HC Deb 16 March 1885 vol 295 cc1278-305

in rising, according to Notice, to call attention to the present state of the Navy, and to move a Resolution, said: Sir, the subject of the deficiencies of the Navy has been for some time past well before the public. Special attention has been called to the subject by certain of the evening papers; and it has been discovered, in the last two or three years, that Members of the Government are particularly amenable to any expressions of opinion given in the evening papers. I do not know why they should make a distinction between morning and evening papers; but, practically, the Government has been very much carried on lately by what I may call Government by the evening papers. Hon. Members will recollect how, a short time ago, there appeared a series of articles on The Bitter Cry in one of the evening papers, and that the Govern- ment immediately appointed a Commission to inquire into the question of the housing of the Metropolitan poor. About a year ago, the same paper, The Pall Hall Gazette, made an onslaught against the Government, and urged them to send to Egypt that unfortunate General, Gordon. Many other means had been suggested by other counsellors for dealing with the Egyptian difficulty, but they were entirely neglected, and the Government once more listened to The Pall Mall Gazette, and sent General Gordon out on his ill-fated mission. It was due to this paper that attention was called to naval deficiencies in October or November last; and it was certainly strange that while Admirals and various officials connected with the Admiralty had been pointing out to the Government the danger that existed, their complaints were entirely passed by; but the moment that the articles appeared in this journal, the Government paid them immediate attention, and such attention, too, that they actually came down to the House and submitted proposals for increasing the Naval Estimates by no less a sum than £5,525,000. I have no hesitation in saying that that increase appeared to be due wholly to the agitation of The Pall Mall Gazette. With regard to that £5,525,000, I am sure I, for one—I hope I do not show an undue curiosity—should like to know what has taken place in the official circles of the Government. Report says that a Committee of the Admiralty was appointed, and that they recommended an expenditure not of £5,525,000, but of something like £11,000,000 sterling. Now, we know that the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty (Sir Thomas Brassey) is a Gentleman whom we can respect, and he always shows great respect to this House by coming down here with carefully prepared speeches. I had the pleasure of listening to his speech when he proposed the Estimates, and the whole of us formed the idea that a sum of £10,000,000 or £11,000,000 would be spent in remedying the deficiencies of the Navy. Yet the hon. Gentleman has now come to the lame conclusion that only £5,525,000 is to be spent, and that not at once, but to be spread over five years. That is the proposal of the Government through him, and it comes merely to this, that in five years another £1,000,000 is to be added to the Naval Estimates. That shows the Government have never realized the gravity of the naval condition of this country, and have no adequate idea of our naval defences. They are now going to meet this demand in a huckstering, and what I may call a Party, spirit, to please their own Party, both in this House and out of it, instead of recognizing the real wants of the country. Now, it is worth while inquiring why the condition of the Navy should be the subject of complaint, not merely among all the officials, but that there should be a widespread anxiety in the country and abroad, which has even moved the Government themselves to confess their shortcomings? The historian of the future, when looking back to the year 1868, and coming down to the present time, will call the interval "the Gladstone period;" for in the year 1868, the present Head of the Government became, for the first time, Prime Minister of what was then a great, powerful, and universally respected Empire. Well, in that year, the Naval Estimates were £10,896,871, or close upon £11,000,000. Now, if we go back to the happy period when the present Premier first become Prime Minister in this country, and compare it with the year 1883—and I bring it to this year, because it is the only year the statistics are collected—we find the following facts. Some of them are very satisfactory to the country, and I have no doubt if some Party historian were writing a history of the period, he would attribute all this to the benign influence of a Liberal Government. It seems that between these years the population increased by nearly 5,000,000; the increase in the imports and exports between 1868 and 1883 amounted to £210,000,000; while the increase in the value of our shipping was £1,509,000. The property assessed to the Income Tax has increased £171,082,000. Now, taking that increase, which was brought about not by the Government, but in spite of them, people would think that the Naval Estimates would have increased in proportion. Yet what is the fact? Why, I gave you just now the Naval Estimates in 1868 and in 1882–3. They were £10,662,184, and thus, far from showing an increase, they exhibit a decrease of £234,687, as compared with the Estimates of 1868. Well, now, that is an astounding statement. I do not believe it is known, believed, or realized by the country at large. I feel certain that the evening paper to which I referred has done enormous service to the country in drawing attention to this subject, and in having able writers to bring those figures before us. I hope they have been studied by all. I am sure that, if encouraged, the Secretary of the Admiralty will speak. These figures have been in print for some time; they have astounded me, and I think they must have astounded everybody. Here is a vast increase in the population and property of the country, and a decrease in the Naval Estimates which are to provide for the defence of the country. In other words, we are increasing the wealth, but reducing the power to protect that wealth. I have no doubt—indeed, we know it is a fact—that our power has actually been diminished during the last five or six years; whilst other nations have been maintaining their expenditure and increasing their power. In the same period of time Germany, Russia, France, and Italy have increased their expenditure to the extent of £4,273,886, or about £1,000,000 each, while this country has gone backwards. We know the Prime Minister has always been a great and prominent advocate of economy. His great object has always been to present himself before the nation as above all an economist, and present to the nation a favourable Budget. I do not know exactly what the Royal Horse Guards' next Budget will be; but I imagine it will be somewhat disappointing to himself, and especially to the nation. The result of his policy will, in fact, be a serious money loss, as well as a great blow to the prestige of this country. There has, perhaps, been economy; but it is economy at the sacrifice of efficiency, and the sacrifice of the blood and wealth of the country. I admit that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has, by devoting all his energies and abilities to legislation, produced some good measures—some which were sensational, and some of which were harmful and detrimental to the interests of the nation—but in devoting all his energies to legislation he has neglected administration and government, and he has forgotten that there is someone else to consider, for in a great Empire like this, not legislating alone for 35,000,000 of people, but for something like 300,000,000, administration and government are of far greater importance than the legislation which has been going on in this country for the last 15 or 16 years; and, moreover, the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's Administration has been permeated by this narrow spirit of economy bearing everything down with it. If we could only get behind the scenes, we should find, I have not the least doubt, that the officials at the War Office and the Admiralty have done their duty to the State by pointing out the requirements of their Services and the state into which everything was falling for want of the necessary supplies, and that these officials have given proper advice; and we should also find that, at the Treasury, the Estimates of these officials have been sifted and cut down, and the country sacrificed to the supposed necessities of the Department. The object—the paltry object—of the Treasury is to get everything cheap, so as to show the country, if possible, that the Government of the present Prime Minister is much cheaper than the Government of other Ministries. I regret, however, that I am also compelled to reflect upon the Administration of the last Government, which also stinted the Services owing to the baneful influence of the Prime Minister. It has proved to be a very difficult thing to resist that influence in this House. You will all remember a Gentleman who was highly respected by every person and by every Party in this House. He was the type of a true English Gentleman, distinguished for his honest opinion and plainness of speech and his inability to say anything which was not straightforward and true. I refer to the late Mr. Ward Hunt. Well, when he became First Lord of the Admiralty, and upon examining into the state of the Navy, and seeing its condition, he blurted out the truth, and made use of those famous words—"It is a phantom Navy." We know the sensation which those words produced at the time; but we also know that pressure was brought to bear upon Mr. Ward Hunt, who was afterwards induced to admit that he might have spoken too strongly, though there appears to be no doubt now that he spoke the truth, but that the influence of the economist was too strong for him. The late Prime Minister inherited the same evil traditions of 1868, and the Navy again suffered, so that, at the present time, we are in a very dangerous position, and our naval strength is very small compared with that of other nations. The public want to know the truth with regard to the Navy. The present Ministry has no policy; they only seek to catch what they think to be public opinion, so as to got a majority in the House and the country. What is really required is that public opinion should be guided and led by those who conduct the Government of the country. Instead of pandering to public opinion, a Ministry should lead, and, if necessary, oppose public opinion. Instead of trying to catch public opinion they should have a policy of their own, and more especially they should devote themselves to keeping up the naval strength of the country. What, I ask, is the result of all this spirit of economy, marring our administrative power? Why, that, at the present moment, this country is only slightly superior to France in first-class iron-clads, whilst it is behindhand in guns and torpedo boats; and in four years' time, at the present rate of progress in both countries, we shall be equal in iron-clads, and still inferior in guns and torpedoes. We have at the present time something like 30 first-rate iron-clads to France's 19. At the end of the year we shall have 37, and France 30, and in four years each Power will have 48. But many of these vessels are older than the French, and older than the time which I think Lord Northbrook has set down for the efficient life of an iron-clad—namely, 17 years. After 17 years, we are told, they become obsolete and useless. In that respect we shall see that we have only 14 first-class iron-clads built within the last 17 years; whilst France has 17; and, at the present time, we have seven launched and completed, whilst France has eight. Both nations have six on the stocks, and I admit that we are promised four more; but the promise is not to be fulfilled for four years, and the Navy of France will continue to be equal, if not superior, to our own. I have only been referring to first-class ships; but in torpedo boats and guns there can be no doubt of the superiority of other nations over ourselves. In torpedo boats we are far behind France, Germany, Italy, and Russia; that is a scandal to the Naval Administration of this country. This country has more valuable shipping ports than any country in the world, and torpedo boats are the most available for their defence. But these are practically undefended at the present time. What caused me to put down my Motion was this—that I felt that this country had for years neglected her Navy. She has not spent enough money upon it; and the consequence is that, whilst other nations are advancing, we are standing still, or rather going back in proportion to our requirements. What we want is statesmen to rule the nation, who have courage of their opinions, and who will be prepared to form and guide public opinion, instead of being its slaves. We see how Prince Bismarck, in the Parliament of Germany, is not afraid even to oppose public opinion.


said, he rose to Order. What had the doings of Prince Bismarck to do with the subject before the House?


I am afraid the hon. and learned Member is somewhat wandering from the subject, which is that the House go into Committee of Supply.


I merely wished to point out how Prince Bismarck, in advocating the establishment of lines of steamers for Australia and elsewhere, has the courage of his convictions; and we want statesmen who are capable of forming opinions, and of showing that they have the strength to maintain them. I consider that I am doing a kindness to the Ministry in pointing out what are the true feelings of the people and the real wants of the country. Anybody can see that by our neglect of the Services we have lost power and influence in our negotiations with Foreign Powers, and that by our timidity we have encouraged their aggressiveness. If we had a larger Fleet we should have kept our former position as mistress of the seas, and the country would not have had to put up with and suffer the many insults and rebuffs as we have done during the last few months. If we are to be respected we must be strong; and I say the proposals made by the Government last December are not sufficient to meet the requirements of the case. We want to spend something like £7,000,000 or £10,000,000 at once, in order to bring us up to the relative position which we held in 1868; and however we may raise the money, whether we borrow, or suspend the Sinking Fund, it would be a most economical outlay in the end, for it would place Her Majesty's Government, when negotiating with other Powers, in such a position of strength, that they would be able to command peace. If Her Majesty's Government had taken up a firm attitude, and announced some time ago that they were prepared to spend at once £10,000,000 upon our Navy, I do not think we should have had the rebuffs we have had from Germany, or the encroachments we have had to submit to from Russia. I hope we shall no longer fetter our strength for the sake of the miserable contingencies of Party Government, and thus continue to bring a great nation into disrepute, besides causing a great and unnecessary expenditure in blood and treasure. In conclusion I beg to thank the House for the manner in which it has heard me. I believe sincerely in the spirit of the Motion which I have to lay before the House, and therefore I propose— That considering the present acknowledged insufficiency of the British Navy, and the great depression of the Shipbuilding Trade, it is advisable to defer the payments made in respect of the National Debt for one year, in order to apply the Surplus Revenue of the Nation to the building and repairing of Ships in the National Dockyards and private Shipbuilding Yards.


said, that, a Motion having already been made and negatived, the Resolution of, the hon. and learned Member could not be put from the Chair.


said, he had no intention to follow the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott) into the many political subjects which he had touched upon; but he wished to say that there was reason for the great alarm and apprehension felt in the country that we were not now fully prepared to meet our enemies in case the necessity for doing so should arise. He was certain the 2,000,000 voters who had been enfranchised would take care that the Government looked more after the protection of this country than they had been doing of late; and he believed they would not protest against any reasonable expenditure of money for the preservation of the honour of the Empire. The Government should never bark unless they were prepared to bite, and they should never threaten unless they were prepared to strike. His own impression was that with regard to guns we were in a very backward state; indeed, it seemed that for some years past the country was altogether indifferent about the matter, the consequence being that we had rapidly fallen behind other countries with respect to it. But when he remembered all the difficulties and trials which the French underwent at the time of the occupation of their country by the Germans, and reflected that perhaps the same thing might happen to us at a future time, he thought it was necessary that that subject should be inquired into very closely. We had no reliable guns, and Lord Northbrook himself had admitted, in a speech made in "another place," that there had been a most regrettable delay in supplying breech-loading guns for the Navy. The House ought to inquire whose fault that was owing to, and should take care that that state of things should not continue. As a manufacturing nation, he considered we ought to be able to maintain our own, and not be dependent for the supply of our guns on foreign nations. On a former occasion he had said that at present they had not one single large breech-loading steel gun that was capable of doing any good work. He desired to qualify that remark, because on the day that he made it a trial took place in Her Majesty's Ship Collingwood with two 43-ton steel guns that were prepared for the Edinburgh; and since then two more had been placed on board ship. So that they had four of those 43-ton guns that were able to fire to a certain extent; but, judging from the account that had been given of the trial, they could hardly consider those guns in a condition to be of any service to them at present, as they were unable to fire these guns with full powder charges. It was monstrous that they should go on building those guns on the assumption that they would do so and so; and not only that, but that they should make 63-ton guns and 110-ton guns on the same principle without thoroughly testing them, and satisfying themselves that they were really capable of doing the work that should be expected from them. Those 43-ton guns were originally designed to fire with 400 lbs. of powder, whereas at present they fired with only 298 lbs. His contention was that the Government had never encouraged the manufacturers of this country, but had entirely ignored them. The firm of Messrs. Whitworth, although it had never been able to get a single order from Her Majesty's Government until lately, had continued to make guns for the Brazilian and other Governments, and had done very good work. He did not blame the present Government, who, he believed, had done all they possibly could. The late Government was as much to blame as anybody. What he blamed was the system. When it was admitted by the heads of both the Army and the Navy that the Woolwich gun was a failure, and the system had broken down, arrangements ought to have been made for the adoption of a better system. A remarkable paper had been read at the United Service Institution by Colonel Maitland, the head of the Gun Department at Woolwich. He stated that up to 1875 the British Artillery was as good as that of any other nation. Then, he said, there came a period of stagnation; and since that we had been endeavouring to make up our leeway. Science advanced so fast that the Power which waited the longest was always in the best position, supposing it were not caught napping. In effect, this was an important admission that we had been left behind by other nations; and it was a fortunate thing that we had not been caught napping. If we were to maintain our position as leaders and colonizers, it was necessary that we should be fully prepared to maintain our own. From another passage in the paper it appeared that the author admitted that we had obtained the benefit of German experience in adopting steel, and of French experience in adopting breech-loaders. Now, to his knowledge, the Germans were making steel guns 25 years ago, and the Russians 20 years ago. The French were only awakened to the fact that they were not in a position to compete with their neighbours by the occurrence of the Franco-German War. It did seem strange that we should be the leading nation in the manufacture of steel, and in the application of the inventions of Bessemer and Siemens, and yet that we should be 15 or 20 years behind other nations in adopting steel guns. Fortunately, Sir Joseph Whit- worth had continued his researches, and he was glad to find that the Government had given orders to Sir Joseph Whitworth for his material. In consideration of the number of guns which had burst on different occasions, and of the fact he had before referred to, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), that the Woolwich gun had failed, it was necessary that all our large guns should be thoroughly tested, almost to destruction, so that their weak points might be discovered, and some definite decision arrived at as to which was to be the gun of the future, for we ought not to go on making guns without knowing what we were doing. On a previous occasion we made 100 Armstrong guns; we then tried one, which failed, and nearly the whole 100 were wasted. He would press the Government to test one of these large guns, if possible to destruction, and let us know whether we had got a thoroughly trustworthy system. The smaller guns had given a great deal of trouble. An 80-ton gun had burst at Gibraltar; it was one of four bought from Sir William Armstrong. These four guns cost £86,000; and one of them having burst, it was only natural to suppose that the others might do so. As long as there were any doubts on the subject men could not work these guns with the confidence which they ought to have. There had been a Committee of Inquiry and experiment, and it appeared to have tried numerous experiments on the 6-inch gun, one of which burst on Her Majesty's Ship Active. What he asked was that some Committee should be appointed in the matter, so that all guns should be thoroughly tested, and a Report upon the subject made to Parliament; for his impression was that our whole system of manufacture was wrong, and that we had never attempted to make trials of any gun even when we had the chance. When we purchased the Neptune there were four 9-inch steel guns, made by Messrs. Whitworth and Co. The right hon. Member for Westminster, who was then at the head of the Admiralty, promised that they should be tried; but they had not been tried; they had been taken out and sent to Woolwich to be put aside as old iron, and the cost of replacing them was £120,000. For these things he did not blame the right hon. Gentleman; but he blamed the permanent Officials at the Admiralty, who were too strong for their political Chief. It was this anomaly that we must remedy if possible. He believed that the present Surveyor General of Ordnance was doing all he could to rectify all that was wrong; but he was not a gun-maker, and he ought to have some official who could give him sound advice. He had nothing of the kind; but he was dependent upon an Inspector General of Gunnery, who had not had much experience. He was told that the last gentleman appointed was junior to every manufacturer in the service of the Government. The appointments were made for five years, and that time was barely sufficient for a responsible official to obtain' the experience he required. We ought not to go on spending millions with our organization in its present chaotic state. If we would let the Admiralty get guns where they liked we should produce something like competition between the two Departments; and this would sharpen the intellects of both, with the result of benefiting the whole country. France had formerly adopted much the same system that we had, and had only one Government Department; but when the war broke out the French awoke to the fact that they were not in a position to cope with the Germans. Since that time the French had done what he should very much like to see the English Government do; they had encouraged private manufacturers to put down plant, so that in case of war the Government could apply to them for help. The Government had sent round to foreign manufacturers to obtain information with reference to guns. He believed this country had nothing to learn from foreign manufacturers; and that if, instead of going abroad, the Government had gone to manufacturers in this country, they would have found them in a position to supply any demand made upon them. An American Gun Commission had visited England, France, Germany, and Russia, and the conclusion they came to was that the French system was now the best. The French system, he might say, encouraged private manufacturers, and took advantage of the Government establishments to make experiments. He would suggest that a Committee should be appointed to whom manufacturers might send guns to be tried. There were already two or three guns which had been brought under the notice of the authorities, but which were untried. If the Government would adopt that course the country might soon be put in a position to cope with any other nation. The matter of guns had, no doubt, frequently delayed the building of ships; but if the Admiralty manufactured their own guns, or, as he had said, went where they chose for them, it would bring about competition between the two Departments, and with great benefit to the country. Further, experiments should also be made with respect to the powder; and manufacturers in this country should be encouraged to compete in the matter, with a view of arriving at some clear and definite decision as to the best powder to use, for that which was now in general use was by no means satisfactory in every respect. He had been told that, if a manufacturer wished to have any powder tried, he had to pay the Government £10 for every shot fired with the powder. That charge ought to be abolished altogether. An effort should be made to encourage firms to manufacture powder which would not be inferior to the German powder now in use. His object in making these remarks was to encourage the authorities in well-doing, and impress upon them the uselessness of expending money upon steel works at Woolwich.


said, the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Carbutt) had stated that both the late Secretary of State for War and he himself had asserted that the Woolwich gun had broken down. He found no reference whatever in Hansard to anything of the kind, and, to the best of his belief, he made no such remarks as that to which the hon. Member had referred. What he did say was that circumstances had rendered it necessary that there should be a breech-loading gun instead of a muzzle-loading gun adopted in the Navy, as the increased charges which had to be used required that the gun should be longer than could be loaded from the muzzle on board ship. The then Government, with the advice of their professional officers, determined to have a breech-loading gun for the large ships then in course of construction with the greater power which experience showed to be attainable. He, however, and his right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for "War (Colonel Stanley) never suggested that the Woolwich gun, as a gun, had broken down, or that Woolwich was incapable of furnishing guns of the kind required. He felt bound to deny the truth of many of the statements which had been made about him and his administration at the Admiralty in the course of the debate. He, of course, was prepared to submit to criticism; but when matters of fact were concerned the truth should be known. It had been stated that in France the Navy had a complete factory of their own for the supply of guns. If the Government of this country adopted the French system they would have to establish an independent factory, probably much larger than the Woolwich factory was at the present time, and also reserve to themselves the power to fall back upon the private trade. That, of course, implied a very large expenditure of public money and a new departure, which he supposed the Government would take into their consideration.


said, he thought that the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Carbutt) had done a great service in bringing forward the question of guns. He thought it would be a very bad plan for the Navy to make its own guns; but until the Ordnance Department became a manufacturing Department, with permission to obtain guns from private manufacturers, they would have no satisfactory supply of guns for this country. He was astonished that Secretaries of State for War should accept the responsibility of the enormous Estimates which they brought forward, because a large portion of their Estimates was for manufacturing purposes. The Estimates for the manufacture of guns ought to be kept separate, and there should be a Minister of the Crown for the Department to whom the country would look for an efficient weapon. The guns of this country, both for ships and for the defence of their ports and coaling stations, were in a most deplorable condition; and if war was to break out they would find themselves almost disarmed, and with the necessity of spending millions of money on a system not yet determined upon. He heard with great satisfaction the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott), who had not intervened hitherto in naval debates, and who pointed out that the Navy was causing the greatest anxiety to the country. Had it been in his power to move the Resolution which stood in his name he should have done so; but the Forms of the House prevented him bringing it forward. He should, however, like to enforce the sentiments which that Motion contained. The Motion read as follows:— That the condition of the Navy causes the greatest anxiety, and that, in order to restore the Naval superiority necessary for our National existence, this House is of opinion that no Naval Estimate is satisfactory which does not enable the Admiralty to complete without delay, as an addition to those now building, thirty-three completely armoured iron-clad ships, twenty-five armed cruisers, three hundred torpedo vessels; and, further, for the increase of the Marine forces to twenty thousand men, and boys to seven thousand. He wished to say a few words upon the subject of that Motion. It was quite evident that the country was anxious about the condition of the Navy, and that anxiety was justified, because the Admiralty had shown not only anxiety, but vacillation of purpose. What confidence could be felt in a Naval Administration whose mouthpiece in the other House stated last summer that if £4,000,000 were given to the Admiralty in excess of the £10,000,000 in the Estimates, they would not know what to do with it; then, some four months afterwards, they said that £11,000,000 was necessary; then that they would be satisfied with £5,000,000; and then, when the Navy Estimates were introduced, asked only for £1,500,000? It was said that the proper course to take would be to appoint a Royal Commission. Last year and the year before he suggested the appointment of a Committee of the House; and he believed last year his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. H. Smith) supported him. The reason why he desired that there should be a Committee of the House at that time was that the public mind was not alive to the question, and because the information which might be obtained by that Committee would, perhaps, have awakened anxiety. But it was too late now to ask for Committees or Commissions. He thought it desirable at the time to have the First Lord of the Admiralty, who was responsible for the defence of the country, before the Committee, to tell them whether he was satisfied that the Navy was suffi- cient; that it had proper guns; and that, in the event of a war, he would be able to make such arrangements as would be adequate for the protection of India, the Colonies, their commerce, and their own shores. But now the insufficiency of the Navy was confessed. The Admiralty confessed it. He saw with great regret distinguished officials, one of whom had a seat in "another place," and who was able to explain to Parliament the wants of the country, satisfied to remain at the Board and justify the vacillation which had prevailed there from the month of July last year down to the present time. He held that the gallant officers at the Admiralty were bound to resign their position if they could not obtain from the State that which they believed to be necessary for the defence of the country. That had been done by other officers before with good effect. In 1868 the defences of the country were insufficient, and two Lords of the Admiralty—the late Admiral Seymour and himself—having seats in that House were unable to defend the Navy Estimates. They placed their resignation in the hands of the Prime Minister. The result was that the First Lord was replaced by another, a new Board was constituted, and eight ships were put on the stocks, instead of three or four which were before determined upon. That was entirely in consequence of the resignation of two Lords of the Admiralty who had seats in that House. It would be much to the public advantage if officers who had recommended £11,000,000 at one time and £5,000,000 at another should have resigned Office when they found the sum so greatly reduced, as it afterwards was, not in consequence of their own convictions on the subject, but owing to the pressure of the Treasury. His hon. Friend (Mr. Carbutt) had alluded to France as the country with which they ought to compare their Fleet. At the present moment they had 19 ships built and building that could go more than 14 knots, while France had 26 ships of the same class. In addition to these 19 vessels, they had 14 which were efficient and fit for battle, while the French had 12 ships of that description. It was, however, impossible to consider this last class as efficient for the protection of the country, and, therefore, the first figures held good. Now, he had suggested that they should build 33 new ships capable of going more than 14 knots, because then they would have 52 vessels of that class, or twice the number the French had. The hon. Member for Perthshire (Sir Donald Currie) in December said he was satisfied Great Britain should have a Naval Force sufficient to contend against any three Powers, and double the Navy of France. He was urging the Admiralty to follow that judicious advice. He had spoken of the French Navy; but when he added the Italian Navy he found they had a grand total of 23 iron-clad ships, which, if added to the French total, made it more necessary that the number he had suggested should be added to the Navy of this country. Upon that point he might remark that the Secretary to the Admiralty, on the 6th of December, 1884, laid on the Table of the House a Return. He had promised to amend that Return; but for some reason, by the Return before the House, it appeared the Admiralty were building 17 ironclad ships, when they were in reality only building six. That was somewhat misleading; and he therefore thought it right to point out to the House the great error into which they would be led if they accepted that Return. It might be asked what did they want 52 ironclad ships for, putting aside the question that this country might have to meet the combined Fleets of any two nations, and putting aside the question of the protection of the commerce of the country? At that moment there was what was called a Channel Fleet; but two only of the ships which composed it were ships that could steam, or could defend themselves against any of the first-class iron-clads of other Powers. It might be said that there were a great number of ships in the Coastguard. They might be good enough for training men in, but everyone knew that the armour was thin; and, practically, the only iron-clad ships of any value were the two in the Channel Fleet, the three under repair, and the eight in the Mediterranean. Of course, he did not include in that number the ships upon the stocks; but of the nine ships on the stocks only two had any date mentioned at which they were likely to be ready. That being so, the country had nothing to rely upon at home in the event of war. At that moment there were in China three Russian iron-clads, all very good ships, and four French ships. A war was going on in China, and a question of blockade might arise, and either the French or the Russian Squadron could come down on Hong Kong and insist upon getting supplies from there, which this country, as neutral, had no right to give. Was it right that war should be going on where this country had such enormous interests, and that there should not be a single ship which could say—"You cannot have supplies, for we will not allow you." If at that moment either of the two Powers he had mentioned went to war with this country and sank a vessel in the Suez Canal, the coasts of India, China, and the Colonies were at once at their mercy. Therefore, it was the business of this country to take care for the protection of all these places, as well as to keep up its good name as a neutral, that it should have a sufficient police of the sea to protect them. Their great Colonies were ready to bear the cost of building ironclads themselves if the Admiralty would only set them the example by providing ships for the defence of their own coasts and trade. There was another point upon which he should like some information, and that was the condition of the boilers of the ships which were now available. The information he had endeavoured to obtain, and which he believed was correct, was such that he believed there were not 15 ships which had boilers which did not require almost immediate change, and it was a very well-known thing that the changing of a boiler could not be effected in a day. So far he had spoken of the iron-clad ships; but an iron-clad fleet was not an efficient fleet, for an iron-clad ship required at least two attendants. It required a coaling vessel, and it required a vessel of the Scout class, for the purpose of keeping off torpedo vessels and other work. There ought to be 104 of these vessels to attend upon their ironclads, and a certain number of ships to be employed as rams, three or four of which should be attached to every fleet. Torpedo vessels were also wanted, and colliers to supply the fleet with coal. All these ships were necessary; yet none of them were at present being prepared. He saw with dismay the activity of Russia and Germany in the manufacture of torpedo boats. The Admiralty talked of building 10, which would be about a sufficient number to protect the Thames. Each of their harbours ought to possess a flotilla of those boats. Altogether, 300 would not be too large a number to build. As to masted iron-clads, be believed that they ought no longer to be built. Much cost would be saved by building mastless iron-clads only. In considering how much money might fairly be demanded for naval purposes, they ought to remember that in 1860, and the following years, £12,500,000 were annually voted for the Navy, out of which £1,000,000 only was spent on the dead weight. Now the annual Vote did not exceed £10,000,000, £2,000,000 of which were spent on the dead weight. In recent years £46,000,000, which ought to have been spent on the Navy, had thus been saved. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer would disgorge some of that plunder there would be plenty of money to spend on the Navy. As to armoured cruisers, there ought to be four of them to each of the six great lines of ocean communication. It would be wise to build 30. In regard to the Marines, 12,400 were the number now borne on the Estimates. Seven thousand of these were necessary for the service of the Fleet, while the remainder were on shore learning their military duties. Now, however, the Marines were called upon to serve elsewhere than at sea, many of them being at that moment with the Army at Suakin. They performed their duties right well; but 12,400 men were not sufficient for the services which they were now called upon to perform, and their strength ought to be raised to 20,000. Steps ought to be taken to increase the number of boys in training for the Navy, and a reserve of stokers ought to be formed. At present, their complement of stokers was deficient by 3,000 or 4,000; and he feared that in an emergency they would be unable to obtain the necessary number from the Merchant Navy, unless they should, unfortunately, be set free by the blockade of their ports and the destruction of their merchant ships.


said, he was not aware that the question of armaments was to be brought forward, or he would have been able to have given a detailed answer. The right hon. and gallant Member (Sir John Hay) had argued that it would be a very good change if the Ordnance Department were made into a separate Department to supply the Navy as well as the Army. He might remind his right hon. and gallant Friend that the Admiralty had already been made responsible for the gun mountings, and that the question of the construction of guns was now being seriously considered by the Heads of that Department. It was true, as was complained, that the Government paid a high price for what was known as cocoa powder to the German manufacturers; but it was a special article, and it had been decided by the Ordnance Committee that it was the best powder which could be used for heavy ordnance. His hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth Districts (Mr. Carbutt) appeared to labour under a misapprehension on several points. He complained that the Heads of the Departments at Woolwich, and the officials who advised the Secretary of State in those matters, were not sufficiently experienced. The fact, however, was that the present Director of Artillery was an officer of great experience; and Colonel Maitland, the Superintendent of the Royal Gun Factory, was also a distinguished artillerist. It was true that this official was only appointed for five years; but he might be retained in his post for a longer period if the Secretary of State should think it desirable. His hon. Friend was also mistaken in saying that there was not a Committee of scientific or skilled officers to whom important inventions could be referred. Such a Committee had been appointed by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and was now sitting.


I did not say there was no such Committee; but that important inventions were not tried.


observed that his hon. Friend was equally wrong there, for during the last few months an officer had submitted the design of a new gun to the War Office, and had been given every encouragement. His gun, when made, would be submitted to the Ordnance Department. He did not complain of criticism, which was often valuable and encouraging; but when attacks were made upon the Government for delay in the manufacture of breech-loading ordnance, it ought to be remembered that the French Government adopted breech-loading ordnance 16 years ago; whereas we had only adopted it during the last five or six years. He did not, however, think matters were so serious as his hon. Friend supposed. The Go- vernment had done their best to encourage private enterprize, and especially in the direction of steel making. But time was required for the development of manufactures of that kind, as much capital was expended, and manufacturers wanted some assurance that their capital would meet with an adequate return. He thought he could say that the manufacturers at Sheffield and Newcastle were satisfied with the assurances which the Government had given. The result was that now, within a few weeks, besides Whitworth, Firth, Cammel, and Vickers, of Sheffield and Elswick, would be able to supply the Government with heavy forgings. Whitworth was at present able to build up guns for the Navy, and Vickers would be able in a very few weeks to do the same thing; while the Government had spent £100,000 in plant to increase the manufacturing capacity at Woolwich. There only remained one question for him to mention, though, perhaps, it was the most important of all—namely, the question of the design and pattern of their guns. He was sorry the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. A. F. Egerton) had hinted that the Committee which had recently been appointed implied dissatisfaction with the guns now manufacturing for the Royal Navy. But there was no such object and no such fear. The system of manufacture and the designs employed had never been called in question. It appeared to the Secretary of State that it would be of very great advantage if a Committee were appointed, consisting of members of the Ordnance Committee and of gentlemen of very great experience outside the Department. The Committee consisted of Sir William Armstrong, Captain Noble, Mr. Lees (representing Messrs. Whitworth), and Sir Frederick Abel, besides Sir Frederick Bramwell, Mr. Barlow, and other members of the Ordnance Department. All the recommendations made by the Committee were completed, and would be forwarded to-day; but the Report itself had not yet been furnished. The recommendations that had been made would be embodied in it. They had recommended that certain guns of present design should be strengthened in the chase with a view to their using slow-burning powder. Guns of future construction would be adapted for this powder. The Committee had recommended that no alteration should be made in the 12-inch guns, mark II., or the 6-inch guns, mark III., forming the armament of the Conqueror and Colossus. But, speaking generally, with the exception of some slight alterations for strengthening guns, the Committee approved of the present system of gun construction. The Ordnance Department, he thought, had received some rather unmerited abuse. He was quite convinced that there were no officers more capable and more thoroughly experienced than the present Constructor of Artillery and the present Superintendent of the Royal Gun Factory. They were working in cordial cooperation with the great private firms; and he felt perfectly sure that, with the help of the private trade, encouraged as it now was by the Government and the resources of Woolwich Arsenal, the Government would very shortly be able to complete the breech-loading armament of the Navy.


in rising to call attention to the increased depredations by foreign trawling vessels on the English drift-net fisheries on the East Coast, and the losses incurred there from by owners and fishermen, and to the inadequate protection provided by the Admiralty Authorities for enforcing the provisions of the North Sea Fisheries Convention, said, he must apologize for detaining the House a very few minutes while he referred to a grievance which his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty thoroughly realized and appreciated. That grievance was the totally insufficient number and the unsuitable class of vessels provided by the Admiralty Authorities for putting into force the provisions of the North Sea Fisheries Convention. During the autumn months there was a fleet of large fishing vessels, amounting to about 1,000, fishing in the immediate vicinity of the East Coast; and there was also, he regretted to say, a number of foreign trawling smacks, which did an enormous amount of damage, and the Admiralty afforded insufficient and unsatisfactory protection to their English vessels. On one occasion an owner in one night lost no less than £400; another owner lost £600; and last autumn it was estimated that the owners of Lowestoft suffered to the extent of £10,000, and Yarmouth only a little less, so that the House would now see the importance of ade- quate protection being given to this large fleet. The Admiralty Authorities knew perfectly well that the North Sea Fisheries Convention was passed two years ago, and that an Act of Parliament was passed in 1883 embodying the provisions of that Convention; and under the Articles of the Convention there was special reference to the duties of providing cruisers for the protection of their fishing vessels. But no provision had as yet been made for that purpose by the Admiralty. The Secretary to the Admiralty was fully aware that a chart had been handed in to the Admiralty in May last, indicating the very spots in which those depredations had taken place, and naming the time when the cruisers ought to be on the grounds for the protection of our fleet. Another complaint was that the vessels which were sent out by the Admiralty did not carry out the duties they were sent to perform. He might mention that one of those cruisers—namely, the Cherub, instead of being out on the fishing-grounds and protecting the vessels, remained in harbour doing absolutely nothing from October 31 till November 7. In another instance she was four days in harbour. He therefore regretted that the commanders of those vessels did not carry out the orders given them by the Admiralty as he believed, but remained in harbour instead of being out on the fishing grounds. If trawling smacks remained out in the North Sea for eight weeks, surely Her Majesty's cruisers ought to be able to do the same. He would especially urge the Admiralty Authorities, without delay, to make the necessary arrangements for providing at least four sailing cruisers for the district referred to, and not steam tenders, as the latter did more harm than the Belgian vessels with their "devils." He would now refer to a communication from the secretary of the Drift-Net Protection Society, in which that gentleman spoke of— The arrival of fishing boats with great loss of gear, caused by foreign trawlers. He added— I have every reason to believe that a Belgian trawler of Ostend (No. 200), done £500 of damage alone. Some fishermen are laying their boats up, having lost all their gear. The hon. Member also referred to a daring outrage which had been perpetrated by an Ostend trawler, which crossed the nets of one of our fishing luggers, the Nil Desperandum, about midnight, cutting the warps. As she continued her course, the master and one of the crew went in a boat to pursue her, and obtain, if possible, her number. The crew, as the boat neared the trawler, could see two men coming up out of the cabin with guns, and when within 30 yards of her one of the men discharged his piece at the men in the boat. They at once fell to the bottom, fearing they might be killed. They could, however, see that the other man stood ready with his gun to fire, and they accordingly let the boat drift away in order to escape. On arriving in port Baxter, the master and owner, at once went to the Custom House and made depositions. The depredations were wholesale; 20 fishing-boats having lost 1,770 nets. That showed the absolute necessity of an adequate number of Government cutters being sent to protect the boats; and it was indispensable that each cruiser should have as pilots fishermen who knew the ground. Those cutters would also act as admirable training vessels for the Navy, and would be able to render valuable service in the saving of life. If the protection were not granted, the result would be that the fishermen would be driven to provide armed cruisers themselves, and there would be open war between them and the foreign vessels. He had only attempted to give a bare outline of what was going on at the fishing-grounds. He, therefore, called upon the Government to do for English fishermen what every other country was doing for theirs. It was a duty which England alone neglected; and it was nothing short of a scandal that a Maritime Power like England should so utterly neglect an important trade that did so much for the food supply of the nation.


drew the attention of the Admiralty to the case of the old navigating officers of the Fleet, who had complained for a long time of their position, but whose complaint had not received the amount of attention which it deserved. Some years ago a change was made in the Service by which no new navigating officers were appointed, and by which their duties were transferred in many cases to executive officers. The duties of those officers were extremely important. The navigating officers were responsible for the safe navigation of the very valuable ships of the Navy. They had to take them into and out of action, and steer them through intricate channels; and if any mishap occurred the navigating officer was responsible, and was severely punished. What those officers felt deeply was the position of subordination and inferiority in which they were placed in comparison with the youngest officers of the executive branch. It had been alleged that this subordinate position in which they were placed was what had always been the case. He believed that was not so. Several appointments which used to be filled up by the appointment of navigating officers had been taken away from that class. The scale of their retirement was also very much less than that of the executive branch. They complained that while the Royal Marines, the Paymasters, the Engineers, and others had been allowed opportunities of stating their grievances before the authorities, no such opportunities had been permitted to the navigating officers. For years past none of those officers had been sent for, while representatives of the other classes had. He asked the Secretary to the Admiralty to allow some of those officers to see him privately to state their grievances, and to answer any questions he might put to them. It was not to the interest of the country that any class of officers in Her Majesty's Service should be allowed at that time to remain discontented and dissatisfied.


said, the Surveyor General of Ordnance had referred to a letter which he wrote the other day to the newspapers as to the appointment of a Committee. No one objected to the appointment or to the constitution of that Committee; but when the Surveyor General told the House that its appointment would not lead to delay, he ventured to join issue with him, and to say that the appointment of the Committee would be, without doubt, the cause of some of the delay. The Surveyor General had told the House also that the new guns were to be strengthened in various parts. But how were the guns to be strengthened without causing delay? What he wished to impress upon the House was that it was of the greatest importance that there should be no delay in arming the new turret ships, and any measure which caused delay was to he regretted. All that he asked for was that the House and the country should be placed in possession of the fullest information as to the condition of these new guns.


supported the hon. Member for South Warwickshire (Mr. Sampson Lloyd) in the appeal which lie made in favour of the navigating officers of the Navy. He believed they were a most deserving class of men who had been neglected by the Admiralty for a long time past. There were several other cases with regard to the different to lasses of officers in the Dockyards who had for a long time been memorializing the Admiralty with a view of securing some improvement in their position, but who had not yet received any reply to their application. He referred especially to the established skilled labourers in the Dockyards. [The hon. Member proceeded to read a letter from a distinguished Admiral, who pointed out the respects in which England was mainly deficient in a naval sense.] He was not at liberty to mention the Admiral's name; but would say that he was one of the most distinguished officers of the day, and spoke with the authority of all those naval officers with whom he was in constant communication. The letter said that it seemed incredible to the writer that, in the present critical state of affairs with Russia, this country was making no preparations whatever. No one knew how soon the Navy might be wanted in the Baltic, and that they ought to be in a position to bombard Russian forts if necessary, asking, at the same time, whether they had the ships, the guns, or the men necessary. The writer expressed the opinion that they would find themselves greatly deficient in torpedo vessels, of which the Russians had 94 in the Baltic. He had quoted this letter in order to show the strong opinion which prevailed among naval officers on the subject of the Navy. If they had to trust merely to such agreements as that foreshadowed by the Prime Minister to defend the country against Russia, they would have but a broken reed to rely upon.


joined in the appeal on behalf of the navigating officers of the Fleet.


said, England was at that moment face to face with the gravest political danger, being threatened with war with one of the Great Powers of Europe; and, as must be admitted on all hands, England was no match, at sea, for several combinations of two Powers against her. If she lost her naval supremacy, England could, in two or three months, be brought to her knees by a combination of hostile Navies, starving her into submission. It remained for this Government, which had brought the Army to its present deplorable condition, so that a Force of 25,000 men could not be sent abroad without depleting every regiment in the country, to allow the Navy to sink into its present inferiority. He hoped that the Government would now address them selves to carrying out the defence of the coaling stations, to the building of a large fleet of torpedo-boats, and to the addition of at least six fast sea-going cruisers to the strength of the Navy.


said, a number of important speeches had been made on this Motion; but he hoped that hon. Members would not consider that he was showing them any disrespect if he refrained from making a separate reply to each, as he anticipated making a very full answer in introducing the Navy Estimates. He might, however, correct the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott) on a matter of fact. It was not true, as surmised, that the Admiralty made a demand on the Cabinet to the extent of £11,000,000. In November they put forward a proposal for increased shipbuilding, and the Estimates which he was about to move made ample provision for carrying out the plans submitted on that occasion. When he made the statement on the part of the Government in December, other matters besides shipbuilding were referred to. It was intended to make provision for accelerating the construction of steel guns for the Navy. This item did not fall under these Estimates; but if hon. Gentlemen turned to the Army Estimates, they would find that a large addition was made in those Estimates for strengthening the Navy in the matter of guns. The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Birkbeck) had called attention to the question of the protection of the fisheries. On behalf of the Admiralty, he (Sir Thomas Brassey) deeply regretted the depredations which were committed by foreign vessels on the East Coast fisheries; and also the failure, if there had been a failure, on the part of the commanders of gun-boats to be present at the rendezvous, which were pointed out by those representing the fisheries. He could promise that the Admiralty would consult with the Admiral Superintendent of the Reserves, and would do all that lay in their power to give protection to the fisheries. The hon. Member had spoken against the employment of steam vessels on this service; but the Admiralty had received a request from the Scottish Fishery Board to remove the sailing cutters from their waters and to substitute steam vessels. No doubt, in the case of a calm, a steam vessel would be much more effective in pursuit than a sailing vessel; but, however that might be, he could assure the House that the Admiralty would do all that lay in their power to give protection to the fisheries. The hon. Member for South Warwickshire (Mr. Sampson Lloyd) had drawn attention to the case of the old navigating officers. Everyone acquainted with the Navy knew what a valuable class of men they were. The changes that had been made with a view to increasing the knowledge of navigation in the Service had, no doubt, like other changes, involved a certain amount of hardship to individuals. He would be happy, on the part of the Admiralty, to promise that they would give a due consideration to any representations which the deputation such as the hon. Member asked them to receive might make.

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