Postponed Resolution [16th July] further considered.
(5.) "That a sum, not exceeding £1,556,400, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expenses of the Dockyards and Naval Yards at Home and Abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1884.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
said, they had just had a debate about what was fair and reasonable; but he did not think it was either fair or reasonable to expect hon. Members, at half-past 1 o'clock in the morning, to discuss the important questions which would arise on the Report of Supply. It was a national misfortune that important Votes, such as those for Dockyards and shipbuilding, should be brought on at such an hour. He did not believe that Her Majesty's Government, or anyone else, was to blame; but he must say, in justice to himself and those who acted with him, that it was neither more nor less than a farce to discuss such questions at half-past 1. He would not detain the House at that hour of the morning; but he wished particularly to say that some time ago the Secretary to the Admiralty made a statement which, he said, was accurate in his belief, as to the amount of iron-clad tonnage added to the Navy. Subsequently, he (Lord Henry Lennox) took occasion to demur to the correctness of that statement. The Secretary to the Admiralty replied to him, and his hon. Friend the Civil Lord of the Admiralty also replied to him, and he had no opportunity of answering either of those hon. Members 2024 in their distinct denials of his facts. He was, however, prepared to stand by the correctness of his facts, and to dispute the correctness of theirs. He made a statement last year founded on the statement of the Secretary to the Admiralty, and the Surveyor General of Ordnance came down one night when he (Lord Henry Lennox) was not here, and distinctly denied the truth of what he had said. Now, he was prepared, at a proper time, and in a proper manner, to answer that hon. Gentleman with his own Colleague's words; but, under the present circumstances, if the Government could not see their way to giving the House an opportunity of discussing this most important question of the real strength of our Navy, at a decent hour of the night, he should, with a humble protest, refuse to go into the question at such an hour as this. He would only make one appeal to his noble Friend who was now in charge of the Government Business, to know whether he would think it fair or reasonable to give them another opportunity of discussing these important matters?
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he understood that these questions had been discussed on more than one occasion, and that no object was to be gained by devoting another day to them, although, no doubt, the subject was important. He could not hold out any hope that it would be possible to bring the matter in on any night at any hour much earlier than the present; and, therefore, he thought they ought to take advantage of the present opportunity.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
It is, Sir, to be regretted that, unfortunately, we are in the hands of the Government, and we cannot do more than make our protest. But if we are to go into the subject now, I wish to say just a few words in reference to this Vote; and I may remark that the Secretary to the Admiralty said the other evening that if the Navy was not adequate for the duty it might be called upon to discharge, the late, and not the present Board of Admiralty, was responsible for its insufficiency, because the present Board had not had time to build and complete any ship since they had been in Office. I pointed out at the time that I spoke with reference to the recent and progressive increase of Foreign Navies, 2025 which require to be met by corresponding exertions in England, and that this development has become marked and continuous during the past three or four years. But what is the present Board doing? It is allowing ships which figure in the lists as efficient or available ships to remain unrepaired and absolutely useless. So long as their boilers are bad, they are no more than paper ships, and are for the time struck off from the strength of the Navy. And there are six iron-clads in the Dockyard now in this condition; and there are some in commission which are so defective that they cannot move excepting with a low pressure on their boilers, and at a slow rate of speed. The Bellerophon has been in hand three years, and we are told she is to be completed next year. The Triumph and the Iron Duke are to be "partly completed;" but there is no earthly reason why they should not be finished before the 31st March. The Warrior, the Black Prince, and the Resistance, are not to be touched. Their repairs, whenever any are taken in hand, will take at least a year, so that the possibility of making any use of these ships, which are admitted to be capable of making most valuable cruisers in time of war, is postponed for at least two years; and what may happen in that time? Then there are the Inconstant and Shah, large unarmoured frigates. They are to be left still further to depreciate. Now, either the Admiralty intend to use these ships again, or they do not. If they do, they are incurring a grave and serious responsibility in deliberately depriving the country of their assistance any longer than can possibly be avoided; but if they do not intend to repair them, then the shipbuilding programme requires to be greatly enlarged, or pressed forward to supply the deficiency which the dropping out of these and of their sister ships will create. But I spoke of iron-clads in commission, which are almost on their last legs. The Defence requires new boilers. The Achilles, the Minotaur, and the Valiant, are working with reduced pressure; and of coast defence iron-clads, the Gorgon, the Glatton, the Hydra, and the Hecate, will very soon require a complete overhaul. The truth is, Sir, that every year must bring its own crop of repairs imperatively required to be executed. 2026 Every year ships will drop out of the really Effective List, unless the work of each year is faced and disposed of. If it is not done, we may have nominally a large, but practically for all purposes of war, a very small Fleet. There is no economy in postponement, but, on the contrary, there is great extravagance; and the country is weak when it may be of the highest importance that it should be strong. I venture again most earnestly to express the hope that the Admiralty will decide at once to repair every ship needing repair, which they intend to retain on the effective strength of the Navy. If they come to the House for any Supplies now, I am certain the House will give them; if they do not, their responsibility, I repeat, will be great indeed.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, it was very satisfactory to him to find that his right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster had at last seen it necessary—absolutely necessary—notwithstanding all the traditions which came from the Treasury of trying to save as much as possible of the national resources—to come down and impress upon the House, with all the weight of his authority, the fact of the terrible destitution of our Navy. Naval Members of this House were not much attended to; but his hon. and gallant Friend beside him (Captain Price) and himself, and, no doubt, others also, had endeavoured, both when in Opposition and when they sat on the Ministerial side of the House, to urge upon the Admiralty the necessity for adding to our iron-clad Fleet. He himself had never hesitated to do so, because he believed it right; and because he thought it justified by a great deal of the information collected by the hon. Gentleman who was now the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, and who had constantly urged upon the country the necessity for this Fleet. He (Sir John Hay) was astonished the other day, when his right hon. Friend was urging on the Committee the necessity for an additional number of ironclads being at once commenced, to hear the Secretary to the Admiralty reply—"Yes; that may be so; but if it is, it is because you did not build enough when you were in power." That tu quoque kind of argument was of no value; and in order that the House might see how far it was true, he would just point 2027 out what were the ships that were laid down and launched between 1874 and 1880, and what had been done since the present Government came into Office. The Nelson, the Northampton, the Agamemnon, the Ajax, the Majestic, the Colossus, the Conqueror, and the Collingwood, were all laid down. He did not speak of the Inflexible, which was laid down before; but all these eight ironclads were laid down under the Conservative Government; and, in addition to them, there were the Superb, the Neptune, the Orion, and the Belleisle, which were launched, making 12 for which the late Government were responsible—not enough, as he thought; but, still, largely in excess of what had been done by the present Government, who were responsible for the Benbow, the Rodney, the Camperdown, the Howe, the Warspite, and the Impérieuse—the Government would hardly expect him to take the Mersey and the Severn into the account. The present Administration had, therefore, laid down six, as against the 12 of the previous Government. He did not wish to emphasize the facts, or to ask whether his right hon. Friend the ex-First Lord of the Admiralty laid down enough or not; but he was very glad that his right hon. Friend, in his desire to assist the Admiralty in doing what was right for the country, had thought it his duty to come down and say that he knew the Navy to be insufficient. The only reply which the Secretary to the Admiralty seemed able to give was—"Well, if it is insufficient, it is your fault." But that would not save the country; the question was, how was such a state of things to be remedied? The bandying of charges between the two sides of the House did not make the Navy sufficient, and would not give us a strong Navy. The Government should attend to those who had urged this matter upon them, both in and out of Office, because they knew what was wanted. Until that was done, they would have no sufficient Navy. He had thought it right to give these names of the ships laid down, so that the country might be able to judge whose fault it was; and he supposed the fault would rest more upon the shoulders of those who only built six, than upon the shoulders of those who built 12. But neither had built enough, and that fact ought to be known.
§ CAPTAIN PRICE
said, he must confess that he should feel some little difficulty in supporting the appeal of his noble Friend (Lord Henry Lennox) to the Government for postponing the Report of Supply; because, as had been very truly said, they had really discussed these matters very fully on the Votes; and if the Report was postponed now, there was no saying when they would get a chance of repeating the discussion, and most probably, when the opportunity did occur, it would only be at a very late hour. At the same time, he was bound to say that he thought his noble Friend had some reason for wishing to postpone it, because on Monday night, or rather at an early hour of the morning, the right hon. Gentleman the late First Lord of the Admiralty made a most remarkable statement, which he thought ought to be repeated at a time when the House was full, and when the reporters in the Gallery would all be present, and would be able to give to the country the full extent of what the right hon. Gentleman said. What the right hon. Gentleman did say was no less than this—that he had come to the conclusion that the preparations that were being made to put our Navy upon a proper footing were not sufficient. He even said more than that—that he was fully satisfied that the naval strength of this country was not what it ought to be, and that sufficient provision was not being made for the future. That was a very remarkable statement to come from such a very high authority, and it was only right that the country should know what was said in its entirety. He (Captain Price) would not venture to go into the tu quoque argument at all. He should like to do so if there were time; but it was obviously too late for such a thing. But he wished to point out that the reason why there was such a great difference between the action taken by the present Government and that of the late Government was that the efforts which were being made by our neighbours across the water were far greater now than they were then. That, he thought, was the principal gist of the thing. He dared say that a great many hon. Members, and especially those who sat on the Ministerial side of the House, studied economy rather more than efficiency. They had never thought it worth their while to look at the French 2029 Navy Estimates, or, if they did, they would find that the French Chamber took a Vote in augmentation of credit this year to the extent of 3,000,000 francs, and the reason they gave was this—that it was on account of the Vote passed in the Chamber to hasten the construction of the new iron-clads, and to come to the completion of their construction in three years instead of six. That was to say, that their efforts to put their Navy on a proper footing were to be doubled. During the last Administration, he thought we were keeping fairly apace with the French Navy. But, as he had said on previous occasions, he did not think we were doing enough, because his idea was that our Navy should be considerably stronger than that of France. Up to 1880 we were keeping fairly on an even footing with the Navy of France; but now matters were altogether different. The French had increased their efforts. They had 5,000 more men in their Dockyards building ships than we had, and their Chamber of Deputies had passed a Resolution directing that they should increase their efforts still further, and complete the ships they were now building in three years instead of six. That, he thought, was a complete answer to the arguments which hon. Gentlemen opposite had framed and also to what had been said, that the late Government did not do better than the present Government. This was all he had to say. Too much weight could not be given to the remarks of the late First Lord, and they deserved to be fully answered by the Representative of the Admiralty.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
wished, first, to say something in reply to the complaint that the Report of Supply was taken at such a late hour. The noble Lord the Member for Chichester (Lord Henry Lennox), who made the complaint, appeared to have gone away; and it not infrequently happened that, after he had made an elaborate attack on the naval policy of the Government, he retired, not waiting to hear a reply. But the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith), at all events, had the courage of his opinions, and supported those opinions by his presence, and he (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) was glad he had remained. The explanation to the complaint was, that it was not his experience that the Report 2030 stage was a stage upon which the whole discussion which had taken place in Committee of Supply was to be gone over afresh. It was a stage at which stitches that had been dropped were picked up, questions that could not be answered in Committee were answered then, and any required detail was supplied; but it was not an occasion for renewing, on the very same lines, the elaborate discussion which had taken place in Committee; and, therefore, he thought it was not at all a "ridiculous" thing, especially at that time of the Session, to take the Report at a somewhat advanced hour in the morning. A few nights previously the Shipbuilding Vote was brought on at a comparatively early hour, a quarter before 12, and a long discussion arose upon it.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, perhaps, it was at that hour that the right hon. Gentleman spoke; but the Vote, upon which the right hon. Gentleman might have got up at once if he had chosen to do so, was called before midnight. But there was an occasion prior to that when the Naval Estimates were brought on, when there was a long night's discussion, when the noble Lord (Lord Henry Lennox) made a long speech, and when, as now, he went away immediately afterwards; the Civil Lord of the Admiralty made a most elaborate reply to the attack, and the noble Lord did not remain to listen to it. The noble Lord said on that occasion, as he had said now, that the Secretary to the Admiralty had made the complaint that ships were waiting for their guns, and that he had complained of the delay at the War Office, or of the system under which the Navy obtained its ordnance; in fact, that the guns were not ready when the ships required them. He (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) took occasion to explain elaborately that he never said anything of the sort, that he never meant to convey any such idea, and that, if he inadvertently did convey such an idea to some minds, the idea had no foundation in fact. But then, as now, the noble Lord went away, not waiting to hear the explanation. But the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) had heard the explanation, and knew that the delay was not in the manufacture of the guns, but in settling the design of 2031 the guns. It was not the fault of the Department over which his hon. Friend the Surveyor General presided that occasioned the delay, but the difficulty that arose between the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Ordnance Committee in settling the designs of the guns; and, once the design was settled, there was no blameworthy delay in the War Office. The noble Lord never heard his explanation—an explanation that was really not required—but went to a discussion that took place outside on a well-known occasion, and alleged that the Secretary to the Admiralty had made that suggestion, which he (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) had explained he never made at all. So much for that part of the attack; and he would now turn to the more serious business, the line of attack the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) had adopted in the new departure he had suddenly made. Something had been said about the tu quoque line of argument which he was said to have followed in saying that if the Navy was inefficient the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends were to blame for it. He was not accustomed to use the tu quoque argument; and he quite agreed there was no public benefit in the free use of it, and he hoped he should never fall into the error of using it. What he had said was, that hitherto the House had been discussing the question whether, in 1885, when our neighbours across the water had completed the programme they proposed, this country would be in a proper state of strength as compared with them? That was the question which had been under discussion when the right hon. Gentleman undertook to prove that the Navy was inadequate at present for the duties it had to discharge. All he then said was, that if the right hon. Gentleman blamed anybody for that, he must blame himself, because no ship the present Admiralty could have laid down at the beginning of their tenure of Office could be of any avail to the Navy now; and it must be owing to a want of foresight in laying down a sufficient number of ships if the Navy was in such a feeble state as had been alleged, and that was a proposition that must be evident to everyone. Whether the proposals for future eventualities were sufficient was another matter. The right hon. Gentleman said at the moment the Fleet was 2032 inadequate; and, of course, if that was so, the reply was not complete, for the Government should, if that state of inefficiency existed, set about making it good; but, in condemning the present Navy, the right hon. Gentleman was really blaming himself. He now said the Navy, as regards ships built and building, was short of what was required; and that, of course, raised another question, Whether the Admiralty were making proper provision for the future? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Sir John Hay) quoted a number of ships, and went on to say that the late Government had laid down a certain number of ships, and that the present Government had only laid down a certain smaller number; therefore, said the right hon. and gallant Gentleman—"Look on that picture and on this." Now, he (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) denied that the number of ships laid down was any test of the strength of the Navy. It was open to the Admiralty to lay down 20 ships, and only spend some £500 a-year on each, and they might point to them and say—"See what we are doing." But what good would they be to the country while they were not finished? The great object was to push on with shipbuilding. He had quoted the figures in Committee showing that before the Government came into Office the amount of shipbuilding proposed was somewhere about 8,000 tons, and then he gave the figures showing how, since then, the Government had gradually and prudently raised the amount, until their proposal for the current year reached 13,000 tons. That was no inconsiderable advance, from 8,000 to 13,000; and it was in that way, by extending shipbuilding operations, by adding to the money devoted to that purpose, by seeing that the work was energetically pushed on, the Admiralty were making the preparations they thought necessary. As to the French Estimates, he had, on a former occasion, given figures bearing upon those; and, in reference to these Estimates, he had seen the most grotesque errors committed in quarters which might be expected to be well informed. He had not the figures before him, not being prepared for this renewed debate; and, therefore, he could not refer to the particular figures quoted by the hon. and gallant Member for Devonport (Captain Price).
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, yes; the hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted the 3,000,000 francs. He merely mentioned this to show how necessary it "was to be careful in such matters. There was such a sum mentioned, not in the Votes, but inserted in a projet de loi, a sum proposed to be taken for the advancement of shipbuilding for the completion of the naval programme in three instead of six years; and this it was that had been made a handle of. But what happened? The Chamber refused to pass it, and not one sous had been spent in that way, and in the complete French Estimates there was no mention of any such sum, or of an increase in the money voted. This was an example of the way in which, honestly and innocently enough, perhaps, mistakes were made, and the public were misled. Undoubtedly the French Estimates had gone up; but this and next year they had not been substantially increased, and there was no reason to believe their programme would be at all exceeded; it did not even look as though it could be reached. When the House was told of the large sums the French Government were spending on ships, and therefore we should redouble our efforts, he would point out that in the time of the late Government we were not spending so much as now, and the French were not even now building up to their programme announced several years ago. A number of years ago they announced a certain programme to be finished in 1885. That programme was well known; and if these things were to be taken into account as a test of the degree of rivalry, and this country must exceed that programme, then it was an indication of what was required, quite as much seven or eight years ago as it was now; in fact, the indication was less strong now, for it was now known the French Government were not likely to keep up to that programme. For his own part, he repudiated the idea that we were to go on building great ships merely because we saw France doing the same sort of thing. Speaking in the discussion raised by the noble Lord on the 7th May, he had pointed out to the House, and it was worth mentioning again, that the whole of this great start which the French were apparently making in this 2034 matter was due to the converting of their old obsolete wooden iron-clads into a fleet of steel ships; there was nothing in this to cause all this unnecessary alarm. But undoubtedly, when we saw them adding to their Navy vessels of the newest type and the greatest strength, it behoved us not to be behindhand; and it was for that purpose, and that we might keep the position we ought to occupy, that the Admiralty had made so considerable an increase in the shipbuilding tonnage. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) said nothing about this alarm; he did not say a word about the inadequacy of the Navy on the 7th May, when there was a full discussion on the subject; but now, from his place in the House, he made a statement which, if it meant anything, meant that the Government should proceed immediately to bring in Supplementary Estimates for increasing the Navy. Then let it be distinctly understood in the country, when the Government were accused of extravagance in many respects, let it be understood that in this respect they were called upon by the Opposition to spend yet more money, and were invited to introduce increased Naval Estimates. As to individual ships, with all his right hon. Friend had said as to the propriety of keeping up repairs he entirely agreed; but he must be allowed to say that the Board of Admiralty, with the assistance of their Naval Advisers, were really the best judges as to what particular ships should be repaired in one particular year. They could not repair them all; he did not suppose his right hon. Friend would ask the Admiralty to do that in one year. What the Admiralty had done was to repair all the iron-clads except the Black Prince and the Resistance.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman always raised the name of that vessel, because her boilers were not so strong as they once were; but that did not make the Defence an useless ship, and she was not in a condition requiring elaborate repairs. The Bellerophon, the Iron Duke, and the Triumph had been quoted by the right hon. Gentleman. The Bellerophon was finished with the exception of her gun fittings, her gun mountings, and the repairs connected with them, and the reason these were 2035 not finished was, that as she was to be used as a sea-going gunnery ship it was necessary to fit and mount her with guns of the newest type of almost an experimental kind, and that was why she was, in one sense, unfinished at the moment. The Iron Duke and the Triumph were on the year's programme; the Iron Duke would be well advanced, the Triumph not so far advanced. The Warrior had only been begun; it was discovered within the last few weeks that her masts were unsound, and she was now in the same category with the Black Prince and the Resistance. The right hon. Gentleman said these valuable ships should never be left out of repair; it was a wasteful and impolitic proceeding; but he had found it necessary when he was at the Admiralty. The Black Prince was out of repair in 1879, and the right hon. Gentleman himself could not make up his mind to repair her. The Black Prince and the Resistance had been left to the present Admiralty, with a Minute of their Predecessors on the Board, to say that the consideration of repairs to these ships should be postponed, because no one could say what the cost would be; it would cost a large sum, perhaps £150,000, or more, to do what was required. The Admiralty were going thoroughly into the question of these ships in the autumn, to see whether one or more should be taken in hand this year; but it was very doubtful whether they should be taken in hand at all; therefore, it was not desirable to set to work in a hurry for the sake of doing something which, after all, might not be justified. The Raleigh would be completed this year. The Shah was out of repair in the days of the late Admiralty; she was in the programme one or two years and not touched. [Mr. W. H. SMITH dissented.] He was speaking only from memory, and, so far as his recollection served him, the Shah was out of repair a year or two before the right hon. Gentleman left Office.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he was sure the hon. Gentleman did not mean to misrepresent. He could assure him it was not so.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, it was desirable to have repairs executed as soon as possible; but the Admiralty had to ask their Naval Advisers, in making new arrangements, which were the ships which, in their 2036 opinion, should be taken in hand, and upon the list the Board exercised their judgment. It was according to this advice it had been decided it was not desirable to repair more than the Raleigh in that class. The repairs to the Hecate were just finished.
said, that might be so; but, at all events, the money expended upon the vessel had made her much more useful than she was before, and it was intended to do the same thing to others of the same class. The whole question amounted to this—was the Navy in an efficient condition for the services required of it? And, secondly, were the Admiralty doing enough, in view of future requirements, and the relative position this country would occupy in the future? The explanations he had given to the House in the course of lengthened debates had answered these questions in the affirmative. The Admiralty had taken such steps, prudent and careful, but substantial steps, they thought necessary; and he could not see that there was any ground for the right hon. Gentleman coming down to the House in an unusual and unexpected state of alarm, to urge upon the Government an expenditure which they could not see was justified.
MR. A. F. EGERTON
said, he did not wish to detain the House at such a late hour; but there were one or two remarks due in reply to the speech just made. The Secretary to the Admiralty said that his right hon. Friend seemed to acquiesce in the views laid before the House when the hon. Gentleman introduced the Navy Estimates; but if he remembered rightly, his right hon. Friend expressly guarded himself against that. He accepted the figures on the responsibility of the Admiralty that they were adequate, without giving a very decided opinion as to the correctness of the facts, but, accepting the figures laid before the House on the authority of the Admiralty, he proceeded to discuss the way in which they had allocated the money they asked for. That was a different thing from saying he accepted the view put forward as entirely adequate to the work and development of the Navy. The real complaint was that the Admiralty were not only not building sufficient ships, but 2037 that they were not laying down sufficient ships. He, at any rate, had come to that conclusion, and they had also allowed repairs to fall too largely in arrear. It was impossible to go into this at such an hour; but the facts and figures quoted by his right hon. Friend showed, at any rate, there was considerable cause for the accusations or the charges, if the hon. Gentleman chose to call them so, brought against the present Administration. This was not the time to raise a general question on the state of the Navies of Europe; but whilst he was out of Parliament he happened to be taking great interest in the Navy, and he had looked closely into the state of Foreign Navies. As a rough test, he remembered ascertaining, in 1879, that the number of iron-clads in the possession of all the other nations of the world were double the number this country had in commission. He admitted this was a rough test; but he had reason to think it gave some ground, if not for alarm, at least for increased attention to our own Navy. It was impossible not to have this feeling intensified when they considered not only what France was doing, but also what was being done by other nations. It was well known that very powerful ships had been added to the Italian Navy, and other nations were not behind. He did not know exactly what the Russians were doing at the moment; but there was a considerable fleet in the waters of Constantinople which, under certain circumstances, might have been added at one blow to the Russian Navy in 1877. All that the Opposition could do, when it was not in their power to make any increase in the money for the Public Service, was to suggest that the Admiralty should reconsider their Estimates, that they should go further into the question of repairs in our Dockyards, and take greater pains to become acquainted with the state of Foreign Navies, about which there seemed to be some doubt, seeing the great discrepancies between the account of the progress of the French Navy, given by the Secretary to the Admiralty, and the accounts from other sources. The only hope was that the Admiralty would bestir themselves next year, and present a more sufficient programme.
§ Resolution agreed to.