HC Deb 15 March 1883 vol 277 cc591-9

rose to call attention to the Report of Rear Admiral H.E.H. the Duke of Edinburgh on the Naval Reserves and Coastguard. What he held first with regard to the Reserve Forces was that they should not be organized or regulated with a view to a small war such as that they had recently passed through in Egypt, but should bold in view the future possibility of a war with a large Maritime Power. Upon that subject, the Report which His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh had placed in the hands of the Admiralty was one of very great value; and in dealing with the details connected with the Reserve Forces he had placed before Parliament and the country an amount of information such as had not been conveyed by any Report since that of the Manning Commission in 1859. He (Mr. Gourley) would not call the attention of the House to the condition of the reserve ships of the Navy, as he had done last year upon Admiral Phillimore's Report; but he would like to ask a few questions. First, be would ask how many of them were armed with breech-loading guns, and of what calibre the guns were, and also how many of them were furnished with torpedoes, and how many with torpedo launches? He also wished to know whether any experiments were to be made with these launches in using electricity as a propelling power? If electricity could be applied it would in a large measure re- volutionize ocean fighting, inasmuch as in a fog or in the smoke during a battle the I launches would be the means of causing an enormous amount of destruction. He quite agreed with the recommendation of His Royal Highness that more men should be kept on board ship and lesson shore. The Reserve Squadron was intended to be a fighting squadron, and to protect the Channel and our ports in case of emergency; and therefore, it was exceedingly desirable that these ships should have the highest amount of efficiency possible. But this could not be obtained and maintained when they kept such a large number of men of the Reserve on shore, where, naturally, they lost knowledge of their duties. The next point referred to by His Royal Highness was their power of manning cruisers. At present the Admiralty were in the habit of supplying vacancies from their iron-clad ships; but any Member who knew anything of yachting, or of the work on board small ships, would know that those men were not the most handy on board cruisers. What His Royal Highness recommended was that, instead of transferring men from the iron-clads, boys—the sons of Coast-guardsmen and others—should be apprenticed on board one of those vessels; and the effect of such a course as this would be to bring up a useful class of men without any extra cost to the country—a class of men who would, in after life, make very useful pilots. This recommendation would, if carried out, also effect a very large saving to the Admiralty, for by it they would be able to save the £70 or £80 a-year they now paid for roaring apprentice boys who were borne on the books of the Admiralty. Having dealt with the Coastguard Service afloat, His Royal Highness proceeded to deal with it on shore. With regard to the Coastguard in Ireland he recommended that the Rear Admiral at Queenstown should hold the command of that body in Ireland. The suggestion was a good one, and he should like to ask how many stations there were now in Ireland, and how many men quartered there at the present time? His Royal Highness also pointed out that the number of men now serving on the South Coast was larger than was required, for the object for which the service was established—namely, to prevent smuggling, which had now almost disappeared; and he suggested that a number of those men, who had great knowledge of the life-saving apparatus, should be transferred to the North-East, in a dangerously rocky part of the coast where there were many wrecks and great loss of life. The next point referred to was the present mode of selecting officers for the Coastguard. At present there were 69 officers of superior rank in that Reserve who had little chance of returning to active service afloat, and who, if necessity arose to call on them, would not be found efficient for duty on board modern ships of war after passing so much time ashore. His Royal Highness suggested that younger men should be transferred to the Coastguard Service for shorter terms, say two or three years, and that at the end of that time they should return to active service afloat, an arrangement which would prevent the Admiralty having to place such a large number of useful men on half-pay. The hon. Member then referred to other points in the Report of His Royal Highness, including the suggestions relating to Second Class Reserve, the system of drill that should be adopted, especially in regard to the use of torpedoes, and the Naval Artillery Volunteers, a valuable Force, which should now have a capitation grant with a view to stimulating them to thorough and complete efficiency. In conclusion, he said the Report was a very valuable one, both in regard to the details given and the suggestions embodied in it, and he hoped it would not be allowed to rust in the pigeon-holes of the Admiralty Office.


said, he thought the House ought to thank the hon. Member for Sunderland for calling attention to this most excellent Report, for which they were indebted to His Royal Highness. He was certain that if that portion of it which referred to the men of the Reserve being employed a portion of the time afloat was carried out it would be a great advantage to the Service. The suggestion with regard to the appointments of the officers and their duties were also excellent. In the Navy Estimates money was taken to pay 20,000 Reserve men, and the suggestion was still in print that only 18,000 would be enrolled. If that was so, the proposal to enrol 10,000 Second Class Reserve men would not be carried out this year. He bore personal testimony to the ad- mirable and useful class of men that could be drawn from the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and the Isle of Man, and he heartily approved the suggestion that the Second. Class Reserve men should be drawn from them. He had served in one of Her Majesty's ships with nearly 300 men raised in the Shetland Islands. There had been some difficulty at first in teaching the Northern fishermen the words of command, because they did not all speak English; but he had seen enough of them to know that in employing them in the Second Class Reserve they should be making use of loyal and excellent men. With regard to the Isle of Man, he lived within a comparatively short distance of it, and had occasionally visited it, while he often saw the Manx fishermen in the bays near his own house, and knew some of them personally, and he was satisfied that they could furnish them with 2,000 men fit for the Second Class Reserve. They were men of fine physique and excellent character, and he was glad His Royal Highness had called attention to them. He regretted to find that the Admiralty, while asking for 20,000 for the Naval Reserve, stated that they believed that they should only be able to raise some 18,000 men for that Force. He had read the Report with great interest, and he trusted his hon. Friend (Sir Thomas Brassey) would be able to assure them that steps would be taken to raise the extra 2,000 men from the sources indicated in the Report.


observed, that very possibly the proposal that the men of the Second Class Reserve should receive only £2 10s., while the men of the First Class Reserve received £6, might be somewhat inadequate; but he had no doubt that, if it were found to be so, the matter could be considered again another year. He himself rather thought that these fishermen, who derived from their industry at certain seasons of the year a good deal of money, would scarcely be tempted to leave their industry for 28 days for that very small amount. He suggested that if the Admiralty were not successful in getting the full number of these men, they should consider the best means of doing so, if necessary, by offering a larger monetary inducement. He hoped the Admiralty would consider, in connection with that very small money reward, the best means of determining the period of service. He thought 28 days' service was too much for these fishermen to give; and if the Secretary to the Admiralty could tell them that that period might be divided into two or three terms of six or eight or ten days each, it might remove a difficulty. In any case, he considered the idea of reinforcing our Reserves from the fishing population was an admirable one, and the country was indebted to His Royal Highness for bringing it before the attention of the Admiralty. There were on the Eastern and Northern Coasts of Scotland 45,000 men and boys employed in the herring fishing trade, 30,000 able-bodied fishermen on the East side—better or more daring sailors than whom could not be found. They were always at home, and would form an admirable Reserve Force in times of emergency; and he hoped the suggestions of His Royal Highness would be carried out.


urged the claims of the Naval Volunteers, and hoped they would receive more attention from the Admiralty than they had hitherto done.


said, that the Report of His Royal Highness the Superintendent of Naval Reserves was an important Paper, and he was glad that his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland had called the attention of the House to its contents. Among the many valuable suggestions contained in that Report, perhaps the most important was that relating to the future strength of the Reserve. His Royal Highness recommended that the Reserve should be raised to a strength of 20,000 men, consisting of an equal number of First and Second Class Reserve men. This proposal had been adopted by the Admiralty. For the general purposes of manning the Fleet, and especially for the smaller vessels, the hardy fishermen who formed the Second Class Reserve were thoroughly efficient; and if these men were called out for active service it would not cause the inconvenience to the shipping trade which might be felt by the withdrawal of the First Class Reserves, who might be called the leading seamen of the Mercantile Marine. Drill batteries had long been established at points selected for the convenience of the fishermen, including the Shetlands, Wick, Peterhead, Brixham, Falmouth, Penzance and Stornoway. He had announced last year that additional batteries were ordered for Kirkwall and the Isle of Man, and the question of a battery at Grimsby was under consideration. No difficulty would be experienced in increasing the Second Class Reserve from the present strength of 6,000 to 10,000; and twice that number of suitable men could be raised if necessary. According to the statistics recently published by the Commission on the Fisheries, the men constantly employed numbered 56,000; those occasionally employed, 38,675. The increase in the fisheries—all the men being British subjects—compensated, in some degree, for the gradual reduction in the British seamen engaged in the foreign trade. It was interesting to remark that while the development of steam had reduced the number of seamen in the foreign trade, the extension of railways had greatly stimulated the fisheries by the facilities afforded for a distribution offish to the inland markets. At the port of Hull, the number of smacks had increased from 40, in 1845, to 420 in 1881. At Grimsby they had increased from 70, in 1863, to 625 in 1881. Turning to the First Class Reserve, their present number was 11,316, and the reduction to 10,000 would be effected gradually by raising the standard of qualification. If it were necessary, no difficulty would be experienced in maintaining the First Class Reserve at its former strength. It was true that the percentage of foreign seamen had increased from 18,000, or 9.74 per cent, in 1871, to 14.6 per cent at the date of the latest Return, and the increase of traffic through the Suez Canal would necessarily tend to bring more foreigners into the British Mercantile Marine; but in the stormy seas of Northern Europe, and for Colonial voyages, English seamen would still form the majority of the crews. Throughout the Mercantile Marine they were always to be found in positions of responsibility. In the opinion of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, as of the Liverpool shipowners, whom he quoted last year, there was no evidence of deterioration in our seamen. With reference to the availability of the Naval Reserve on a sudden emergency, the increase of steam navigation had had a marked and favourable effect in shortening the periods of absence of our seamen from the home ports. In the First Class Reserve only 207 men had obtained leave to engage for long voyages. Before passing from the subject of the Reserve, he desired to refer to the question of rank. Masters holding responsible positions in the Merchant Service could not undertake active duty in connection with the Reserve, and no commission had hitherto been given for a higher rank than that of lieutenant. It was proposed, however, to recognize the recent services of masters of transports in the Egyptian Campaign by making a certain number of promotions to the rank of commander. The hon. Member for Sunderland had referred to some other suggestions of His Royal Highness which the Admiralty wore not prepared to adopt. It was not thought expedient to complete the crews of the reserve ships. The disposable men in the home ports were usefully employed in gun-drill and in fitting out ships for commission, and they were constantly being drafted to seagoing ships. For the annual cruise of the Reserve Squadron the crews were completed, as his hon. Friend was well aware, from the Coastguard, whose efficiency must be maintained by occasional service at sea. With regard to the manning of the cutters, a proposal was under consideration to replace them to some extent with gunboats. By this means the duties of the Coastguard would be more efficiently performed. The vessels would be of a class to which the seamen of the Navy were accustomed, and a valuable opportunity would be afforded to our younger officers to gain experience in pilotage and to become acquainted with the Coasts of the United Kingdom. As to the practice of the Naval Reserve at a floating target, its necessity was admitted, and the withdrawal of gunboats from the Coast of Ireland would enable them to make better provision for this service. Referring to the observations of his hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Sir John Jenkins), he was aware that considerable disappointment had been felt in certain quarters at the hesitation of the Admiralty to give a capitation grant to the Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers. Having been closely connected with this Force from the commencement, he was naturally anxious to see it established on a permanent basis; but that object could only be attained by giving proof of its efficiency for some defined purpose and by minimizing the cost. The first promoters of the movement were well aware that the training of the Naval Volunteers would entail a large expense for the drills on shore and the exercises afloat, and on this ground, in tendering their services to the Admiralty, they specially insisted on their willingness to dispense with the capitation grant. As compared with the Land Volunteers, the Naval Volunteers were relieved of all expenses except the cost of uniform. They were drilled in the ships or batteries provided for the Naval Reserve, while the Land Volunteers were called upon to bear considerable expenses for drill-sheds. Highly favourable Reports had been received of the conduct and efficiency of the Naval Volunteers both ashore and afloat; but as yet no defined place had been assigned to them in the general scheme for the manning of the Navy. His Royal Highness proposed that they should take the place of the Coastguard; but that could be done with equal efficiency by men who had not been trained as Naval gunners. With these considerations in view, the Admiralty were not prepared to entertain the demand for a capitation grant. He was, however, able to give a satisfactory assurance on a point to which he believed the Naval Volunteers attached even more importance, and he was able to announce that a suitable vessel would this year be appropriated for the annual cruise. The marked success of the Coastguard life insurance fund formed an interesting feature in the Duke of Edinburgh's Report, and the success with which the scheme had been carried into effect reflected the greatest credit on His Royal Highness, The benefits accorded to the contributors were on a more liberal scale than those usually given. The management was in the Reserve Office, and there was only one paid official. The Admiralty had not lost sight of the proposal to extend the scheme to the Service afloat. Having last year given in detail the number of men in reserve for manning the Navy, it was unnecessary that he should recapitulate figures which had not materially changed in the interval. In conclusion, he could assure the House that they had an an ample Force at their disposal to meet any emergency which might arise.

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