§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD (Marylebone, E.)
, on rising to call attention to the large number of unemployed skilled artizans and others in the shipbuilding ports, and to move—That now would be a suitable opportunity for the Sinking Fund to be suspended or Terminable Annuities created, in order to put the Royal Navy in that state of efficiency which is necessary for the safety of the Empire, at the least possible expense to the country, owing to the cheapness of material at the present time,said, his object was to call the attention of the House to the present state of the Navy. He had four points which he wished to press upon the House. First of all, he wished to show the number of the unemployed in the shipbuilding ports of Great Britain; secondly, the cheapness of material for shipbuilding; thirdly, he wished to show that the present strength of the Navy was not sufficient to perform all the duties it might be 828 called upon to perform in time of war; and, fourthly, he would ask the House to vote certain moneys for the purpose of placing the Navy in the position it ought to hold, either by suspending the Sinking Fund or by creating Terminable Annuities. There were altogether 80,000 men—artificers of various kinds—in the country now unemployed, but who, if they were in work, would be engaged in the building of ships. These included upwards of 30,000 men on the Clyde; 30,000 at Newcastle and the North-Eastern ports; 5,000 or 8,000 on the Mersey; about 3,000 at Hull; and over 2,000 at Belfast. Then, as to the second point—the cheapness of material—there was a great difference in favour of the present time. Angle bars and plates were less than half their previous cost; compound armour was from £5 to £8 cheaper, and so of other materials. As to the third point—whether the Navy was efficient—the argument derived from the list of our armour-clads was a theoretic not a practical argument, for, though it might be said that England might have seven or eight armour-clads more than France, the duties which would fall upon our Fleet, when compared with the duties which would fall upon the French Fleet, would be as 10 to 1. He did not intend to urge that this country should invest more money in heavy armour-clads, because France had left off building any more. She had even left off building the two large ironclads that had been begun. Not that he thought we had enough of that class, but because the money would be spent more usefully on vessels which were more urgently required for the Fleet. But suppose Italy continued the policy of building heavy armour-clads, England was bound to build more. Taking the average of heavy ships, the French beat us in the corresponding class. In the class of what might be termed "bullies of the sea," the French were 500 tons better in weight—2½ inches in armour—the weight of their guns was considerably larger, and—which was an important point—the age of the French ships was from five to seven years less than that of the English. Of machine guns throwing shells—so necessary and most valuable as range finders—we had none, while the French had 1,200 Hotchkiss guns, throwing one-pound shells. In speed they were superior on the average by one 829 knot. There were some of the component parts of our Fleet, such as cruisers and a torpedo fleet, in which we were lamentably weak, considering the activity displayed in building these classes by other nations. First of all with regard to cruisers. Foreign nations, having left off building heavy armourd vessels, were showing immense activity in regard to their cruiser fleet. At the end of the year this country would have 41 cruisers. Out of that number we must take 18 as obsolete vessels. That left 23 good vessels at the end of the year. There were 19 building; but he would say 17—for there were only 17 of a really excellent class—of which we had got seven laid down which would go 17½ knots. He was sorry they could not go 19. Then there were others of the Mersey class, and of the Archer class, and so on, making 19 altogether. Deducting the 18 obsolete boats, and taking 17, as he had said, that would give us 40 useful boats of different classes built and building. That number was insufficient. He would tell them what number we ought to have in order to maintain our supremacy. In the Channel we ought to have 12, in the Mediterranean eight, on the North American station five, on the South American three, on the West Coast of Africa two, on the Pacific four, on the China station 12—that sounded a great deal; but the French had 17 vessels in the Chinese waters, and we had not more than seven—in Australia five, the Cape four, on the East India Station five, which brought the total up to 60, whereas we had only got 40, as he had just shown. Any Admiral in command of a fleet would say that these cruisers were necessary to form one of the component parts. But the number he had given left none for the protection of our great Mercantile Marine. To make up the deficiency we should build at once 20 more—five of the Australian class, at a cost of £260,000 each, in all £1,300,000; 15 of a new class of 2,000 tons, of 20 knots, costing £110,000 each, or £1,650,000 in all. That would give us not one more than we ought to have. This class of vessels would be very cheap for what they could do. These could not be utilized to protect the great Mercantile Marine of this country, but were necessary simply to put the Fleet in the condition in which it ought to be with regard to cruisers. Three torpedo depôt 830 ships should also be laid down. In all classes connected with torpedo warfare we were lamentably weak, and we ought therefore to immediately lay down three torpedo depôt ships of the Hecla class, with a speed of at least 19 knots. These should have a considerable capability of carrying coal, and all the necessaries for torpedo warfare—mines, connecting wires, batteries, buoys, spare Whiteheads, defence nets, and all kinds of mooring gear for torpedoes. They should also have workshops, so as to be able to provide against the various casualties that might occur, and carry a large number of supernumerary artificers and stokers. They ought also to carry a large supply of booms, so that they might run up a boom if they wanted to do so—as was lately done on the Coast of Ireland—as it must be remembered that the ships that would form a fighting fleet now would carry no spars for rigging up a boom. He would now turn to the seagoing torpedo vessels. This was another class they were very weak in—lamentably weak—when they looked at France. Our Navy had three Scouts laid down and one building; two Curlews, which were useless, and four Grasshoppers, which was a very excellent class. The latter were 450 tons burden, and their speed 20 knots. These, with the Polyphemus, made only 11 seagoing torpedo boats. He believed the French had now about eight seagoing torpedo vessels, and had laid down another 12. We had only got out one of these, and would only have 11 altogether. To put our Navy right in this class, he should say that we ought to build 21 of the Grasshopper class at £57,000 a-piece. That would make another £1,217,000. He would now speak of another class of torpedo boats, and he should like to point out that all these classes were absolutely necessary for warfare. It could not be said that the Navy should have one class of vessel only. England's duties were so many and varied on the sea that it was necessary to provide all these classes for the work that would have to be done under the different circumstances of war. He would suggest that they should do away with all classes of torpedo vessels of the boat class between the 135-feet seagoing boat and the 66-feet boat that was now carried in the Hecla, and that would be 831 carried in the torpedo boat ships. How did the Navy stand with the only boats over 100 feet considered useful in rough weather? Great Britain had 69; Germany, 59; Italy, 47; France, 57; Russia, 26; Austria, 30. He thought the House would agree with him that he did not exaggerate when he said that our Navy was lamentably deficient in numbers in this class. He had said that the Navy should have the 135-feet boat, and he wished to give his reasons for suggesting it. The 125-feet boats were good boats, but only ran 19 knots; and a half-knot, he would point out, might win an action. The 135-feet boat, the Falke, he went down to see the other day. It was an Austrian boat, and our Navy had ordered one of them, Spain had ordered two, and Italy had ordered two. The beauty of this boat was that she could go 23 knots. The 125-feet boat could only go 19 knots; therefore he thought that the Navy should have the 135-feet boat, and nothing between that and the boat that was hoisted on the torpedo ship. France had ordered a large number of boats of this description to go about the same speed. At the present time our Navy had 54 laid down of the 125-feet boat, and only one of the 135-feet boat, Falke class. Austria had ordered 10 of this class to be completed every year. Considering the activity displayed by all foreign nations on this question of torpedo warfare, he contended that England was not efficiently provided in this direction, and would not be efficiently provided if it went to war in its present state. He could speak strongly on this question, and he thought it would, for instance, have been perfect madness to have sent the Fleet—although it was in good order and was formidable—under Admiral Hoskins to the Baltic last year, because the Fleet could have taken only eight torpedo boats, out of which only two could be called efficient. They were going to surprise or capsize the Russians, who, on the other hand, had 98 torpedo boats, 35 of them being really good; but, as he told the Russian Minister last night, if he had had one man there with a head on, he ought to have blown the English Fleet out of the water. Then, again, we had only three firms in England that could make torpedo boats. There were four; but only three worked for the Government. If a panic occurred, 832 therefore, they would not be able to get the necessary work done, even if the pressure was tremendous. There was this danger with reference to this point—that France had eight firms, Germany six, and Italy six, to do work of this nature. That was a very important point, and it should be thought out with regard to what might happen in the future. The clever man was the man who looked ahead. He would suggest that the Admiralty should at once build 40 of the Falke class boats. These would cost £17,000 each. He did not know why they should pay that sum, seeing that the Austrian Government paid only £12,000 for them. That, however, was a question between the Government and the contractor. That was the end of the expenditure which he suggested. He now wished to touch upon other questions which were very important, but not quite of such vital importance as that of which he had been speaking. In the first place, he wished to say something as to the education of the officers and men. It was all very well to build ships and have guns; but all this was of no use unless they taught the officers and men how to use their weapons. The officers and men had never been in the position to know how to work the naval weapons which they would have to work in time of war. It was not only unfair, but absolutely dangerous, that such a state of things should exist. Ever since England had been England, the personnel of the Navy had never been better than now; and all that the officers and men wanted was to learn what they would have to do in time of war. Every Fleet should once a-year be put into a position which it would occupy if war were declared. As it was, it was exactly in the same position as a General who had an Army consisting of heavy Siege Artillery only, without Infantry, Horse or Field Artillery, or Cavalry. The Fleets had never been grouped together as they would be in time of war; and it was a most important thing that the officers and men should know how to work their ships at great speed. It was a difficult thing to do—it was a very difficult thing, he assured the House—to steady a nervous man for the first time on board a torpedo boat at full speed; and he should be happy to give hon. Members some day a chance 833 of trying the experiment. He had had a great number of letters expressing the opinions of his brother officers; and they all told him that they gained more knowledge the other day under Admiral Horn by during the manœuvres on the Irish Coast than they had obtained through many years' previous service, because they had been put in the positions which they would occupy if war was declared. Then, with regard to the question of training squadrons, they could not do anything on the water with any man so well as with a trained sailor. The man who had been accustomed from his boyhood to work aloft possessed that readiness of resource and that independence of action which could not be got by a man in any other way. He hoped, therefore, that the House would see the necessity of having training squadrons, although they might cost a little money. They should never forget that the men should be trained first of all with the yards and masts. Yards and masts, however, should not be parts of the first-class ships. They should never have a Fleet without colliers and ammunition ships; and this, he wished to point out, was a very important matter. At every station the Fleet should be assembled every year for evolutions; and, as far as possible, these evolutions should be carried out by the order of the Admiralty. Added to this, the Admiralty should have a torpedo squadron formed every year for evolutionary purposes, the same as the Austrian and German Navies did at present. These were points he had not included in the work which, in his opinion, ought to be taken in hand at once for the English Navy. Going to other matters, he submitted that the Admiralty ought to organize the Mercantile Marine. Some of the vessels of the Mercantile Marine were supposed to carry guns; but these were only 40-pounder breech-loading guns and 64-pounder muzzle-loading guns. At present we could only arm some 20 vessels in that way; but he wished to point out that the guns they carried were perfectly useless against the modern vessels that would be brought to attack them. The question of arming the Mercantile Marine was one of very grave importance, because those vessels would have to defend themselves in time of war. Accordingly he would have places like Pembroke fitted up, so that in time of 834 war the merchant vessel could run in, ship her guns, and then look after herself. It must be remembered that on those vessels we depended to carry our food supplies and the raw material essential to the commercial life of the country. The food supplies alone last year represented a value of £140,163,845. That was an enormous amount to trust to Providence, for it came to that and was nothing else. If one or two determined cruisers were to get in the way and stop the food supplies, what would be the result? We might win our actions at sea; but the people would have to pay £20,000,000 more for the food that would come into the country, the prices would so go up. The organization of the Naval Reserve was another matter of enormous importance. In that respect how did we compare with France, which had the best Naval Reserve of all the Continental Powers? The Royal Navy of France was 190,000, all told, out of which 130,000 were Reserve men—men who had passed through training in a man-of-war, and were capable of carrying out the orders given them when they were sent on board a ship. England, on the other hand, had only 79,900, all told, out of which she had only 18,500 Reserve. These were plain facts which would be found very serious if we went to war; and war, as everyone knew, was in these days a very sudden affair. It would, he thought, be easy to have a plan by which a large number of our merchant seamen should go through the Royal Navy for two, three, or five years as the case might be, and have a retaining fee. In that way the Admiralty would be able to lay hands on men all over the world if war was declared. The question with regard to the defence of the coaling stations was a simple marvel to all naval officers. The late Lord Dundonald, who was the greatest naval genius that a country ever produced, used to say—"Directly you produce steam and propel your vessels by machinery, what England ought to do is to take all the coaling stations she can, and then set to work and spend as much money as possible in getting them ready and fortified before she even builds her fleet of steamers." Lord Dundonald spoke like a sensible man. How were we now? The Admiralty, of course, said that the coaling stations came under the Military Vote; but directly war was 835 declared the Admiral must send two of his best ships to defend the coaling stations. Coals were the very breath of life to the Fleet. Another point he wished to allude to was with regard to Coast defence. Considering the fact that our Coast line, without the Colonies at all, was a great deal larger than the French Coast line, he submitted that the Admiralty should organize some system of Naval Volunteers. He believed they might develop a system analogous to our magnificent Army of citizen soldiers that supported the Army, which would be of immense service to the Navy. Now, he was sorry the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt) was not in his place, because the right hon. Gentleman would be so interested in the cost of his little scheme. It amounted to £5,577,000. In looking at expense there was also a question of economy to be considered; and he should like to see the Admiralty order home immediately the 38 obsolete boats they had now at different stations, because otherwise they would have to repair them. That would be a useless and needless expense. These boats also created an enormous danger, because they went at so slow a pace that it would be no difficult enterprize for a smart Frenchman or Italian to go and mop the whole lot up, every one of them. He was afraid that was hardly Parliamentary language. At any rate, a good cruiser could take them all. That would be a terrible thing for England with the telegrams of "Another British gunboat taken" and "Another British gunboat gone wrong." Now, that was not only possible, but probable. If, however, these obsolete vessels were not ordered home, the best thing that could happen would be for each of their Commanders to blow his ship up and swim. He congratulated the present Board that they were going on with the whole Northbrook programme, and also with that of his noble Friend (Lord George Hamilton); but, even with the increased Estimate, the Navy was not in the position that the country thought it was. Now came the point, where was the money to come from? He had a proposal for that difficulty. It was not possible to say that these £5,000,000 should be thrown on the taxpayer, because he did not think the taxpayer was in a position to pay it. Suppose they were to say they would 836 pay for the ships when they were completed. He would suggest that the money should be taken out of the Sinking Fund. Supposing the National Debt was to be extinguished in 100 years, why should it not be postponed for 102 years, and thus enable us to put the Navy in an efficient condition? If their Navy was broken through their posterity might have the satisfaction of paying double the National Debt. If the Navy was broken, and the first line of their defence destroyed, this Empire would be wrecked before they could bring her great latent wealth and power to work. Let them make the first line of defence strong, and they would run no danger. Better prevent a war by a few millions than spend many millions after a war has broken out. It was said—"Oh, the Navy Estimates are always increasing." Of course they were. In 1854 they were £7,500,000 sterling, and the Navy had to defend £268,000,000 of imports and exports. In 1883 they were £9,750,000, and the Navy had to defend £732,000,000 exports and imports. The proportions were not fair. He had a stronger argument than those he had advanced. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would agree with him with regard to this—that they threw a great deal of money away in panics. When war loomed in the distance they ordered all sorts of things they did not want. This was very demoralizing, and he wanted to stop that. He asked for £5,000,000 to do it. Why, £2,000,000 last year were thrown into the sea, and that was £2,000,000 which the taxpayers had to pay—not the way he proposed. It was used to hire and fit out the great mercantile ships, and it was used to retain ships which it was feared other Governments would buy. If they had their own ships they would not have to do that, and he maintained that was one very strong argument for his Motion. Do not let them go into these panics. They demoralized the country, and they were not English. He had endeavoured to give a plain statement of the actual facts, and he had endeavoured to avoid exaggeration. The question was one devoid of all Party feeling. These great defences of ours were National. The British man-of-war's man was not a panic-monger. He believed every single brother officer that he had the honour to serve with would agree with him in all these points. Let them not consider for 837 a moment that he was carried away, by being a seaman, with a desire to spend money on the Service which was not necessary. He did not think there was much danger of that, after the facts and figures which he had given to the House. He would like the House to remember that this splendid Empire which was built by their forefathers, and which extended to every point of the compass, depended entirely upon our supremacy at sea; and were they to jeopardize the permanence of that heritage for some trifling sum of money? Why not spend a little money, and make a certainty of leaving this splendid inheritance to the future generations of Englishmen, by putting their naval supremacy beyond doubt? The noble and gallant Lord concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
§ MR. GOURLEY (Sunderland)
, in rising to second the Motion, said, he confessed he could not see why the taxpayers of this generation alone should pay. The present was a most opportune occasion for engaging in this work. Labour and materials were both cheap. In his own borough of Sunderland they were providing relief works for 15,000 souls daily, and he held that a great deal of this distress might be ameliorated if the Government would give out those orders which were absolutely necessary. It was the duty of the Government, at a time of depression such as the present, to do all that they could to give the starving labourers bread and cheese. Thousands of miserable people were eking out a miserable existence, while Ministers did nothing for them. The present Government had ridden into power on the back of three acres and a cow, and had done nothing since they had come into power to ameliorate the condition of the great masses of the people of this country. Our Navy was in a condition, when compared with the Fleets of other European Powers, which urgently required consideration. At the time of the French Revolution, when England was mistress of the seas, the rest of the Naval Powers of Europe had only 180 ships of the line, while England had 207. Now the proportion was a very different one. With regard to her naval power, England ought, instead of being in arrears, to be in advance of all other nations; but this was by no means the case. Taking the case 838 of torpedo boats, we found other nations greatly ahead of ourselves, both in the numbers of these boats and in the speed which they attained, the latter being a question greatly neglected by the Admiralty. An objection was made by every Government to any advance in our naval policy, on account of the cost; but when they came to compare the cost of providing additions to the Navy in time of peace with what it was in time of panic, they found it was infinitely cheaper to do the work in time of peace. With our Dockyards and private yards we had very great facilities for providing what was wanted for our Navy; and it was the duty of this country not to follow a cheeseparing policy, but to provide all the vessels necessary for the protection of our great Empire. Having regard to our immense Mercantile Marine it would require a very strong Naval Force to protect it in time of war. He hoped that the Government would give out orders for the building of the ships that were required, and would do so at once, as thereby they would do something towards relieving the congestion of labour in the shipbuilding ports.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "now would be a suitable opportunity for the Sinking Fund to be suspended, or Terminable Annuities created, in order to put the Royal Navy in that state of efficiency which is necessary for the safety of the Empire, at the least possible expense to the Country, owing to the cheapness of material at the present time,"—(Lord Charles Beresford,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. BETHELL (York, E. R., Holderness)
said, he had listened with great interest to the speech of the noble and gallant Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford), with which he agreed almost entirely. He would, however, ask the House to follow him into some other considerations. The great point of interest in naval matters was not now what it had been for many years. Down to 1880 the centre of interest in the Navy was in the contest between guns and armour. There was now no interest in that contest, although neither naval architects nor the makers of guns would admit that they had been 839 defeated by their rivals. For years the pendulum had been swinging towards the supremacy of the gun; but now the centre of interest had been changed in consequence of the discovery within the last few years of a new weapon, which had, in the opinion of most, dethroned the gun from its supremacy as a naval weapon. The contest was now between the gun and the torpedo, which supplied what naval men had long desired—the means of wounding an antagonist below the water line. Science, which had given us the torpedo, would, no doubt, greatly develop its power. As big ships were the corollary of large guns, so small ships were the corollary of the torpedo. Between guns and armour the contest was, he might say, a friendly one, because large guns implied large ships, and large ships with heavy armour called for larger guns. But whether the gun or the torpedo was found most useful, the victor in the contest must displace the other. If it be true that the torpedo is the weapon of the future, were the Admiralty doing everything possible to develop that weapon? As yet that weapon was in a chrysalis state, and would emerge something very much more formidable. He would ask the Admiralty if everything was being done to further the progress of that weapon from the torpedo to the submarine gun? He urged this question upon them for this reason—that whoever made the most progress with the torpedo would undoubtedly have a great advantage in the event of being engaged in war. He had very great faith in the torpedo school of our Navy. It had improved enormously of recent years, and the officers were men of very considerable attainments; but from the very nature of the case the school might be the nursery, but could never be the workshop of invention. We knew the direction in which torpedo development was going, and we wanted to call on the inventive faculties of our countrymen to further that progress, that we might be the first with a really effective weapon that could not come from a school. The groove was too narrow. We must look for inventive talent elsewhere. This country ought to be as forward as possible in developing a weapon which would become the weapon of the future, and which would upset all the present shipbuilding plans and theories. In 840 comparatively recent events the same arguments might be applied. It was notorious that the Navy had to be entirely re-armed because the Admiralty did not recognize in time that breech-loading guns were the guns of the future. That would have been recognized earlier if there had been an expenditure of money in calling forth inventive talent to solve the difficulty about the mechanism to close the breach of the gun. But we had now to re-arm the Navy at enormous expense. As was well known, the battle of Sadowa was lost because the Austrians had not then adopted the new mechanism of the rifle. Again, with torpedo boats we were not ready, and, in the case of panic, we had to spend large sums in hurrying them forward. It was the manifest duty of the Admiralty to offer every inducement to inventive talent, so that this country might take the lead in the development of the torpedo. In such matters it was necessary to be first in the field. He did not presume to speak for a large number of the Profession. These were his personal opinions in regard to torpedoes. He rather took issue with his noble Friend in reference to iron-clads. His noble Friend said he would not go in for iron-clads, and he agreed with him; but then his noble Friend went on to say if other countries built iron-clads we must follow them. Now, that he doubted. If this country really held the first rank as a naval scientific Power, we ought to be able to trust to our own opinion as to what was the best weapon, rather than to copy other nations. We ought to be able to see that the torpedo was the best weapon, and stick to that, never caring what other nations might do. We should not build big ships carrying big guns merely because other Powers had done so. At the present moment we were going to build three or four large iron-clads; but any of these, and any iron-clad afloat, could be disabled by a blow from a torpedo. [Sir EDWARD REED: No.] Yes; disabled in such a manner that she would fall a ready prey to another vessel. There were absolutely no means whatever of protecting large vessels from torpedoes, and a blow from a torpedo would disable any iron-clad ship afloat. It might be said armour-clad ships could be defended by machine guns and by nets; but he questioned both 841 propositions. If it were proved to be true that armour-clad ships could be defended from torpedo boats by machine guns, the answer would be forthcoming in making these boats strong enough to resist the machine guns. Then would come the contest between machine guns and torpedo boats. Then it might be said nets might be hung around a big ship to keep off torpedoes; but in doing that we should be absolutely undoing what we had spent enormous sums of money to do—building great men-of-war of great speed and great capacity for turning. The mere fact of hanging nets around abolished those conditions. The big ships with big guns we were now building were rather the reflex of the old contest he had described. He questioned whether they were desirable, and he was afraid they were only an answer to another Power, and he denied that that was a wise policy. In March last year some remarks were made by Lord Northbrook, which showed him that the opinion he was placing before the House was, in theory, held by the Admiralty, but not carried out in practice. Lord Northbrook said—The value of the torpedo attack was likely to increase… He did not mean alone, or even principally attacks by torpedo boats; but … it might be preferable to see ships of a smaller class… He entirely agreed, however, with the opinions expressed by the French Minister of Marine that it would be premature at present to give up building iron-clads, because … those large ships must probably constitute the most important element in the Fleets of the world."—(3 Hansard,  238.)And Lord Northbrook, having pointed out that a policy of building big ships had been followed all through the Administration, and that since then torpedoes had arisen, making an enormous difference in the policy that ought to be pursued, yet, with that fresh on his lips, he said—But we must continue to build big ships and big guns, because other Powers do so.Surely the answer ought to be—If big ships are being built we must meet them with torpedoes. Lord Northbrook and the Secretary to the Admiralty (Sir Thomas Brassey) at the time both held the view that the evolution of the Navy had been in the direction of torpedoes; but, instead of recognizing that in practice, they clung to their old idea of building big ships. In expressing a preference for small as against big ships, 842 he expressed an individual opinion; but naval opinion was not made up on the point. It was in no sense against him. Everything seemed to point to the fact that the torpedo must be the weapon of the future, and that the gun would be practically displaced from its old supremacy. The noble and gallant Lord (Lord Charles Beresford) had something to say about education, and in much of that he agreed. He might put it in a concrete form, with regard to the management of a Fleet. There had never been an instance, so far as he knew, of any British Squadron or Fleet having been exercised in those evolutions which would be necessary in battle at full speed. Hon. Members of the House not familiar with naval matters should understand the enormous difference there was between the management of a vessel going at slow speed and at great speed. In the first case the management was of a clumsy weapon with plenty of time for consideration; but, as soon as speed was increased, then you had a weapon of extreme sensibility, requiring the greatest practical knowledge of management, and requiring very great nerve indeed to manœuvre. But would the House believe that, knowing as we did that in all human probability battles would be fought with ships going at the utmost speed of which they are capable, no squadron had ever been exercised under those conditions? The reason, he supposed, was because of the expenditure in coals; but should that trumpery consideration of expense stand in the way? Would a Fleet be sent into action with not a single captain or admiral having worked a vessel under the conditions in which he was about to fight? It was perfectly monstrous. With regard to coaling stations, he would only remark that, to our modern vessels, the coaling station was as necessary as her crew. The modern ship was a hundred times as useful as any number of old ships so long as she had coal; but without coal she was infinitely more useless. This should be borne in mind when coaling stations came to be discussed later on. He was not prepared to say that our Navy should be increased in proportion to the increase of our commerce. Going through the statistics of 60 years before 1884, he found that, while the tonnage of all vessels over 100 tons aggregate tonnage had increased nearly 300 per cent, yet the number of vessels in the same period 843 had only increased 20 per cent so far as the Navy was concerned. It was just as easy to attack or to defend a big merchant ship as a small one; and, therefore, there was no reason for increasing our Navy in proportion to the increase in commercial tonnage; but, on the other side of the account, it must be remembered that, although there had not been such a very large increase in the number of merchant ships, yet the amount of space over which they had to pass and the multiplication of lines of commerce had enormously increased. From that point of view an increase in the Navy was essential. Sixty years ago our trade was confined to the West Indies, North America, the East Indies, and the Mediterranean; but since then our enormous China trade and Australian trade had grown up. A large trade with West Africa and South America had developed. Formerly it was easy to provide vessels for the protection of commerce by taking merchant vessels and putting a few guns on them, and history told him they did much service both in attack and defence. He denied, however, that that was the case now. He was distinctly of opinion that the system of taking large merchant steamers and converting them into ships for cruising and men-of-war for protecting our commerce was a complete and absolute mistake. Of course, he admitted that they were better than nothing; but he maintained that they ought to have something better. He said this for the simple reason that the engines and motive power of such steamers were almost in every case exposed and open to the enemy's fire. The large steamships were capital for the purposes for which they were built. The Secretary to the Admiralty in the late Liberal Administration (Sir Thomas Brassey) had remarked, when speaking of the cruisers which were laid down by his Government, that the belted cruiser would scarcely ever become obsolete through all the changes which might take place in the future of naval warfare. The right hon. Gentleman must be a very sanguine man indeed to make that statement. Of course, it might be true, but still it was a very bold statement to make, to say that any ship would through all the naval changes of the future never become obsolete. There was this difference, in his opinion, between 844 what were called fighting ships and these cruisers. He should say that in a fighting ship they had to adapt the vessels to the weapons they would carry; while, on the other hand, in the cruisers they had to adapt the weapons to the vessels. He would observe that if they would give him for the purpose of protecting their commerce vessels which had speed, and had their engines and motive power properly protected, he would take what weapons the Government might give them; but it was essential that they should have a strong motive power and a good protecting power. It would be better if they could have good guns and torpedoes in these vessels; but they would rather have the class of vessels he had described, and put up with anything in the way of arms they could get, rather than go without swift protected vessels. Altogether, this, he thought, was not an unfair view to take of the matter, and he believed it was one which the naval element in the House would also adopt. On the question of torpedoes, he would not trouble the House at any greater length. On this subject he was only anxious to put before Her Majesty's Government the views that were held by a considerable section of his brother officers; and he was extremely obliged to hon. Members for the indulgence they had been good enough to extend to him.
§ MR. D. J. JENKINS (Penryn and Falmouth)
said, years ago Mr. Ward Hunt, the then Chief Secretary to the Admiralty, had come down to the House and said that our Fleet was simply a Fleet on paper—a phantom. Of course, such a statement as that, coming from so high an authority, caused a great deal of unnecessary panic; and he (Mr. J. D. Jenkins) hoped that nothing that would be said, or had been said, that night would have the same effect. When the House considered that naval science and gunnery had advanced with great rapidity during the last 10 or 15 years, and that iron-clad ships, built 10 or 15 years ago, had now become obsolete, he thought there was cause for great congratulation on the part of the taxpayers of this country that those who were responsible for the administration of the Navy had not been induced to increase that expenditure in an extravagant manner. He was bound to believe, notwithstanding the statement of the noble 845 and gallant Lord that night (Lord Charles Beresford), that the responsible officers at the Admiralty were better informed of the true strength of our Fleet when compared with that of France and other great maritime nations than was imagined, and that their policy was to maintain our Fleet in a state of efficiency, and to keep it stronger than the Fleet of any other country. He was disposed to think, with the noble and gallant Lord, that we were apt to overrate the importance of our iron-clad ships in estimating the naval strength of this country. For a great maritime Power like England, he (Mr. D. J. Jenkins) agreed with the noble and gallant Lord that it was necessary that we should possess a large Fleet of cruising ships, and that some of those vessels should be capable of being propelled by sails as well as by steam. The noble and gallant Lord had called attention to the torpedo. He (Mr. D. J. Jenkins) had heard that the torpedo would be the naval weapon of the future. He thought that our huge iron-clads would be all very well as floating batteries; but that they were too large to be so efficiently manipulated as ships of a smaller class or type. It would, he considered, be a mistake for England to follow the example of Italy in building great monsters armed with 100 ton guns; and he only hoped that the House would not listen to any increased expenditure on the Navy at present. He believed that the administrators of the Navy were going on as fast as they ought to do; and he hoped, at all events, we should not be thrown into a state of panic by the statements that fell from the noble and gallant Lord, or statements from anybody else in the House.
§ MR. PEARCE (Lanark, Govan)
, in supporting the noble and gallant Lord who had brought forward the Motion, said, he felt sure his impressive speech had convinced the House of the necessity for increasing the strength of the Navy, and that the present was the time to do it. As that necessity was the basis of the argument in favour of giving work to the unemployed, he would like to supplement the noble Lord's speech by some remarks of his own. A few nights ago he had asked the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Hibbert) for a Return to be laid upon the Table of the 846 House showing the cost of the armoured, unarmoured, protected, and partially protected ships of the British Navy; and he informed him that the getting out of such a Return would involve so much labour that he regretted he could not give it to the House. He had, therefore, to obtain this information from other sources; and he found that the Fleet, excluding the old type of wooden vessels, had cost the country about £42,000,000. Another part of his Question to the hon. Gentleman was as to what was the estimated present value of the Fleet. That also, he informed him, the Admiralty had no record of. The present value of the ships he took it to be was the cost at which fighting ships of their character could be built to replace them, measured by the standard of offensive power, defensive power, speed, and coal-carrying capacity; and he estimated that a Fleet combining superior capabilities to the present Fleet could be built for the sum of £12,000,000. He thought, if they considered the requirements of the British Navy, that it had to protect our shores, our Colonies, our commerce, and our £140,000,000 of Mercantile Marino, a Fleet valued only at £12,000,000 was insufficient for those obligations. That became more apparent when they took into consideration that other nations had of late years been building ships of the modern type, and some of them not only having greater fighting qualities, but also superiority in regard to speed. Other nations seemed to have recognized earlier than our own officials had done that speed was one of the great factors in the war ships of the future. Only a year ago this country was in a state of semi-panic because a war was thought to be probable between ourselves and another European Power. The first thing then that was done by the Board of Admiralty was to look to the first line of defence, and what was the result? They found the Fleet was wofully deficient in fast cruisers, and they had to hire an amateur Fleet, selected from the fastest ships in the Mercantile Marine, to make up the deficiency. And what did the hire of this amateur Fleet cost us? Why, it cost the country £500,000 in six months. If, in time of probable war only, the country had to pay at the rate of £1,000,000 per annum for its deficiency in one respect in the constitution of the Fleet, what would it have to pay 847 when the reality came? In his opinion, unless we altered the present method at once, we should have to rush in with £20,000,000 to put the Navy into such a state of efficiency as to comply with the obligations which would be imposed upon it. The number of obsolete ships in the Navy—and he regretted to say that some of them were of modern construction—had been from time to time referred to by the hon. Member for Cardiff (Sir Edward J. Reed); and he trusted that now the hon. Gentleman had taken a seat on the Treasury Bench the nation would not be deprived of his independent and valuable criticisms, but that he would continue to urge upon the Admiralty officials the proper type of vessels to build. It had been shown by the hon. Member—and he quite agreed with him—that some of the vessels at present building were of such a character that there was every probability of disaster befalling them after an action. In fact, their design was an invitation to the inventors of machine guns to perfect a system whereby the unprotected portions of the ship forward and aft might be easily cut away, and so render them unstable in a sea way after an engagement. They had been told that cruisers were being built capable of steaming 16 or 17 knots an hour at sea; but he did not believe there was a ship in the British Navy that could keep at sea for three days at a speed of 15 knots at the present time, and this when every day of the week vessels were crossing the Atlantic at a speed of from 18 to 20 knots an hour. The noble and gallant Lord had shown that, material being so much cheaper than it had ever been, the present was the time to make up for the deficiency in the Navy; and he appealed to the Government to take this exceptional opportunity to do so, and give employment to the thousands of workmen unemployed in the ports where shipbuilding was carried on. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) told the House on Friday, in the debate on harbours of refuge, that to put artizans brought up to work so different from that rough work required of them in the construction of harbours would unfit them for their own handicraft afterwards; but they did not ask that of the Government—they asked the 848 Government to give work which they held to be of necessity to the country to men who had been brought up to that description of labour. Again, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) told the House in the same debate that the Government would not interfere in providing work for the unemployed, and urged them to appeal to their Local Authorities. Why, the Local Authorities in one of the boroughs in the division of the county which he represented informed him that at the present time they were £1,200 short in the local rates, arising from the inability of the poor people to pay, there being 8,000 to 9,000 men unemployed in the borough. These men had waited, hoping the Government would give them work. They had not rioted; they had not demonstrated; but they had pressed him to ask the Government to look upon their sad distress and employ them upon work they had been brought up to perform. The Government had now an opportunity of doing two great services, for which the country would give them full appreciation; they had an opportunity of putting the Navy in a state of efficiency at a time when it could be done more cheaply than possibly at any time in the future; and they had an opportunity of giving work to the thousands of men in the shipbuilding districts, who were literally in a state of starvation.
§ SIR DONALD CURRIE (Perthshire, W.)
said, he had heard the speech of the noble and gallant Lord on this question with great interest, and with much of that speech he thoroughly agreed. They had found out since the debate in December, 1884, that there was a necessity for the cry of that time when the country was not thoroughly alive to its position as a Naval Power. There was the usual condemnation at that period of those who were bold enough to say something to the contrary; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Childers), like former Chancellors, spoke in favour of economy, and pointed to the experience of the past in regard to vessels that were unsuitable. The noble and gallant Lord referred to the subject of our Coast line. Well, he (Sir Donald Currie) had taken the figures, and he found that while the Coast line of France was 1,200 miles, that of England was 3,000 miles, Germany 700 miles, 849 and Italy 1,500 miles; in other words, as regarded our home defences Great Britain ought to have a Navy sufficiently powerful to defend double the extent of coast exposed in Italy or France. But besides that we had far more ports and a much larger trade to protect. He remembered saying in the debate of 1884 that, as regarded the Navy, we were short of nearly everything. The House would be surprised to know that we had not more than 20 torpedoes at that time, while France had four times as many. Now, it was a positive fact, as stated by the noble and gallant Lord, that the British Fleet, if it had gone to the Baltic, would have absolutely risked destruction. This country had not more than eight or nine fit for the Baltic service, while it was perfectly well known that Russia had 85 to 90. But that was not all. Lord Northbrook, then the First Lord of the Admiralty, in that time of scare, ordered 30 or 40 torpedoes in a day. Why, then, was it previously debated in this House that they had a sufficient number? Having ordered those torpedo vessels, they could not be got ready in time before the closing of the Baltic; and if they had been ready they would have been of no use, for there were no torpedoes to put in them. When that was pointed out the defence set up in that House was that they were to be torpedo catchers. In other words, the preparations for the defence of this country and for attack against those who were superior to us in torpedoes amounted to this—that for the Baltic campaign, in which our ships were expected to show off to somewhat more advantage than when Sir Charles Napier ordered his sailors to sharpen their cutlasses, we were actually without a sufficient supply of torpedoes, and the proof was this. 40 were ordered in a day, at a cost of more than £500,000, and these would have been absolutely of no service, for they could not have been ready in time. In December, 1884, there was not a single torpedo vessel at Bermuda, Aden, Bombay, Singapore, and other important naval stations; it was not till months afterwards, and only a short time ago, that they were sent to the Cape and other stations. We had not guns to defend the ports; and at Singapore and Hong Kong—when danger from Russia and France seemed imminent—we had but little protection, 850 and the Admiralty had to send the Alexandra through the Canal to the Mediterranean. Again, our coaling stations were not even now properly fortified. It was several years since a Committee was appointed to inquire into the question of our coaling stations. For two years no attention was paid to its recommendations, and it was only by telegraph a message was sent out in September or October, 1884, to fortify the unfortified places. The store of 100,000 tons of coal in depôt at Hong Kong and Singapore was at the mercy of a French Fleet, at that time infinitely stronger than ours in those seas. It was said that British merchant ships were of no great value as cruisers. Well, the argument urged in 1884 was that we ought to have British cruisers belonging to our own Government. Fifteen ships were taken up from the Mercantile Marine as absolutely necessary when war was imminent; some were little worth as cruisers; but the Government had to take them because they had no others. When these vessels did get guns, they were old, obsolete guns that were not of much use. Now, all this meant absence of efficiency and of preparation; and he judged that the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Charles Beresford) was perfectly right in proposing that there should be immediate action in the matter, now that the public mind was much more alive than formerly to the necessity for preparedness, looking to the Colonial policy of France and Germany which had been developed of late years and the risk of war. He would go in for the programme of the noble and gallant Lord, because he believed it would be a very cheap premium of insurance to spend annually a large sum in that direction. He sympathized with the desire of the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to go to the taxpayers with increased demands; but he held that if it was a question of having the necessary instruments of warfare to maintain our position abroad, then the expenditure required was of no moment whatever. After referring to the absence of proper arrangements for manning the hired merchant cruisers, and showing that no men could be spared from Her Majesty's ships for that purpose, the hon. Gentleman said that, in the recent experience they had had, between five 851 and six weeks were taken to fit up the hired merchant cruisers. If we had a proper system, there should be no difficulty in fitting up a cruiser in six or seven days. The lesson from all this was that the Government should have their own cruisers, and be ready to make immediate use of whatever suitable merchant vessels they might take. It should not be forgotten that this Empire was worth preserving, and they could not make a greater mistake than by forgetting this. The great thing was to be prepared, and if the country were impressed with the conviction they would strengthen the hands of the Government. It was said that the Navy could stand against any combination of Powers. He denied that that was so. Looking at our Colonies and our widely-extended commerce, we were not very much superior to France alone at the present time. He trusted the House would emphasize the observations of the noble and gallant Lord, and that the country would take the matter to heart.
§ SIR J. E. COMMERELL (Southampton)
said, he was desirous of making a few observations on the remarks which fell from the noble and gallant Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford). The hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. D. J. Jenkins) seemed to be the only hon. Member on the Ministerial side of the House who appeared to doubt the fact of the very incomplete and unready state of the British Navy.
§ SIR J. E. COMMERELL
said, he would like to point out to the hon. Gentleman a little fact, which might set his mind at rest on that point. When a small Russian cruiser in April last appeared on the North American Station, out of the whole of the squadron of which he (Sir John E. Commerell) had the command, he had only one vessel which, from the state of her boilers, was able to meet that cruiser. Out of that squadron there were three corvettes whose boilers were so defective, and the corvettes themselves of so obsolete a type, that he was perfectly certain, if they had fallen in singly with that small Russian cruiser, they would have been sunk in an hour. The only ship he had on the North American Station that 852 would have had the slightest chance was the Canada. The very first time that she practised with her shells every one of those shells turned blind, and out of 50 of those shells not one exploded. He thought the argument of keeping up the British Fleet in a proper manner depended very much upon what were the requirements of the country. It was all very well to say that we were numerically superior to France. That might be correct; but it was not correct to say that we were superior to France and Italy combined. And though we might be numerically superior in the force of our ships as regards either of those Powers, yet, regarding our requirements, we were very inferior. As the noble Lord (Lord Charles Beresford) said, we had an enormous duty to perform—ten times more than any other Power. The greatest duty of all was to consider how we might maintain our food supply, which almost entirely came from abroad, and however victorious we might be, or gallant our seamen, if we could not protect our food supply England would most assuredly come off second best. In 1793, when the French revolutionary war broke out, in those days France depended very much for her food supply on America. What was the consequence? France, in the battle on the 1st of June, lost five or six fine ships, compensated for by her maintaining her food supply from America. He would put it to hon. Members, ought we to hesitate to spend a few millions upon our Navy, seeing in what a position we might be placed of degradation and disaster? The paucity of our Fleet was not so much in quantity as quality. We had now on the list of our Navy a very large quantity of obsolete corvettes, small gunboats, and gun vessels, which were justly said to be only fit to cook the kettles of all the old women in England. There was a very large proportion of obsolete ships indeed. When there were so many corvettes, with old, obsolete guns and wooden carriages, the hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. D. J. Jenkins) had no warrant for saying that the Navy of Great Britain was in the state it ought to be. He would ask what took place the other day during the time of the Russian scare? The sum of £357,000 was spent for the hire of 16 ships, which he might say did very little service. If that money had been laid out on seven Grasshoppers, 853 with a speed of 21 knots an hour, we should have had those vessels in our command now. On our foreign stations, he had no hesitation in saying, there were nothing but obsolete vessels. It did not surprise him that hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway—the Radical Members—scrutinized the increasing expenditure of the Navy. When they looked at the form of their vessels, and at the money thrown away in the Dockyards—he had no hesitation in saying that was the literal truth—naval men were only too pleased to find that these things should become the subject of intelligent criticism. It was a great pleasure to them to see the Dockyards examined by gentlemen who understood them, and to see that our money was not thrown away. Now, he would give the House one or two instances which had come under his own observation. Sir Spencer Robinson, one of the most intelligent Controllers of the Navy, laid it down as an axiom that it was useless to put masts and yards in ships with twin screws. He (Sir J. E. Commerell) had had his flag flying in a ship with double screws, represented by the Controller of the Admiralty as a fast cruiser, which would catch any of the wasps of the enemy that might be preying upon our commerce. Now, what did this fast cruiser turn out? She turned out to be a vessel which, under the most favourable circumstances, could not exceed 13½ knots an hour. Their masts were utterly useless to them. He had represented year after year that they were not only useless, but dangerous, because when under sail they could not steer. Yet what did he see when he came down to the Dockyard? He saw the Impérieuse fitted with masts and yards, and in fifty times a worse condition than the Northampton, which had carried his flag. By that means they utterly destroyed the Impérieuse as a fighting ship. When he spoke about it the other day, he asked how they could think of sending a ship to sea with such things as those? But they replied—"Oh, no doubt before going to sea the masts will come out." Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, therefore, had a right to complain. Those masts and yards were not only objectionable for double screw ships, but were a source of tremendous danger in action, and the danger was quadrupled in a double as compared witha 854 single screw. He believed himself that the Navy was in a very dubious state. He thought those old forms were useless in time of war, and expensive in time of peace. It would be better to sell them, and get vessels of a more modern type, which would not only protect our commerce, but prey upon the commerce of the enemy. It was not his intention to weary the House on the merits of gun and torpedo boats. That was a purely technical question. There was no doubt that as regards the Navy we must keep up with the times, and go ahead as other nations. He was perfectly aware that would cost money; but would any Government be able to face the country which had left the Navy in such a state that in time of war it would not be able to protect our commerce as well as the shores of the country? He did not hesitate to say that nine out of every 10 officers would agree that we were far behind what we ought to be. It was very much better, as the noble and gallant Lord said, that we should lay out £5,000,000 now on the Navy than to have scare after scare, when millions of money were thrown away one after the other. In the present day wars came on suddenly, and the issue was fought out quickly. Our naval officers were now highly educated, and the seamen as good, perhaps better, than ever they were. He (Sir J. E. Commerell), therefore, asked at a time like this, when we had such fine personnel, for the sake of a few millions to put our men in ships that would be worthy of them. It was not in the power of every man to command success; but at least they would try to deserve it. It would not do to turn round and say that in olden times our men would have done differently. For his own part, he was convinced our seamen would do as much in the future as ever they had done in the past. But they must give them proper tools to fight with. During the late scare it was stated that Lord Northbrook had ordered one day 40 torpedo boats, which were wanted for instant service. Those vessels, he believed, cost between £16,000 and £17,000. Now, he had been told that only one or two firms were allowed to tender for doing Admiralty torpedo work, as they executed the work so quickly, and that other builders had not the slightest chance, as they could not be relied upon. He would 855 like to ask the Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. R. W. Duff) how many of these boats had been delivered in a state fit for service now? He believed there were only 17, and they were not fitted with torpedo tubes. That assertion, he believed, would not be denied. He was anxious in time of peace to see all our large mercantile shipbuilding yards employed as much as possible, so that they might learn what the Admiralty requirements were. The Admiralty work was not so difficult to execute, but was very technical, and required special knowledge; so much so, that if two men were to tender for the same class of work one might, for want of knowledge, lose £5,000, and the other gain that amount through his technical skill. He had always held that it would be an excellent thing in times of peace to keep the shipbuilding yards busy, so that in time of war they might be relied upon to do their work efficiently. He was not among those who wished to see all our work given out under contract. Far from it. He wished to see the Naval Dockyards kept in an efficient state, and ready to turn out any work that might be required from them, which was not the case now. There was another question to which he wished briefly to refer, and that was in reference to squadrons not being employed in naval tactics on full speed. Having commanded a squadron himself he could say it was not a question of economy. But as the squadrons were composed of so many different types of ships, it was necessary that the speed of the whole squadron should be brought down to the speed of the slowest vessel. The last point to which he would refer was our coaling stations. He did not think the House was aware of the bad state of our coaling stations. He spoke more especially of those which he happened to know, and which had come under his own observation. The coaling station at Bermuda, for example, was supposed to be one of the most important in the world, cut off from the mainland by 800 miles. If war were to break out between France and ourselves the people of Bermuda would know nothing about it. He was happy to think the late Government contemplated a remedy for this state of things. It was not a question of what had been done or left undone in the past by any Government, but of what should 856 be done in the future. The Bermuda coaling station was now absolutely unprotected, though a large sum of money had been expended upon it. At the present moment, an iron-clad of 7,000 tons could make her way to within bombarding distance of our Dockyard and coaling station at Bermuda without coming under the fire of a single gun from that station. The North American coaling station also was utterly inadequate, and though, perhaps, he might be wrong in admitting it, if war were to break out with a Foreign Power the coal fields of Cape Breton might be seized without our knowing anything about it. Could the hon. Member for Falmouth, therefore, say that our Navy was in a proper state of defence, while our coaling stations depended at present upon the defence given them by the Navy? He (Sir J. E. Commerell) maintained that our coaling stations were in an improper condition.
§ SIR THOMAS BRASSEY (Hastings)
said, he must compliment the noble and gallant Lord who had introduced this Motion upon his excellent speech, so full of the spirit of that Profession of which he was so gallant and popular a member. He was sure that he was expressing the general feeling of the House when he said that the additional representation of the Navy by the several gallant Officers who had spoken was a very welcome addition to the House, and a great addition in their deliberations upon naval affairs. With regard to the views expressed by the noble Lord as to the direction in which naval expenditure should be directed, he very cordially agreed with him, and he was sure that the views the noble Lord had expressed would commend themselves to the House. The point on which he differed from the noble Lord was as to the absolute necessity for the immediate expenditure upon the scale which he had proposed in addition to the liberal Estimates brought forward by the Admiralty. For his own part, he claimed to be one of those who had the interests of the Navy at heart, and during the many years he had been a Member of that House he had always done his best towards the efficiency of the Navy. The noble Lord had said that the Naval Estimates should be framed on a liberal scale; but he would suggest, for the consideration of those who wished for an efficient Navy, and 857 desired, with the noble Lord, that the Estimates should be framed on such a scale that it could not be a good policy to overstate the case, and he would deprecate demands which were excessive, lest they should, in the end, lead to some re-action in the state of public opinion with regard to the Navy. No doubt, if they looked to the magnitude of the interests at stake, the value of our shipping and sea-borne trade, to the extent of our Colonial Empire and the inevitable dispersion of our Naval Forces in the event of war, and the concentration of the Navy of the enemy at some suitable point, and on the dependence of our country upon imported food, it was difficult to say what extent of expenditure would be sufficient to meet all emergencies that might arise. But if they looked at the question from another point of view, if they compared the resources available in the hands of the British and Naval Administration on the scale of the last few years with the amount available elsewhere, he ventured to say that it should be sufficient, under good administration, to place this country in a commanding position. The French Shipbuilding Votes last year were £2,750,000, and of this country, including the Vote of Credit, the Votes were £5,342,000, while the Votes proposed in the Estimates for the coming year would amount to £5,307,000. They were spending double the amount expended upon building under the French Administration; and if they obtained as effective a result from a given expenditure as was obtained under foreign Administrations there should be little cause for uneasiness. The main thought of the Board of Admiralty in relation to shipbuilding for the coming year would be directed towards the ships in hand, and the Admiralty during the next year, 1887–8, would have the opportunity of carrying out a large programme of new construction. He trusted that that programme would be directed on the lines suggested by the noble and gallant Lord and other gallant Officers who had spoken. The policy proposed for 1886–7 was to complete with despatch the vessels laid down with the sanction of Parliament at the close of Lord Northbrook's Administration. To the programme as put before Parliament for 1885–6 the late Government added one torpedo cruiser of the Archer type, and 858 four torpedo gun boats of the Grasshopper type. He cordially approved of the remarks of the noble Lord opposite with regard to the Grasshopper type of ship. This class would supply to the Navy a type intermediate between the Archer class and the Coast Service boats. Such a type was urgently needed to act in combination with our armoured squadrons. The cruise undertaken by the torpedo boats attached to Admiral Hornby's Squadron and the more recent voyage of the four torpedo boats from Malta to Suda Bay in the depth of winter were not unattended with risk. The torpedo boats of the new class and improved type might be capable of contending with any weather; but it was idle to suppose that vessels of from 50 to 60 tons could keep at sea for extended periods without reducing the crew to a state of exhaustion. If Lord Nelson found that the fag from service in a brig was very great when constantly at sea, they might rest assured that life in a torpedo boat of small size would be far more trying. The rapid completion of the ships now in hand would enable the Admiralty next year to propose an extensive programme of now construction. In framing our shipbuilding programme for the future regard must necessarily be had to the direction which was being given to naval preparations in other countries. At the present time indications were not wanting of a general disposition to withdraw from a costly rivalry in armoured building. It was a significant fact that while the Germans had only one iron-clad in construction, a Vote of Credit of £840,000 had recently been obtained for 70 torpedo boats for Coast defence. In France the policy favoured by the present Minister of Marine had been made known to the world by his own publications and by those of M. Gabriel Charmes. The naval operations of the future were, according to the views of these gentlemen, to be directed not against the battle ship, but against the commerce of the enemy. While no new iron-clad was laid down for France in 1885, in 1886 further progress was suspended on two ships which had already been commenced. The main expenditure in France would be directed to the completion of the iron-clads already considerably advanced; but fast cruisers and torpedo vessels were evidently des- 859 tined in the near future to monopolize the resources available for the building of ships. The French had lately laid down the Tage and the Amiral Cecille, of 7,045 tons, protected on the same plan as the Mersey class, and with a speed of 19 knots. The Constructors in the French Dockyards had been asked to propose designs for cruisers of 4,200 tons and 19 knots, and for another class of 2,600 tons and 18 knots, both to be lightly armed. The French torpedo flotilla in construction comprised three torpedo cruisers of the Condor class, of 1,280 tons and 17 knots, and seven of the Bombe class of 220 tons and 18 knots; and they had in construction 11 seagoing torpedo boats of 66 tons and 20 knots. It was necessary that the British Admiralty should be armed at all points; but if no new iron-clad was laid down by Foreign Powers this country might, on the completion of those now in hand, wisely pause before commencing any new ships. The necessity for laying down new armoured ships at present might be obviated by the effective and judicious conversion of existing ships. They might begin with the Audacious class, taking one ship in hand at a time to be modernized as a second-class battle ship, with reduced masts, compound engines, and improved armour and armament. It could not now be said that we were neglecting the torpedo. It should be our policy to develop vigorously the strength of the Navy with the new weapon. For the defence of our commerce it was impossible to be precise as to the standard of strength at which our Fleet should be maintained in relation to that of the Powers. The increased expenditure shown in the Estimates for 1885–6 was mainly appropriated to vessels for the protection of commerce. The Archer class was considered valuable for these duties and as seagoing torpedo boats. The belted cruisers were more particularly designed under the late Board for the protection of commerce; and the resources of the Navy, in future years, might, with advantage, be applied to the construction of additional vessels of a similar type, but with that advance in speed which had been rendered necessary in consequence of the laying down of still faster vessels by Foreign Powers. He entertained the earnest hope that a large evolutionary squadron might be brought 860 together every year, not only for the purpose of testing by experiments the value of new weapons and new types of fighting vessels of all classes, but for the practical instruction of officers and men. The opportunities afforded to them in the cruise of the Evolutionary Squadron last summer were highly appreciated by all concerned; and any Board of Admiralty might be congratulated which was able to appoint to the command an officer so eminently qualified as Sir Geoffrey Hornby, and he earnestly hoped that the high rank which that gallant gentleman had attained in the Navy would not debar him from hoisting his flag with the squadron on future occasions. In conclusion, he might say that he was of opinion that if the House of Commons continued to place at the disposal of the Admiralty Estimates such as were voted last year and were proposed for the present year, these sums would be sufficient, under good administration, to maintain the Navy in a commanding position.
§ ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
said, he felt sure that all the naval men in the House had listened to the speech of the noble and gallant Lord with pleasure. They were all proud of him for the manner in which he had on various occasions upheld the honour of the Service; but, at the same time, the terms of the noble and gallant Lord's Motion were open to exception. He would suggest to the noble and gallant Lord that he should omit from the Motion all reference to Terminable Annuities and the Sinking Fund; for when naval men began talking about these they were certainly out of their depth. If this were done, he believed the Motion would be unanimously accepted by the House. What, he asked, did naval men know about Terminable Annuities? As much as swans knew about sheet anchors. He trusted that the subject of the Navy would never be discussed from a Party point of view. Unfortunately, the Navy had suffered too much at the hands of both Parties. Each side of the House thought too much of the taxpayer. The House of Commons was their best friend, and Governments were their worst friends, because they never had the courage of their convictions. He deprecated invidious comparisons with other nations. What they wanted was a Committee of Inquiry. 861 The hon. Member for Cardiff (Sir Edward Reed), who had moved in the matter last year, was, he feared, muzzled now. But they would probably have some wise counsels from that hon. Gentleman that night. At present there was no continuity of policy in naval matters. The effect of the fatal Order in Council of 1869 was that the Lords of the Admiralty had ceased to be responsible to the public. Instead of really being Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, they were only now heads of Departments, responsible to the First Lord. As Lords Commissioners, they had a right to tender advice; now they only met by sufferance as a consultative Board. These were great evils, which called for redress. All naval men were agreed that a change in the present system was required; and he hoped someone would move for a Committee of Inquiry, because the majority of this House did not understand the question. Allusion had been made to the Russian scare of last year. The hon. Member for Hastings (Sir Thomas Brassey) had alluded to it; but at that time the hon. Member was Secretary to the Admiralty, and the Government of which he was a Member had been five years in power. When the Baltic Fleet was being prepared there were no torpedo boats fit to accompany it. Iron-clads could not be put to fight torpedo boats, just as elephants could not be put to fight wasps; and no Admiral would dream of entering the Baltic without some sort of a flotilla of torpedo boats, seeing that the Russians had 70 stationed there. There were said to have been eight torpedo boats with Admiral Hornby's Squadron on the Coast of Ireland; but it was well known to all the officers that six of those boats were not fit to keep the sea. The greatest Marine Power in the world with two serviceable torpedo boats! In Portsmouth Yard there were not three Whitehead torpedoes to issue to the Fleet at the time of the scare. Was that a creditable state of things for a Government to land the country in? Then, again, in China the Admiral was so short of torpedoes that he had to ask leave to buy 13 of the Chinese Government. On another occasion two torpedo boats were purchased from the Chilian Government. Of course, it was quite right of the Admiral to buy these torpedoes and torpedo 862 boats; but who was responsible for that state of things? Was it not the Government in which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hastings was Secretary to the Admiralty? Nothing at all was done until the scare came. As the noble and gallant Lord who moved the Resolution had said, when wars came upon a country they came quickly, and could only be dealt with successfully when that country was prepared beforehand. The interests of England were so vast, with her Colonies depending upon her for protection, the necessity of keeping open her food supply was so urgent, the volume of her trade was so enormous, that the Navy, as it was, was quite inadequate to support and maintain them. It was only for naval men to make known the facts. It was for the House of Commons to say whether they would find a remedy, or be lulled to sleep by official statements. There was great laxity in the conduct of naval arrangements, and there was great need of a searching inquiry into them. A great deal of the maladministration was due to the present Parliamentary system. At present, the Naval Lords were hardly allowed to formulate a policy. In June last, when the late Administration of the present Prime Minister went out, Naval Lords of distinction were displaced from the Board. It was then hoped that the Conservative Party would remain long enough in power to formulate a firm naval policy; but, unfortunately, that was not to be. But he maintained it was a very serious matter to displace the Naval Lords last June, and to displace them again in January. He did not wish to trespass longer on the time of the House. He only wished to press upon the House the necessity of accepting this Resolution; and if the noble and gallant Lord would only consent to omit the words which had reference to Terminable Annuities he saw no reason why the House—for he was sure they all honoured the Naval Service—should not affirm the Resolution.
§ THE LORD OF THE TREASURY (Sir EDWARD J. REED) (Cardiff)
said, that, by an unfortunate slip, his hon. and gallant Friend who had just spoken (Admiral Field) had let out the secret when he said that naval men despised politicians. Well, if politicians were disposed to be as severe upon naval men they might use similar language; for his hon. and gal 863 lant Friend had taken the greatest pains to impress on the House that a number of naval officers of high rank and distinction had held office at the Board of Admiralty on the condition that they should have no power whatever, because of the Order passed in 1869 by the First Lord of the Admiralty. He (Sir Edward J. Reed) closed at once with his hon. and gallant Friend on that statement; and he said that, whatever might have been the weakening effect of the Order to which his hon. and gallant Friend had referred, the Naval Lords at the Admiralty were Naval Lords still. They were still responsible for the due execution of their duties; and he did not believe that any gallant Officer who had held office as Sea Lord for the last few years would hold the doctrine of his hon. and gallant Friend, and say that since 1869 no Naval Lord had had more power than a clerk. So far from admitting that doctrine, he had himself been one of those who felt that a very heavy responsibility had lain upon the Sea Lords of the Admiralty; and, although he had on all occasions passed over, not only Sea Lords, but Comptrollers, Constructors, and others, to fix responsibility on the First Lord of the Admiralty, who stood before the country as the most responsible person, at the same time he would despise those naval officers if it were possible to believe that they held office without power, and received pay without responsibility. He had been challenged with reference to the Motion he had before the House in the last Parliament; and it appeared to be thought that he would be somewhat wanting in his duty if he failed now to press for a Committee of Inquiry into the condition of the Navy. But he did not at all take that view, and for this reason. When he gave Notice of his Motion in the last Parliament, he did so with the consciousness that not a single iron-clad worthy of the name was being built; that the so-called protected ships were not worthy of the designation; and that, owing to the prevalence of a fanatical theory of naval construction, the Navy was falling into a most unsatisfactory state. But since that time, and partly, he hoped, in consequence of his Motion, Lord Northbrook had appeared before Parliament with a programme of the greatest possible importance, and we were now constructing seven ships in all, including 864 a type of armour-belted cruisers of 5,000 tons, to which the noble Lord gave a speed of 17½ knots, but which, it was hoped, would reach a speed of 18 knots. Those seven armour-belted vessels were everything worthy of the name. They enjoyed the confidence of the late Administration no less than of the present; they had received the highest eulogiums that night, and were the vessels referred to by his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty under the last Administration as being not likely to be surpassed. Again, a total transformation had come over the construction of iron-clads since he gave Notice of his Motion. He gave the noble Lord opposite (Lord George Hamilton) credit for having trampled on the theory of construction which had prevailed so long, and for having laid down ships worthy of the name and of the Admiralty. In the Estimates soon to be laid before Parliament those ships would be shown to be fully accepted by the present Board of Admiralty, and would be advanced with considerable rapidity. The gravest grounds, therefore, upon which he gave his Notice had been entirely swept away, and he felt less anxiety for the future of the Navy than he should otherwise have done, because these reforms affected that portion of the Navy to which he attached the most vital importance. His noble and gallant Friend and other naval officers had laid great stress upon the construction of fast cruisers and torpedo vessels. He did not wish to say a word in depreciation of them; but he would say that, while those iron-clad ships were being rapidly advanced, and when ready would be fit to carry the flag of this country against any enemy, the torpedo vessels were of a minor class, which could be produced with great rapidity if the necessity arose. There was a great difference between this country being deficient in those first-class ships which could only be produced by a great expenditure, extending over several years, and being deficient in those vessels which could be turned with extreme rapidity out of 20 dockyards—private establishments—in this country. He thought he had disposed of the contention that a Committee was as necessary now as when he had given Notice of his Motion. It showed the influence of private Members and the value of Parliamentary institutions that such a Notice had not 865 been without effect, but had real influence upon the naval administration of the country. The Gentlemen with whom he was associated might be complimented on having shown their desire to give effect to the manifest wish of the House. Coming to the Motion of the noble and gallant Lord, he admitted there was an element of plausibility about it which he found it difficult to appreciate at what the noble and gallant Lord thought its true value. The noble and gallant Lord had been advised to omit certain words from his Motion; and he (Sir Edward J. Reed) must himself confess that he failed to see what particular use lay in the words. The noble and gallant Lord invited the House to spend £5,500,000 in excess of the Estimates, and told them that the money was to be obtained, not from the taxpayers, but by suspending the Sinking Fund or creating Terminable Annuities. In either case, however, a great addition would be made to the public burdens. He might not have the sympathy of Naval Members so fully as of other hon. Members when he said that, to his mind, the condition of the Public Debt, or, rather, the magnitude of the Public Income which was to be raised annually, was one of vast importance, and in connection with which lay some of the most serious outlooks of our Parliamentary system. He was anxious for the well-being of the Navy; but he was also anxious to see as much relief as possible given in respect of the public burdens. He did not think that the Public Debt should be increased, or that its reduction should be suspended in any light or airy way. Ever since he had a seat in the House he had viewed our Expenditure with the greatest possible concern, for he had to regard it in connection with the Public Income. On what ground was the late Liberal Government driven from Office? On the ground of seeking to produce increased Income from one of the most natural sources of Revenue. He remembered very well on that night how the Prime Minister, from his place at that Table, reminded hon. Gentlemen that they were playing a dangerous game in denying the Government such a legitimate source of taxation, and pointed out how many sources of Revenue had been dried up. His opinion was that the difficulty would become greater. He was speaking for himself in the 866 matter; but he believed he had the sympathy of many with whom he acted when he said that he did not even regard the naval condition of the country with more anxiety than the Public Debt and the raising of our Income. They must not be led away to suppose that they escaped any increased expenditure by suspending the Sinking Fund or creating Terminable Annuities. In anything that he had said or done he had never advocated a lavish expenditure on the Naval Service. What he had advocated before he advocated now, and what he denounced before he denounced now. He advocated the most strict and scrutinizing economy, and he denounced anything like extravagant or unwise expenditure. And the reason he denounced the naval policy pursued for some years was because he thought it extravagant and useless. Just in proportion as the necessity for increasing the expenditure on the Public Services grew, so ought to grow their anxiety for making every sixpence of that expenditure fruitful. He had denounced during the last 20 years the Naval Pension List, which had doubled. It had grown from £1,000,000 to £2,000,000; and, though he would not deprive anyone of the pension he had earned, he thought they had not shown themselves watchful enough in revising the Naval Expenditure. He did not wish to lose another moment before complimenting the noble and gallant Lord upon his speech, which was a valuable one, and had obtained the sympathy of the House; but there were one or two points to which he must advert, as they had struck him as being of considerable importance. The noble and gallant Lord gave the House some very carefully-prepared estimates of the outlay in detail of the £5,500,000. But there were some items of expenditure on some classes of vessels which he deemed as necessary as those of which he had spoken, but of the cost of which he made no mention.
§ SIR EDWARD J. REED
The colliers, for instance, which the noble and gallant Lord said were to keep pace with the Fleet.
§ SIR EDWARD J. REED
said, he perfectly understood that; but he stated that the noble and gallant Lord omitted to state the cost of many things which he considered necessary. The noble and gallant Lord did not include these ships among the matters of prime necessity which he had spoken of; but he failed to understand, however, why colliers were not as much a necessity this year as they would be later on. He would point out to the noble and gallant Lord that if the colliers and ammunition ships were necessary to the formation of a squadron, they must be made to keep the same speed as the other ships of the squadron. If the Admiralty brought the number of Heclas up to six instead of three, he might say that, instead of £5,500,000, £11,000,000 or £12,000,000 would be required to carry out the noble and gallant Lord's proposals. The subject of the coaling stations had been brought forward in the discussion. He had never been able to feel that anxiety about our coaling stations which was so strongly felt by others, and for this reason—that at any moment of the year the sea was covered by British coaling stations in the shape of British ships carrying coal. One of the most alarming things in time of war, at any rate for the enemy, was that the sea would be covered by these British coaling stations. For himself, he deprecated any enormous expenditure on coaling stations for another reason—that he thought it was quite probable, before many years were past, that the Navy would be burning liquid fuel. If that was so, they would then go to the sources of liquid fuel, and they would have to defend those sources instead of the coaling stations. He did not object to any moderate expenditure on the coaling stations, but he did object to any unreasonable expenditure. He must say that, gratifying as the debate had been in many respects, it was very alarming to his mind in some other respects. They had had some doctrines advocated by hon. Members, no doubt seriously and conscientiously advocated in the interests of the country, but which, to his mind, would be utterly destructive of the naval eminence of this country. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Gourley) had had the courage to inform the House that it took a lifetime to build an iron-clad, and on that account he 868 would not build any more. Then the hon. Member also told the House that iron-clads built 10 years ago were obsolete. He might point out, with reference to this matter, that the Dreadnought, which was built from his designs he did not know how many years ago, was at the present moment, in the opinion of many distinguished naval officers, the very finest iron-clad which the Navy had at present afloat. Then, again, the Bellerophon, about which some anxiety was expressed recently, was a vessel which was not deemed an unworthy representative of the country on certain stations. That vessel he designed as long ago as 1863; therefore, he objected to the statement that ships built 10 years ago were obsolete. But his objection to the abandonment of iron-clads was this. It might suit the other Powers of the world, to which we formed always an object of attack or of contemplated attack, to resort only to torpedo boats and vessels of that kind; but this country might possess 10,000 boats or cruisers, and yet the Navy might not be able to strike one out of the 10 blows such as it had to strike abroad in the course of its history. What would have been the use of torpedo boats during the Russian War, or what use would they have been for the purpose of taking out the frigates from under the guns of the Spaniards at Carthagena? The fact was, the British Navy must comprise ships armed with guns, by which alone they would be able to reach the shores of the enemy; and he hoped that no countenance would be given in that House to the doctrine of the abandonment of armed ships. When they ceased to build such ships, which enabled them to carry their power into foreign harbours, that moment the overthrow of our naval supremacy would be effected. He must express great satisfaction at the fact that it had been decided to construct the two vessels the Nile and the Trafalgar. He was not prepared to say anything about these ships beyond this—that they entirely avoided those features which he had been so long condemning in our vessels. He did not know how far they went in other directions; but he was prepared, on learning that the present Board of Admiralty were going energetically forward with these two magnificent and powerful vessels and with the enlarged pro- 869 gramme of Lord Northbrook, to take a seat on the Ministerial Bench. Whatever might be said about torpedo boats, this must be said—that just in proportion as these two largo vessels were advanced towards completion, in such proportion would there arise in the Naval Service a confidence in its preparedness, and, at any rate, in the power of some of its ships to pursue an enemy anywhere. He must compliment the hon. and gallant Member for Southampton (Sir J. E. Commerell) upon the speech which he had delivered to the House. He believed that they might reap increased advantage by having naval officers in that House; and he was of opinion that the naval officer element had been too much in abeyance in the work of improving the designs of our ships. It was an unworthy thing for any Controller of the Navy and any Sea Lord or First Lord to accept designs simply because they were produced by their solitary Constructor at the Admiralty; and he hoped that the day was coming when they would see such naval officers as the noble and gallant Lord opposite assisting in Whitehall in the designing of ships for which that House voted money. Before the time came to build additional iron-clads he hoped that such an arrangement would be brought about.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON (Middlesex, Ealing)
Mr. Speaker—Sir, I believe that the House will recognize the propriety of many of the observations that have been made by those who have taken part in this debate. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has ostensibly spoken against the Motion; but his arguments have told in its favour, and he has in no way controverted the main portion of the statements of my noble and gallant Friend. The hon. Gentleman did not combat the statement of my noble and gallant Friend that in many respects our Navy is very weak, and not in the efficient condition in which it ought to be. The question before us to-night is whether the condition deprecated by my noble and gallant Friend is such as to necessitate immediate further expenditure upon it; and, if so, whether the mode suggested of raising the money is the best and most appropriate? The late Government, with which I had the honour to be connected, came into Office 870 under peculiar circumstances. The nation had just passed through a great scare, and a large sum of money had just been voted for putting the Navy upon a proper footing; and we had the advantage of coming into Office at a time when that scare had shown the insufficiency of our armaments, and also the necessity for some provision being made for increasing the naval strength of the country. The noble Earl (the Earl of Northbrook), who was at the head of the Board of Admiralty before we took Office some months back, announced to the country that the Estimates for the Navy for the past year were inadequate to maintain it on an efficient footing; and therefore he proposed to expend a very large additional sum upon it, such expenditure to be spread over a period of five years. There is a peculiarity about the Naval Estimates for the present year—and here permit me to say that we all regret the reason of the absence of the Secretary to the Admiralty, whose urbanity, business-like capacity, and thorough mastery of every detail with which he deals has endeared him to the House of Commons. I said that there was a peculiarity about the Navy Estimates for the present year, and it is this—that they are the highest that have ever been laid before the House of Commons; that in every previous year when the Navy Estimates were millions lower than they are this year provision was made for laying down new and additional ships, as well as for making provision for the wear and tear of the Navy; whereas now, for the first time during the 11 years I have been in the House of Commons, it is not proposed to lay down a single new ship. I am not blaming Her Majesty's Government for this fact, because I believe that nothing can be more futile or more unwise than to attempt to carry out too large a programme with inadequate means. It is my opinion that during the last few years too many iron-clads and other large ships have been laid down for the money voted; and, consequently, there has been great delay in their progress and completion, with the result that when we were almost on the verge of war with Russia we had some 100,000 tons of incomplete ironclads locked up in our Dockyards. Why is it, then, that with the highest Navy 871 Estimates we have ever had, no provision has been made for laying down new ships? It is because—and I hope that the House will understand that in making this observation I do not make it for the purpose of finding fault with Her Majesty's present Government, inasmuch as the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Admiralty are in precisely the same position in which I was when I was at the Admiralty—it is because the Government have to provide not only for the wants of the Navy for the year, but to sweep off the enormous liabilities that have occurred during past years. When the Earl of Northbrook made his proposals for an increased expenditure upon the Navy, it was estimated that this expenditure would be spread over a period of five years, whereas it is a matter of fact that the great bulk of this increased expenditure will have to be met not in five years, but in three; and this circumstance, strange to say, is largely due to the depression in trade. The object of every Chancellor of the Exchequer must naturally be to lighten the burdens of the country as much as possible when trade and agriculture are depressed, yet, curiously enough, the depression of trade has tended to increase the expenditure upon the Navy, because the contracts of last year have been worked off much more rapidly than was anticipated, owing to our shipyards being almost bare of work, with the exception of that which they obtained from the Admiralty. This is, of course, a benefit to both the Navy and the country, because the former gets more ships, and the latter has the additional security furnished by a stronger Navy. Indeed, nobody suffers in consequence of this increase of Naval Expenditure except the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One of the reasons why the Estimates of the year are so abnormally high is because provision has to be made to meet the additional expenditure proposed by the Earl of Northbrook, and voted by this House. Last year several contracts were put out under that Vote of Credit, and an additional £500,000 is required to meet our liabilities in respect of those contracts during the present year. It is beyond the power of the Admiralty to diminish that sum. That which they can diminish is the normal expenditure of the year. 872 I think that I shall be able to show the House that although the Navy Estimates for the year are so abnormally high, they are oven now not high enough, and that we are in danger of rendering that high expenditure inadequate and futile for want of a limited additional expenditure. The noble Lord the Member for Marylebone estimated that £5,500,000 were necessary to put the Navy upon a thoroughly efficient footing. I, however, take a more sanguine view of the state of the Navy, and I do not think that so large a sum is necessary. The expenditure upon the Navy last year was enormous, being £6,500,000 more than it was in the preceding year. I think that in making his estimate my noble Friend did not make sufficient allowance for the number of iron-clads and of large cruisers that will be coming on for completion during the course of the ensuing year. Therefore, as far as the iron-clads and the large cruisers are concerned, I should not propose any increase of the Vote this year. But, undoubtedly, we are very deficient in smaller vessels, and the House will have to face that difficulty sooner or later, and considerable sums will have to be spent in order to bring up the number of the gunboats and the smaller vessels to the requisite level. The late Board of Admiralty slightly enlarged the programme of the Earl of Northbrook; and it is satisfactory to us to know that those who have succeeded us have approved of our amended plan. There was, however, a programme which we left behind us with regard to the number of small vessels which we thought it would be necessary to build during the next three or four years; and what I especially desire to ask the attention of the House to is, that unless some such proposal as that which I have indicated be adopted the efficiency of our Navy will be greatly endangered. It is a fact that there is scarcely an efficient gunboat in Her Majesty's Service, although we shall require a large number during the next two years to relieve those which are now in commission. The late Board of Admiralty summarily stopped all the large repairs on vessels that were not effective; and unless new vessels are built the present Board will be compelled to waste a considerable sum in repairing obsolete, slow, and useless gunboats, because the 873 reliefs could not otherwise be found. Therefore, so far as the smaller vessels are concerned, it is in the interests of economy that the House should assent to some such proposal as is made by my noble and gallant Friend the Member for Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford), and place at the disposal of the Government a sum that would enable them rapidly to expedite the laying down and building of small vessels. But, further, unless some addition is made to the Navy Estimates this House will find that a very large proportion of the expenditure already incurred will be rendered more or less useless. If the Admiralty were to send iron-clads to sea without guns it would be little better than idiotcy; but if they were to send them without ammunition it would be almost equally foolish. Now, speaking with full knowledge of the Estimates of this year, I say that unless some addition is made, or the Government take out from the Naval Estimates a certain amount for exceptional expenditure they will have to meet, certain of the iron-clads will not be efficient, because the guns will not be in them, and in some other cases they will be without ammunition. I asked the Secretary of State for War what provision was made for guns this year, and his reply was that the very large sum of £1,000,000 sterling would be provided. Well, that is an enormous sum, and almost treble the normal Naval Ordnance Vote three years ago; but it is not sufficient, because we have recently ordered an enormous number of new breech loading guns that are absolutely essential for the Service, and until the full number of those guns is completed our ships will be inadequately armed. The amount of ammunition that is required for the new big guns to be made this year should cost £41,000, and this provides no reserves of ammunition whatever. This will only provide 65 rounds for the large guns and 85 rounds for the small guns. The Government have been obliged to strike off one-third of this amount. But the case is worse in regard to the small guns, the machine, and rapidly-firing guns. These are necessary to protect the iron-clads from torpedo boats, and are, in fact, an essential part of the armament of any large vessel. A large number are to be made, but no ammunition is to be provided. Forty torpedo boats were last year ordered, and we were 874 informed that a portion of the gunboats would accompany Admiral Hoskins to the Baltic; but none were forthcoming. If they are fitted with guns they will have no ammunition. Therefore, in order to curtail the Vote by about £70,000, we are compelled to mar, if not to nullify, the efficacy of an expenditure of something like £3,000,000 for iron-clads. It would be much better never to have sanctioned that expenditure than to be compelled now, when that expenditure has been made by the House, to frustrate its utility. Under these circumstances, what would be the best course for the House to take? I am quite aware of the financial difficulty in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is placed. Self-preservation is an instinct with everybody—even with a Chancellor of the Exchequer—and the right hon. Gentleman knows that during a period of depression there is a limit to the amount of taxation that can be imposed upon the community. It would not be possible to take out of taxation this year the sum that would be necessary for this year and next year to put the Navy in a state of complete and thorough preparation. But the sum which I myself estimate to be necessary is far less than that named by my noble and gallant Friend the Member for Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford). I take it at not more than £2,000,000, which might be spread over three years. I believe that out of the Vote of Credit £2,000,000, if not more, was absolutely wasted, and that the Navy is not one whit the better for that expenditure. I am perfectly satisfied that unless the small ships, torpedo boats, and complete stores of ammunition are provided, we shall be liable to another scare; then the same wasteful extravagance will occur, and we shall resort again to expedients which leave the Navy no better than it was before. In these circumstances, what would be the best method of meeting the difficulty? I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne (Admiral Field) that the part of the Motion of my noble Friend relating to the Sinking Fund and Terminable Annuities might with advantage be struck out of his Resolution. I have a very great objection to touching the Sinking Fund. I regretted last year the proposal that was made, and to which the House assented. The 875 Sinking Fund is an instrument of great potency for reducing the National Debt. Have hon. Members calculated the result of allowing the full operation of the present Sinking Fund to take effect for the next 50 years? At the end of 50 years, if the Sinking Fund is untouched, we shall have paid off the whole interest and principal of the National Debt, which means a permanent reduction of £28,000,000 sterling per annum from the dead weight of taxation now pressing on the community. Now, Sir, it is absolutely impossible by any other means to confer so great a benefit on posterity, because the great advantage of the Sinking Fund is that the process of reduction goes on unseen, unheard, and not generally known; and therefore the community, in periods of depression, cannot lay hands on the Sinking Fund. No one has an objection, when times are good and trade is prosperous, to pay for reducing the liabilities of the nation; but when the times are bad there is a strong objection to imposing more taxation than is absolutely necessary. Therefore, my great objection to touching the Sinking Fund is not only that you will suspend what I believe is a most beneficent operation for posterity, but that if my noble and gallant Friend sets the example of a private Member being able to lay his hand on the Sinking Fund, the advocates of fads and crotchets in their turn may come and make similar demands. This House, like every other distinguished Assembly, is subject to occasional fits of mental aberration; and, therefore, if this example is set by a private Member, even for so worthy an object as strengthening the Navy, we may have constant changes proposed, which will not only leave us with no Sinking Fund, but, in all probability, with a largely increased national liability. But in regard to Terminable Annuities the case is quite different. I hope I shall be more successful with the House of Commons than I was with the Treasury when I was a Minister. The Treasury rejected the proposal which I laid before them, and which I will now repeat. I would spread the payment for giving additional strength to the Navy over the period originally contemplated—namely, five years; and if a sum such as after consideration the Admiralty and the Chancellor of the Exchequer may think necessary is raised 876 and paid off by Terminable Annuities in five years, you will then be able to separate the normal from the abnormal Navy Expenditure. In two years I believe your Navy Expenditure will very considerably diminish, and this House will always have a much greater control over that expenditure if they are able to discriminate between the expenditure which is exceptional, and which makes up for past neglect, from that which is normal and necessary to keep up the annual expenditure upon the Navy. Supposing my proposal were adopted, I would suggest, first, that whatever sum is raised should annually form, until paid off, a charge on the Navy Estimates, and form as much a part of the Navy Estimates as the non-effective charge. There are two precedents I may quote for my suggestion. The fortifications which Viscount Palmerston proposed were erected with money found by the present Prime Minister and raised by Terminable Annuities; but the period in that case was a long one—namely, 25 years. I am informed that there is no precedent for raising Terminable Annuities for so perishable an article as a ship or a gun; and I quite agree that the raising of Terminable Annuities extending over 25 years for the building of ships is a proposal which ought not to be assented to. But, at the end of five years, ships will still be efficient; and if it was justifiable 25 years ago to raise Terminable Annuities for building fortifications, surely it would not be wrong to raise them for the purpose of making the Navy properly efficient when the period is only five years. A ship at the end of five years is surely not more likely to become obsolete than the fortifications erected in 1860 were at the end of 25 years, when the Annuities were paid off. Well, Sir, that is the suggestion which I venture to make. I support the proposal of my noble and gallant Friend; but if that proposal were to become a substantive Motion I should move to omit all the words in the first line after the word "opportunity" down to the words "in order," which would make the Motion read thus—That now would be a suitable opportunity to put the Royal Navy in that state of efficiency which is necessary for the safety of the Empire.A great many extraneous matters have 877 been introduced in the course of the debate with which I do not think it necessary at this time of night to trouble the House; but there was one observation made by my noble and gallant Friend in reference to coaling stations which I think is worthy of notice. A coaling station becomes of necessity a source of weakness unless it is properly fortified, because the Admiral upon whose station that coaling station is situated must detach vessels to protect it, unless it can be protected from the land. This, of course, entails a diminution of the cruising strength of the squadron in the seas in which the coaling station is situated. Unless the Government completes, which I hope they will do, the fortifications which are being carried on, our coaling stations in different parts of the world will be a source of weakness rather than of strength to us during a time of war. This has been particularly brought home to my mind by the present condition of Port Hamilton. Our Predecessors occupied Port Hamilton at a time when we were on the verge of war with Russia. Let any Member of Her Majesty's Government now ask the Admirals who have been, or the Admiral who now is, in command of the China Squadron whether Port Hamilton, unfortified, is a source of strength or of weakness to our Fleet, and I am sure he will be told by one and all that it is better to abandon that station if it is not to be fortified, because it entails the detaching of a certain number of ships, which diminishes the effective cruising strength of the squadron. The hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne (Admiral Field) made a strong attack on the present system of administration in the Admiralty, and was good enough to say that the different Naval Members of the Board are nothing more than mere clerks. Well, Sir, I had some six months' experience of the working of the system as at present established in the Board of Admiralty.
§ ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
I beg pardon; I did not say they were mere clerks; they are infinitely superior to clerks; but I said that they occupied the position of chief clerks.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
I have had some experience of the system, and I do not believe that a system was ever 878 in force for administering the British Navy superior to that which exists at the present moment at the Admiralty if properly worked. You have a Board of Admiralty of which the First Lord must necessarily be a politician, and who has the pick of the Service as his Naval Colleagues. Every Naval Lord is made the Executive head of a Department, and he transacts all the business of that Department, his decision on all minor matters being final. It is only questions of importance which are referred to the First Lord; and I believe that it has never happened—certainly not in my term of Office—that the First Lord of the Admiralty gave a decision on important matters which would override that of the Naval Lord in the Department of which he was the head until after full consultation and thorough discussion with the other heads of Departments. Not only have you got the pick of the Naval Service as Executive officers, but, whenever a question of real importance is to be considered, the Board is invaluable in its consultative capacity. I have had some experience of the India Office, the business of which is transacted under forms prescribed by statute. The great mistake in the method of conducting affairs there is that 16 gentlemen act as an Executive Body, and without their consent nothing small or great can be done. That difficulty had been avoided at the Admiralty; and I believe there is no Department, with a few exceptions, where the business is so rapidly transacted, or where, with some exceptions, business is better done than under the system which has been denounced by am hon. and gallant Friend. I am certain that if a similar system were introduced at the War Office you would get rid of the friction between the military and the civilian element which prevents the War Office deciding on important questions without a delay which is unknown at the Admiralty. I know there are many Members in the House pledged to economy who may consider the suggestion I have made for the grant of the small and limited sum necessary to put the Navy in order, and to be raised by Terminable Annuities, as an extravagant proposal, and one which, as economists, they are bound to protest against. If there be any such who take this view of the present suggestion, will they allow 879 me to place before them one or two considerations. Nobody can occupy, even for the short time I did, the post of First Lord of the Admiralty without being impressed with the paramount importance, not only of our being able to maintain our naval supremacy, but to give adequate protection to our carrying trade in time of hostilities. We are more closely packed together in this community than any nation has ever been before, and our sole means of subsistence depend on the maintenance of our carrying trade. If in any time of trouble and hostility that carrying trade were to be undermined, or allowed to pass into other hands, it is no exaggeration to say that a large proportion of the population of these Islands would starve for lack of food, and another large proportion would starve for want of wages, This is a contingency which no man can face with equanimity or indifference. Can the Admiralty protect our carrying trade? I believe it can. So far as I know—I speak with the advice and the sanction of the naval men who constituted my Board — I believe that by the expenditure of a small sum of money we can protect and make our carrying trade safe. If it be clear that the sum is not extravagant, that the proposal is one that can be met without putting undue taxation on the community, and that it will secure for our carrying trade that safety which we all desire to see, then I trust the House will not, from any excessive deference for the pedantry of finance, refuse to support the Motion of my noble and gallant Friend. [A laugh.] The Chancellor of the Exchequer laughs at my expression—"The pedantry of finance." I say that anybody who will get up and maintain that the proposal which I make is one which, on financial grounds, ought to be objected to, must entirely shut his eyes to what has occurred during the past year. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his laugh.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT) (Derby)
It was the other Chancellor of the Exchequer who laughed.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
Then it was the reflection of a laugh which I caught on the face of the right hon. Gentleman. During the past year the expenditure on the Navy has been enormous. It has been between £17,000,000 880 and £18,000,000 sterling. There is an excess of expenditure during the past year of between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000 over that of the preceding year. Well, Sir, how has that expenditure been met? It has been met entirely out of borrowed money. It has been met either by the Sinking Fund, or by the issue of Exchequer Bonds. Then, if the House has assented to the raising of no less than £6,000,000 or £7,000,000, which was necessary last year to put the Navy in order, is it now to decline, on the ground that the symmetry of the financial system will be upset, to support a proposal which I make to raise by Terminable Annuities this small sum of £2,000,000, and to spread the repayment of that sum over the next five years? I think I have made out a case for the Motion of my noble and gallant Friend. I hope I have done so in such a way as not only to enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer to support it, but I have suggested to him the means by which he can raise the money so as to enable him to retain his popularity and, at the same time, probably to prolong his tenure of Office.
§ THE CIVIL LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. R. W. DUFF) (Banffshire)
Sir, up to 3 o'clock this afternoon I had hoped that my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Hibbert) would have been able to come down to the House prepared to undertake the charge of these Votes instead of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. As, therefore, I am called upon somewhat unexpectedly to fulfil the duties which belong to the Secretary to the Admiralty, I hope that I may not ask in vain for the indulgence of the House. I listened to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) with pleasure, inasmuch as he tells the House that he is satisfied with the Estimates of the present year as far as they go, but that he desires to raise £2,000,000 more by Terminable Annuities. I confess that I was somewhat astonished at the position taken up by the noble Lord, because only six weeks ago he was the First Lord of the Admiralty, and left a programme for his Successors. Certainly, that programme did not include the £1,500,000 of additional money which he now suggests should be raised. I scarcely know how to deal with these 881 figures. I will explain what I mean. The Government have presented to the House an Estimate of £12,900,000, and this was £500,000 less than the programme called by the noble Lord the programme which we found at the Admiralty. I should not have alluded to the programme of the noble Lord, because I was not aware how far what the noble Lord proposed had received the sanction of the whole Board of Admiralty; and, therefore, as I have said, I do not quite know how to deal with it. All I know is that we now present Estimates which are £500,000 less than those of our Predecessors. At all events, I do know that the noble Lord was willing to conduct the Naval Service of the country for £500,000 more than is now asked for by the present Government.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. The programme which I left behind me was £500,000 more with regard to ships, and the additional sum of £2,000,000 I ask for now would be expended, although not in the present year, to put the Navy in a state of complete efficiency.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
I quite understand the noble Lord; but, as a Board, we know nothing of these £2,000,000 additional; and £500,000 is all the reduction we have made in the Estimates as prepared by our Predecessors. The Estimates we propose to pass now are within £500,000 for shipbuilding of those left by the late Board of Admiralty. The noble Lord says he is not satisfied with the programme of the present Board because we have not laid down any ships. Our reason for not doing that is, in the first place, this—that at this moment we have liabilities to the extent of £3,186,000 for ships now building. We think that that is a heavy liability, and we are of opinion that it is advisable to make progress with the programme to which we are committed before laying down any more ships. There are large questions as to the naval policy involved in laying new ships down. I believe there is a consensus of opinion that we do not need any armoured line-of-battle ships beyond the Nile and the Trafalgar. If new ones are contemplated there are perplexing problems to be solved as to the distribution of the armour; and, 882 having regard to all the circumstances, it would not have been wise in a Board of Admiralty, only six weeks old, and whose First Naval Lord, Lord John Hay, has, in consequence of his absence abroad, not yet attended a Board, to commence at once by laying down a now building programme, having regard to our liabilities. I think that is a sufficient reason for our not laying down additional ships just now; but I may add that the present Board of Admiralty intend to carry out in its integrity the programme of the Earl of Northbrook, which it is to the credit of the noble Lord opposite that he has himself carried out so well. I believe the noble Lord admits that the programme he carried out was the programme of the Earl of Northbrook. [Lord GEORGE HAMILTON: Certainly.] As far as it went it was quite satisfactory, and the present Board also intended to continue that programme. The noble Lord tells us that there have been £2,000,000 absolutely wasted. I think that is a very heavy charge to make against the former Board of Admiralty, and I should like to know what the noble Lord means about the waste of these £2,000,000? I understood him to say that it was during the scare that the money was wasted. Now, I presume that the noble Lord is referring to the hiring of merchant vessels — hired of private firms on the responsibility of the late Board of Admiralty. What do I find? I find that the cost of these armed cruisers, exclusive of coaling and guns, came to exactly £550,000. There were five ships obtained in England at a cost of £244,000; 11 ships procured on foreign stations at a cost of £280,000, and 10 small vessels which cost £22,000, making altogether £546,000. You cannot put down coal as an extra charge, because the expenditure for it would have been incurred if we had had men-of-war instead. Therefore, I think the £2,000,000 the Earl of Northbrook and the Board of Admiralty are supposed to have wasted dwindles down to £550,000. The noble Lord has asked me about the guns. I have here a programme from the Ordnance Department of the Admiralty, from which I find that we shall have guns for all the vessels as soon as the vessels require them. The guns will be completed as soon as the vessels are ready. I have a complete 883 programme, which I propose to print as a Return and lay upon the Table of the House by-and-bye. Complaint has also been made about the smaller class of guns. Of the smaller class of guns there are 450 already provided, and 159 to be received this year will give a total of 609 altogether. Let me now refer to the very able speech of my noble and gallant Friend the Member for Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford). The Board is happy indeed to see in this House Naval Officers who, like the noble and gallant Lord, have distinguished themselves on recent active service. The noble and gallant Lord and the gallant Admiral the Member for Southampton (Sir J. E. Commerell), both of whom I am glad to see in the House, but whom I should prefer to have on this side, have laid down an exhaustive programme; but it is satisfactory that we have at present a sufficient number of large iron-clads. I understand that they quite approve of the policy of building the Nile and the Trafalgar, and I believe that when they are completed those vessels will be two of the most powerful vessels in the world. However much we may need torpedo boats, it is certain that we must keep up in the Navy a certain number of line-of-battle ships. With regard to torpedo boats, we have been told several times this evening that we are short of boats of that description. We should, no doubt, be glad to have more torpedo boats, but of first-class torpedo boats, although the hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for Southampton says we have only 18, we have 23 complete with torpedo gear and 53 building; and, of the latter number, 35 are now overdue. With the late First Lord the present Board are very anxious to push forward these torpedo boats, and we hope to have those which are overdue delivered immediately. There are 18 of these not yet due, so that there is a total of 80, including four for which no date has been fixed. These are torpedo boats of the first class. Of second-class torpedo boats we have 59, 21 complete with torpedo gear, two building by contractors, 27 attached to ships in commission, and nine wooden boats, of which six are complete and three incomplete, bringing up the total to 139. We hope to have them ready very shortly, and I hope that those which 884 are now overdue may be delivered in the course of a month. With reference to the remark of the noble and gallant Lord that there are only three places where torpedo boats can be built, that is undoubtedly the case; but the Constructors' Department are considering the desirability of building these vessels by the Admiralty themselves; and it is very necessary that we should have the power of constructing them at the Government Dockyards, so as to have them entirely under the control of the Department. My noble and gallant Friend has said that naval officers have not had sufficient experience in manœuvreing, and we want more of an experimental squadron. In that connection I am reminded of the interesting manœuvres that took place last year at Bantry Bay, and it cannot be denied that the experiments on that occasion have been of great advantage to the Service. I can only say that I believe the present Board of Admiralty intend to continue these experiments, and I hope that they will be of advantage to the country. Then, lastly, I come to the general question of the Channel Fleet. In the Channel Squadron we have vessels which hold a great many men. They are broadside vessels, and, no doubt, are not the best fighting ships we can get. They constitute a sort of gymnasium in which the men on board these vessels are able to obtain a kind of practice which they cannot acquire at any other school. Therefore, it is desirable to keep them in the Channel Squadron. In the event of war, the crews in the ships of the Channel Squadron would be transferred to the vessels of the First Class Reserve; but in ordinary times the vessels of the Squadron are kept afloat because they are most convenient afloat for training the men. And now I should like to say a word in regard to the coaling stations. The question of the coaling stations is, no doubt, an important one; and I will just tell the House what has been done already. I am afraid that we cannot look forward to the time when we shall be able to relieve ourselves of the necessity of protecting the coaling stations by vessels consuming oil instead of coal. That may be a dream of the future; but, in the meantime, we must make ample provision for their protection. As to what has been done already in regard to the coaling stations, I may say that the work is well in hand. 885 The guns at Hong Kong have been contracted for, and the works are approaching completion. The same remark applies to Singapore, where the guns required are well in hand, and the Imperial Government is paying the whole expense; so also with regard to Aden. At St. Simon's Bay the works are well in hand; new guns are being made; and there, also, the whole expense is being defrayed by the Imperial Government. Progress is also being made at St. Helena, Sierra Leone, St. Lucia, and at other stations. It is not right, therefore, to say that the Admiralty are doing nothing in regard to the coaling stations. The work is being proceeded with; and the Admiralty are very anxious that, as far as lies in their power, they should be proceeded with expeditiously. It is, however, more a matter which belongs to the War Office than to the Admiralty. We have had a very interesting speech this evening from the hon. and gallant Member for the East Riding (Commander Bethell). I am sure that the House listened to that speech with a great deal of interest; but in coming to a decision upon this matter it is, no doubt, very difficult to say what effect the employment of torpedo boats may have in the future. At present they form a valuable and important part of naval warfare; and I quite agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff (Sir Edward J. Reed), that on no account will it be possible to dispense with the services of line-of-battle ships. They must always form a due proportion of our Royal Navy. The hon. and gallant Member for Southampton (Sir J. E. Commerell) is rather alarmed about the state of Bermuda. Some years ago I was at Bermuda myself, and I have some recollection of the place. I do not think that it is an easy place for large vessels to get into; and I think that the hon. and gallant Admiral, if he were in command, would, without much difficulty, find some means of stopping the passage to Bermuda, with the aid of torpedoes, so that it would take a long time for an iron-clad to get there and be able to do mischief.
§ SIR J. E. COMMERELL (Southampton)
Two 80-gun ships got there in 1812, and got out again. But then there were no torpedoes.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
The noble and gallant Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford) gave an account of the number of men in the Service which is not quite in accordance with the official Estimate. I think the noble and gallant Lord set down the number at about 79,000. As far as I can make out, however, from the Government list, we have 61,398 officers, seamen, and Marines on the Navy List; and we have 18,215 men in the Royal Naval Reserve; 2,072 in the Seamen and Royal Pensioners Reserve; and 1,427 in the Royal Artillery Naval Reserve—making, altogether, 83,112; and adding 355 officers on half-pay, and 84 officers not borne on the ship's books, we have a total of 83,551. In addition to this, all pensioners under 55 are liable to be called out for active service in case of war; and the number available is probably about 10,000. I will not detain the House at any greater length, because the official statement will, I hope, be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty on Thursday. I have endeavoured to reply to some of the points which have been raised; and I can only assure the House that the Government believe they have asked for a sufficient sum to place the Navy of this country in a thoroughly efficient state. ["Oh!"] Yes; I am strongly of that opinion; and I cannot agree with my noble Friend opposite with regard to his proposal for voting extra money. I would remind the House that within the last three years we have been spending something enormous on the construction of our ships. I find that in the year 1885–6 we spent no less than £3,115,000; and in the year 1886–7 we propose to spend £3,644,000. I think the House will agree that that is a very large Estimate; and I must say that the question raised by hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Gourley) that we are spending £3,644,000, while the expenditure of France is only £1,310,000, is an important matter for our consideration. I do not wish to draw an invidious comparison; but we have been generally told that France was ahead of this country; and I therefore think it right to give these figures. I am very much obliged to the House for the indulgence with which it has listened to me; but I have no doubt that the task which I have performed would 887 have been much more satisfactorily discharged by my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty, if he could have been here to-night.
§ MR. RITCHIE (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
I am sure that we all regret the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty, and especially the cause of his absence; but, at the same time, the House will agree with me in expressing an opinion that my hon. Friend the Civil Lord of the Admiralty has discharged the duties which suddenly devolved upon him in a manner highly creditable to himself, and that he has shown that he possesses thorough command of all the details connected with these questions. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has said, very truly, that enormous sums have been spent on the Navy during the last two or three years—larger, indeed, than in any previous year. But why has that been so? It has been because the Navy has been allowed to go down much below the strength at which it ought to be kept; and, as a matter of fact, the Admiralty have been forced by the pressure of public opinion to endeavour to bring up the Navy to that position which it ought never to have lost. I suspect that that is the natural result of false economy, whether of a public character or otherwise. The result has been that large additional expenditure—not always an economical expenditure—has been entailed upon the country by the false economy of previous proceedings. There is nothing more remarkable, I think, as an illustration of that result, than the hurried and extravagant expenditure on which we embarked in the late war scare; and I have no hesitation in saying that a large portion of the money spent at that time was as uselessly spent as if it had been thrown into the sea. The hon. Gentleman opposite has stated that the amount spent in the time to which I refer was something under £500,000; but I had a good deal to do with the expenditure on that occasion when I was at the Admiralty, and I am satisfied that I am much more accurate in estimating the amount at nearly £1,000,000. I believe that it will be found that my estimate is considerably more accurate than that of the hon. Gentleman. I remember not only the expenditure incurred on the 888 mercantile vessels which were converted into cruisers, but I recollect going round the Dockyards, and seeing them strewed with antediluvian tugs on which large sums of money had been spent, and which were altogether useless for the purposes for which they were intended and for which they had been purchased. I may mention the case of an expensive tug in one of the Dockyards, on which it was proposed to spend a large sum of money in order to convert it into a ship of war. It never could, however, have been converted into a ship of war; and if we had not stopped the expenditure it would also have fallen into the category of wasted money. I have not got the details of the Estimates we left behind us at the Admiralty; but my recollection is that, in addition to what I may call the programme we left behind for building gunboats, which amounted to about £500,000 during the year, our ordinary Estimates were about £500,000 in excess of those now presented to the House. [Mr. R. W. DUFF made a remark which was inaudible.] Yes; but I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that our whole Estimates were £500,000 more than the present Estimates; and he further stated that this £500,000 included the proposal we made for the building of gunboats. But I maintain that, in addition to that proposal, we proposed further outlay in shipbuilding more than is now provided.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Yes; but there are two Shipbuilding Votes. There is the Vote for Shipbuilding in the Dockyards, and the Vote for Shipbuilding by Contract; and, as far as my recollection goes, we were perfectly satisfied with the proposals of the Government as to shipbuilding in the Royal Dockyards. But I think if I had the Estimates before me—and it is rather inconvenient to discuss these matters in their absence—it would be seen that the present Board of Admiralty have considerably cut down the expenditure proposed by the late Board in regard to building ships by contract. That, I think, will be seen when we come to discuss the matter more fully upon the Estimates. My noble Friend the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) has stated that, 889 in his opinion, £2,000,000 more ought to be spent in order to bring the Navy up to a proper state of efficiency, and he proposed that as an alternative proposal to that of my noble and gallant Friend the Member for Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford), who considers that £5,000,000 are required. My noble Friend the late First Lord of the Admiralty proposed, in addition to the normal Estimates of the year, that a sum of £2,000,000 should be spent in giving out work by contract, in order to place the Navy in a proper state of efficiency with special reference to small vessels, and that the expenditure should be distributed over three years instead of being borne upon the Estimates of a single year. I agree with what he has said in regard to the condition of many of the small craft of the Navy, and certainly with regard to the gunboats, upon which a considerable expenditure for repairs will have to be incurred, if new vessels of that kind are not built. Expenditure on obsolete vessels is a wasteful expenditure. I remember one of the first proposals made to us at the Admiralty—a proposal which had been assented to by the previous Board of Admiralty—to spend a large sum of money in the repair of gunboats. The first proposal was to spend £10,000 in the repair of a gunboat called the Moorhen; but we found that after we had spent a considerable sum of money upon it, its utmost speed would not be more than eight knots an hour. Looking at the obsolete type of the vessel, and its low speed, and the sum which it was proposed to spend upon it, we came to the conclusion that it would be a waste of expenditure; and, therefore, we declined to expend our money upon it. The decision then arrived at governed our decision with regard to other gunboats in the Service. We found that the sums of money required to be spent in placing them in a proper state of repair would be far more than the whole value of the vessels after they were repaired; and we came to the conclusion that it would be better to apportion the money on the building of gunboats of the newest type. We left a proposal behind us at the Admiralty for building eight of these gunboats; and although I do not blame, and I am sure my noble and gallant Friend behind me (Lord Charles Beresford) has no intention of imputing blame to the Admiralty for 890 their programme, I do not believe that any expenditure could have been more usefully made than upon that programme of building gunboats and small vessels which we left behind us. Something has been said as to coaling stations. I regretted to hear the hon. Member for Cardiff (Sir Edward J. Reed) deprecate expenditure upon coaling stations. For my own part, I think if these stations are not vigorously taken in hand, and a proper sum spent on them to bring them in a position to stand on their own legs without the assistance of the Navy, it would lead to a large waste of strength in time of war, because it is perfectly certain that if we are not willing to let these stations fall into the hands of the enemy they would not be a source of strength, but would be the means of detaching naval force from the Fleet which would be useful elsewhere. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty has made some reference to these coaling stations, upon which I should like to say a word. I gather that there seems to be an impression that the Colonial Government may undertake the fortification of Colombo; but I cannot agree that the Colonial Government would be in a position to place that splendid harbour in a position of defence. I hope that the Government will not lose sight, not only of that particular port, but of the general importance of this question of fortifying our coaling stations. All naval men agree that it is one of the most fundamental points which require the attention of the Admiralty. Something has been said also with regard to repairs. I have alluded to one question of repairs which came before the late Admiralty with reference to gunboats; but that is only a small portion of this great question of repairs, and I wish strongly to impress upon the present Board of Admiralty that they should be careful not to spend money upon vessels which are not likely to be worth the money expended upon them. Let me give an illustration. There is one vessel in particular upon which a large sum of money, unfortunately, has been and will be spent, and in my opinion very unwisely—I refer to the Tourmaline. When we came into Office we found a proposal to spend £40,000 in repairing this ship, a very large sum in proportion to her original cost, which was £90,000; and when spent you 891 would have a vessel that could not steam more than seven knots an hour. It was proposed to fit her up with new armaments, and to bring her up as far as possible to the necessities of the day. We would have stopped these repairs if it had been at all possible; but we found they had been undertaken before we came into Office. We considered that it was a wasteful expenditure of public money to lay out large sums in endeavouring to bring vessels up to a condition suitable for the wants of the Navy, when, as a matter of fact, no expenditure could increase their speed; and, after all, speed is one of the main questions for consideration. I rose mainly, however, for the purpose of disabusing my hon. Friend opposite of the idea that we have a wish to attack the Government. I can assure him that we, who were at the Admiralty before, will, as far as lies in our power, give the Government every assistance in following up the programme they have taken in hand of building quickly and cheaply the vessels required for the Public Service; and I can assure the Government that, as long as that continues to be their policy, they will meet with no factious opposition from this side of the House, but, on the contrary, cordial support.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT) (Derby)
I will not detain the House for more than a few moments, and I should not say a word if it were not for the appeal which has been made to me upon the financial aspect of this question. I shall not endeavour to enter into the naval controversy. The late First Lord of the Admiralty, I am bound to say, with perfect good humour and taste, denounced and rather lectured me on the pedantry of finance. Now, as regards the pedantry of finance, the views expressed by the noble Lord would have carried a little more weight if they had come from his Colleague who sits beside him, who lately occupied the position I have now the honour to hold. I have made myself acquainted, as far as I could, with the financial arrangements of the late Administration; but I have certainly found no record in the Treasury of any plan for a considerable expenditure upon the future of the Navy. I need not answer the proposal of my noble and gallant Friend who introduced 892 the Motion as to the Sinking Fund, because the late First Lord of the Admiralty has, extremely well I think, explained why it is not desirable to employ that Fund for the purpose for which the noble and gallant Lord would wish to lay his hands upon it. I remember a time—a good many years ago—when in this House the Conservative Party was an economical Party. Under Sir Robert Peel they were a great economical Party; but even under the Earl of Beaconsfield I remember a great speech in which he denounced bloated armaments, and pointed out what I hope the noble Lord and his gallant Colleagues who sit near him will not forget—namely, that besides ships and torpedoes there is a great resource in war—namely, the sinews of war, in the credit of a nation whose finance is sound. The Earl of Beaconsfield enlarged on that text, and he said that if you overcharge the finances of your country in a manner and at a time when they cannot well bear it, you are providing a great weakness to yourselves in the time of your extremity; that when you come to a great emergency your prospects of success will depend upon the credit of the nation, and the credit of a nation in a time of war depends in the great struggle upon the manner in which it has husbanded its resources in the time of peace. It was that which Mr. Pitt found in 1793, and he could not have entered into the great struggle which commenced at that time but for the enlightened policy which he had laid down for this country before. Well, the late First Lord of the Admiralty condemned the appropriation of the Sinking Fund; but he proposed a plan of his own for raising money on Terminable Annuities. I wish that I could only advise the right hon. Gentleman opposite (the late Chancellor of the Exchequer) to rise and take part in this debate, for I think that he would feel compelled to say something about this plan of Terminable Annuities. If there is one fallacy in finance that has been thoroughly exposed it is that of borrowing money for the purpose of keeping up the Sinking Fund. That was a mistake which even so great a financier as Mr. Pitt committed; but the Sinking Fund of Mr. Pitt was soon found out to be a delusion. The Sinking Fund can only be kept up by economy out of the 893 resources of the year, and not by borrowing money. What is the proposal of the late First Lord of the Admiralty in regard to Terminable Annuities? He says that we ought to keep up the Sinking Fund which is paying off Debt, and that we ought to borrow £2,000,000 on Terminable Annuities. I will not call the plan of the noble Lord the "pedantry of finance;" but it is something more like the heresy of finance. Therefore, I cannot accept the doctrine of the late First Lord of the Admiralty in finance of this character. He did not even tell us what was to be the length of his Terminable Annuities.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I hardly think that it is worth while to enter into the question of Terminable Annuities. They do not lighten the burden, and in the end they come to very much the same thing.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
I can quote a precedent. Sir Stafford Northcote, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, adopted a somewhat similar course, and paid off £7,500,000 in seven years by Terminable Annuities.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
And we thought it very bad finance. That was the great doctrine of credit; and I recollect how indignantly it was denounced by the present Prime Minister. You had deficits year after year, and spread out these accumulated deficits by means of Terminable Annuities. The late First Lord of the Admiralty and his friends are trying now to force on us expenditure which, when in Office, they did not intend to recommend. Now, let me say a word very seriously as to how the financial aspect of the case strikes me. In the year 1870—not so very long ago—only 16 years—the Naval Estimates were £9,500,000; they are now £13,000,000—an increase of about 50 per cent. The Army Estimates at that time were £12,000,000; last year they were £18,000,000, again an increase of 50 per cent in 16 years. I do not speak of one Government more than another; but that is the history of the question, and the Conservative Government were in Office for six years out of that period, and the Estimates increased greatly during their time. Look at the effect upon the country. Look at the burden on the country. You have increased the 894 Expenditure of the country by 50 per cent, and are the Services satisfied? Is it because you have increased your Naval Expenditure by £4,500,000 and your Military Expenditure by £6,000,000? Oh, no! We are told that we have got no Army and have no Navy. Aye, and if you give the noble and gallant Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford) the wretched £2,000,000 which the noble Lord the late First Lord of the Admiralty suggests, or the paltry £5,000,000 which he asks for himself, we are told that it would not include all that it is necessary to make provision for. If we were to add £5,000,000 to the Naval Estimates this year, would he be satisfied? Would the gallant Admiral the Member for Southampton (Sir J. E. Commerell), and the eminent shipbuilders who have supported him to-night, be satisfied with this £5,000,000? Not at all. It will be only the beginning of it. It is like the case of a man suffering from dropsy, of whom it was said—"The more he drinks the more he wants." It is so with the increase of these items of Expenditure. If I thought I could see any signs of the addition of millions of Expenditure on the Navy satisfying the people who call for it, then I should derive some consolation. But that is not the case. I find that the more millions you spend the more you are asked for. Look at some of the language we have heard to-night. The late First Lord of the Admiralty said that we had hardly any efficient gunboats in the Service. Yes; you spend £13,000,000 more than any other country in the world, and yet it is said that you have not got an efficient gunboat. I do not wish to lay the blame on one Administration more than another. A gunboat will last more than five years. How is it, then, that with such an immense annual Expenditure we have not an efficient gunboat in the Navy? Then we have been induced to spend millions on iron-clads because we have been told that France has been building iron-clads at so fast a rate that we must keep pace with her, and then we proceed to enter into contracts for iron-clads. But an hon. Member gets up—the hon. and gallant Member for the East Riding (Commander Bethell)—and, in one of the best speeches we have heard in this House, tells us that it is all a mistake 895 to build iron-clads at all. That is the enormous difficulty we have to contend with. We get the opinions and plans of these gallant experts, and we follow their advice; but no sooner have we done this, and incurred enormous liabilities, than we are told that the whole thing is a mistake—that gunboats are wrong, iron-clads are wrong—and now we are told that we have wasted our money altogether; that we ought to have done something else; and that the type of ship decided on is all wrong. The late First Lord also said that we have no guns and no ammunition. It is certainly a very extraordinary thing that, with an Expenditure of £13,000,000, we should have no guns and no ammunition. The hon. Member for the East Riding (Commander Bethell), I must say, was most candid. He admitted that there was no finality in these matters. Of course, there is no finality. He tells us himself that we ought to expend our money on things upon which other countries are expending theirs. The great argument that used to be brought forward years ago was that, although superior to France, France was building so rapidly that we must take care that she did not overtake us. If the noble Lord wants to have a lesson in finance, which has nothing to do with the pedantry of finance, will he permit me to advise him to read the letter from the Paris Correspondent of The Times to-day, and he will see what is the financial condition to which France has been brought by successive Governments agreeing to such Motions as this, and by a policy which leads to Motions of this kind, as the result of Expeditions for the extension of Empire. You take a place, and then you are told that it is a source of danger unless you spend millions in fortifying it, and then that you must have ships to guard it. It is exactly like the case of a man who wants a house and over-builds, and who then finds it necessary to keep it up by an establishment of servants who will ruin him. That is the policy of unsound finance that has led countries to ruin, and would ruin even such a country as England if persisted in. These are not times, I venture to say, when anybody responsible for the Government of this country can afford to add £5,000,000 to the Expenditure of the country, or even £2,000,000 to the highest Naval Estimates 896 that have ever been presented to the House. In these hard times, it is perfectly well known that every class is suffering from distress, and the Revenue, it is also perfectly well known, is day by day diminishing. Surely these are not times when we should be justified in making these demands upon the country, and in laying additional burdens of this character upon the people. There was an old rule in Greece or Rome—I forget which—that a man who introduced a new law must do so with a halter round his neck, and if he did not carry the law the halter was put into operation. I should be the last man to apply such a rule to my noble and gallant Friend; but I should like that every man who produces a proposal for additional Expenditure in this House should be compelled to accompany it with a proposal for a tax to meet that Expenditure, and that unless he should carry his tax he should have no chance of obtaining the Vote for his Expenditure. The principle of the noble and gallant Lord's Sinking Fund is not accepted by the Front Bench below him. He seems to imagine that there is something like a well at the Treasury, and that the money does not come out of the pockets of the people. I doubt whether the Terminable Annuities of the late First Lord will find greater favour with financial authorities. Having proposed these Estimates, I trust that no real attempt will be made to force greater Expenditure at the present moment upon the country, especially by responsible persons, who must be aware that the people are not able to bear those burdens which you must impose upon them, unless you are prepared to take the fatal course of borrowing money for your ordinary Naval and Military Establishments in a time of peace—a course which, in my opinion, when you have once commenced it and once set the example, will be followed, you may depend upon it, to a dangerous extent, and a course which means nothing less than unsound finance and possibly national bankruptcy.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)
I may not be entirely disposed to agree with my noble and gallant Friend behind me (Lord Charles Beresford); but I think he has, at any rate, approached the consideration of this question with greater knowledge 897 and on broader grounds than the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It does not seem to me that the question for the House to consider is whether the Naval Estimates are £13,500,000 now, and were £9,000,000 in some previous year, or whether we are spending more or spending less than any other country. The great question for this House to consider is whether the Naval Estimates are sufficient to keep up our Navy in an efficient state, and whether the money voted by this House is properly expended. Now, Sir, that is a matter which has been entirely left out of consideration by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. My noble and gallant Friend, approaching this question from this point of view, is dissatisfied with the Naval Estimates. He would desire, by some financial process with which I am afraid I cannot quite agree, to increase the expenditure of the present year in connection with those Estimates. But my noble and gallant Friend has placed before the House, in a very able speech, his view of the present state of the Navy, on which he is competent to speak with authority; and I am not quite sure, in the absence of the Secretary to the Admiralty, that the responsible Ministers on the Bench opposite have entirely answered his contention. Now, Sir, it is not fair, I will venture to say, to treat this question as the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has treated it—as a question merely brought before the House by hon. Gentlemen who, in speaking in this House or in writing to the Press, represent the Services. The question is not whether the Services are satisfied or not. It is a far larger one; it is this—is the country satisfied, and ought the country to be satisfied, with the present condition of the Navy? I am not here to find fault with the Navy Estimates. I am inclined to the opinion that, looking to all the points of the case, those Estimates have been fairly considered, and that they are, perhaps, as large as any we can expect from the present Government. But the policy which I think my noble Friend the late First Lord of the Admiralty was anxious to impress on the House was this. He referred to the expenditure for naval and military purposes during the past year, and argued that the amount of it was partly due to insufficient expendi 898 ture in previous years. Do we not all know that expenditure in a moment of panic is as wasteful as any expenditure that can be conceived? And will anyone venture to say that there was not very much that was wasted in the expenditure of last summer? Why was that? May it not have been that the state of the Navy and of the Army, was at that moment not as efficient as it ought to have been; that the Navy was not as well supplied with stores as it ought to have been; and that possibly the sum which Parliament was called upon to vote in a sudden emergency last summer might really have been saved to the country by the exercise of ordinary prescience? That I understand to be at the bottom of the contention of my noble Friend. My noble Friend suggests that, for the purposes contemplated by him, £2,000,000 should be raised by Terminable Annuities. Well, I confess that I do not agree with that proposal. I hold very strongly that although we adopted this mode of raising money for erecting fortifications, at the instance of a Liberal Government, at a time when we were paying off a debt previously incurred, yet that is not a precedent which ought to be readily followed, and I do not think that Terminable Annuities ought to be resorted to except for some object of permanent benefit to the country. Then the question remains, Can you meet these requirements in any other way? Certainly, you might meet them by adding to the taxation of the year. It is not for me to enter upon the details of the Estimates, of which I am not competent to judge; but if, in the Navy Estimates of the year, some provision is not made for placing the Navy in a more efficient state than it was in in April and May last, when that additional and wasteful expenditure was required all of a sudden, then I think Her Majesty's Government have in some degree failed in their duty to this House. I understood from the hon. Gentleman the Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. R. W. Duff), who has with much ability fulfilled the duty of the right hon. Member (Mr. Hibbert) who is, unfortunately, obliged to be absent to-night—I understood from him that Her Majesty's Government were carrying out the policy of the Earl of Northbrook. Well, but I am very much afraid that Her Majesty's 899 Government are not carrying out in these Estimates the policy which the Earl of Northbrook enunciated in December, 1884. I am very much afraid they have receded from that policy, and are really about to cripple our Fleet, in the future, by not providing for an adequate expenditure on the defence of these coaling stations abroad, on which so much of the efficiency of our Fleet depends.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN) (, &c.) Stirling
The armaments are provided by the War Office.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
Yes; but the hon. Gentleman who represents the Admiralty on this occasion told us something to-night about the fortification of these coaling stations, and I confess I was not satisfied with the account he gave, either as to the progress of these works, or as to the intentions of Her Majesty's Government with regard to them. We are not now dealing with the armaments, but with the works themselves. They are, I understand, in the Estimates, and that is the question we are now upon. At any rate, what did the hon. Gentleman refer to? He referred to a matter which is essential to the efficiency of our Fleet. That matter may not be technically included in the Estimates; but it is perfectly certain that, having regard to the fact that our Fleet depends for its usefulness on these coaling stations, that Fleet will not be efficient unless these coaling stations are safe from the attack of an enemy. Therefore, nothing can be more pertinent than the consideration of the question whether Her Majesty's Government are doing what they consider necessary, and what their Predecessors in Office considered to be necessary, to secure the defence of these coaling stations abroad. I very much wish we had had from Her Majesty's Government, and—if I may say so without disrespect to the hon. Gentleman opposite—from some more important Member of Her Majesty's Government, a more reassuring statement on that point. I confess, remembering my own experience as to Colonial affairs, remembering the defenceless nature of many of these positions which are of such vital importance to this country, I do not think that any money can be better spent than in placing them in a position to defend 900 themselves as quickly as possible. And if it be that Her Majesty's Government for this year are taking only half the Vote which the Earl of Northbrook had intended to take for this purpose, then, I will venture to say, they are dealing with a matter which they ought to put forward as rapidly as possible to the very great danger of the country. I do not wish to dwell any longer on the Estimates that are now before us. I am unable to support the Motion of my noble and gallant Friend the Member for Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford). The Sinking Fund is, I suspect, though the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not say so, already mortgaged for other purposes, and I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman in his opinion, as I have already stated, as to the policy of the creation of Terminable Annuities; but what I do hold strongly is that Her Majesty's Government ought to do their very best to secure the efficiency of this great line of the defence of our country, and in no way can they more thoroughly secure it than by devoting the means they have at their command, as rapidly as possible, to preserve these coaling stations, which are so essential to the good working of our Fleet against the sudden attack of an enemy.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
Sir, I have been present during nearly the whole of this naval debate, and can only picture the House, while it has been going on, as the Board Room at the Admiralty; and I am disposed to regret that the able Gentlemen who have taken part in it had not been gathered around the Table there with the First Lord of the Admiralty, because the intervention in the debate of a civilian is regarded as almost entirely out of place. I do not wish to say that the debate has not been most entertaining, although I regret that I am not, with the hon. Member for Cardiff (Sir Edward J. Reed), able to say that it has been gratifying. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite have deprecated a scare with regard to the condition of the Navy. No doubt, such statements as we have listened to are very readily uttered; but I think if the utterances which we have had to-night are taken seriously by the public when they are read to-morrow in the Press, that there will be very considerable alarm. The only thing that, in my opinion, may have the effect of 901 lessening that alarm, will be that these utterances will be taken for what they are worth, and no more. I am willing to admit that the noble and gallant Lord introduced his Motion in a speech which shows conspicuous ability; I readily acknowledge the experience which he has in his Profession; and if to kill, burn, and destroy, were among the highest Christian duties, then I should say that he would be one of the most eminent Christians of which this country could boast, and that when the noble and gallant Lord departed from this scene, he would be entitled to be canonized and regarded as one of the most conspicuous in the Calendar. Sir, I hope the House will receive with great caution, if not with suspicion, utterances from interested sources. I do not doubt the sincerity of the utterances of those naval Gentlemen; but I think that they take altogether a one-sided view of the case. They forget the taxpayer and other considerations which we, as guardians of the taxpayer's interests, have to keep in view, the whole tendency of their arguments being to show that "there is nothing like leather." I venture to think that the two reasons which the noble and gallant Lord gave in support of his Motion are altogether untenable. The noble and gallant Lord speaks of the cheapness of materials; but I would remind him that cheapness is altogether a question of relativity. The taxes laid upon the people are already very difficult to get, and the burden would be felt more acutely if the proposals of the noble and gallant Lord were adopted, and I venture to say that the taxpayers of the country deserve a little breathing time. Last year we were indulged with an increased expenditure on the Navy alone of £6,500,000, and we have been reminded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the leaps and bounds by which our Naval and Military Expenditure is increasing; and I wish to tell right hon. and hon. Gentlemen that while the expenditure on the Naval, Military, and Civil Services has increased of later years in a greater degree than before, the trade of the country has been, during that time, diminishing. We have had very important debates in this House of late as to the existing depression in the country, and I believe there is a universal concensus as to the nature and extent of that depression. 902 Mr. Speaker, I think we must now admit that this has become chronic, and, further, that it is not affecting Great Britain alone, but that it is having very serious effects upon those nations who are our best customers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a most significant allusion to what is passing in France at this moment. France has found that there is something for her to do to-day beyond making provision for naval and military operations. She has to meet a deficit, and if the spirit which has been manifested in this House is to be further exhibited I believe that this country will find itself in a position scarcely more fortunate. Now, Sir, there have been various remedies suggested for this widespread depression. Some of them have been, in my judgment, unsound, such, for instance, as the adoption of the principle of "Fair Trade;" but of all the absurdities suggested for meeting the depression in the country, the most singular of all is that we should add an additional charge of £5,500,000 to our Naval Expenditure. Now, I should like the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) to have been a little more candid as to the way in which he would propose to meet this expenditure. He has admitted that he is opposed to the raising of Terminable Annuities. What, then, is left to us except to increase the taxation on the shoulders of the people? I confess that I had some regrets on account of the recent change of Government. I should like the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer to have an opportunity of explaining to us in a Budget Statement the way he would have acted, and maintained the opinion which he has to-night expressed. [Interruption.] It is my intention to go through with the observations which I think it my duty to make, and I venture to think that this House has fallen upon an evil period if the cries of Gentlemen opposite are to drown the voices of those who represent the people. I have never been backward, when the Governments with which I have been in some way identified have been extravagant in expenditure, in protesting against such expenditure, and in this way I feel bound to make a verbal protest against the proposals of the noble and gallant Lord. The noble and gallant Lord has given 903 it as one reason why this enormous additional expenditure should be incurred, that at this moment there is a large number of artizans accustomed to shipbuilding out of employment. Sir, the very worst form of Socialism is to expend public money on unproductive public works; but there is another more monstrous and ruinous, and that is to spend money lavishly on instruments of destruction. For my own part I would warn the House of Commons—it is not necessary to warn hon. Gentlemen who have seats at the Admiralty, because they are accustomed to these debates; but there are a great many new Members in the House—to look very closely to this question, and conscientiously discharge their duty by preventing the noble and gallant Lord from emasculating his own Motion and getting it carried in another form. We have been reminded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there seems to have been no additional security given to the country by these Army and Navy Estimates. I say there is no finality to the spirit which prevails in Europe; there is no finality as between ships and guns; and ships and other implements of war will in a few years become obsolete, such is the stimulus given to invention by this competition in instruments of destruction. I do not think we shall have either under a Liberal or Conservative Government any very active measures taken to check this extravagance which is going on at home and abroad; but I do appeal to hon. Members to remember that in their places they are bound to speak for the down-trodden people over the heads of the Government and over the heads of highly-paid officials, appealing to them to consider that there is widespread depression in this country, to abandon this rivalry which is so fraught with evil consequences, to come to an understanding as to the means whereby the condition of the people may be improved, and to learn how the relative security of every State in the world may be increased by means other than those suggested by the noble and gallant Lord. For my own part I can see nothing but great disaster before us, if we continue in the spirit which has been shown in this debate; and I am not sure that it would not be wise for the House to resolve that, if it is considered well to admit naval and military officers 904 into its deliberations, they should be bound to silence, and that, if they have anything to communicate that is worth knowing, such communication of their knowledge should be made privately to those who preside over the Naval and Military Departments. Why, Sir, what has happened to-night? Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have spoken with the greatest candour, and have no doubt in all sincerity made suggestions to the Government; but what is the result of this candour? All their suggestions are in the Press, and they will be known in the newspaper offices in every country in Europe; the suggestions we make here will immediately be made public and available to Foreign Governments. It is because I see no limit to and no advantage in the course we are now pursuing that I venture to make this protest against the proposals of the noble and gallant Lord.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD (Marylebone, E.)
Mr. Speaker, with your permission and with the permission of the House, I would ask leave to withdraw my Amendment, and substitute another omitting certain words now contained in that Amendment.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The noble and gallant Lord asks the permission of the House to withdraw his Amendment for the purpose of omitting certain words. Is it your pleasure that the Amendment be withdrawn?
ADMIRAL EGERTON (Derbyshire, N.E.)
I venture to suggest to the noble and gallant Lord that it would be better if he withdrew his Amendment altogether. I am sorry to find myself obliged to vote against the Motion of the noble and gallant Lord, and that, as it seems to me, on very good grounds. I submit to the noble and gallant Lord that he should be satisfied with the discussion that has taken place. For the first time since I have been in Parliament, an Amendment to the Motion for going into Committee of Supply on Naval Estimates, has induced the occupants of the two Front Benches to enter into a contest not as to what is for the benefit of the Navy itself, but as to which Government has produced the largest Estimates. I think we must also appeal to the noble and gallant Lord to bear in mind, among other things, that he has been thrown over by both his Leaders, and also that he has not been 905 entirely supported by hon. Members sitting on his own side of the House behind him. I think also we ought to remember what has been said by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), that the great point is not whether we are to spend large sums of money, but whether they are properly expended. If the £5,500,000 were voted, it is not at all certain that the money would be properly expended, I remember that in the last Parliament a right hon. Gentleman sitting in the place which he now occupies was perpetually informing the House that we wanted no less than 33 iron-clads. Well, Sir, if the money had been invested in that way, I think we should all have come to the conclusion that it had been thrown away. I am of opinion that the House and the country should be satisfied with the Estimates which have been produced by Her Majesty's Government; and I venture, for the reasons I have stated, to ask the noble and gallant Lord to withdraw his Amendment absolutely and allow you, Sir, to leave the Chair.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 206; Noes 98: Majority 108.—(Div. List, No. 31.)
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.