, he might say that the Admiralty, while fulling appreciating the patriotic feeling exhibited by large numbers who had applied for enrolment, was still unable to announce any final decision as to the organization of the Force. The important question of the general defence of the commercial harbours had been under inquiry by two Committees, one of which was a Joint Committee of the War Office and the Admiralty, and had not yet reported. That Report was waited for, before coming to a final decision with regard not only to the organization of the Naval Volunteers, but also to the general and important question of local defence. On the whole, he trusted that the House would be satisfied with the statement which he had made. As to numbers, he ventured to say that the statistics were conclusive; and as to the quality of our seamen, whether belonging to the Navy or the Mercantile Marine, he was confident that the fine spirit of former days still lived, and would survive through every change which might take place in the ships and the armaments of the Navy. Perhaps it might not be out of place to say, in justification of the hope he had expressed, that the conduct of our officers and men, in the trying services which they had recently been called on to perform at Alexandria, was well worthy of the great traditions of the Service, and such as to encourage us to have confidence in our seamen. He could not conclude these observations on the Naval Reserve without paying a warm tribute of praise to Lord Cardwell and the other Members of the Manning Commission of 1859. The scheme which had been adopted with such excellent results for the Royal Naval Reserve was originated by the Manning Commission. The creation of that Force had secured us from future difficulties in manning the Fleet in time of war, and had added materially to our Naval power, without imposing more than a comparatively moderate charge on the Estimates.


said, he thought the statement to which the House had just listened very reassuring and satisfactory. He wished, however, to ask how it happened that the number of candidates for the Coastguard Service exceeded the number of vacancies? No doubt the hon. Baronet was correct, but he had always understood from the Report of Sir William Tarleton that the reverse was the case. He was of opinion that the Coastguard men should be sent to sea oftener than they were, and, also, that they should have a greater amount of gun drill. For this purpose some of the old iron-clads might be utilized. These men were the most efficient class of reserve and the country could rely upon them. He quite agreed with Admiral Phillimore that the present reserve of Coastguards was as low as it ought to be; and, indeed, it might be said of our Naval Reserves generally, having regard to the great numbers of seamen who would be at the disposal of France in case of emergency, that their strength might very advantageously be increased. He was glad to hear that the Pensioners' Reserve had gone up to 1,500 men, but he thought it ought to be made much stronger in point of numbers.

Question put, and agreed to.