HC Deb 16 March 1882 vol 267 cc1052-61

said, he wished to call attention to the system under which the Navy was now supplied with Foreign instead of British beef. It seemed to him that this new practice in. their history of the British Navy, the obtaining of the food supplies of a belligerent Service from foreign sources, was open to criticism on more grounds than one. If the salting establishment at Deptford, from which the Royal Navy had hitherto been supplied, was to be discontinued, or had been discontinued, it ought not to have been done without some public discussion. He might anticipate, in some degree, the answer which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trevelyan) would give on this subject. He would be referred to the shibboleth of the Party of which he was such a distinguished ornament—namely, "Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform." Well, it was well known that the best way to insure peace was to be prepared for war; and he wanted to know, if it was known by Foreign Powers that we drew our supplies for our Naval Force from foreign ports exclusively, if that would give the impression of being prepared for a state of war, in which those supplies would infallibly be cut off? It had been stated to him that there would be an estimated saving of £5,000 a-year under the new scheme. That was, of course, an important sum; but out of whose pockets did it come? It came directly out of the pockets of those who contributed most directly and most ungrudgingly to the taxation of this country—the agricultural classes—and he also wanted to know how that saving was calculated? The hon. Gentleman said that the price of the beef now being obtained for the Navy from America was 27 per cent cheaper than it had been when obtained from home sources. He believed he was speaking with strict accuracy when he said that the price of beef at New York and Liverpool was very nearly the same at the present moment. The difference was not more than ½d. per lb., and there was every indication of an assimilation in price as between the two countries. Why, then, for the sake of saving a comparatively small sum in the Estimates for one or two years, when there was no probability of continuance, should such a very serious blow be struck at English producers as was conveyed in this proceeding? There were two separate grounds on which he was inclined to object to it. First, the English Navy was intended for belligerent purposes, otherwise it had no raison d'être, and therefore it ought to be prepared at all times for a state of war; and, secondly, discouragement was given to agriculture by the change. Was this the time when it was fair to offer any discouragement to that class of men who had passed through, and were still passing through, a period of the greatest trial and depression in their industry—a trial and depression borne with the most exemplary patience? While he was no believer in the plan of seeking relief for agriculture by payments from Imperial sources, there was, he submitted, another way in which agriculture might fairly look for encouragement from the Government. They had on the West Coast of Scotland, to which he belonged, a homely proverb, which the House, he trusted, would pardon him if he quoted. When the herring fleets came in, the fish had to be cleaned, and at these times there were often to be seen large quantities of sea birds—called locally "sea-maws "—which came to feed upon the offal, and this had given rise to the somewhat homely proverb—" Keep your ain fish-guts for your ain sea-maws." That proverb might apply in this case. As far as possible and prudent, let the money obtained by taxation be spent among the people of this country; let the producers of this country, who did not hesitate to send their strongest sons and to spend their best blood in its service, have, at all events, the refusal of that which that which they considered their birthright—namely, the custom of the purchase departments of the Military Services. He might be told it was no duty of the Admiralty to protect agriculture. If it was not the special duty of the Admiralty, it was the duty of the Government, as a whole, to afford the legitimate encouragement and protection to agriculture which might be looked for. If it was necessary to draw from foreign sources, why not go to Colonial sources? Unless the hon. Gentleman could give some strong grounds for the continuance of the practice in question, a very great impression of dissatisfaction would be apt to arise in the minds of many.


said, he wished briefly to call attention to the reconstruction of the Board of Admiralty, and to invite the opinion of the House as to the desirability of appointing a General Officer of the Royal Marines, who would fully understand the requirements of that branch of the Service, a member of the Board. For many years past the Marines had been under the control of the Board of Admiralty, which consisted of the First Lord of the Admiralty, three Naval Lords, and a Civil Lord. His contention was that the Marine Force, which composed something like one-third of the fighting men of the Navy, ought to be represented at the Board by one of their own officers. The senior Naval Lord of the Admiralty was, he believed, immediately charged with the administration of the Royal Marines. However much he might desire to do full justice to the Corps, it was impossible that the many other duties he had to perform could permit him to give sufficient attention to their requirements. This year it was proposed to make a reduction of something like 600 men in the Marines. He would venture to say that that reduction was not altogether wise, because the Marines were a most useful body of men, who were able to act either on sea or land. If a General Officer of Marines were appointed to the Board of Admiralty, the requirements of the Corps would be fully inquired into, and the grievances which he was sorry to say existed would be removed. A few years ago a battalion of Marines 1,000 strong was sent to take part in the Zulu War; but they were not allowed to land, while regiments composed of young soldiers, unable so well to stand the fatigues of a campaign, were sent to the front. On every occasion on which they had been called upon the Royal Marines had always done good service to the country. Not to go back further than the Ashantee War, he would remind the House how Colonel Festing and a handful of Marines so gallantly defended our interests before reinforcements arrived, and performed deeds far greater than any that were done in the subsequent stage of the campaign. Another grievance of the Royal Marines was that in the Transvaal War, when Laing's Nek was occupied by the Boers, 300 seasoned men of the Royal Marines were kept on board ship at the port, and the Bluejackets—against whom he was the last man to say a word of complaint—were sent to the front. He did not say that the Blue-jackets did not do their duty; but he maintained that the Marines ought to have had the preference in being sent to the front. It was true that there were a Deputy Adjutant General and an Assistant Adjutant of Royal Marines connected with the Board of Admiralty; but this was not the same thing as their having a Representative on the Board, because they were subordinate officers, and, although their advice was given to the First Lord, they did not take any active part in the administration of the Admiralty. He believed he was right in saying that the Force of the Royal Marines was not so popular now as it was some years ago; and as there was a difficulty in procuring both officers and men, there must be something not quite sound in connection with the Corps. He hoped that the whole question would be considered seriously by the Board of Admiralty. The Marines were a force the country could not afford to lose; it was one of the most useful branches of the Military Service, and, up to the present time, had nobly done its duty. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would see their way to placing a General Officer belonging to the Corps upon the Admiralty to take care of this branch of the Service.


wished to endorse the observations of the hon. Baronet. It had been stated that we were always liable to little wars, for which the Royal Marines would be one of the most useful branches of the Service; and it was therefore necessary that the force should be kept in a state of thorough efficiency. One of the greatest grievances of the Royal Marines was in having no direct Representative on the Board of Admiralty. The First Naval Lord only knew the Marines from his acquaintance with them on board ship, and was not well informed as to their general organization, or as to their capacity to serve as troops in the field. The Royal Marines felt that there was a certain stigma attaching to them, that they were "nobody's children," and that nobody was charged with looking after their interests. There was great stagnation in promotion amongst the officers, and their position had been greatly prejudiced by the new Wan-ants issued with respect to promotion in the Army, because officers in the Army, who were junior to the officers in the Marines formerly, could not now sit on courts martial, when on garrison duty, as their seniors, in addition to which they had lost from 80 to 100 steps by the changes that had taken place. The stagnation was so great that there was no chance of promotion for senior captains till 1885, as the senior major would not be obliged to retire till that year. When officers of the Marine Force compared their position with that of the other branches of Her Majesty's Services they found that, whereas in their own Corps it took at least 23 and probably 28 years' service to obtain field rank, in the Royal Engineers and Royal Artillery field rank was attained in 20 or 21 years; in the Infantry in 18 or 20 years; and in the Cavalry in 12 years. A scheme of promotion similar to that for the Army was urgently needed for the Marines. He hoped to hear from the Secretary to the Admiralty that some such plan as that suggested by the hon. Baronet the Member for Horsham (Sir Henry Fletcher) would be adopted. The Marines were a very valuable branch of the Service, and as such ought to be put on a par with the other branches of the Service.


said, he regretted extremely the arrangement which had been made by the Admiralty for abolishing the curing establishment at Dept-ford. That establishment had been instituted in consequence of the recommendations of a Committee some 20 years ago, which was appointed to consider the question of preserved meats. A great quantity of preserved meat was supplied at that time by a German, named Goldner; and the result of the supply was, he thought, not only illness on board the ships, but when the packets came to be opened they were found to be filled with anything but what they were represented to be. That was extremely unsatisfactory, and the result of the inquiry was a recommendation that they should kill their own meat, cure it themselves, and know what it was. In consequence of the recommendation the curing establishment was set up at Deptford. The plea for doing away with that establishment was that the course proposed by the Admiralty would be a gain of £5,000 a-year to the country. He thought that gain would be a great loss. We ought not to rely on a supply of meat which might fail us, nor to run the risk of deteriorating the supply of meat to the Navy. He therefore viewed with some alarm the announcement that the establishment in question was to be done away with. He trusted the House would hear from the Secretary to the Admiralty how they proposed to guard against the evils which might be supposed to accrue from their arrangement. With reference to the other topic which had been discussed, he some years ago brought forward a Motion of the same character as his hon. Friend's with reference to having a general officer on the Board of Admiralty. He had always thought that, looking to the great number of Marines and Marine officers who served under the Board, there might be some considerable advantage in having such an officer; and now that the Admiralty was being re-arranged, he thought it would be worth while considering whether the suggestion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Horsham might not be incorporated into the new Board. He trusted that before the Speaker left the Chair, in order that his hon. Friend might make his statement, they would hear from his hon. Friend that arrangements would be made for discussing the Navy Estimates, if not Vote I., at least Vote II., on the first day after the discussion of the Army Estimates. If the hon. Gentleman would be good enough to arrange for this with those about him, it would be a very great convenience to the House, and, perhaps, to the hon. Gentleman himself. He would then get his first Vote without much difficulty, which would enable him to go on till June. He thought it would be discreditable to this great naval country if, while the Army Estimates were discussed the first day after the Easter Recess, the House would have no opportunity of discussing the Navy Estimates till nobody knew when.


said, he concurred in the remarks of the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Hay) as to the proposed abolition of the curing establishment at Deptford. He would also join in expressing the hope that the Secretary to the Admiralty would rise and be able to assure the House that a day would be afforded for the full discussion of the Navy Estimates. The feeling amongst the Royal Marines was that, notwithstanding the recent re-organization, the tendency was to legislate that splendid Corps out of existence altogether, and as long as that feeling prevailed certainly the efficiency of that Corps could not be very well promoted. He trusted that the suggestion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Horsham (Sir Henry Fletcher) would be carried out, that the Royal Marines should be represented on the Board of Admiralty, as there was no reason why a body composing one-third of the constituents of the Admiralty should not have at least one efficient representative on the Board.


said, he was really as much obliged to the hon. Baronet the Member for Wigton (Sir Herbert Maxwell) as he could be obliged to anyone under the circumstances for having called attention to the system under which the Navy was supplied with foreign instead of British beef. There was no Department in the Service which did harder, and, as he believed, better work than the Purchasing Department of the Navy, and it was a good thing that the strenuous public spirit with which that Department carried on its many-sided and most important business should sometimes come before the light of day. In no branch of the work had it less reason to dread that light than the one to which the hon. Baronet had referred. To begin with, it was worth knowing that the use of salted beef had relatively almost gone out in the Navy. The entire amount used in the year all the world over was under 1,000,000 lbs., while in the home ports alone 5,000,000 lbs. of fresh beef were annually used, not to speak of the enormous consumption which took place on the foreign stations, which was calculated at 3,500,000 lbs. This fresh beef was bought from contractors, who, at the home ports, it was needless to say, were Englishmen. He could hardly imagine that the hon. Member would maintain for a moment that it should be specified in the contract that the carcases should be those of English cattle; though the terms of his Motion would almost appear to imply it. At Plymouth and Portsmouth as many as 60 or 80 cattle had to be brought in and slaughtered weekly; and he presumed that it was almost certain that the contractors did not obtain them altogether or to any great extent from home sources if it were only for the difficulties of Board of Trade regulations. Indeed, a clause in a contract to insist on beef being English would in its nature be so inquisitorial that it was doubtful whether we could get any respectable contractor to serve us at all on such terms. Could the hon. Member suggest to the Admiralty a method for distinguishing whether dead meat was of home or foreign origin? With regard to salt meat, a change had been recently made which affected the public purse, but which he very much doubted to have any bearing on the question as between home and foreign cattle. Up to 1870 all the salt beef for the Navy was cured at Deptford, the meat being supplied by contractors. The right hon. Member for the Wigton Burghs (Sir John Hay) spoke about their having killed their own meat at Deptford. They had never killed a single animal at Deptford. The meat was not purchased in carcass, as the Admiralty only took certain portions; it was bought in the London market, and was supplied at the rate of 20,000 lb. every two days, while the process of curing lasted, and, in the opinions of those best qualified to judge, it was probably chiefly, and sometimes entirely, foreign meat. In 1870 one-third of the supply was procured in the shape of salt meat from America. It had been used in that proportion since that day in the Navy, and there had been no complaint at all of its quality. The very top market price was paid to the best curers, and yet the saving on the curing at Deptford was no less than 27 per cent. A hundred pounds of salt beef cured at Deptford cost £3 3s., omitting fractions, and 100 lbs. of American salt beef delivered at Deptford cost £2 6s. 1d. "With this knowledge before them, the Admiralty this year determined to give up curing at Deptford, and by so doing they saved £5,000 a-year, and, as far as he could learn, very little less English beef was eaten in the Navy. But, apart from this consideration, in his opinion, the Admi- ralty had no choice in the matter. The Admiralty was, among other things, a great business Department, and unless it was managed on business principles, there would be no knowing where they might be landed. If the Admiralty were to begin to buy for other reasons than because goods were the best and the cheapest they would first have bad things and dear things; but the evil would not stop there, for if once the principle were established of buying for any but commercial reasons the door would be opened to favouritism and jobbery. He could give hon. Members the very gratifying assurance that if the Admiralty bought for no other reasons than those of goodness and cheapness, it was not our home producers who would suffer. He knew not what was the experience of private firms; but this he knew, that the Admiralty, whose only object was that the public should be served well and cheaply, found that it was best served from home sources. He had asked the head of their Purchase Department to name some articles produced at home which they found it better to procure abroad, and the list was ludicrously insignificant. Some black silk neck-handkerchiefs, for which the sailors had a special fancy, some electrical machines which were a speciality of a Paris company, and one or two trifles of that sort almost completed the list. The unworked metal, the coal, all the enormous mass of textile articles in use, all the wrought metal articles whatsoever, from 20-inch steel plates down to tin tacks, were of British production; and as long as that was the experience of a Department which bought on the scale of the Admiralty, he did not think British trade could be in a very unhealthy state. But there were other considerations besides trade considerations; and he trusted that hon. Members would allow him to show that those had in this case been attended to. He found in a Paper, dated the 17th of September last, the following questions asked:— 1. What alteration of staff would take place at Deptford? 2. Can the required staff for curing beef be got in readily in case of war P 3. Are there any beef-curing firms at home equal in merit to the American? The answers returned were as follows:— 1. No decrease in permanent staff, the men being taken on for curing as required, but saving in money of £188. 2. Yes; the labour is chiefly mechanical, not skilled. 3. The home industry is practically obsolete in face of the American competition, but could be readily revived if the necessity arose. Having ascertained that in no possible contingency could any national inconvenience or military disadvantage arise from the change, the Admiralty had no choice but to adopt the course which had been adopted, and he trusted that that course would meet the approval of hon. Members. In regard to drawing supplies from the Colonies, he had every reason to believe that New Zealand would very soon be in a position to supply us more cheaply than we were supplied at present by America. He had been exceedingly interested with what was said about the Marine Corps; but if the hon. Baronet the Member for Horsham (Sir Henry Fletcher) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Essex (Colonel Makins) had heard what he had to say on that matter on the Estimates, much of their speeches would have been unnecessary. The Earl of Northbrook and his Colleagues had introduced a considerable change in the direction indicated; but he was authorized to say there was no prospect of any fresh change being made for a period which he could call an approximate period. In the opinion of the Board, the questions relating to the Marines, which were not questions referring to the Navy in general, were comparatively few, and on these questions the Marines were represented by the Deputy Adjutant General and his distinguished second in command. That the interest of the Corps had not been neglected the hon. Gentleman would see when he explained what had been done for the Marines. There was no part of the Navy in which anything like so great a change for the better had been wrought as in the Marine Corps, and in order to hear what the change had been hon. Gentlemen had only to wait until his speech on the Estimates.