HC Deb 17 March 1887 vol 312 cc579-81

Although many of the component and complementary parts of the Navy are in themselves satisfactory, it has long been felt by naval men of experience and foresight that in the event of war, unless an improved system of co-operation and preparation were devised, the nation would not obtain, in the earlier stages of such a contest, the full advantage of its great naval resources. This opinion was confirmed by the experience of 1885. Confidential reports of what then occurred proved that our power of naval mobilization was most defective. A rapid concentration of strength, and an immediate and effective use of the force thus brought together, have in recent years decided within a few weeks of the outbreak of war the ultimate issue of that war.

Important as it may be for a great military nation to be thoroughly prepared for possible contingencies, the necessity for thorough preparation is even more incumbent upon a Power that is supreme at sea.

A mobilization of land forces is local and territorial in its operation; the mobilization of naval resources must be concentrated at a few naval arsenals capable of fitting out and commissioning the ships of which they are the complement. A great Naval Power has no frontier; the limits of its operations are confined by the ocean alone, and the plan of campaign or of operations which it may have to carry out would differ in every quarter of the globe, according to the strength and geographical position of the enemy against which it was contending. On land, the plan of campaign or strategy to be adopted is regulated by the physical conditions of the country, which do not change, and by the fighting strength of a population, which does not shift. All well-organized Military Powers have derived infinite advantages from a properly-constituted Intelligence Department; but the need, as I have shown, for such an organiza tion, is greater for naval than military purposes. This country has the largest fleet afloat, yet hitherto it had no central organization by which that fleet could be thoroughly utilized in emergency.

The Board therefore determined to enlarge and extend the functions of the late Foreign Intelligence Committee, and place it upon a basis equal to the work which in future it will be required to perform.

During the short period it has been in existence it has done good work. The Reserve and other subsidiary forces have been territorially mapped out, and each district has been assigned to one of the three great naval arsenals in the country. Much work, necessarily of a confidential character, has also been done, and although the continuance of such a Department will entail a certain increase of expenditure, there is no outlay connected with the Naval Votes which the nation or the Navy could less afford to dispense with than that which will enable the full strength of our naval resources to be put forth in as short a time as possible, and will give prompt and efficient co-operation to all the component parts of a Navy stationed in the necessary performance of its duty in all quarters of the globe.

The Intelligence Department will bounder the personal superintendence and control of the First Naval Lord, but all questions will be referred to the other Naval Lords, which relate to, or affect the Departments for which they are respectively responsible.

The Naval Lords will meet periodically to discuss and review what has been done, thus making themselves acquainted with the nature and extent of the enlarged duties, which, in an emergency, they and the Departments they administer would have at once to undertake.