HC Deb 22 November 1884 vol 294 cc208-11

said, he desired to express his regret that the Government had not taken advantage of this opportunity to ask for a small amount for extraordinary naval expenditure. He was one of those who believed that an addition to our naval resources was a matter of absolute necessity, because, in view of our vast commerce, he regarded our present position as one of great danger. If any demand for money was delayed until the Spring, it would result in the postponement for three or four months of the step which, he thought, was urgently necessary. He expressed this opinion all the more strongly because he knew of his own knowledge that there never had been a moment at which the Admiralty might go to the outports and contract for the construction of vessels on more advantageous terms than the present. The shipbuilding yards of the country were at a standstill, and the workmen were unemployed. The Committee on which he had the honour to serve reported that the evidence brought before them was distinctly such that the private builders could build as well as our Royal Dockyards, and, therefore, he expressed regret that any time should be lost in taking, at any rate, preparatory steps towards additions to our naval strength. He must go one step further, on behalf of his own constituents. The Prime Minister, the other day, in reply to a Question, laid down a very sound doctrine. He declared that it was not the duty of the State to come to the assistance of any special trade. He (Mr. Norwood), however, ventured to point out that, assuming his argument to be correct—namely, that additions to the strength of the Navy were necessary, and that this was the moment of all others for building vessels at the lowest possible price—it was worth the consideration of the Government whether they ought not to take steps to improve the condition of the Navy, and, at the same time, assist our working populations. He was sorry to say his constituents had been obliged to call a town's meeting to provide the means for alleviating the distress which prevailed in the town. He believed a similar state of things existed at Sunderland and Newcastle. He did not wish the Government to give employment merely for the sake of employing any portion of the population; but he thought that the conjunction of circumstances at this moment might have induced the Government to take proper steps for the strengthening of the Navy, and to, at the same time, give employment where it was greatly needed.


said, he wished to express his concurrence with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman opposite. He regretted there was no symptom as yet of any proposal for a sum of money for the purpose of increasing the efficiency of our Navy. As there would be another opportunity for raising this question, he would not detain the House upon it; but he would like to say, with respect to the distress existing, that in Glasgow the building of two or three iron-clads would be not only useful to the country, but to those who were at present thrown out of employment. There was no time, he believed, at which the Navy of the country could be increased with greater advantage than the present, and means ought at once to be taken for doing so; while the public was of opinion that the Navy was far below its proper strength. Orders for iron-clad ships to be built on the Clyde, the Humber, the Mersey, the Tyne, the Thames, and at Belfast could now be executed at a very low price, and would give employment to thousands of starving mechanics. The Government ought to avail themselves of these low rates. He must say, looking to the very low condition to which our Navy had fallen, and to the enormous strides which were being made in foreign parts—the French having in the last 10 years launched seven more iron-clads than England had done—it was full time that means should be taken to increase the Navy; and he trusted that the suggestions which had fallen from the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) would have influence with those whom he supported. He had urged this matter on this attention of the House for the last 14 years, and he could only congratulate himself that the country was at last awakening to its danger.


endorsed the remarks of the hon. Member for Hull as to the necessity of reinforcing the Navy. The Admiralty never had a better opportunity of giving out contracts at a low price than they had at present. He held that it was the duty of the Government to ameliorate, as far as possible, the distress now prevailing in the country. Something like £1,000,000 was proposed to be spent, for ameliorating the condition of the poor of Egypt, in irrigation work in Egypt; but he thought it would be more to the point, and would do far more good, if the Government came forward with a proposition to expend £1,000,000 in private yards in reinforcing the condition of the Navy, and putting it in a more efficient condition than at present. By so doing, they would give employment to those who could not find work, and who were in a state of starvation, and for whom neither the Prime Minister nor any Member of the Government had yet expressed one word of sympathy. In doing this, Parliament would interfere with no principle of political economy, as the ships must be built somewhere. It was the duty of those who were in power to help those who were suffering from want of employment to tide over their existing difficulties, and he hoped the Government would bring forward some proposal by which the Admiralty would be enabled to give out shipbuilding contracts, which could now be had on such reasonable and favourable terms. The fact was, that Ministers were always ready to help, practically, Colonial races, whilst their own people they governed, with regard to their bread and cheese, on theoretical dreams. He thought that some of our men in authority were behind the requirements of the age. Academic qualifications were no longer adapted for successful government.


said, he hoped it would not go forth from that House that there was any want of sympathy for the suffering men in Sunderland. The Government should do everything they could to encourage the industry which was now so very much depressed. He hoped the judicious remarks of the hon. Member for Hull would not be lost on the Secretary to the Admiralty, and that the hon. Gentleman might be able to give the House some assurance that the Government had the full intention to take advantage of the present favourable opportunity for making contracts.


After the appeal which has been made to the Government by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood), I wish to remind the House that the Government are under a pledge on Monday week to state fully their intentions on the subject of the Navy. It would, therefore, be altogether premature for me to refer to those intentions now.

Resolution agreed to:—Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir ARTHUR OTWAY, Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, and Mr. COURTNEY.

Bill presented, and read the first time.