HC Deb 20 March 1884 vol 286 cc336-62

said, before proceeding to his Notice of Motion, to which he wished to invite attention, he would thank the hon. Baronet (Sir Frederick Milner) for having brought forward a subject of the greatest possible importance, and reminded him that, as they had been promised that evening a Naval Discipline Bill, he would be able to recur to that question, and to obtain a reply to his remarks from the Treasury Bench. He now turned to the Resolution that he had himself put on the Paper. He desired to obtain the appointment of a Select Committee of that House on the condition of our armour-clad Navy. Although he knew how inconvenient it was for the Secretary to the Admiralty, at that period of the night (9 o'clock), not to have an opportunity of introducing the Navy Estimates, the hon. Gentleman would forgive him, because that was a matter cognate to the matter on which the hon. Member would address them, and of the greatest importance to the country. It deserved to be treated separately, and to be considered by a Select Committee, in order to see whether, in the first place, we had enough iron-clads; and, secondly, whether they were of the right character. The Navy Estimates which they were about to discuss were slightly reduced, while our iron-clads were insufficient in number, and some of them of a character which he was surprised to see put before the House in a Return that had just been laid on the Table as ships that were considered as at all efficient for the Public Service. That Return was of a fragmentary description; and he observed, from the ordinary source of public information, that it had led the public to believe that we had 62 ironclads. Before analyzing the figures, he remarked that he was aware it might be said that the granting of a Select Committee to investigate the number or the condition of our ships was interfering with the responsibility of the Board of Admiralty. He had heard that argument before, but it had not been allowed to prevail; many Select Committees had been appointed, and he thought the time had come when another should institute the inquiry that he now suggested. The present Board of Admiralty had extremely able officers on it; but, unfortunately, none of them were in that House, and the House had lost the advantage of the presence of the First Sea Lord, who was responsible for advising the Admiralty as to the defence of the country and the number of ships that was necessary. If, however, a Select Committee were appointed, that gallant Officer would be called before it, and would state the reason why the number of ships was, in his opinion, sufficient or insufficient, and point out the duties they had to perform. The Return which he held in his hand—as to which he had had some correspondence with the Secretary to the Admiralty—omitted information of the greatest possible importance to the country. The state of the boilers and also of the hulls was omitted from it. He had himself made up that Return with great labour, so as to have the information that ought to be given; but, being given by himself, it was of no value; whereas, if given by the Admiralty, it would be of great value to the House. The suggestion that it might supply information to foreign countries ought not to weigh with the House. Foreign countries might get at that information just as he had done. He wished to have a Committee which would inquire of the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty as to the condition of the ships of the Navy. The present First Sea Lord, an officer of great distinction and ability, held the same Office when his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. H. Smith) was at the Admiralty. That information was given to the House in 1879 by the consent of his right hon. Friend and of Admiral Sir Cooper Key. It was also given in 1882, with the consent of the noble Earl at the head of the Admiralty (the Earl of Northbrook) and of Admiral Sir Cooper Key; but in 1884 a different course was taken, for some reasons which he could not understand. Information, which every foreign Government and every person could have who would take the trouble, was now withheld from the House and the country, to whom it would be useful. He, therefore, thought it desirable that a Select Committee of the House should be appointed to ascertain from the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty the condition of our armour-clads, and why the important information to which he had alluded was now withheld from the public. He was anxious to analyze some of the figures in the Return, and he was glad to see the hon. Gentleman the Civil Lord of the Admiralty present, because he had obtained some information as to the condition of ships which were now put before them as being efficient ships, from the valuable book of which that hon. Gentleman was the author. There was a class of vessels—armoured ships in commission—on page 2 of the Return. There were 28 ships placed there. Of these, four were not down for repair or alteration; and according to that statement they were efficient for the Public Service. He would give the case of the Defence. He referred to the Return of 1882, and he found that in 1882 the pressure of the boilers of the Defence was 15 lbs., which they know was below what was required, and that she would require now boilers, for which no provision was made. Therefore, she was not an efficient ship, though she was put down in the Returns. Then there was the Glatton, which was good enough in her way; but she was not what could be called a sea-going ironclad ship; there was a pressure of only 18 lbs. in the boilers, and, though tolerably useful, she ought not to be considered anything but a coast defence ship. Then there were two other ships—the Hydra and the Gorgon. He should like to know what the Civil Lord (Sir Thomas Brassey) thought of them? They were of the Cyclops class, and the Cyclops herself had some superstructures put upon her, which made her a little better than she was. At page 181, vol. 1, of the Civil Lord's work, he found these words— If such hesitation was felt as to the despatch of these vessels on a coasting voyage in the summer season they can scarcely be accepted even as coast defence vessels for service in the English Channel. It was hardly right to let the country suppose that ships of that character were armour-clad sea-going ships. They might be harbour ships. Therefore, as regarded the first table, he should like to reduce the 28 to 24. He came next to the armoured ships in reserve, in which class 14 vessels were given. It was astonishing to read as sea-going armoured ships in reserve—as complete in the First Reserve—the names of the Prince Albert, the Cyclops, the Hecate, the Scorpion, the Wyvern, the Vixen, and the Viper. The Wyvern, the Vixen, and the Viper were no more efficient seagoing ships of the Navy than was "Noah's Ark." That 14 he must reduce by seven, leaving seven as really available for public service. When he came to the ships waiting for repair, he looked in vain in the Estimates to see that any repairs were going to be made. What was the use of the Admiralty including as waiting for repair the Water-witch? He wished to read to his hon. Friend the Civil Lord of the Admiralty a document which he believed had been signed by him. But whether it had been signed by him or not, he was, at least, a Member of the Board of Admiralty which had produced this document for the use of the House; and if the Civil Lord had not signed it, it would be an advantage to have such a Committee as he suggested to inquire why such a document had been placed on the Table of the House— The speed of this vessel at sea has never exceeded five or six knots, and although 10 years old it has never been trusted out of sight of land. He should like if his hon. Friend would tell the House when and how this vessel was to be repaired, and why it was stated that they were going to repair vessels, when hon. Members looked in vain for any indication in the Estimates that money was to be asked in order that the repairs might be carried out? Then, again, why were they told that 62 ships were available, when seven had to be deducted which were not yet completed? the real fact was that, instead of 62 ships being available, there were only 40; and if the hon. Gentleman opposite said, when he came to investigate the condition of the French Fleet, that 19 wooden vessels ought to be deducted from the list, then he said that the Lord Warden and the Repulse ought to be deducted from our list, which would reduce the number to 38. He would now ask the House to look at the condition of the other Navies, taken from official information, in order to see whether this country had anything like the number of ships it ought to have for the service of the State. It had always been supposed in this country that we were equal to any two other Naval Powers. With 38 available iron-clads, and 11 of these necessarily on distant stations, the number at home was reduced to something like 29; and this number, he ventured to say. was not enough for the Public Service, or for the defence of the country. The French had 20 ships of the first class—Amiral Duperré, Foudroyanté, Dévastation, Friedland, Trident, Redoubtable, Colbert, Richelieu, Océan, Suffren, Marengo, Couronne, Surveillante, Héroine, Flandre, Valeureuse, Gauloise, Savoie, Provence, and Revanche. They had also the following ships of the first class available for Coastguard defence:—Caiman, Indomptable, Terrible, Fulminant, Tonnerre, and Furieux. He remembered mentioning in the House last year that the French at that time had 19 iron-clads in process of construction, and some doubt was thrown upon the rapidity of their construction. But five of those vessels had since been launched, and those five were at this moment fitting for sea. The French had the following ships of the second class:—Bayard, Turenne, Vauban, Du Guesclin, La Galison-nièrre, Victorieuse, Triomphante, Montcalm, Reine Blanche, Atalante, Alma, Belliqueuse, Jeanne d' Arc, and Thétis. As most of those vessels were wooden ships, he was quite willing to deduct them; but two years ago nine of these ships were employed at Tunis. They had, in addition, the following ships of the second-class Coastguard, and which were available for Channel service:—Tampête, Tonnant, Vengeur, Cerbère, Betlièr, Bouledogue, Tigre, Taureau, and Onondaga. Some of these ships were unfit for sea; but the French had at this moment, deducting the wooden ships, 35 iron-clads fit for service, and they had building at the moment no fewer than 14 ships, three of them by contract. They were—Requin, Guerrier, Jean Bart, Formidable, Amiral Baudin, Charles Martel, Brennus, Neptune, Hoche, Magenta, Marceau, Vauban, and Duquesne. He was not prepared to believe that these ships were not advancing with considerable rapidity. He was uncertain about those that were being built by contract; but he believed the others were advancing as rapidly as the five which had been added to their Navy since this time last year. He would take only one other Power as a further illustration—Italy. The Admiralty, no doubt, had the most excellent information respecting the condition of the Italian Navy, because the Colleague of his hon. Friend opposite had as good information as anyone in the world in reference to this question. In the first class they had the Duilio and Dandolo, which were almost unrivalled for power. He thought we had only one ship—the Inflexible—which was a match for cither of them in regard to speed and armour. In the second class the Italian Navy had the Ancona, Castel Fidardo, Maria Pia, S. Martino, Palestro, Principe Amadeo, Roma, and Venezia. In the third class there were the Affondatore, Formidabile, Terribile, and Varese. Although it might be contended that the first-class ships of the Italian Navy were not a match for any of our vessels in the same class, and that it was not desirable to build more largo ships, we ought, he contended, to have more small ones. The Italians were building five ships, two of 19-inch and three of 18-inch armour, and all of them must be considered formidable ships. They were the Italia, Lepanto, Andrea Doria, Ruggiero de Loria, and Francisco Morosini. If they calculated the Navy of Italy as our Navy was calculated—that was, good, bad, and indifferent—they would find that the Italians had 19 ships to our 62, and the French had 64 to our 62. But making the deductions which ought to be made, and reducing the number of our ships to 38, it would be found that there were 46 or 47 formidable ships ready for sea belonging to the Italian and the French Navies. That, he maintained, was not a proper condition for this country to be in. The statement was made that there was a decrease in the Estimates. [Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN: No.] Well, the statement had been made in the ordinary sources of information that there was a decrease in the Estimates by about £85,000. But he was now glad to hear that the Estimates had not been reduced. It seemed, however, that the Government had not added to the building very much, because the account was very small. It was nothing like what it ought to be in order to add to the building. The Government were only building seven iron-clads, one of them by contract: while the French at this moment were building 14, and they had now a Navy, deducting wooden ships, which was equal to our own. It was certain we were not equal to the two Naval Powers he had mentioned in the number of iron-clads, and that was a point which he wished to urge upon the attention of the House. It was for that reason that he desired the appointment of the Committee, and in order to ascertain whether Sir Cooper Key, who was responsible for the Navy of this country, had a sufficient number of ships for its protection. He maintained that if Sir Cooper Key came before a Committee of the House they would hear from him—after a certain amount of loyalty had been shown towards the defence of his Colleagues—that he had not a sufficient number of ships to protect the trade and commerce of this country in the event of war and against a combination of European Powers. He was not taking into account the ships of the German Navy, which must, of course, be considered; but there were two European nations of great naval power which were at this moment making the most strenuous exertions to improve their Navy, and both of which, if combined in numbers—but he did not say in power—were superior to the Navy of England. There were many Members in the House most competent to investigate this matter; and if the Committee was nominated entirely from the Ministerial side of the House, it could not but declare that the naval power of England, as represented by its ironclads, was far below what it ought to be, and what the country believed it to be. There were at present 38 British iron-clads, and 7 building; 29 French, and 8 building; and 14 Italian, and 5 building. This was the condition of the three great Naval Powers and the number of their ships. He also had to appeal to his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty to add two columns to the Returns, showing the condition of the boilers and the condition of the hull of each ship. There must be something wrong if the Government were afraid to supply this information, especially having regard to the fact that it was given in 1879, and again in 1882, when Lord Northbrook, as now, was at the head of the Admiralty. As to the guns, he understood that other nations were manufacturing guns of much greater size than we. The Italian Government was having guns of 110 tons for some of their fillips, while our heaviest guns did not exceed 81 tons. Such a Committee as he had suggested ought also to inquire into this question of the armament of the Navy. They were now confronted with the question whether this country was to be satisfied with guns of smaller power than those of other countries. They had been told that there were 280 merchant ships ready to be placed at the disposal of the Admiralty in case of war; but it turned out that them were only guns for 50 of these. What was the use of patriotic shipbuilders supplying their ships if guns were not forthcoming for them? The officers and in on of the Navy and Marines were as ready and able as ever to do their duty; and it was, therefore, the snore incumbent on us to see that they were provided with sufficient ships and efficient guns. He was sure the House would allow him, before passing from this subject, to refer to the brilliant services recently rendered by the Navy and Marines at Tamanieb, and to the heroic death of the three young naval officers in defence of their guns. The House sat under the shadow of the great Abbey in which the gallant deeds of our most famous naval officers were recorded for our example. But he did not believe that among them all were names to be found more deserving of our grateful recollection than those of Almack, of Montresor, and of his dear young friend Houston Stewart, who, when the square which covered them had to retire, remained with their brave comrades by their guns, and, under the death-thrusts of the enemy, disabled them, so that, though temporarily in possession of the foe, the guns could not be turned against our troops. Brave hearts, to Britain's pride once so faithful and so true. They now slept beneath the sands of Africa; but their names would ever deserve to be celebrated in song and story. The House would, he was sure, sympathize with House who mourned them, and would not think it wrong in him to allude on this, the first opportunity, to their gallant conduct and heroic death. It was for officers and men such as these that he pleaded with the House for a Committee to see that sufficient ships and efficient guns were provided.


regretted that, in the event of the Government refusing the Committee asked for, there was no possibility of their being able to go to a Division on the proposition of his right hon. and gallant Friend. What his right hon. and gallant Friend had said was so true that the Return presented to the House almost amounted to a burlesque. The Government now refused to give the House any Report as to the state of the boilers and hulls of the ships, and they included in their Return of lighting vessels ships like the Water-witch, which he thought had long ceased to be classed even in the category of hospital ships. His right hon. and gallant Friend who had just spoken had alluded to the mawkish feeling against allowing foreign countries to know too much about our Navy. There was not a foreign country which had a Navy, or which aspired to have a Navy, which did not know as much of the number and condition of British ships, and the number and weight of the guns, as hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench. Why, then, was not this information given openly and authoritatively to Parliament? He agreed with his right hon. and gallant Friend in saying that he could not understand the Government refusing this information now, having regard to the fact that it was given in 1879, and again in 1882. The only conclusion he could come to, and that the country would come to, was this—that, owing to the parsimony and cheeseparing policy of the Government, the condition of the hulls and boilers was too bad to be made public. Of course, the Admiralty would not grant the Committee asked for, and he was exceedingly sorry that he and those who agreed with him could not go to a Division and show their strength, or, at any rate, the strength of their convictions. It was a remarkable fact that is right hon. and gallant Friend had incorporated, into his speech in support of the appointment of a Committee quotations from the writings of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. He himself had last year supported his arguments by references to the hon. Gentleman's books on the Navy. Certainly, there was no one to whom the public owed so much in regard to this branch of the Public Service as to the Civil Lord. There was another point he had intended to allude to, and that was that now most celebrated class—the Cyclops and Hecate class. Those who wished to see a strong and powerful Navy had to live on promises. The Secretary to the Admiralty every year promised something which next year he had to confess had not been performed, and that had been going on for 16 or 17 years. They were told that the vessels of the Cyclops and Hecate class were to be made into fine sea-going vessels. He would like to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty whether the experimentalization on the Hecate had been successful; and whether it was to be continued on other vessels in that class? He could not see anywhere in the Estimates any allusion to an intention to make the rest of that class into sea-going vessels. He reserved to himself the right of making general observations after the statement of the Secretary to the Admiralty, and the further right of making very much longer and fuller observations when the Estimates came into Committee.


said, that after the disparaging statements which had recently been made in many quarters the Government were not unprepared for the criticisms which had just been addressed to them. He must, indeed, confess that it was not unnatural for one connected with the Admiralty to hare some sympathy with the advocates of increased Estimates. The Government were, however, satisfied that the provisions they were proposing in the present Estimates, and in those which they had made in preceding years, were sufficient to maintain the naval supremacy of the country. He might go further, and say that they would regard it as impolitic, in the circumstances in which they found themselves, to propose those sensational Estimates which some crities of their policy seemed to demand. Last year he had laid before the House a general view of our position, and this year, after a further examination in the light of the latest, official information, he could confidently say that there was no material change in our relative position as it was then described. For themselves, the Government accepted the assurances which had been given to the French Chambers that the increased construction for the French Navy was designed not so much to increase the number of iron-clads as to compensate for the withdrawal of the wood-built ships from the list of effective vessels. He ventured to say that a comparison of Estimates would supply the best answer that could be given to those who would charge the Government with supineness ov indifference to the naval interests of the country. The total expenditure for the Naval Services, including ordnance, had increased from £10,550,000 in 1879–80 to £11,499,635 in 1883–4, and the Ordnance Vote alone had increased from£212,000 in 1879–80 to £512,549 in the present year. A large proportion of the expenditure on the Navy was practically automatic, or, at least, directly dependent upon the number of men voted for the Fleet. The distinctive policy, therefore, of any Administration was mainly indicated by the fluctuations of the Shipbuilding Votes. To his mind the great increase in the expenditure upon these Votes—namely, from £3,227,000 in 1880 to £3,961,000 in 1883–4, and practically to the same amount in the present year—was a complete answer to the charges of supineness and inaction which had been brought against the Department. The expenditure upon shipbuilding alone—I for armoured ships, including machinery—for the years 1883–4 and 1884–5 was actually double that of the year 1879–80. This large increase had not been obtained by neglecting repairs. The number of men employed on repairs had been largely increased, and in point of preparation to meet any emergency the condition of the Fleet ought to be regarded as highly satisfactory. They had actually ready for sea, or in a condition to be put to sea in a very few weeks, no less than 18 iron-clads, including such ships as the Dreadnought, the Ajax, the Agamemnon, the Conqueror, the Hotspur, the Rupert, and the Devasta- tion. They had in the foreign yards the Thunderer, the Scorpion, the Wyvern, and for harbour defence at Bermuda the Viper and the Vixen. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had spoken very lightly of these vessels; but he could assure him that they were in very good repair, and were very valuable for defensive purposes. Of unarmoured vessels, there were the Mercury, the Bacchante, and others. There were 13 corvettes, many of them the finest vessels afloat, nine gun-vessels, and 29 vessels for coast defence. With the exception of the Warrior, Black Prince, and Resistance, and eight unarmoured vessels, of which five were wood-built, and as to the re-armament of which some doubt existed, every defective vessel not actually in commission was included in the repairing programme. With respect to the Hecate class, the Government acknowledged that reconstruction of the superstructure was advisable, and they claimed it as a very creditable feature in their programme that they had at last addressed themselves to the alterations required in these vessels. By the simple addition of a superstructure costing some £12,000, vessels of this class were raised from the position of mere harbour defence ships into iron-clads capable of making long sea passages in safety, and especially adapted by their light draught for coast defence. It was proposed to take one vessel of this class in hand every year until the alterations were completed. In conclusion, he hoped this statement would be considered a satisfactory reply to some of the criticisms which had been addressed to the Government.


asked whether it was intended that the new boilers to be placed in reconstructed ships should be of steel or iron? He believed that a large number of foreign iron-dads were in a worse condition than our own iron-clads. Naval critics were, for the most part, always complaining that the Shipbuilding Vote was not increased; but, in his opinion, the Board of Admiralty was to be commended for not proposing a larger Estimate. The fact was that shipbuilding was in a transition state, and ship built 20 years ago were now comparatively useless. He thought that the Admiralty could be relied upon for keeping the Navy in an efficient condition. Our Navy ought to be superior to any combination of Naval Powers winch was at all likely to be formed against us. But the Admiralty claimed to have done that already; and. if that were so, there was no use in building more ships. He thought there was a tendency to overrate the importance of iron-clads. What we wanted far more than ironclads was powerful cruisers ready at the shortest notice to go to the most distant stations, and so constructed as to be able to perform the longest voyages. Thus capacity for carrying fuel was of the first importance. Good organization, too, was most essential, and we ought to pay particular attention to the torpedo and the ram. In these days, as much as at any other period, the most skilful seaman would win the day. A great deal was said about the Italian iron-clads; but with such seamen as we possessed we needed not to fear them. The Admiralty had done much in the matter of training officers and seamen for the Navy; and in spite of shortcomings he considered they were entitled to the gratitude of the country for the efficient condition in which they had placed the Service. The training of officers and seamen ought to be maintained at a high standard, and it was of the highest importance to keep them afloat as much as possible. If we did so, we had no occasion to fear any combination of Foreign Navies.


could not claim to speak from technical knowledge; but he feared that the margin of strength over the Navies of foreign countries was dangerously small. He had always understood that the British Navy ought to be superior to any probable combination against it; but after the discussion which had taken place he did not think that condition was fulfilled at present. Our Navy; ought to be stronger, at least, than any two other Navies. He entirely agreed with the hon. Member who had just sat down as to the superiority of our men; but it would not be wise to trust to that superiority alone. There ought to be an equal superiority in ships and material, if our supremacy was to be maintained. At the present time we were subject to great changes in the conditions of war, both by land and sea. There were two lessons which the war of 1870 had impressed upon all thoughtful men. One was that a whole nation might be formed into an Army, and the other that the railways might be employed in carrying enormous bodies of men upon one point of attack. The result of the latter state of things was that the Power which could most successfully so concentrate its attack obtained an overwhelming superiority. Thus our enemy would be able to combine its forces in aggression against us, and the need of keeping up our naval supremacy was not less, but-greater, than it was in former times. He thought the bearing of that state of things had by no means been so fully recognized as it ought to have been by successive Governments. He did not recommend the foreign military system for our adoption. On the contrary, it was a happy thing for us that we were able to retain our Army in its present rudimentary condition. But although that system was not strictly applicable to our Navy, its existence in foreign countries made it imperative to retain our naval pre-eminence. It was, therefore, very unfortunate that it could be said with any appearance of truth in the House of Commons that our Navy did not enjoy the absolute supremacy which was on all hands admitted to be so necessary, especially as our ships were scattered all over the world, and we had to defend so many Colonial and foreign interests. He was certain the country would gladly sanction any expenditure which would place us in an assured position. He was not an alarmist; but he remembered that the peace of Europe depended on one man's life, and the troubles arising out of the aggressions of the French or of the Russians were not impossibilities. All he wanted was that a country with boundless resources and vast responsibilities should be found fully equal to any emergency. It was impossible for him to say what the state of Europe might be a year or two hence. A change in its condition might come very quickly; but the construction of an iron-clad Fleet was a slow and difficult operation, and required foresight and exertion long before it might be wanted. Did we not know that our nearest neighbour was turning to foreign adventures, which might bring us into collision with her unexpectedly, and that in Asia there was another Power whose boundaries were brought near our own, and with whom some differences might easily arise? Knowing the enormous stake which depended on our Navy, there ought to be no possible doubt as to what should be done; and if his right hon. Friend did not obtain the Committee for which he asked, he hoped the Government would, at all events, take such steps as would make us feel that our Navy was in a position of undoubted superiority.


said, he could assure the Government that the Navy Estimates, which were about to be brought before the House, had been received with consternation by the Naval Profession, and by hon. Members who, like the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff), felt indignation at the supine-ness of successive Boards of Admiralty. He remembered an instance in which one First Lord of the Admiralty spoke the truth. He referred to the late lamented Mr. Ward Hunt, who, in the first blush of his accession to Office, told the House that the country possessed only a paper Fleet. He remembered how the statement confounded the right hon. Gentleman's Colleagues, who, he had no doubt, subsequently remonstrated with him upon his conduct, for neither he nor any other First Lord had ever ventured to tell the House the truth since. They had heard in the House and on platforms, and seen in the public prints, repeated comparisons between the French Fleet and our own. Did the Admiralty venture to say that the comparison was erroneous? So clear was the demonstration that everybody expected that the Government would this year have asked for £500,000 more for the purpose of placing the Fleet in a proper position. The hon. Gentleman opposite could not tell them the secrets of his prison-house; but he believed that he and his Colleagues would have asked for £500,000 more were it not that they were controlled by other influences. He could not understand how we lavished £28,000,000 a-year on our Army in England and India, and yet the Army could not give us influence in the Councils of Europe; while the Navy, which constituted the real defence and power of this country, was neglected. It was able to fight Egyptians and Arabs, but could scarcely be put in the field against the enormous Armies of civilized Europe; and yet we spent only a paltry sum of less than £11,000,000 a-year upon that Navy which was the only ground we had for claiming preponderance among the nations. It was admitted by the Admiralty that our Navy was barely sufficient for the defence of the country, and that in the event of war the loss of one or two iron-clads would positively endanger our safety, and then it would be too late for the Admiralty to address itself to the task of providing n proper system of defence. Let the Admiralty ask any of our distinguished naval officers whether, comparing ship with ship, they did not unhesitatingly give the preference to the Trench, though a sailor generally thought any old tub in which he might have served superior to the finest ship afloat? The French ships had higher speed—[Sir THOMAS BRASSEY: No.]—and they were all provided with breech-loaders; whereas ours were still armed with muzzle-loaders. The Secretary to the Admiralty would say that they were going to supply the Navy with breech-loading guns; but many a year must pass before that could be done. Would the officials at the Admiralty say that in the ships of the English Navy there were any machine guns throwing shells? He believed there were not; whilst the French had 23 of these machine guns, which could fire 30 rounds in a minute. Would they deny that the number of combatants on board our ships was smaller than on board French ships, and that not only was their number of men smaller, but the proportion of combatants also? All the elements of superiority of the French over the English ships were admitted by the Government except that of speed. Let the House consider how the English Navy was supplied with smaller craft and cruisers. Would the Civil Lord of the Admiralty dispute the fact that in the Indian Ocean, and in the China Seas, there were three vessels going 17 knots an hour, one French, another Russian, and a third Italian, while England had not a single vessel that could compete with them? There was one French vessel in the Eastern Seas, named the Tourville, which was capable of eating up every one of the corvettes and gunboats stationed there. Was it true that this vessel carried a pivot gun, while English vessels only carried broadside guns? If they had not machine guns, at least they began to supply them with Nordenfelt guns; but he would ask whether the vessels in the Indian Seas were not ordered to prepare for the reception of these guns three years ago, and whether they were yet supplied with them? Then, with regard to torpedoes, he asked how many great harbours were provided with them? There was not a single first-lass torpedo boat for the defence of Bombay Harbour, the second largest city of the British Empire in India. If a French Fleet or a Russian Fleet were to attempt to enter it, they would find it absolutely defenceless except for two or three harbour gunboats, by no means the best even of their kind. He had a Return before him—it was not an official Return, but the Admiralty could contradict it if it was not accurate—which showed that at the close of 1884 both Russia and France and Germany would have more torpedo boats than we had. The Return showed the number of first-class and second-class torpedo boats, and the totals:—British, 24, 53, total 77; Italian, 23, 20, total 43; French, 50, 32, total 82; Danish, 5, 5, total 10; Dutch, 15, 0, total 15; Austrian, 4, 10, total 14; German, 8, 3, total 11—money was asked to build 70 more of all sixes; Russian, 10, 90, total 100; Greek, 20, of both classes, total 20; Swedish, 5, 3, total 8. the officials of the Admiralty always referred with pride to their Mercantile Marine; but how could they utilize it, even if they would, when, owing to their desire for economy, they had no stores wherewith to convert them into armoured vessels? the fact was that, instead of having swift cruisers fitted with the best modern appliances, instead of having torpedo boats and stores by which the Mercantile Marine might be made available for the defence of the country, the Admiralty, whichever Party was in power, kept things down to the lowest possible point. The Government did not hesitate to spend money upon wars in Egypt, and upon all sorts of extravagances the country would perhaps be better without; but when it came to providing for the very life-blood of the country, they seemed to grudge every shilling, and instead of having an armour-clad Fleet equal to any in the world, they reduced its expenses to the lowest point and came to Parliament for a miserable £11,000,000. When Gentlemen like the right hon. and gallant Member for Wigtown (Sir John Hay) and the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) protested, they laughed at their criticisms and pooh-poohed their remarks. It was idle to say that the request, for a Committee arose from a groundless alarm, which was merely the dream of an enthusiast. If the Navy was in such an excellent state, why not quiet popular alarm by proving that the statements respecting it were unfounded? They were afraid to do so, because, if the country came to suspect the real condition of affairs, they would demand, as a matter of economy, that a much larger expenditure should be made on the Navy. His remarks were directed as much against one Government as against another there was not a pin to choose between them; both were under the thumbs of the permanent officials of the Admiralty, who dare not ask the Treasury for the sum required to be spent upon the Navy.


said, he did not underrate the difficulties with which successive Boards of Admiralty had to contend; they had frequently to make a choice of evils, and to do the best they could for the country in circumstances of difficulty. His right hon. Friend had called attention to matters of the gravest importance; but he did not go so far as he (Mr. W. H. Smith) was prepared to go in reference to some of the ships that were treated as being efficient. More than he had mentioned were in a crippled condition in 1882, so far as their boilers were concerned. The Agincourt, the Achilles, the Minotaur, the Valiant., the Defence, the Gorgon, the Glatton, and one or two others were in a crippled condition; and since then other ships that had been referred to had fallen into that condition. The boilers were put into the Agincourt in 1876; and it was quite certain she would not serve out another commission without new boilers. The boilers of the Alexandra were put in in 1875; she was commissioned in 1877; and she had been at sea ever since. The boilers of the Téméraire, were put on board in 1876; she went to sea in 1877, and had not had a day's rest since. In these cases the wear and tear must have been very considerable. Within a very short time these vessels would become completely inefficient for active duties if they were not taken in hand for repairs. Only one ship out of the first list of 28 had been dealt with during the last four years so far as boilers were concerned. That, at all events, said something for the condition in which they were found when the present Board came into Office. He by no means wished to press the Government to undertake expenditure that was not required; but it was the most short-sighted policy to allow ships to get into a condition in which no private owner would consent to retain them. He did not ask the Government to do any thing more than private owners would do—to exercise the same economy, foresight, and care in the use of the material they had at their disposal. The statement that had been made by the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, as to the sufficiency of the Navy to maintain our supremacy, involved enormous personal responsibility. Were the ships relied upon all ready to do the work required of them in the event of sudden war? He was not an alarmist; he believed that a state of fitness was the best possible prevention of alarm; and if the ships on which we relied were in perfect condition, we could rest with greater security. In all human probability, if war over came upon us, it would come without warning, as the last war came upon Europe with only three weeks' notice. Were the Admiralty certain that they could so dispose of our Fleets as to protect corn and cotton coming in and cargoes afloat, and so; prevent any suspension of the supply of vital necessities? He did not urge these considerations from any Party motive. He had endeavoured as far as possible, ever since he had had anything to do with the Navy, to avoid making references to the question in a Party spirit, or saying anything which could in the slightest degree embarrass the Government of the day, or even when in Office attempting to make Party capital out of a question which was altogether beyond Party. He urged the appointment of a Committee, because if the Admiralty took such Members as the hon. Member for Falmouth and others on their own side into a Committee Room and proved the case of the Admiralty before them, they would, to a large extent, relieve themselves of a personal responsibility resting upon them. There was, no doubt, a widespread sense of insecurity which arose out of repeated allegations that Foreign Powers were increasing their Navies rapidly, and out of all proportion to the duties they were called upon to discharge. We had 80 per cent of the carrying trade of the world; we had our squadrons on various stations from which we could not withdraw them, and they I wore a positive source of weakness so far as the fighting strength of the Navy was concerned. In the event of war, the first demand would be for an increase of strength in some of these quarters, and cruisers would be required for the protection of commerce. It was requisite to satisfy the House and the, country that, with the money which had been appropriated, adequate force could be provided to protect the interests of the country if we were threatened with sudden war. There was nothing in the objection that inquiry would give information to Foreign Powers; for those who had the management of their Navies knew a great deal more about our Nary I than many of us did. He had had practical evidence of the fact. The Government might suppress printed documents; but if he wanted information as to the condition of the Navy he could get it at Berlin, Copenhagen, or Paris, if he chose to spend a little money. The only effect of withholding information from the people of England was to create the impression that it could not be given without damage to responsible officials; and he did not think that was | fair and just to them. It must be remembered that it would take from three to six weeks to fit out any ships belonging to the Merchant Navy as cruisers for the protection of our commerce. We could not do it by anticipation. There would be a tension of diplomatic relations, and the object of any Government; would be to avoid giving the slighest ground for the suggestion that we had made up our minds to go to war. There would be the greatest indisposition on our part to take any ships in advance, while the agents of Foreign Governments would be able to purchase ships, in this country with the view of employing them against us in the event of war. No doubt we might look to our Commercial Marine to assist us to a considerable extent in the event of war; but to look to it entirely for the protection of our commerce in time of war would be about as wise as to rely upon our Volunteers for making war abroad. Our corn, our coal, our cotton, and our manufactures were carried by ships which could only steam at the rate of eight or nine knots an hour; and, if unprotected, they would infallibly become the prey of fast cruisers in time of war, and they would, therefore, require quite as much protection from Her Majesty's ships as our Commercial Fleet of sailing vessels did in times past. The duties that would devolve upon our vessels of war would, therefore, be considerable and grave, and it was in these circumstances at least reasonable that we should see that our preparations were sufficient. In the belief that the Motion of the right hon. Baronet would go far to strengthen the hands of the Government, he trusted that it would in some form or other be accepted.


said, that a most interesting subject of discussion had been introduced by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of York (Sir Frederick Milner), the gist of whoso observations was contained in the Notice which stood upon the Paper in his name—that the powers given by the Naval Discipline Act of 1866 ought not to be used to inflict penal servitude on young men and boys of good character for offences against discipline involving no moral guilt. That was a proposition to which he could almost assent without observation, and he believed that the Admiralty would also be quite willing to accept as a rule of conduct the very words of the hon. Baronet's Motion. The hon. Baronet had pointed to the great increase of late years in the number of persons sentenced by courts martial to penal servitude; but he had forgotten to observe that the increase was due not to a growing tendency on the part of courts martial to increase the severity of the sentences, but to an increase in the number of those offences for which the law authorized that punishment to be inflicted. The Admiralty had very little power to review sentences pronounced, by courts martial; and, indeed, any wholesale reduction in the sentences by the Admiralty would have the effect of lessening the authority of the courts martial. To do away with the extreme punishment on board a ship would be very dangerous, because on board ship order and discipline were preserved by moral rather than by physical force, although he admitted that extreme and exaggerated sentences were by no means calculated to diminish crime. The Admiralty by no means approved of exaggerated sentences being passed, and in many cases where it was shown that a man had been severely punished for a first offence the punishment had been mitigated. In the case of Lewis Price, which had been referred to, the Admiralty had thought it right to refer the matter to Captain Markham for his opinion; but that officer stated that although his own belief was that the man was under the influence of liquor when he committed the offence, he was unable to obtain, at the time, any evidence to that effect. Captain Markham having reported that he had been unable to find any extenuating circumstances in the man's conduct, the Admiralty had felt themselves unable to interfere in the matter. Then the question was raised as to the inequality of sentences. No doubt this was a difficult subject. There might be considerable disparity in the sentences assigned by courts martial; but it had been found impossible, even in the ordinary Civil Courts, to secure uniformity of sentence. Still the Admiralty endeavoured to equalize the punishments in the best way they could, according to the best judgment they could form of the circumstances of each case. All the cases were carefully investigated by members of the Board, whose duty it was to inquire into them, and they were treated in no slip-shod or careless manner; but if the Admiralty wore always to interfere largely in the sentences of courts martial, such a proceeding would be extremely prejudicial to the position of courts martial in the Service. It was intended to bring in a Bill to amend the Naval Discipline Act, and that would probably afford an opportunity for some further debate on this point.


pointed out that the hon. Member had not fully answered his question whether a person sentenced to penal servitude by a court martial could by good conduct secure the reduction of three months out of every year?


replied, that when a man was sentenced to penal servitude he passed out of the hands of the Admiralty into the hands of the Home Office, and he believed that good conduct did procure a certain amount of remission of sentence. The Government could not assent to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the condition of the Iron-clad Fleet, as proposed by the gallant Admiral (Sir John Hay), because that would be taking the matter out of the hands of the Government and of the Admiralty. In fact, they would be thereby assenting to a Vote of Censure upon themselves. It was impossible for the Government to allow an inquiry to be instituted into the state of the Fleet on the supposition that its condition was unsatisfactory, and that they had consequently failed in their duty. He was astonished to find that he had got himself into trouble by producing the Return to which allusion had been made, and he was in the position of the man who vowed that he would never do a good-natured action again. Hitherto, an Annual Return had been presented giving a great deal of information which realty was of no use in the shape of financial Estimates of the cost of repairs before those Returns had been taken in hand. Those Estimates were merely guess-work, although they were honestly and truthfully given. That Return of the state of ships was originally moved for by his hon. Friend the Civil Lord, when he was an independent Member of the House; and it had been an Annual Return presented every year, but not laid on the Table till July or August, when it was of little use to hon. Members. Then there was a Return regarding boilers, moved for by the right hon. and gallant Admiral opposite (Sir John Hay). He believed it was only issued twice—in 1879 and 1882. It appeared to him that there was a great deal in those Returns which was unnecessary and misleading, and that it would be desirable to prepare a unified Return, and to present it with the Estimates. But the reward he got for his exertions in this respect was that this Return was very warmly denounced. It was not an argumentative or a controversial Return at all, and there was nothing misleading in it. He objected to state what was the condition of the hulls of ships, because that could not be ascertained until the vessels were opened up for repairs. It had been said that excessive secrecy was preserved with regard to the boilers. That was not so. The Admiralty were not called upon to publish to the world the actual state of every ship in the British Navy; but they; were quite willing to give Members of the House any information they might desire. The Admiralty did not refuse to give the House of Commons information; but they refused to publish a Return which would make the whole world acquainted with the weak spots of our ships. The right hon. Gentleman oppo- site said that every particular regarding our Navy could be ascertained in any capital in Europe. He supposed that the right hon. Gentleman meant that the information could be obtained by means of money. The Admiralty had no reason to believe that their officers could be thus bribed to betray their trust, and he was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have suggested such a thing. The responsible engineer officer at the Admiralty stated that the general condition of the boilers of the Navy, excepting in the ease of a certain class of ships, was better than at any former period, and that now boilers were in store for the nest two years. Boilers were now made of steel, and he believed that even in the private trade they lasted for 12 or 14 years. The Reports on Boilers showed that the wear and tear during the first commission of a vessel was often practically nil. That showed that the boilers were strong, and also testified to great care on the part of the officers. The exceptions to which he had alluded when speaking of the generally satisfactory condition of the boilers of the Navy were ships of the class of the Warrior, Achilles, and Minotaur. These ships, whose boilers would last for more than a year and a-half, would not have new boilers until a determination should have been come to as to what should be done with them. As to the question of boiler pressure, experience showed that a reduction as great even as 25 per cent in that pressure would make very little reduction in the steaming capacity of the ships in the Navy. The general condition of the vessels, so far as their boilers were concerned, was very much, better than it had been; and he did not think it was necessary for the House of Commons to watch the Admiralty which the sedulous care which had been shown in many quarters in this respect. Speaking generally, he should now, as he had on former occasions, decline to join in comparing our ships with those of other countries, believing, as he did, that such a course would not, in the first place, lead to a settlement of the question at issue; and that, in the second place, it would certainly not tend to the maintenance of the good feeling which ought to be maintained between this and other countries. He had listened with much interest and a great deal of sympathy to the speech of the hon. Member for Portsmouth Mr. Bruce), for he agreed in thinking it important to consider the position in which this country stood in reference to our Navy, and the only point upon which they differed probably was as to the actual margin of superiority at present possessed by this country. He could not admit to the hon. Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), that in any way the Board of Admiralty were under the thumbs of their professional advisers. He should have thought it was in human nature that the exact reverse of this would be the case, and that professional advisers and constructors would be only too anxious to spend public money in new and extended projects of shipbuilding; while the Admiralty would have to keep them in check, because they had to consider, not only what was required in the public interest, but how far it was either necessary or advisable to increase the public burdens. While, as he had said, he should decline to compare our Navy, ship by ship, with the Navies of other countries, he might, in reference to a statement which had been made by an hon. Member, say that in the Report of the Budget Commission on the French Naval Estimates for this year it was stated that, in speaking of Foreign Powers, they must set aside the English Navy— With which our Fleet cannot enter into comparison for the number of first class iron-clads, cruisers, and torpedo boats. With regard to the observations the hon. Member for Chatham had made as to; our ships in the Eastern Seas as compared with those of other Navies, many of the alleged facts must not be taken as accurate; while it must be observed that some of the foreign vessels named were of the newest type, while ours have, most of them, been for some years in commission; and if comparisons were advisable at ail, they should be comparisons between ships of a similar class and age, and not between vessels which were in many respects dissimilar. With reference to Nordenfeldt guns, he might say that a full complement of those guns had been sent out to all vessels on the Eastern Station. It was of no use for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to threaten the Admiralty with their responsibility; they were fully alive to it, and they had shown their sense of it ever since the present Government had been in Office. If the Navy was unable to discharge its duties, it was not their fault, but that of their Predecessors, for no iron-clad ships could have been laid clown since the Government came into Office that would have been ready for service at this moment. As soon as they panic into Office, it was their policy steadily to increase the number of iron-clad ships. They had not proposed a sensational increase to startle foreign nations, and perhaps promote a rivalry, but had modestly and steadily, and at the same time very effectively, increased the amount of work in the Dockyards year by year.


said, he was anxious in a few sentences to call the attention of the House to a matter of great importance to the country. However excellent the Navy might be, it was quite certain that our ships would not be able to do the duty which the country expected of them, if they could not find coals and supplies when they required them. When he filled the Office of Secretary to the Colonies a circumstance occurred which directed his attention to the defenceless state of many of our coaling and naval stations abroad, and led to his recommending the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the condition of those stations. That Commission instituted a very exhaustive inquiry into the matters which were referred to it, and about two years ago presented a Report to the Government. That Report had, of course, not been published, and it was not advisable that it should be, because it contained matter of the gravest importance, which it was absolutely necessary to keep secret. He did not know the contents of the Report; but he was confident that recommendations must have been made by the Commission which would entail considerable work and expenditure in placing our Colonial seaports and stations in a proper state of defence. He had hoped that the Government would have laid before the House some proposal founded upon that Report, which he was confident would have had the unanimous support of the country. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War informed him some time ago that he expected to make a statement upon the subject in proposing the Army Estimates. That statement, however, was not made, and he was extremely disappointed that the noble Marquess had not made it on Monday last. This was not a Party matter, but it was one which was of most vital importance to the future of the country. A small expenditure upon the Colonial seaports and stations now would be of the greatest value to the country in the event of a war breaking out. He hoped the Government would make a shipment showing that they recognized their responsibility in the matter, and that they had not neglected to take action.


said, he was indebted to the right hon. Baronet for calling his attention to the subject. He omitted to mention the matter in his speech of Monday last, but would make a statement as to what it was proposed to do in regard to the Report of the Commission which was appointed during the period of Office of the right hon. Gentleman when the Fortification Votes on the Army Estimates came before the Committee. It was easy for a Royal Commission to recommend large fortifications; but the difficulty was to devise the means by which the works were to be carried out. He could assure the House that the subject had not been lost sight of by the present, Government, who fully acknowledged its importance. It had been occupying the attention of the Government for some time; but he had only learnt a short time before that the right hon. Gentleman intended to call the attention of the House to that question, and in consequence he was not prepared then to go into it; but he would lose no time in informing the House as to what were the views of the Government on the subject.

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