§ SUPPLY—considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ (1.) £1,606,200, Shipbuilding, Re-pairs, Maintenance, &c.—Personnel.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD (Marylebone, E.)
Mr. Courtney, of all the Votes which the House of Commons has to grant in Supply, there is none so important as Vote 8—the Shipbuilding Vote of the Navy Estimates; for the existence of our Empire depends on the strength of the Fleet, and the strength of the Fleet depends entirely upon the Shipbuilding Vote. I am extremely sorry that this Vote, of such enormous importance—such vital importance to the country—should have been postponed till such a late period of the Session. But I quite recognize that it is no fault of the Government, owing to the large amount of debatable matter which has been brought before the House this Session, and I hope that next Session it may be introduced earlier, so that it may be fairly discussed. We debate a great number of things in this House—questions of State policy and parochial questions; but I think everyone will agree with me that we debate them under the idea that the safety of our Empire is secured by our defences at sea. It is nothing of the sort. I implore the Government not to hurry 125 tins Vote through without having it thoroughly and fairly discussed and debated. I do not believe that there is any subject upon which the people of the Empire, as a whole, are looking with more anxiety or with a greater desire for knowledge and information than this one of the strength of England's Navy; principally on account of the doubt which has been raised in the public mind as to whether the Fleet is of sufficient strength and power to be able to perform those duties which would necessarily devolve upon it in a time of war. In the remarks which I am about to make, I hope to be able to put a definite shipbuilding policy before the House of Commons—something which is clear, something which is quite understandable—and I hope, also, to be able to give definite and clear reasons why I make this proposal. The British public are very much mystified and confused at the present moment, because no definite and understandable idea has been submitted to them with reference to our shipbuilding policy. What the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord George Hamilton) has said, relative to the discordant utterances of the experts, is, in a certain measure, true. But I would point out that they all agree that the Navy is not sufficient to defend the interests of the Empire, although their utterances may be discordant as to the proposals they make for getting the Navy up to its proper strength. Now, what should the standard of the Fleet be? The standard of the Fleet should be based on what it has to protect, and that was definitely laid down by Lord Salisbury in his Guildhall speech—namely, our shores and our trade. With this opinion I entirely agree. I will accept the proposals which have been made by Admiral Sir Anthony Hoskins, by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Forwood), and by the hon. Gentleman the Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett); it is not that the British Fleet should be able to fight the whole world, but that it should be more than a match for the combined Fleets of any two European Powers that are likely to be our foes—one of which must necessarily be France—and that, finding itself under such a contingency, its strength would be sufficient for defending our coasts and our trade and 126 commerce against these two Powers, and securing the punctual and certain delivery of our food supply. Our shipbuilding policy as disclosed by the Navy Estimates is entirely opposed to common sense. It has been openly stated by those in authority that the British Fleet, at this moment, enjoys a powerful position. I intend to prove clearly and completely that at this moment we have no reasonable argument to adduce that we could defend our shores and our trade and commerce, and secure the punctual and certain delivery of our food supply if engaged in a war with France alone. My contention is that, at this moment, we have no standard whatever, for the simple reason that we have never clearly made out what the naval requirements of the country are for defence, and our Shipbuilding Vote is based upon no policy, on no theory, on no business-like line of any description. That was amply proved before the Committee on the Navy Estimates, in answer to pertinent questions by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury), when it was distinctly affirmed by the experts who were examined that the Shipbuilding Vote first depended upon the amount of money that the Cabinet could spare for the Naval Estimates; and, secondly, on the amount of money which had been spent in previous years, without any reference of any sort, kind, or description to what the naval requirements for the defence of the country are. And this latter point is, surely, the sole object of the expenditure on the Navy. It has been the fashion for those in authority to attempt to quiet the public mind, if possible, by informing us of the number of British ships compared with our nearest rival in maritime supremacy—namely, France. Nothing could be more misleading, nothing could be more ridiculous, than comparing the numbers or tonnage of the Fleets of England with those of France or of any other Power. What should be compared is the work the respective Fleets have to do. But if the comparison is bad and useless, how much worse is it when the inferences drawn from that comparison are utterly false and misleading? Now, in the Return 218, which the Government granted in June last, at my request, "Navies; England and other Countries," the Committee will find that England is accredited 127 with 49 battle ships and France with 30 battle ships—that is to say, built and building—the forces which the two countries actually possess for offensive or defensive operations. This is one of the arguments that have been continually used by the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty, and by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty, as showing that what is called the cry of the alarmists is utterly incorrect, and as trying to prove that this proportion is enough to prevent our spending extra money upon a shipbuilding programme. I should like to show the Committee how we actually stand with regard to those numbers, supposing we were unfortunately called upon to defend our shores against France alone. I will first take the 30 French ships, and show what that country has, according to the Return, actually built and is now building. It is no use for the Government to get up and say that we can build a great deal quicker than any other Nation. That is quite true, but do the best we can we cannot turn out a battle ship in less than three years; so that the Committee must take this proportion which I shall endeavour to put before them as the proportion which would exist certainly for the next three years. France has, according to the Return, 30 battle ships, but they are not all available. I will exclude the Brennus, as that vessel could not be finished for some time. I must also exclude the four unserviceable ships marked "B" in the Return; they are the Savoir, Revanche, Montcalm, and Thetis. I must also deduct the one ironclad which is abroad, which leaves six to deduct from the 30; and that makes 24 battle ships at home. To these I must add the six coast defence vessels of the Furieux and Tempête class, which are vessels of a most formidable character, considerably better than the class which we must include in our battle ships, such as the Belleisle, Hotspur, Invincible, Rupert, and Iron Duke. These coast defence French ships have better speed, thicker armour, and are far newer and better adapted for modern warfare, and have far more powerful guns than the battle ships named. To sum up—the French Fleet, as it stands at home, at this moment, for offensive and defensive operations, has 30 vessels, which we should have to count with 128 in their waters if hostilities broke out. In the case of England's Fleet, the Return mentions 49 vessels. There are in this Return eight non-effective vessels—the Minotaur, Achilles, Warrior, Hector, Defence, Valiant, Lord Warden, and Repulse. I must expostulate with the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty for putting the Lord Warden and Repulse in the Return as available among the 49 battle ships, when those two vessels had been in the sale list as old iron for any blacksmith or ironmonger who chooses to bid for them to buy for the last year. Those eight vessels, as a class, are in a far worse condition than the four I have selected from the French. Our vessels require an entire overhaul and an entire set of new boilers and engines to enable them to be put in commission at all, whereas the four French vessels have been re-boilered and re-engined, and therefore are able to be put in a position to fire their guns when called upon. I deduct the eight from 49, leaving 41. But the Committee must deduct the five which are on foreign stations—the Audacious, Bellerophon, Orion, Penelope (which is at home, but going out to the Cape) and Swiftsure. Deducting the eight non-effective and the five abroad, we have left only 36 vessels as available to cope with the 30 of the French. It is quite impossible to get into the minds of the Committee or the public generally the real position of the Fleet of this country, as compared with France, unless we could detail a plan of campaign showing what vessels we have at this moment available, and what those vessels would have to do if hostilities broke out. I propose, therefore, to put a plan of campaign before the Committee, taking the numbers of the French ships as they are shown to be at the present moment by this Return and the localities in which they are distributed, and taking the English ships which we have available, putting them in the relative position they would be in as compared with the French if war was declared. I will not trespass upon the Committee to the extent of naming the French ships, but I will give their numbers in the localities in which they are lying at this moment. At Toulon there are 15 battle ships; at Cherbourg there are five battle ships, and four for coast defence, which must be counted nine; at Brest there are four 129 battle ships and two for coast defence, which must be counted as six. In addition to these are eight gunboats—four at Brest and four at Cherbourg, of the newest type and the most formidable character, which must be taken into consideration in any plan of campaign in which the English and the French ships may be engaged. Now what have we got to meet these vessels in the different localities? We have the 36 British vessels which I have mentioned to the Committee; and it is utterly impossible for the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty to try and manufacture or create a single extra vessel beside those 36 as available for hostilities, for the reason I have already given; and I have proved, as a matter of fact, that they are positively all that we could count on out of the 49 given in the Return. It is no use saying what ought to be or what might be if we had more vessels. Any practical man who might be called upon as a Commander-in-Chief to carry out operations of war has only these 36 battle ships to deal with, and he must do the best he could with them. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty put forward an excellent idea of what the duties are for a Fleet to perform if called upon to fight. He said on April the 4th, at Liverpool—What shipowners do expect, and have a right to demand, is that we shall provide a Fleet more than sufficient to watch, and, I hope, destroy, every war vessel of a possible enemy.Nothing could be said with which I more cordially and entirely agree. But the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty evidently had been resting on the theory as to how he would do that, and had never made any plan of campaign or studied what operations were necessary in order that the British Fleet should carry out such an excellent proposal. How should we stand with our 36 vessels in the plan of campaign which I will submit now to the Committee? Out of the 36 vessels he could only afford 15 battle ships "to watch, and, he hoped, to destroy" the French at Toulon; and there is no expert living who knows anything about it at all who does not know that for the process of watching you should have one-third more vessels than the number of those being watched, as the vessels employed in watching are at sea all the 130 time, with their crews wearied by being continually on the look-out; with their coal bunkers gradually emptying every hour; with their boiler tubes getting loaded with soot and wanting cleaning; while the enemy inside can let their men sleep, have their bunkers full, their tubes bright, ready for the moment in which they intended to try to break through. To make my argument perfectly strong and understandable, I hope the Committee will allow me to read the names of the vessels which must be sent to watch the French Fleet at Toulon, Cherbourg, and Brest. The 15 vessels with which I propose to watch the French Fleet are the Agamemnon, Alexandra, Benbow, Camperdown, Colossus, Conqueror, Dreadnought, Edinburgh, Hero, Howe, Inflexible, Rodney, Superb, Nile, and Victoria. These are all, or nearly all, of the best and most modern ships, and that is the reason why I would propose to send them to Toulon. I must make my plan of campaign as clear and intelligible as possible, and, therefore, must send with this Toulon Fleet of 15 battle ships the contingent auxiliaries of cruisers and torpedo-catchers to every battle ship. There should be two cruisers to every battle ship in a Fleet. That is a definite line and a definite standard, but under the existing numbers of cruisers, of which we have only 61 over 15 knots, I could only afford to send 23 for the Toulon Fleet, which is in the proportion of 1½ to every battle ship. I divide them in the following manner:—Eight over 3,000 tons, nine between 1,500 tons and 3,000 tons, and six under 1,000 tons. The eight over 3,000 tons are the Australia, Aurora, Galatea, Amphion, Arethusa, Forth, Mersey, and the Iris. Between 1,500 and 3,000 there are the Magicienne, Marathon, Archer, Brisk, Cossack, Mohawk, Porpoise, Scout, and Fearless. The six under 1,000 are the Sharpshooter, Salamander, Seagull, Sheldrake, Sandfly, and Spider. This number of cruisers and battle ships, although totally insufficient to give a reasonable chance of being able to cope with the French Fleet, is all that could possibly be spared under our present condition of numbers, providing we wanted to keep our line of communication with India through the Suez Canal open. Let me cow turn to the Cherbourg Fleet, where we have nine vessels and four gunboats. Out of the remaining 21 vessels, in order to 131 "watch and destroy," according to the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty's very just proposal, we could only afford 12 battle ships—Ajax, Anson, Belleisle, Collingwood, Devastation, Hercules, Hotspur, Invincible, Neptune, Thunderer, Triumph, and Rupert. I may remark here, in order to prove my contention that we must count the four coast defence vessels at present lying in Cherbourg, that they are certainly better fighting vessels in every particular—with the one exception of coal supply, which does not matter to them, as they are lying in harbour until they are wanted—than the Belleisle, Hotspur, Invincible, Triumph, and Rupert. As to the cruisers for the Cherbourg Fleet, out of the existing number I can only afford 16. Taking them according to the same method of tonnage, there are six over 3,000 tons, seven from 1,500 to 3,000, and three under 1,000 tons-total, 16. Their names are—Immortalité, Narcissus, Inconstant, Leander, Severn, Mercury, over 3,000 tons; Medea, Barham, Racoon, Alacrity, Surprise, Barraeouta, and Barossa, 1,500 tons to 3,000 tons; Skipjack, Spanker, and Speedwell. Now, let me turn to the Fleet at Brest, where there are four battle ships and two coast defence vessels and four gunboats, as I have explained before. Under the present condition of numbers we have only nine battle ships left to watch these, the Agincourt, Black Prince, Iron Duke, Monarch, Northumberland, Sanspareil, Sultan, Teméraire, and Trafalgar. Again, taking the cruisers under the same conditions which I have laid down, we could only afford 12 as the auxiliaries to these—the Brest Fleet, five over 3,000 tons, five from 1,500 to 3,000 tons, and two under 1,000 tons. They are the Orlando, Undaunted, Shah, Phaeton, and Thames, over 3,000 tons; Medusa, Bellona, Serpent, Blanche, and Blonde, 1,500 to 3,000; Rattlesnake and Grasshopper, under 1,000 tons. I have now disposed of all the battle ships available for fighting purposes in a war with France for the Home and Mediterranean stations. I have also disposed of all the cruisers over 15 knots, with the exception of 10 which are available, and which are the only ones left of any use whatever for the protection of commerce. Their names are—Impérieuse, Warspite, Blake, Blenheim, Raleigh, Bacchante, Active, 132 Volage, Melpomene, and Marathon. I do not include the seven cruisers for the Australian Colonies, as they are exclusively to be devoted to the defence of those Colonies. It will be observed in the Return that the total number of English cruisers is 101. The total number of cruisers of the French is 75. I have dealt with 61 English, which go over 15 knots; the French have in their Home ports 39 which go over 15 knots. To make up the 101 in the Return the English have 33 which go under 15 knots, and the French 36 which go under 15 knots, and these I have not included in my plan of campaign, because then power of offence and defence would be so very limited. I have laid before the Committee a definite plan of campaign, showing what we could do, and what we must do, with the number of ships that we have at this moment, in comparison with France. I am quite aware that it is possible for the Government to get up and say that that is not a plan of campaign which they will adopt. But I wish it to be distinctly understood—and I challenge contradictions of this—that, whatever plan of campaign any admiral or body of admirals may produce, they must adhere to the principle which I have laid down in this plan—namely, to watch and endeavour to destroy every war vessel of a possible enemy. It may be argued that some of the cruisers which I have mentioned are abroad. Well, that strengthens the argument that I have adduced to the Committee. Let me point out the danger that exists through the insufficiency of ships at this moment. Supposing the Toulon Fleet placed themselves in communication by telegraph with the Cherbourg Fleet and the Brest Fleet, and that our Fleet lay outside of Toulon harbour for a certain amount of time, when they had been made considerably inefficient for fighting purposes, owing to the circumstances I have mentioned—supposing the French Fleet then to break away, under cover of the night, and get up either to Cherbourg or Brest, the only possible programme for the British. Admiralty and the Mediterranean Fleet to carry out would be immediately to get with all despatch to either Toulon or Brest, for if the French ever effected a junction with either of their squadrons, it is not a matter of doubt, it is a matter 133 of certainty, that they must annihilate and destroy the British Fleet which was watching either of those places. In the present conditions of numbers, as I have shown, that means the loss of our supremacy at sea, for the French and English numbers are so nearly level that the loss of only two or three vessels on our side would render it utterly impossible for our Fleets to do the work which is absolutely necessary—namely, that of watching the enemy's Fleets to prevent them joining. Let the Committee remember that we have no experience of a steam fighting Navy, but we have that knowledge which common sense must give us—that if a junction is effected between any two French Fleets, without a corresponding junction between ours, the English squadron watching the port at which the French junction is effected must be destroyed. Let the Committee remember, too, that it is almost impossible, in these days, for an inferior ironclad Fleet ever to beat a superior Fleet. In the old days Fleets fought with the object of destroying the men in the vessels. The English pluck, added to their having a fewer number of men in their ships' companies, enabled them to win a battle. In these days our object is to destroy the platform on which the men stands. Every art that mechanism can invent is brought into requisition to sink the ship; therefore, our art of battle is altogether different from what it was in the olden time, and this militates against the possibility of a small force being able to cope with a superior force. I would beg the Committee to observe that I have made no allowance—and no allowance can be made—for the following most important facts which militate against the power of the English Fleet, in its present reduced numbers, to cope with the French. I have not mentioned the nightly and daily worries which must occur while watching the enemy's Fleet from torpedo attack—the small boats which the French have in such numbers in their harbours, and which we could not bring with our Fleet which is engaged in watching the Fleet from outside, because the torpedo boats could not keep the sea. There is no doubt that many of our vessels would be damaged, if not seriously, quite enough to prevent them from being of utility to the Admiral commanding, by such attacks. I have made no reference to the difficulties 134 which must be attendant on coaling and watching the Fleet, and having to put the fires out to sweep the tubes. And I have made no allowance for a great doubt we, as seamen, hold as to the possibility of using such ships as the Hero and the Admiral class generally for the purpose of watching the enemy's Fleet at sea. In this plan of campaign I maintain that I have proved conclusively, first of all, that we have an insufficient number of battle ships; secondly, that we have no reserve for the Channel or the narrow seas; and, thirdly, that the number of cruisers left, after Fleets of battle ships are supplied with auxiliaries, is only 10, and this number is ludicrously and dangerously insufficient for the protection of our trade and commerce and the actual delivery of our food supply. I must earnestly request the Committee to think over the plan of campaign which I have submitted. I have given accurately the names of every vessel which we can have for the next three years to carry out warlike operations, and I will defy the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty to prove any inaccuracy or mistake in my statement. The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. J. M. Maclean), who took a great interest in the Naval Estimates Committee, the other day, in writing to The Times, plainly stated that he considered—The statement of Admirals Sir Arthur Hood and Sir Anthony Hoskins would be absolutely misleading if we could not both blockade the enemy's Fleet and keep a force in reserve to guard the narrow seas.Well, let the hon. Member for Old-ham get up in the House to combat the position, which I maintain I have entirely proved, by taking the ships which exist at this moment and putting them down in the positions in which they would have to be if we intended to watch the Fleets of France with the object of bringing their Fleets to action or to prevent the junction of two of their Fleets. With the exception of the political and Party chiefs, there is only one man whose opinion must surely be counted, who has given a decided and an emphatic opinion as to the satisfactory strength of the British Fleet in comparison with France, and that is Admiral Sir Arthur Hood. I do not wish it to be understood that anything I may say of this opinion is to 135 be taken in a personal way to Admiral Sir Arthur Hood. In question 4,416 of the Committee on the Naval Estimates, Sir Arthur Hood was asked, "Do you consider the Navy superior to any foreign Navy?" His answer was, "I do not consider it, because lam perfectly certain of the fact." I want to know on what basis this certainty exists. He could have made no plan of campaign, and could not have actually put down on paper what our Fleet would have to do in time of war, and what ships we have to carry out a programme. For my own part, I have given my programme and I want it upset, not in theories of tonnage and numbers of ships and loose statements such as matters of opinion, but in a practical and definite way, on the same principle that I have brought forward in my plan of campaign for a war with France. And, in combatting Sir Arthur Hood's argument, I have the satisfaction of knowing that, as far as I am aware, there is not one single officer in the British Fleet whose opinions do not coincide exactly with my own on this question, and are not diametrically opposed to that given by Sir Arthur Hood. I know that I may be told that it is unpatriotic of me to expose the weakness of the British Fleet for the politicians of Europe to criticize; but, in reply, I would remark that the only people who do not know this state of affairs are the British public, and it is better for them to have this question brought before them publicly, and dinned into their ears in times of peace, than it is for them to pay the penalty which they would have to pay if unprepared in time of war. "We are now so nearly level with France that if we were to lose three ironclads we might lose our Empire. [A laugh.] The hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) seems to be amused.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I thought he was challenging my assertion. For my own part, if I am ordered to go to sea I am ready to go, even if I have but a jolly-boat. It ought always to be borne in mind that in a war with France at this moment, by some circumstance, such as an oversight, or a Fleet escaping from a port and the watching Fleet not comprehending its where- 136 abouts, in these days of steam and speed, such a circumstance might produce the total destruction of the British Fleet, owing to our limited numbers giving us no reserve, which would mean the end of our existence as an Empire. But, on the other hand, France might lose the whole of her Fleet and the whole of her mercantile marine, and still remain a first-class Power in the councils of Europe. I do not deny that the Government, and those who think with them, have certain theoretical arguments for not increasing the Shipbuilding Vote—namely, the matter of a neutral flag for the mercantile marine under the Declaration of Paris, and also the question of this country being associated with allies. The neutral flag I believe to be a myth. The mere adoption of such a policy is based on the assumption that the British Empire has lost the command of the sea. And have the Government and the shipowners calculated what taking advantage of the neutral flag means? The value of our shipping to the British shipowners is calculated on the best authority—Lloyd's—at £100,000,000. Nearly all, if not quite all, this property would have to be transferred to the country which allowed us to use the neutral flag. That would be the case with Italy, Germany, Austria, and Belgium. In those countries also, and in other countries, the captains and crews would have to be, if not entirely, almost entirely, of the nationality whose flag was at the top of the peak. The only nation that we have to fear on this question of hoisting the neutral flag—namely, France—would not recognize the neutral flag at all, unless all arrangements connected with it were made out previous to the declaration of hostilities. The Government have, so far, never settled distinctly with other countries whether corn is contraband of war. Coal is contraband of war; and the French, not long ago, decreed that rice, which was the food of China, was contraband of war during the late operations in the East. Shipowners seem to be under the impression that there is some sort of plan, some idea, existing at the Admiralty, as to what would occur at a time of war with our enormous mercantile marine. When I left the Admiralty, some months ago, there was no vestige of a plan or proposal as to what we were to do to insure our food supply and 137 the delivery of the water-borne raw material, upon the working up of which our great working classes depend for their wages and livelihood. I am perfectly ready to admit the argument of the neutral flag, and willing to accept it as a proposal that we should not enter into a great expense, or even enter into a plan for defending our Mercantile Marine, on one condition—that all the proposals connected with the transfer of the flag, all the actual practical details which must be carried out to enable the flag to be transferred, are put down in good understandable plans at the Admiralty, and that the shipowners know what they have to do. There are no spare merchant vessels in the world, so we could not rely upon utilizing the already small and overworked Mercantile Navies of other countries. Therefore, the neutral flag would have to be put on board, theoretically, the whole of our Mercantile Marine. What does that mean? The steam tonnage of the world is 11,000,000 tons, of which England owns 7,000,000. The number of steamers over 100 tons is—for Great Britain, 5,715; for France, 481; Russia, 227; and of cruisers to protect this tonnage, England has one to every 65 steamers; Prance one to every seven; Russia one to every nine. France and Russia are still building cruisers at this moment, not to protect their Mercantile Marine with a proportion like this, but rather, it would seem, to prey upon our Mercantile Marine in the event of possible hostilities. No doubt we must lose a large number of ships at the commencement of a war. But I object altogether to the loose doctrine that we must wait to see what eventualities war would produce before we formulate a definite scheme for the protection of our food supply and raw material. This total want of organization and want of preparation for war in this particular is, I maintain, criminal to the people of this country. The other argument urged by the Government, as to the question of allies, has much to recommend it theoretically, but it does not bear examination. The moment we begin messing about with other nations we should promise a number of things which ultimately we would not be able to perform; and the other Powers might also promise what would never be performed. 138 What we each have to do is to look after our own selfish selves. One gets nothing for nothing in these days. There are two great difficulties to be seen in looking ahead at this question of alliance. One difficulty is to determine how far the fleets of cruisers of any ally could be utilized for the protection of England and her Mercantile Marine. I maintain that, taking the possibility of an alliance, for instance, with Italy, it is not likely that she would utilize her battle ships in any other way than for the defence of her own shores, and she would certainly not lend her cruisers to England to defend our food supply and water communications. If the question of an ally is entered into, let some definite and practical idea be formed as to how far and in what manner we could help each other. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty will, no doubt, base his argument for no immediate increase in the defence of the country, on the advice which, he will say, he has received from the experts associated with him at the Board of Admiralty. It would, therefore, be interesting to turn to the evidence of these experts before the Naval Committee on this point of the strength of the Fleet, which depends on the Shipbuilding Vote. The First Sea Lord (Sir Arthur Hood), as I have stated, said he thought our Navy was not only superior to any Foreign Navy, but to any two. To Question 4,167—Was there laid before the Board by any expert a complete scheme showing the requirements of the country so far as the Navy was concerned?" he said—"I have never known such a scheme to have been ever laid before the Board of Admiralty,How on earth then is it possible for the First Sea Lord to state that the Navy was efficient, when he had never, according to his own statement, made out what it would have to do in time of war, and formed a programme for defence? The Second Sea Lord (Sir Anthony Hoskins), to Question 907—Personally, are you satisfied with the number of ships?" said—"I am an advocate fo building in such a way as to establish a sufficient superiority to any two nations combined, and I think we are doing that.I am at a loss to conceive how the gallant Admiral arrived at that conclusion. Sir Anthony Hoskins went on to say— 139As to the exact point at which we are I would decline to express an opinion about it, because I have not sufficiently studied it.Not sufficiently studied it! he says.Generally, my views are to go on as we are going, but I am not prepared to say that the present programme is adequate or inadequate;and this from one of our senior and most respected Admirals—one of the Board of Admiralty, which is supposed to be responsible for the strength of the Fleet. The Junior Naval Lord, in Question 8,894, was asked—"Do you consider the Board, as a whole, responsible for the strength of the Fleet?" He replied—"Distinctly, no." In Question 8,898, he was asked—"Are you satisfied with the strength of the Fleet as it is?" He answered—"Certainly not." Then, to Question 8,899—"Are you satisfied with the number of battle ships?" his answer was—"Certainly not;" and to Question 8,900—"Are you satisfied with the number of cruisers?" his reply was—"No." Such was the most prominent evidence given before the Naval Estimates Committee on the strength of the Fleet by three of the seamen at the Board of Admiralty. Now, what did the civilians say? The First Lord, the Secretary to the Admiralty, and the Civil Lord made public pronouncements on this subject, which people, not unnaturally, suppose to be based on the opinions of their Colleagues on the Board who were seamen and experts. I have quoted the opinions of the experts. How do these tally with the statements of the civilians? The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty, at the London Chamber of Commerce, on March 22, 1888, said, as to whether our Navy was strong enough to cope with the Navies of any possible combination of Foreign Powers,He believed we were equal in strength, and more than equal in strength, to two of the most powerful nations in Europe;and he went so far as to mention France and Russia. At Liverpool, on April 4, he again said,Compared with the Fleets of any two Nations ours is the stronger, and this comparative strength promises to increase year by year.On the same date, April 4, he said—What shipowners do expect, and have a right to demand, is, that we should provide a Fleet more than sufficient to watch, and I hope, 140 to destroy, every war vessel of a possible enemy.I will now turn to the Civil Lord. I find that the hon. Gentleman said at Sheffield, on the 10th October, 1888—I mean that the British Fleet should be more than a match for the combined Fleets of any two European Powers that are likely to be our foes.And he added—I hold that it would be a match for them in open contest; but in foreign waters it is not so strong as it ought to be.Now, these statements are believed in by the audiences addressed, and are believed in by the people of the country who read the reports of those speeches, and I want to ask where is the authority for such statements? It is difficult for me to nail the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty to any definite statement of that character; but he did make a statement which was far graver than any that any one of the experts or so-called alarmists ever made. He has distinctly stated on several occasions that the British Fleet is not so strong as it ought to be. Looking to the fact that on the strength of the Fleet depends our existence as an Empire, it is imperative that the House of Commons and the people should demand from the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty an explanation of that sentence. We have a right to know by how much or how little is the Fleet not strong enough. According to the experts, and according to what I have shown the Committee to-day, it is dangerously weak, and totally unable to prevent, if not actual defeat, something very near it, in a war with France alone, and, therefore, I would say that it is the bounden duty of this House of Commons to demand from the noble Lord an explanation of the sentence. I must find fault also with the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty for the many misleading statements he has made relative to the strength of the Fleet. What the noble Lord stated was perfectly true, but the inferences drawn from what he stated are most incorrect and most dangerously misleading. I will give three instances. The noble Lord said at the Guildhall, in November, 1886, that we had more ships under commission than any three nations combined. That was perfectly true; and he counted old line-of-battle 141 ships such as the Indus, Asia, and Duke of Wellington. I am not sure that he did not include the old Victory. He certainly must have counted the Duke of Wellington. The statement was cheered to the echo. All the people in the Guildhall thought what a magnificent Meet England had, but I think they would be horrified if they had seen the old Victory being towed out to make up the number. I confess that I was so horrified that I nearly swallowed my claret glass, and one of the stoutest Aldermen I ever saw looked at me as if I were extinguished. The noble Lord also said that we had more breech loading guns than any other nation in Europe.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD
My noble Friend says new breechloaders. That is entering into another detail. My noble Friend must have counted the 3-pounders and machine quick-firing guns. But the last statement the noble Lord made was true, although it was made in the most misleading manner—that we added 77,000 tons to the Fleet in 1887. The noble Lord, however, quite forgot to mention that we had taken between 30,000 and 40,000 tons off the list of the Fleet because they were obsolete. While criticizing the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty in so harsh a manner, I do not forget how much he has done since he has been in Office for the administration of the Dockyards, the question of settling contracts, the buying of material, the expense account, and other matters connected with reform in that direction. But I hope that the Committee will remember that although these are things which catch the public eye, they have nothing whatever to do with the strength of the Fleet or the organization of the Fleet for war purposes—matters which should determine the Shipbuilding Vote. I agree entirely with the noble Lord's scheme for shipbuilding, both as to waste and depreciation. But the noble Lord must bring the Navy up to standard first, and then his scheme would be business-like, thorough, and proper, and I will support it heartily. The Government and Admiralty proposals are based upon no definite line of policy whatever, 142 not even upon a misty shadow of an idea of what the strength of the Fleet should be, or the reason for asking for money for the Shipbuilding Vote to keep that strength up. I want to know what is their plan of campaign. The Naval Estimates have often been compared, and wisely compared, to a National rate of insurance. I would like to insure peace to our Empire, and to have a Navy in much the same proportion as we had at the beginning of the century. But all that we can ask the taxpayers to pay for is a Navy strong enough to defend us against two nations combined. If we ask for more it is possible the people might prefer to run the risk of war rather than pay the extra expenditure which a higher rate of insurance would entail. Our Naval Estimates for the year 1860–30 years ago—was £12,300,000; our exports and imports which the Navy had to defend were then £375,000,000. For 1888 the Naval Estimates are £11,900,000, and the estimated exports and imports are about £660,000,000. Now, taking the rate of insurance argument, which is a sound and business-like one, the percentage of Naval Estimates with what we have to depend on for the year 1860, is 3.41, and in the year 1888 1.85. But in the year 1860 nine-tenths of our people were fed out of our own fields, whereas in 1888 two-thirds of them are fed out of water-borne food. It may be asked, how has this all come about? My answer is, that the British Navy is totally unrepresented in this House of Commons and in the country. It is unrepresented in the Commons because men who are serving now, and who know practically everything connected with the Navy at this moment, could not afford to come there and lose their practical experience, and allow their brother officers to get ahead of them in the art of managing fleets. On the other hand, it is totally unrepresented in the country, and therefore you can never bring its condition visibly to the public eye. The Navy is always away; you can only listen to the statements which are made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and are invariably believed. If anything goes wrong with the Cavalry or the Regiments in the Army, you can bring it home to the public by showing them the state of the case. It is the same with 143 other Departments of State. The result is that the Army Estimates have increased £4,000,000 since the year 1860, while the Civil Service Estimates of all classes have gone up from £7,500,000 to £18,140,000. I know that the Education and other Votes account for most of the increase; but what I want to point out is that every Department of State has increased in expenditure parallel to the increase of the trade and commerce and the credit of this great country, except the one Department upon whose efficiency and strength the existence of the Empire depends. I have been perfectly consistent in the line I have always taken on this question of the strength of the Fleet. Three times I have been returned to Parliament, and have given my idea that £20,000,000 should be expended on the Fleet. My proposals are to build four first-class ironclads, £70 a ton, £3,100,000; 10 second-class ironclads of 7,000 tons, £4,500,000; 10 first-class cruisers, 8,000 tons, £65 a ton, £4,800,000; 10 of the Thames class, £55 a ton, £2,700,000; 20 Medeas, £50 a ton, of 3,000 tons, £3,000,000; 20 Sharpshooters, 750 tons, £70 a ton, £1,000,000; and that, with £1,000,000 for armament, makes up the £20,000,000. I would say, definitely and distinctly, that this number of vessels is wanted at this moment to protect our coasts and secure our food supply and raw material in a war with France alone to make a certainty of victory. I have before proposed to the House of Commons where the money should come from in order that we should not tax our people one penny in addition to the present taxes. I see that an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer laughs at this proposal: The right hon. Gentleman used to laugh very much at my proposals, but he never gave any reason why he laughed. It is of no use making proposals unless we see how we are to carry them out in all details. If we suspend the Sinking Fund we do not increase the taxation, but we devote the money we are at present spending in paying off the National Debt for the advantage of our great-grandchildren. If our Navy is not strong enough, our great-grandchildren may have to increase that expenditure to £20,000,000, and from that up to the loss of the Empire. I have endeavoured to give an accurate detailed account of the true position 144 of affairs as regards the fighting strength of the British Fleet. I deny that the Government have any programme. I ask that the Government, who must, and ought to be, responsible for the strength of the Fleet, should put down definitely what has to be defended, and that the experts should state what is necessary for that defence, and give their reasons for the statement they make. I agree with the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) as to the necessity for the reform of the Administrative Departments. I believed in it so much that I resigned on the question. I believed that that was the root and basis of the whole mischief; but is it wise to delay until the Administrative Departments are reformed? Should we not rather take that matter in hand without any scare or panic—even if matters were worse there would be no reason for panie—but quietly put our Fleet into a state of efficient defence. Much as I feel the necessity of reform of administration I think such reform should take a long period of time. It is as important as reforming the Constitution—too much time, debate, and reasoning could not be brought to bear upon it; but after having read the speech of the Prime Minister the other day—a speech which I must characterize as the strongest speech the Prime Minister could make in this country without creating a panic—I think the time has arrived when we should act up to the words which he uttered, and find out whether we can defend our food supply, trade, commerce and our shores in case we are called upon to do so. We shall have continual scares, panics, and alarms unless we put our Fleet in the order and strength necessary—unless we undertake that duty in a business-like, thorough manner, with definite objects in view. We ought to begin at once on the shipbuilding, because, if we do not, another year will be lost, and it takes four years to complete an ironclad. No doubt my right hon. Friend opposite will say he has heard of the danger to the Empire before, but I beg the Committee to remember our existence as an Empire has never been imperilled since the last great war at the beginning of the century. I do not say we are in danger now unless we are called upon to fight. The argument used against me is like that of the man who had a big 145 house, and who said, when the danger of fire was mentioned, "I have lived in this house for 30 years and have never had a fire yet, and I am not going to be in a panic about fires." Suddenly he had a fire, and away went his house. If we had to fight for our existence now, we are less able to do so than we ever were before, because our Fleets are all over the seas and we have no plan at all. I have never made this a Party question, but let the Government depend upon it that the people of this country are beginning to find out that the utterances of the experts are true, and I am satisfied that if the Government do not take the question up the Party opposite will take it up and make a Party question of it. I beseech the Committee to think the matter over. I have endeavoured to the best of my ability, without taking Party or personal grounds, to put the matter clearly before the Committee. I hope the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty will, in his reply, stick to the facts as I have presented them to the Committee, and I should be only too proud if the noble Lord can capsize me altogether, and answer my arguments in detail, without reference to the old argument of tonnage and numbers.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD
I do not understand, Mr. Courtney. I rather wish to add £20,000,000 to the Vote.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMI-RALTY (Lord GEORGE HAMILTON) (Middlesex, Ealing)
I think, Mr. Courtney, it is convenient that I should follow my noble and gallant Friend. I agree with my noble and gallant Friend on one point. I have always stated, since I have been First Lord of the Admiralty, that, in my judgment, the Navy has not yet attained the requisite standard of strength, and I have shown that ever since I have been responsible for the administration of affairs at the Admiralty the Government have put annually from 40 to 50 per cent more into the Navy than they took out. If I held the view which my noble and gallant Friend attributes to me, that the strength of the Navy is sufficient, the Estimates for this and last year would have been lower than they have been. But I 146 differ from my noble and gallant Friend as to the best and most effective method of strengthening the Fleet, because I have developed in me more strongly than my noble and gallant Friend a sense of proportion. My noble and gallant Friend has attacked the rate of progress in the last two years, but he has not alluded to or mentioned the rate of progress for the last three years. He has objected to my tonnage comparison and the Return which has been placed before the House. The fact is that if a naval expert leaves his own subject and begins to deal with figures it will be found that he cannot cope with civilians. I have closely examined the figures to which my noble and gallant Friend has referred, and I have arrived at a very different conclusion in regard to them. Let me first take the rate of progress during the last two years. The difficulty which I have had to contend with ever since I have been in Office has not been the insufficiency of the money voted during the last two or three years, but the insufficiency of the sums voted in preceding years; and if I laid certain figures before the Committee they would see very clearly what is the nature of the difficulty which all who wish to raise the Navy to a higher standard of strength have first to overcome. My noble and gallant Friend is perfectly right in stating that on the amount of money devoted to new construction depends the strength of the Navy, and thus we are able, not only to test the strength of our own Navy, but the strength of the Navies of any Foreign Nation. That is the reason why I have compared, and will continue to compare, the number of available ships of this country with those of other countries. It may be perfectly true that our Navy have a great deal more to do in protecting commerce than other nations. But, as the noble and gallant Lord has said, when it comes to a struggle for naval supremacy, the number of battle ships will decide the day. But battle ships are not employed in protecting commerce. With regard to the rate of progress, the average expenditure on new construction for the six years ending 1884–5 was £1,650,000, while in France, for the same period, the average was £1,450,000, a difference only of £200,000. In my judgment that is a dangerous approximation. But since 147 that time the average expenditure, including this year, has been £3,100,000, whereas the French expenditure was only £1,600,000.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
Yes; that includes everything. The Committee will see that, whereas the difference six years ago was only £200,000, our expenditure now is nearly double that of France. But, great as that increase is, it is nothing as compared with the increase in the Ordnance Vote. For the six years prior to 1884 that Vote averaged less than £500,000, while for the last five years the average has been £1,600,000, and for the present year it is £2,200,000. Therefore, putting those two figures together, it would appear that the average amount spent on guns and new construction for the six years previous to 1884–5 was £2,160,000, while for the last five years the average has been £4,700,000. To put it in another way, the Gun Vote for this year is in excess of the total Vote for guns and construction up to 1884–5, The difficulty of the Admiralty is not one of shipbuilding, but of gun-producing power. That has not been sufficiently developed. At present there are a large number of ships waiting for guns, and I would ask my noble and gallant Friend what conceivable sense would there be in beginning to build fresh ships in that state of things.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD
I am sure that my noble Friend will not desire to misrepresent me. It is perfectly true that I was a Member of the Board which passed that Vote, but it was because I did not want the taxpayer to pay a large extra amount until a good reason was supplied. I wanted a standard to be fixed.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
There was an objection to the type of vessels to be built, but there was no objection to the amount. I have stated over and over again that I found that we had an enormous shipbuilding programme, but that I thought it best to complete as rapidly as possible, and to bring the manufacturing part and the gun-producing power and the shipbuilding on to an equality with each other. That is the policy we have pursued. It is the policy which I have advocated from the 148 first, and it is upon that policy that we intend to act hereafter. I have spoken of the increase of the Money Vote, and now let me say a word as to the increase of the actual fighting strength of the Navy. The figures which I am about to give relate only to the vessels which have been passed into the first reserve as being armed and ready for action—with guns and ammunition provided. Taking the addition to the Navy for the year 1881–2, I find that in that year 14 ships passed into the First Reserve, representing an aggregate of 41,000 tons. In 1882–3, there were 11 ships, amounting to 27,000 tons; in 1883–4, five ships and 27,000 tons; in 1884–5, ten ships, 10,000 tons; in 1885–6, eight ships, 28,000 tons; in 1886–7, 17 ships, 55,000 tons; and in 1887–8, 20 ships, 64,000 tons. During the present year, I estimate for 22 ships and 99,000 tons, and next year 35 ships, 75,000 tons. In these circumstances, it is impossible to pretend that this country is in greater danger than it was before, unless it can be shown that other nations have finished a larger number of ships during that period. My noble and gallant Friend has often denounced me for my optimistic views of the power of the English Navy, compared with that of Foreign Navies. I have made it my business to look carefully, not at paper rumours, but at the actual expenditure and actual progress made in foreign countries, and in every case my estimate exceeded the reality. In 1887–8, I estimated that France would have completed 11 ships of 36,000 tons. She actually completed seven ships with a tonnage of 16,000. This year, I calculated that France would finish 11 vessels with 53,000 tonnage. In fact, the number will prove to be seven with 30,000 tons. Next year the number is to be 12 ships of 38,000 tons. The actual number will be eight ships of 26,000 tons. It is, therefore, absolutely impossible to contend that we are now in a position of greater risk than we were a few years back. On the contrary, we have greatly improved our position, and although I do not hold that we have attained the strength at which the Fleets ought permanently to be maintained, I do assert, unhesitatingly, that in no period of our Naval policy during a time of peace has there been so steady and continuous an increase as that which has taken place during the last three years. I do not wish 149 to take credit for having completed this large number of ships, the main credit of which is due to Lord Northbrook, who began them. But finding that we had this enormous work on hand, the present Government have pushed it on as fast as we could. It will be interesting to the Committee to know that whereas battleships in the past took a very long time to build, they are now completed with much greater rapidity. Previous to 1885, our battleships were on the average six years and eight months in building. But now we have been able to complete these ironclads in three or four years. Then, whereas the old cruiser took nearly five years in completion, it is now done in three or four years, and vessels of a smaller size within two years. We have, therefore, attained one of our first objects—namely, to accelerate the process of shipbuilding. My noble and gallant Friend has drawn a comparison between the fighting strength of France and England. It is not advisable to deal too closely with this question, but before my noble and gallant Friend found fault with the present Board for not embarking in a largely increased programme of shipbuilding, he would have done well to read the debates in the French Chamber, and the successive Reports of the French Naval Commission. His noble and gallant Friend would find that it is admitted in France that it is a mistake to have three times as many ships on the stocks as can be finished in reasonable time, as in such ships immature ideas are embodied, and great alterations have to be effected during the period of construction. It has been found in the French Navy that ships are sometimes 10 years in building. Our experience is the same. It would be easy to lay down 40 ironclads and to make good progress during the earlier period of construction, but when it comes to the armour plates and hydraulic mountings, we find ourselves at a standstill. The action, therefore, that we have taken, will be found to be the only practical and sensible course. I do not think that my noble and gallant Friend, if he had been in my position, would have acted otherwise than I have done. Next, I come to the disposition of force as compared with that of France. The Return from which my noble and gallant Friend has quoted gives the total number of French battle ships as 30, and of 150 English as 49. From both of these have to be deducted the number still building. In France this number is eight, so that the total is reduced to 22.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD
What I stated was that you must take these vessels as the only ones we have for the next three or four years, when the incomplete ships will be finished.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
If they are building, they cannot be effective ships. From the English number of 49 seven have to be deducted, so that the relative numbers are 22 for France and 42 for England. Then there have to be taken the ships which are obsolete or useless without repairs, of which there are eight English and four French. This would reduce the English to 32, the French number to 18, or, adding six coast defence vessels, 24. Of vessels building for next year, we have seven armour-clads and six belted cruizers, all of which will be finished in 18 months, against four and three respectively for the French Navy. Therefore, it is clear that from the very Return quoted by my noble and gallant Friend, he has not made a fair comparison between the two countries as to their present or future fighting strength. When the French Estimates were under consideration, so far from its being contended that their Navy was superior to the English, complaint was made as to the French Navy compared with that of Germany or Italy. And Sir Arthur Hood, a very high authority, has publicly expressed the same opinion. The extraordinary thing is that English naval officers cannot apply the same test to Foreign Navies that we apply to the English Navy. Our men are fully equal to foreigners. Why is a ship manned by Englishmen to be regarded as inferior to a ship manned by foreigners? I altogether refuse to accept that doctrine.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
I altogether repudiate the doctrine, and in whatever way you apply the principle, I arrive at the conclusion, in no spirit of bravado, that our fighting strength is superior. We have a number of fighting ships which would enable us to contend, with every prospect of success, against a combination such as has been referred to. My noble and gallant Friend has ridiculed this statement of 151 my ton. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty, but he was the first to make it himself. This was his statement—Supposing that in 1890, when the programme of heavy shipbuilding would be concluded, we saw a disagreeable but possible combination of two Great Powers, we should have to watch at least four or five points or the ports. The total of the combined ironclads of our opponents of the first, second, and third class would he 31. He held that we ought to have one-third more as the attacking force, to allow for various contingencies, but allowing only one-fourth would give 39 as the least total necessary, while all we should have available in European waters would be 38.This speech was very carefully thought out, and I think it was worthy of my noble and gallant Friend. Thirty-nine ironclads manned by Englishmen would be equal to 31 manned by foreigners. My noble and gallant Friend further said—We had, according to theory, sufficient for one, but this was not allowing for accidents or a possible defeat of one squadron. At the same time, as our most powerful rival at sea (France) had ceased building heavy ironclads, and was building cruisers, it was possibly the wisest policy for us to do likewise.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD
Read on. I said that if the French went on doing these things, we must also go on.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
My noble and gallant Friend went on to say—But the time seemed to have expired, as he heard the French Admiralty were proceeding with the Brennnus, a most powerful armour-clad, designed to steam 18 knots, carrying 18 inch of armour, and four 75-ton guns, besides extensive subsidiary armament. Going to cruisers, he found that in 1890 we should have 51, as against France's 67, of over 13 knots. But when speeds were analyzed—though we had an excess of 14 to 16 knots—we had only 22 of 17 knots and upwards to their 22 or possibly 29, if three were not completed.I therefore contend that if anyone is to blame for misleading us as to the fighting strength of the Navy, it is quite clear that my noble and gallant Friend is the prime offender. My noble and gallant Friend went on to say that there was not the shadow of an idea underlying the preparation of the Shipbuilding Estimates. But that was not the opinion of the majority of the Committee on the Estimates. Their report was perfectly clear upon that point. The first year we were in Office we made a very careful Estimate of the annual 152 waste in the Navy, and our Estimate was greatly in advance of that amount. This year we have done something, but next year we hope to go further. My noble and gallant Friend wishes me to give my opinion as to how far we are capable of protecting our commerce, and he seems to think that our sole and only chance is to take refuge in a neutral flag. I speak with great reserve as to the effect of a maritime war on our commerce. We have no data upon which to go. That there would be a rise in prices and in insurance in consequence of the disturbance is likely, but I think we should be able to protect our main Trade route. But my noble and gallant Friend seems to think that a few cruisers would so sweep the seas that our flag would disappear. He referred to the Alabama. Has he ever studied what the Alabama did? How many steamers did the Alabama capture? She captured one steamer, and one only. I think we should fall into a blunder if we attempted to draw any analogy from the depredations among the United States' shipping of the Alabama. At the present time two-thirds of the total steam tonnage of the world are in the hands of this country. We are the carriers of the sea-borne produce of the world. Every year the dimensions of this sea-borne produce are assuming larger and larger proportions, and it is utterly impossible to suppose that the whole commerce of the world is coming to an end through the action of 20 or 30 cruisers. This produce must be carried by some ships, and English ships are the only ships which could carry so large a traffic, and English ships would continue to carry it. Well, I have shown that our progress in the past has been great and continuous. I have shown that my noble and gallant Friend takes an exaggerated view of the power of France, and that he exaggerates the effect of a few hostile cruisers in their depredations on commerce. But I agree that our Fleet should be stronger, and Her Majesty's Government intend to make it stronger. "We have had three main objects in view. First the reform of the Dockyards, so that the ships may be built more quickly and cheaply than formerly; secondly, we have devoted our attention to our wants as a Nation and an Empire; and, thirdly, we have established a system of manœuvres by which we have thoroughly tested the 153 power of the existing Naval Establishments. Therefore, some of the objects we have had in view have been achieved. Upon these lines we propose to proceed. Let me point out to the Committee a fact not generally known—that every ship in commission in a time of peace is commissioned as if it were a time of war, and all the vessels employed in the Naval manœuvres last year were commissioned for war. These are the three main objects which the Government have in view, and some of which we have now achieved. Upon those lines we shall proceed, and next year we hope to present to the House a larger and more comprehensive programme, for our desire is that when we do move, our move shall be a genuine and strong one in the sense of enabling us to be in a position to add rapidly and effectually to the Naval Forces of the Empire, and we intend that expenditure shall be spread over a number of years. These are the motives and principles which have influenced in the past, and will influence in the future, the policy of Her Majesty's Government, and any appeal which we may have to make to the House with the object of carrying out that policy, we believe will not be made in vain.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF (Banffshire)
said, that although the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty had not disposed of all the arguments brought forward by his noble and gallant Friend the Member for East Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford), he thought under the circumstances that the Committee would not be apprehensive of his spending £20,000,000 in the manner which his noble and gallant Friend had indicated. In dealing with the subject the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty, as usual, had treated the question as one entirely free from any Party issues, and he was very glad that in speaking of the programme of ships which he intended to pass into the Navy the noble Lord had given every credit to money spent under Lord Northbrook's programme, without which the present programme would have been impossible. The noble Lord had said that one reason why they were not building more ships was that there were no guns for them. No doubt there were no guns delivered, but why? Because the Admiralty would not go to the country and give orders for them. He had raised this question 154 several times in the House of Commons, and it was his opinion that this was the weak point of the Navy. It was of no use for the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty to come down and say they could not get these guns, as if no other firms than those which they employed could make them. The Admiralty confined their orders to Whit worth, Armstrong, and Woolwich. It was quite true that within the last two months or six weeks the Admiralty had, as he believed, given an order to Messrs. Vickers, but there were other firms who, he was assured, on competent authority, were quite as able to make guns for the Navy as were Messrs. Vickers, and he for one could not understand why the Admiralty or the War Office did not go into the open market for this purpose. The noble Lord told them the other day that the Navy wanted 81 guns, and that he hoped 45 of them would be delivered in the course of the financial year. Even supposing that to be correct, there still remained a large number of guns to be supplied for vessels coming home from the Mediterranean or those building. He did not think it correct to come down to the House and say they could not get the guns, when they made no efforts to obtain them. He was bound to say that he took some exception to some of the grounds on which his noble and gallant Friend the Member for East Marylebone asked for an increase of the Navy. One of those grounds was that there was a much larger increase in the Civil Service Votes than there had been in the Naval Estimates. That was quite true, but he wanted to know where this policy of augmentation would end? Supposing that the country very wisely agreed to spend £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 on education in addition to the sum voted, according to his noble and gallant Friend, it would be the duty of the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty immediately to order a dozen new ironclads. [Lord CHARLES BERESEORD: No, no!] He (Mr. R. W. Duff) said that was the position they would be landed in if they were to increase the Estimates as the noble and gallant Lord suggested. He protested against this competition of extravagance between the different Departments, which would certainly have to be carried out if the policy of his noble and gallant Friend were 155 adopted. During the 27 years he had sat in that House he could not recollect any single occasion on which the responsible advisers of the Admiralty had come down and said that they wanted money for the Navy, and that money had been refused. Therefore, he ventured to vindicate the House of Commons against any charge of parsimony in providing for the naval requirements of the country. They had had discussions on the system of Admiralty administration, undoubtedly, and he supposed they would have a great many more; but if the Committee had ever shown hesitation in voting money for the Navy, it was because they had not complete confidence as to the way in which that money would be applied. They did not wish to see it expended on ships for which the Admiralty could find no guns, and which were practically obsolete three or four years after they were built. The Committee wanted some assurance that if they granted more money for the Admiralty, that money would be well spent. It was well known that a great difference of opinion existed among experts on the question of the sufficiency of the Navy. They had three Admirals writing in The Fortnightly Review and advocating an expenditure of £50,000,000 or £60,000,000 upon the Navy. Then they had the First Naval Lord of the Admiralty (Sir Arthur Hood), a man who was more directly responsible than any other individual in this matter, stating that he would be quite satisfied with the existing state of the Navy, if we laid down battle ships to take the place of those which had become obsolete, and if we gave him six additional cruisers. He thought his noble and gallant Friend would admit that this gentleman was individually more directly responsible for the sufficiency of the Navy than anybody else. His noble and gallant Friend took up an attitude somewhere between the opinion expressed by the Admirals and the more moderate programme advocated by the First Naval Lord of the Admiralty, and he (Mr. R. W. Duff) was not prepared to say which was right. The noble and gallant Lord wanted £20,000,000 to be spent, and, therefore, there was a very considerable difference among experts as to what they wanted. But he was glad to hear from the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty 156 that this difference of opinion between them was not to be an excuse for doing nothing—he was glad to hear that, instead of doing nothing, he was going to do something to strengthen the Navy. Of course he (Mr. R. W. Duff) reserved his opinion as to any programme that might be brought forward until he had seen it, but he thought, after the evidence which had been given before the Committee, there was ground made out for a certain increase in the number of cruisers, and he thought that when his noble and gallant Friend referred to the very large increase in our Mercantile Marine, he certainly got on sounder ground than that on which he stood when he argued that there ought to be an increase of the Navy Vote because there had been an increase in the Votes for the Civil Service and the Army; because when one added to the size of his house, as a prudent man he would naturally increase his insurance. Although he was not prepared to endorse the extravagant estimate which his noble and gallant Friend had placed before the Committee, he thought that the increase of the Mercantile Marine was an argument in support of his views. His (Mr. R. W. Duff's) own opinion as to the efficiency of the Navy was simply that, whatever might be its strength, it should be as efficient as possible, and he protested against running up a long shipbuilding programme when they were short, as the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty had told them, of guns and ammunition. He understood the noble Lord to say they were 81 heavy guns short.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
In speaking of the number of ships building, I spoke of a much less number of guns.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
said, he thought the noble Lord had stated that they wanted 81 guns, and that he hoped that some of them would be delivered by the end of the financial year.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
I said we had given orders for 81 guns. A large proportion of these would not be wanted for a year or two, but a number of ships are waiting for a certain number of these guns.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
said, he was glad he had that explanation, but at the same time he must remind the noble Lord that in addition to the 81 guns the firms 157 they were now depending upon were to turn out 200 guns for military ports and coaling stations—and how they were to do that he could not understand. He could not see how they could be produced unless the Government adopted the policy of going to other firms than were now employed. He would like to have from the noble Lord some explanation with regard to the shipbuilding programme. The new cruisers the Blake and the Blenheim had certain merits; they had great speed and great coal endurance, and in those respects they left nothing to be desired, but their weak point was, from his point of view, that they were entirely without vertical armour. This was undoubtedly a new development for vessels of their size—namely, 9,000 tons displacement. They had never had a vessel of that displacement without vertical armour in our Navy. The Italians had the Lepanto and the Italia, of 14,000 tons, without vertical armour; but their guns were protected by heavy armour. It was true these vessels were to go at great speed, but he ventured to doubt whether they would not be paying too much for that advantage. He doubted the policy of building all these vessels without any protection for guns or men; and he said that because there had been a very great development lately in respect to quick-firing guns in Continental navies, and he was not sure that these were not already possessed of the melinite shell. Under the circumstances, he thought it a mistake to build these vessels merely with a horizontal deck protection. He had no doubt that the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty was well aware of what was going on with regard to vessels of lighter armament. They had only had one experience of quick-firing guns, and that was in the engagement between the French and Chinese at Foochow, in August, 1884; and he was bound to say that he had been very much impressed with the enormous power of guns of that kind. It was stated in the dispatches that the action lasted little more than two hours, but during those two hours the French claimed to have killed five commanders, 39 officers, and 2,000 soldiers—that was to say, that in this brief engagement there was a greater number of men killed and wounded than were lost on our side at the 158 battle of Trafalgar. He thought this was an illustration of the power of these modern infernal machines, which ought not to be lost sight of by the Admiralty, and, therefore, he said that he doubted the policy of building these vessels without any vertical protection whatever for guns and men. He could appreciate the difficulty which the Admiralty had in solving this question; it was a most puzzling and difficult problem, because, if they solved it to-day, to-morrow some new invention in gunnery would require a change to be made. Therefore, he made no criticism in any hostile spirit of the action of the Admiralty in this respect, well knowing how difficult it was for them to make up their minds in matters of this kind. One of the recommendations of the Committee on Naval Estimates was that the Admiralty in designing new vessels should take advantage of outside opinion as to the best means of distributing the armour of these vessels. He understood the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty to say, in reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff (Sir Edward J. Reed), that the advice of some Admirals had been taken upon these vessels. Of course, when advice was required on the construction of vessels, they ought to have the opinion of naval men as well as shipbuilders, and when they spoke of outside opinion, he certainly understood that the naval element would be represented, but he did not understand that they were only going to call in the assistance of naval officers. When the Admiralty embarked in a large shipbuilding programme, he certainly thought that they would take, not only the opinion of naval officers, but that of some of those firms who turned out those fine vessels for Foreign Nations, and that they would have the opinion of some naval constructors employed in private yards. That was what he and the Committee understood to be meant by outside opinion. Mr. White, who was at the top of his profession, and enjoyed the confidence of every one associated with him at the Admiralty, had said that there was nothing he would welcome so much as outside opinion in deciding these very important questions. He could not put his finger at the moment on the answer which Mr. White gave, and therefore he would 159 leave that point for a moment. He would like to ask the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty whether the naval officers, whom he referred to as having approved the plan of these vessels, approved of their being without vertical armour or without any protection for the guns?
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
I said the other day that a number of Naval officers, unconnected with the Admiralty, had been consulted.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
said, his question was whether they approved the plan laid down of building the vessels without any protection for the guns. Returning to Mr. White's answer, 8,014, in reply to the Question—"Would you welcome outside opinion on this Question," he said—"I should like to see the matter so dealt with, not with regard only to criticism of present ships, but with regard to future." He hoped, at any rate, that the Admiralty, when they embarked on this large programme, would take outside opinion and consult private naval constructors. With regard to the policy which should be adopted with reference to ships on foreign stations, he had long held the opinion that they wasted a great deal of money on useless small vessels on these stations, and he entirely agreed with the opinion which the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty had expressed in submitting the Estimates to the House last year, when he said that it was intended to reduce the number of vessels on foreign stations. But why did not the Government carry out this view? He could not find any perceptible reduction in the number of ships on foreign stations. He thought the number of vessels had only been reduced to the extent of four during the last year. We still kept up squadrons at the different foreign stations, and he could only make out that instead of 99 vessels, which was the number last year, we had now about 94. If they were going to reduce the squadrons on foreign stations, what was the use of embarking on a large programme of small vessels? On page 120 of the Naval Estimates he found that there were 13 new gunboats, six of which were completed and seven were in process of completion, and he repeated that he could not see the use of constructing these vessels if they were going to adopt the policy which the 160 noble Lord had laid down. These gunboats would cost the country £535,000, and before they got on foreign stations they would probably cost £750,000, and then after they had been on the stations for 18 months they would be obsolete. [Lord GEOROE HAMILTON: No, no!] That was his opinion. He entirely objected to the frittering away of money on these small vessels which could be of no use in time of war. An able writer in France had spoken of these vessels as being employed for the purpose of maintaining the National Flag and of gratifying Englishmen by displaying their flag, but that on the first alarm of war they would disappear from the seas. He thought it would be much better to have a squadron of large vessels and show the British Flag all over the world in that way, rather than by keeping up these enormous squadrons of small and useless ships. Mr. Elgar, in reply to Question 5,255 to the effect that whether vessels built five years ago at a cost of £200,000 were practically obsolete, said—"Yes, that is what it comes to." They had been all along throwing away money on vessels built between 1881–82–83 which were now practically obsolete, and now he perceived that the Board of Admiralty were proceeding practically on the same lines and were building vessels of 13 knots which corresponded to vessels of 10 knots built three years ago. He knew that it was of no use protesting against them now, because the money was spent; it was utterly useless to move a reduction of the Vote, because the Estimates were so late that the discussion which took place upon the subject would be simply academical and of no practical value, but had the Estimate been reached earlier he should certainly have moved a reduction of the Vote as a protest against this waste of money. But he, however, expressed a hope that the Admiralty would not go on building these small vessels, which were practically useless. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty had told them in 1887 that he was going to consult with the Foreign and Colonial Offices as to making arrangements by which a limited number of large and more powerful vessels moving from place to place on the stations could be made efficient to perform the work of the more numerous but less movable flotilla now 161 employed, but when asked whether he had consulted those Offices the noble Lord indignantly replied in the negative. What was the use of laying down a sensible programme if they did not take steps to carry it out? He trusted that the policy of keeping up these useless vessels would be abandoned, and that for the exhibition of our Flag abroad we should see vessels more worthy of our position as a Naval Power.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN (Kent, Faversham)
said, he wished to express briefly his concurrence with what had fallen from the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford). He thought that the country ought to be grateful to the noble Lord for the speech which had been delivered, and he trusted the Admiralty would be able to show next year that they have profited by the debate, and that they had put the naval defence of the country in a proper position. The suggestion that the Sinking Fund should be suspended when it was necessary to add £5,000,000 or £10,000,000 to the expenditure on the Navy had not received the attention it deserved, because there could be no doubt that such an outlay was for the benefit of posterity as well as for those of the present day. But the immediate object of his rising was to call attention to the very great hardship which had been suffered by his constituents, and he believed by the constituents of all Dockyard towns, by the great reduction of workmen which had been made during the past year. In the case of Sheerness these reductions were made in the teeth of a declaration which he had been permitted to make at a public meeting in March last—namely, that there was sufficient work in the forthcoming programme of the Government to give employment to all those then employed in the Dockyards, and that no discharge of men to any great extent was contemplated. Those were the words which his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Forwood) permitted him to give to his constituents, and by means of which he had been able to allay their apprehensions as to great reductions being made at the Dockyards. But in spite of that, within one month of the time when he made that declaration large reductions took place, and he understood that no less than 70 boiler makers 162 had been discharged. He submitted to the noble Lord at the head of the Admiralty that this was scarcely a course calculated to inspire confidence in the Government, or to conciliate the good wishes of those who were, on the whole, their supporters. In the case of Sheerness these reductions constituted a particularly great hardship. Many of the men discharged had served for 10, 15, or even 20 years; they had settled their homes in Sheerness, and believed that they would remain in employment there until they were 60 years of age at least. But those men had now to leave and find homes elsewhere. He thought that if it were necessary that these reductions should be made, some compensation, at any rate, should be given to the men. But he was told that in some cases all they received on discharge was the magnificent gratuity of one month's pay. He earnestly hoped that the attention of the Admiralty would be called to this matter, and that more especially as those reductions came upon the men by way of surprise. He was aware that he should be told that the kind of work done by the men was not wanted, and that the country could not be expected to pay for work that it did not want. But he said the Admiralty should not have waited until the last moment. He hoped, now that more ships were to be built, there would be more employment for men, and that in the case of men whose services were not required compensation would be given by the Admiralty to a greater extent than that which he had mentioned. He made this appeal as strongly as he could on behalf of his constituents; and he asked the noble Lord that it should not go forth to the world that the Government of this country treated its men worse than they would be treated by any private firm in the country. He ventured to say that no private firm would discharge men who had worked for it for so many years—at any rate, without something like sufficient compensation; and he had not the slightest doubt that the noble Lord would not think of doing so in his private capacity. It was right that the noble Lord should know that the feeling on this matter was very strong in the Dockyard, and that it was openly and freely stated that a fairer and a juster economy could be practised by 163 cutting down the salaries of highly-paid officials than by the discharge of a few poor workmen. Before he sat down there was one other grievance to which he wished to call the attention of the Committee. It was one which had caused a great deal of irritation and annoyance. He referred to the smiths. There was, he believed, four classes of smiths, and hitherto it had been the custom that when there was a vacancy in Class 1 it was filled up by the promotion of a man from Class 2, with extra pay. But of late years this had been discontinued, and when a vacancy occurred men of Class 2 were expected to do the work of Class 1 without receiving any extra pay. He could not conceive the reason for that. If it was for the sake of economy, it was one of those paltry economies which might effect a saving of a few pounds, but would certainly cause a great amount of loss and irritation in the end. It discouraged men, moreover, because, however much diligence and skill they gave to their work, they found they derived no benefit from doing so. He could assure the noble Lord that his constituents appreciated his efforts for the efficiency of the Navy, and welcomed with gratitude the declaration that he more than once made that the present Government had no intention of destroying the Dockyard of Sheerness. There was another subject to which he desired to refer; and two years ago he had put a Question to the Secretary to the Admiralty on that subject. It had been the custom for pupils in the Dockyards to carry away certain books in which their names were written. This privilege was very highly valued. But, two years ago, not only were these books not allowed to be taken, but actually those boys who had received books had to return them. In 1887 he received from his hon. Friend an assurance that an examination had been made into that matter, and that in future those who had received 60 per cent of marks for spelling would receive books. But he was surprised to hear that this very foolish and mistaken practice had again come into force. He had nothing further to add than an expression of his sincere hope that the points to which he had directed attention would receive the consideration of the Board of Admiralty.
§ MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
said, he hoped that when they were able to discuss the Naval Estimates next year they would have an opportunity of going into the whole question raised in the course of this debate by the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford), and also raised in the various Reports which had appeared during the last few years. There was only one point on which he differed from the noble and gallant Lord, and he contended that before they went into further expenditure upon the Navy they should begin by reforming the administration. He should not have spoken in that debate had it not been for the fact that during the Recess he had endeavoured to make himself acquainted with the Reports of the various Committees which had sat to consider the naval administration, and he was bound to say that he had never read in his life a series of Reports that were so painful in their nature as those published during the last few years with regard to the Navy. They exhibited mismanagement and waste which was perfectly astounding; and, as a civilian and a taxpayer, he desired to know that in future the money voted by that Committee would be applied to the purposes for which it was intended rather than, so to speak, thrown into the gutter. He would recall the attention of the noble and gallant Lord who initiated the discussion to a fact with regard to the expenditure during the last two years, and he ventured to say that the country was not starving the Navy as that noble and gallant Lord appeared to think; but, on the contrary, the country had spent enormous sums of money that ought to make our Navy not only sufficient to sweep from the sea the Navy of France or of Russia, but the Fleets of the entire world. Something like £24,000,000 had been spent in 18 years on armoured and unarmoured vessels. Where was all that money gone? They had no ships. The noble and gallant Lord had told them that. They had nothing, in fact, to point to as being sufficient to account for the expenditure of this immense sum of money. But, notwithstanding this expenditure of £24,000,000, they had spent another £12,000,000 in repairing this noble Fleet of ours. If they had no Fleet 165 to repair, why should they spend £12,000,000 on repairs? He thought the public had a right to know where all this money had gone; and it would have the right to know still more before the suggestion of the noble and gallant Lord was carried out, that they ought to spend another £20,000,000 in building up this phantom Fleet. If he thought the money would be well spent, he should not object to pay for a Fleet sufficient to maintain our supremacy at sea, and to protect the magnificent marine of the country; but certainly, after the experience he had had in reading through these Reports, he wanted to know that the money was going to be spent on ships that could fight. He would now give the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty an opportunity of explaining a matter that was the subject of a Question he had put to him a short time ago. He had asked the noble Lord a Question as to the replies given by the Chief Constructor of the Navy with regard to the fitness of our war vessels for the service for which they were built. The answer of the noble Lord was perfectly correct in one particular—namely, that the term battle-worthiness did not occur technically in the Report. Certainly that word had been kept out of the Report, and he was able to show now why it was kept out. It was because it involved a very important question in regard to the construction of ships. The point was of such importance that he should think the Board of Admiralty would be glad to have the matter cleared up before proceeding further. The point with regard to building ships was—what authority was responsible for the battle-worthiness of the ships as well as for their seaworthiness? What had taken place before the Committee was extremely significant. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) asked the Chief Constructor of the Navy, Mr. White, this question—Do you consider yourself as being responsible for the battle-worthiness of a ship as you do for its seaworthiness?To which Mr. White replied—No; certainly not.The hon. Member for Preston then asked—Who are the proper persons responsible for the battle-worthiness of the ship?166 And to this Mr. White answered—I should think the Members of the Board of Admiralty, who ordered the ship to be built.The noble and gallant Lord who sat on the Committee, and the hon. Member for Banffshire (Mr. R. W. Duff), would remember that the Committee tried to fix the responsibility for the battle-worthiness of the ship, and could not do so; and they had not been able to fix this responsibility upon anyone up to the present time. Now, he asked the noble and gallant Lord whether, in the face of these Reports, and the matters which had been stated in evidence before the Committee, he would spend £20,000,000 of the people's money in building up another phantom Fleet until the country knew it was perfectly sure of the battle-worthiness and the seaworthiness of our ships?
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD
said, he had never proposed to spend £20,000,000 until a definite programme had been laid down.
§ MR. HOWELL
said, he hoped that the noble and gallant Lord would include in his programme some person or persons who should be responsible for the ships in the sense he had described, and then he should not object to the necessary money being spent. He was quite prepared to admit that the noble Lord and the Board of Admiralty had tried to do something this year to remedy some of the evils of which complaint had been made; but the Committee were not aware to what extent he had gone. In conclusion, he again expressed the hope that every measure would be taken to insure that the money which might be spent upon the Navy would be properly applied. With regard to some of the improvements, he was afraid they were not improvements at all. Some people thought the changes necessarily meant improvements, but he did not think so. Now, the Papers which ought to be in the hands of hon. Members in order to enable them to debate this question were not forthcoming, and hon. Members would not have them until the Votes came on again next year. It was necessary to have the Papers in order that they might know what the Controller said, which at present they did not know. So far as they could judge, however, by the changes which had been pointed out by the Departmental 167 Committees, changes might be effected; but they did not know to what extent promises in this matter were likely to be carried out, or what fruits were likely to arise from any changes which might be introduced. There was one change which he was afraid the Select Committee of the House rather favoured, as in accordance with some of the recommendations of previous Committees. One change recommended was that the control of the Dockyards should be handed over to some high officer in the Navy; and, if he were not mistaken, some arrangements had been made by the Government with this view. With the greatest possible respect to the gentlemen who belonged to our Naval Service, he was bound to say he did not think they were best adapted for carrying out manufacturing arrangements in the Dockyards. He thought that, above all things, so far as manufacture in the Dockyards was concerned, it would be a mistake to put a professional man at the head of a practical manufacturing Department, for the change would bring about a worse instead of a better state of things. [Admiral FIELD: Oh, oh!] He (Mr. Howell) did not expect the hon. and gallant Admiral to be with him in this respect; but he believed that those who belonged to the Naval Service could best serve their country in the vessels that they built, but that they did not know anything about building ships themselves. This question should be put at rest—Whether the Chief Constructor of the Navy, who built the floating machines, was to be responsible for the ships when they became war machines; and, if he was not, who else was to become responsible? If they had not this responsibility they would be building splendid vessels which would float very well, but which, as soon as they were armed with great guns, would go to the bottom. Hon. Members would agree with him that such a method of construction would only be a pure waste of money, and yet they had not been able to settle whether the Chief Constructor or the engineers of Her Majesty's ships, or who else, was to be responsible. He should like someone connected with the Government to say whether the Board of Admiralty or some of its members held themselves responsible for these vessels? If the Government would answer that question, 168 the Committee would then know whom to call to account. Under existing circumstances, as had been pointed out over and over again by Committees which had sat upon the subject, when anything wrong was discovered one man was pointed to, and then another man was pointed to, and then another, and the Committees had come to the conclusion that no one was to be found who was really responsible, and they had to report that the fault did not lie with an individual or individuals, but with the system. He had promised he would not detain the House very long; but he had felt that he must enter his protest against any further expenditure of the people's money on shipbuilding until they felt perfectly sure that they were going to get their money's worth for what they so spent.
§ SIR EDWARD REED (Cardiff)
said, it might have been supposed that this debate might have been proceeded with on the second section of this Vote—namely, shipbuilding by contract. But, perhaps, it would be more orderly for him to make the few observations he wished to offer at this stage. He would like to re-assure the Committee that it was not his intention to traverse the whole question of shipbuilding policy, because they were approaching an occasion when there would be a better justification for doing so, and also a better opportunity.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ SIR EDWARD REED
said, the speech of the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford) deserved some recognition from that (the Opposition) side of the House; but he was bound to say he (Sir Edward Reed) regarded that speech as an incentive to a large further expenditure on the Navy, and he was, therefore, not altogether satisfied with it. He agreed with the noble and gallant Lord entirely as to the relative positions of other countries on naval matters, or, at least, almost entirely; but his experience of incentives to expenditure had been so entirely unsatisfactory, and he had seen money so lavishly wasted and thrown away because of instigations of this kind, that he felt that as a people we must take our chance 169 and submit to our fate, and should look, while we bad an independent existence, to our economists rather than to our naval administrators. The noble and gallant Lord, in his (Sir Edward Reed's) opinion, weakened his case by stating it in so limited a manner. The noble and gallant Lord was perfectly well aware that there were other grounds than those which he adduced for feelings of alarm in connection with the naval situation, and he (Sir Edward Reed) was afraid that the noble and gallant Lord must have trusted to others to deal with those grounds. In dealing with the question, he (Sir Edward Reed) should like, for a few moments, in the first place, to say that he did not know that it lay in the mouth of any hon. Member on that (the Opposition) side of the House to bring any serious accusations against the present Government with regard to their naval administration. On the contrary, he, for one, felt that the country was very much indebted to the present Administration—and, in speaking of the present Administration, he included the Government of 1885, for that was practically nearly identical with the present Administration—for many good services which they had performed. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty, justly, as he thought, claimed to have cheapened and accelerated the production of ships. He (Sir Edward Reed) believed that that claim was perfectly well founded, and he was sorry to say it was, in his judgment, much to the discredit of former First Lords that the noble Lord opposite should have been allowed to effect the reformation which he had effected in this respect. Nothing could be more injurious to our reputation as a business people than the miserable way in which we had allowed Her Majesty's ships to be continued upon the stocks year alter year. By this system the people were denied the advantage of the expenditure upon these vessels, while there was at the same time accumulating upon them a waste of money in the shape of interest on the capital previously laid out. He confessed that on many former occasions in years gone by he was amazed that any set of Ministers should have allowed such a state of things as then existed to continue. When the Ministers of the day came to the House of Commons and asked for a sum of money for the necessary ships, it reflected immeasurable 170 discredit on that Administration when, having the money voted, they failed to carry those ships to completion with the utmost despatch. While the fulfilment of so clear a business duty did not reflect any positive credit, be thought that the comparative credit due to the present First Lord of the Admiralty was very great indeed. He was sorry they had heard the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty say that four years were required to complete an armour-clad ship. He thought that the noble Lord rather went beyond the limit there.
§ SIR EDWARD REED
Yes; but he thought the noble Lord would succeed, with the improved administration in the Dockyard system he and his Colleagues had brought about, in completing the biggest ship in much less time than that. There was an idea abroad that an ironclad ship could not be built in less than three or four years, but that was quite a delusion. He was recently engaged in examining contracts from shipbuilding firms for a ship of considerable size, and few of the tenders ranged beyond 27 months, and some of them were for shorter periods; and the contracts were accompanied by heavy financial penalties for non-completion within the time named.
§ SIR EDWARD REED
Yes; fully equipped for sea, and ready to depart to the country that bought her. He had no doubt that with the improved administration in the Dockyards there would come about a state of things when the period for the building of a ship would be reduced much below even three years. Beyond that he would not at the present moment go. There was another thing for which he thought the present Board of Admiralty were entitled to almost boundless thanks and congratulations, and that was on the complete and utter transformation of the type of ship which they were building as battle ships. He believed he would not be exaggerating the truth at all if he were to say that there was not a naval officer, at that moment, within the Board of Admiralty who doubted that they had expended money by millions upon millions on types of ships that would not be safe in battle, and he thought the 171 noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone, although with the gallantry of a sailor he had said that he would be prepared to go into battle in a jolly-boat if ordered by the authorities to do so, did not remember that at an early stage of this ship controversy he rather resisted his (Sir Edward Reed's) suggestions about the Inflexible class of ship. From what passed on the Navy Estimates Committee, the noble and gallant Lord now shared to the full extent the anxiety of his brother officers, for he endeavoured to force the Admiralty, by means of the Committee—and he wished the noble and gallant Lord had succeeded—into a practical test of the character of these ships, and their capacity for fighting. The present Board of Admiralty, when they came into Office, took this step—they denounced the ships which were then under construction, and declared that during their tenure of Office no such ships should be constructed. They produced rough-written descriptions of what were now the Nile and Trafalgar type, and they declared that these ships should be constructed. They listened to no nautical nor technical advisers, who tried to prove that they were altogether wrong. They listened to nothing; they set it all aside, and required that the ships should be carried out upon the lines they had decided. It was a fortunate thing they did so, for if they had not, not a single ship would have been built that could have been properly depended upon for a line-of-battle ship. He was satisfied that the existence of the Nile and Trafalgar, when complete, would constitute immense strength, and give immense confidence to the Naval Service of the country which they would not otherwise have. But more time was required for this discussion than present circumstances afforded. It was very natural that the present Board, while resolutely superseding ships of a dangerous character, had not cared to say anything about the dangerous character of the superseded ships. His hon. Friend the Member for Banffshire (Mr. R. W. Duff) had referred to two ships in the programme. There were two ships upon the programme, the Blake and the Blenheim, which, as was pointed out, had no sort of protection for the men, although extremely large and important ships, judging by the amount of money to be 172 expended on them. The introduction of the quick-firing gun, with its terribly explosive shell, had produced such sentiments of fear and terror in the minds of people acquainted with the subject, that a gentleman perfectly acquainted with the matter said to him, "I can assure you, such is the character of these guns and their shells, that the shell turns the interior of an unarmoured ship into a perfect hell in the shortest time." Of these particular ships, however, the Committee only knew what the noble Lord had told them. They were endowed with one eminent quality which would be of immense service to them when pursuing a weaker enemy. They possessed immense capabilities of speed, but they were quite unfit for battle, and were liable to sudden and complete destruction if so engaged. The speed, however, which enabled them to overtake a weaker vessel would equally enable them to escape from a stronger—a useful quality, though not one of the highest for a British war vessel to possess. The Committee ought to know, before expending these large sums, what these ships being built were like, and should not be dependent upon a few words from the noble lord the First Lord of the Admiralty. In the old days, when he was in Office, it had been the custom for Members of Parliament interested in naval questions to call at the Admiralty and see the designs of ships under construction, so that they might be able to speak with some authority in Committee on the Estimates. But now the Committee knew nothing but what they could gather from a few words from the noble Lord. This state of things ought to be remedied; it might be objected that for the Committee to know was for everyone to know. But that argument was fully met by the fact that Foreign Governments, by means of their Naval Attachés in London, were fully aware of the information that was denied to the Committee. The fact was that the only persons who did not know what was being done were the British public; and it was a curious fact that if he wanted any particulars or drawings of Her Majesty's ships he could always get them, though he had to get them from abroad. He would recommend the Government to observe the signs of the times, for he believed that the nation 173 would demand a better account of the millions of money voted in the House for naval affairs. He did not see in his place the hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell), but some hon. Members must have heard his speech, and it seemed to him a very significant one. Here was an hon. Member, from whom he had not expected to hear a word on naval matters, speaking upon them in a way which would be noticed by the people of the country, and declaring that something more should be found as to the ins and outs of these subjects. He (Sir Edward Reed) thought the Government would do well to put the Committee into possession of the fullest information on this matter. It was to be regretted that the noble and gallant Lord opposite, in his speech, had not entered into the character of individual ships when enumerating them. He had mentioned such vessels as the Ajax and the Agamemnon, and had even suggested the construction of 10 Australias—
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD
said, he did not mean exactly the same class of ship as the Australia, but similar ships of superior coaling capacity and better speed.
§ SIR EDWARD REED
said, he was glad he had elicited that information from the noble and gallant Lord, because he found that the Australias were a class of ship, of which seven were being completed, and for which they were to vote money that night, of a type so disgraceful that the Naval Lords of the Admiralty said it did not matter how they were sent out, because they had so little armour to start with that they could not be regarded as of any great importance. He thought it was Sir Anthony Hoskins or Sir Arthur Hood who had said that it did not matter whether the armour was under water or not, and the only fair inference from that would be that the armour belt was narrow and inefficient. He observed that Mr. White, the Chief Constructor, in his evidence, stated that he could not regard these vessels as having any valuable protection in the belt; that the belt was so narrow that he could not attach any importance to it. One of the Lords of the Admiralty distinctly stated to the Committee that these vessels ought not to appear as armoured ships on The Navy List, and yet they stood before the country as armoured 174 vessels, when they ought to be classed as protected vessels, which, under the singular nomenclature used in the Admiralty, signified a class of vessels which had no protection at all. The characteristic feature of those vessels, described in The Navy List as protected vessels, was that they were entirely unprotected; the vessels themseves were not protected, but there was some little protection of the machinery. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty said, incidentally, but it was significant, that he must compare the ships of this and foreign countries of equal date, and that if we did that we would stand fairly well in the comparison. He (Sir Edward Reed) did not know whether the Committee would believe what he said, but he asserted that the whole basis of comparison of tonnage between our armour-clad Navy and the French Navy was an absolutely false basis, and for the very reason that every French ship, with the rarest exception, and exceptions of very little moment, had been completely belted from one end of the ship to the other, while our ships had been nothing of the kind. What the noble Lord did, when he gave the Committee armoured tonnage, was to give them ships that had been armoured a little bit in the middle. The noble Lord took the tonnage of these ships and added it up, though he knew that a very large portion of the tonnage was not armoured at all. That was a most significant circumstance, and he mentioned it now for the purpose of showing that it would not do to take a French ship and an English ship of the same date and assume their equality—there was nothing like equality. He admitted that there was an immense relief to the tension of the situation, which every naval officer must feel, arising from the strange delay in the completion of French ships. He thought that the noble Lord rather understated than overstated the case. It was probable that he did not feel, in his exalted official position, free to state the case fully. The noble Lord entirely avoided saying anything about what lay behind the long delay in the completion of the French ships, which was a system of administration which he (Sir Edward Reed) considered could only be regarded as deplorable if it were our own. It certainly was more deplorable than anything which had happened in the worst 175 days in recent times of British administration. The fact of the delay in the completion of French ships was what enabled the noble Lord to be silent about our shortcomings, and the Committee were able to gather, whether rightly or wrongly, a feeling that the noble Lord relied a good deal on the unfavourable expectations of the French Admiralty. There was one argument that the noble Lord used which struck him as rather singular. The noble Lord said—"You have not guns; you do not get guns, and what is the use of going on building ships, unless you get the guns for them?" That seemed a strange position for the First Lord of the Admiralty to assume. It was challenged in a very proper manner by the hon. Member for Banffshire (Mr. R. W. Duff), who said—"If you have not guns, why do you not get them?" The manufacture of guns had been limited to the narrowest possible extent, not because of the necessities of the case, not because of the incompetency of our manufacturers, but because of the incompetency of our Administrators, and their willingness to play for too long a period into the hands of Woolwich Arsenal. That was the real reason why we had no guns, and he did not understand even now, when this Board of Admiralty, which professed to be so keenly alive to the importance of pushing on work, had been so long in Office, why they had not brought in more manufacturing firms, and why we were not having guns produced in a much larger number. He believed—in fact he was sure—there was no technical or manufacturing speciality in the way. On the contrary, all that manufacturing firms required from the Admiralty or from the War Office was a guarantee of a certain number of orders, in which case they could afford to put down the necessary plant and pursue the manufacture, and without which they could not afford to do it, as very probably they would be entering upon a foolish speculation. If the noble Lord felt disposed to add considerably to the Navy of the country, he could easily add to the production the guns necessary for the ships well within the time during which the ships would be building. There was a spirit arising in the Committee which would make hon. Members unwilling to receive such statements as that of the noble 176 Lord concerning guns. They would say—"If the country requires ships or guns, this is the country which can produce them as and when they are required." His hon. Friend the Member for Banffshire said, apropos to the question of building armoured ships and distributing the armour, it was one of the most perplexing problems which had to be solved. He (Sir Edward Reed) had no desire to take the Committee through technical details, but he thought that hon. Members of the Committee would be willing to accept from him the statement that it was not from the perplexity of the problem at all that we were in difficulty, but it was from the perversity of that close Corporation, the Admiralty Office, into which outside light was not allowed to enter. As they had heard that night, when a Committee of that House attempted to make light enter the Admiralty they were met with resistance, and he added, even at the risk of compromising himself with the noble Lord, with evasion. He would not trouble the Committee by reading to them—he would like to read it—a letter he addressed, as a Member of the Committee to which he referred, to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) as Chairman of that Committee, calling his attention to the enormous and wasteful outpouring of money on certain ships, and putting it to him whether the question should be examined by the Committee or not. His right hon. Friend, after conferring with the Committee, said that the question was somewhat technical, and, at any rate, there was no time to make the investigation. The right hon. Gentleman, however, assured him that the Committee would take some step by which the matter should receive the necessary consideration. As a matter of fact, the Committee adopted unanimously a recommendation providing for the bringing of outside opinion to boar upon the question of the design of our ironclads. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty got up the other night, and with a manifestation of intricate, perplexed, and scarcely frank officialism, told them that he had fulfilled the desire of the Committee by taking the opinion of some naval officers who were not in the Admiralty. It was very proper that naval officers should have a voice in the consideration of a 177 question of this kind, but all he had ever complained of, and all that had made the Navy tremble at the thought of war, was that in such vessels as these, from one-half to two-thirds of the armour had been put inside, where it was not of any more use than so much ballast. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty could lead into the Lobby a majority against any proposal, however reasonable and right, and he wished he could believe the noble Lord would not always be quite ready to do so on questions of this kind. What the noble Lord had done was to narrow down the recommendation of the Committee, and to conceal one of the most serious matters which could engage the attention of the Admiralty, by what he could not regard as a more elevated thing than an equivocation. He did not care particularly about the matter himself; he was sorry to say he had been in the House so many years that he had lost a good deal of faith in the ability of any private Member or section of Members to bring to bear an elevating influence on the Government of the day; but still he hoped the Committee to which ha had referred would respect its own decision, and require the First Lord to fulfil their desire and expectation. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty and the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone referred that night to the evidence given before the Naval Estimates Committee by Sir Arthur Hood, the Senior Sea Lord of the Admiralty. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty and the noble and gallant Lord were perfectly entitled—indeed, they were bound—to believe and accept what the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty said to the Committee. But he (Sir Edward Reed) could not conceal from hon. Members what he knew about the opinions of the First Sea Lord. He maintained that Sir Arthur Hood was one of those naval officers who distrusted almost as much as anybody a whole series of our ships. Indeed, he (Sir Edward Reed) would like to ask the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he had a single naval adviser within the walls of the Admiralty who had expressed to him satisfaction at the fighting, or the steaming, or the blockading qualities of the Admiral class of ships? His hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bethnal 178 Green raised a question that night about battle-worthiness. He (Sir Edward Reed) thought the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty made rather a slip the other evening when he, the First Lord of the British Admiralty, got up at the Table and intimated that he did not know—[Lord GEORGE HAMILTON dissented.] Well, he would like to ask the noble Lord, if he did know the distinction between battle-worthiness and seaworthiness, why he called on the hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green to explain it the other day?
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, he stated that seaworthiness was an expression which was capable of mathematical definition and test, but that battle-worthiness was a phrase to which every man attachéd his own meaning. On that account it was struck out of the Report.
§ SIR EDWARD REED
said, that that was quite wrong. Seaworthiness was open to as much doubt and question as battle-worthiness. Nay, more; so far from the seaworthiness of a ship being a matter of mathematical calculation and settlement, he, for one, asserted, differing from the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Charles Beresford), who had put his hand to a contrary statement that the Wasp was in an unseaworthy condition when she was lost. He maintained that the Wasp was a type of ship which in certain features had been known to be dangerous for many a long year past—namely, a ship with very lofty bulwarks, capable of shipping immense seas, and with exits for those seas insufficient to relieve her before she might founder. There were other vessels of the type. It only showed under what difficulties the Committee laboured in dealing with these questions when they had the First Lord, who had passed through several Departments of the State in different capacities, and who was now the only person to whom they could look for responsibility in connection with the seaworthiness or battle-worthiness of the Navy, standing up in his place and interrupting him (Sir Edward Reed) for the purpose of telling him that seaworthiness was a mathematical or fixed calculation, and that battle-worthiness was a matter of doubt and a question of opinion. The alarming part of the matter was that the battle-worthiness which they had had 179 to consider of late, was not a question of any doubt or opinion at all. He was surprised at the attitude the noble Lord assumed, for he attempted to put the hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green in a difficulty, and he did, no doubt, put the hon. Member at a disadvantage before his brother Members in asking him what battle-worthiness meant. It meant this—that if all they required was seaworthiness, ships could be turned out at a less cost by thousands and thousands of pounds than if they were required to be also battle-worthy. A seaworthy ship was a ship fit and worthy to go to sea with all reasonable safety, and a battle-worthy ship was a ship fit to go into battle with reasonable safety under conditions perfectly well recognized. He was sorry he had been led so far into that question, but he wished to impress upon the Committee that it was within his knowledge that the Naval Colleagues of the noble Lord did not believe in the battle-worthiness of a large number of our ships. He thought it was time for that House to take into its own hands, in some degree, the investigation of this matter, and to cease to be satisfied with such statements as they got from the Government. He had only now to call the attention of the Committee to the entire failure of the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty to answer the main argument of the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone. What the noble and gallant Lord did was to take the number of French vessels, and to suppose that certain vessels were at Toulon and certain others in other French ports, and ask whether we had a sufficient Navy to deal with these squadrons of France. He (Sir Edward Reed) found the Admiralty failing them miserably in matters which he understood. He found them getting up with confidence and making a number of statements which had very little to do with the matter, and so leading the feeling and the opinion of the House away. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty showed that the Admiralty had been building a good many ships; that they had been improving the economy of the Dockyards, and improving the administration. As a matter of fact, there were a number of ships begun by Lord North-brook, and the present First Lord of the 180 Admiralty had finished them off. The noble Lord bore testimony to the fact that these ships were commenced under Lord Northbrook; but what the House and the country should know was, whether the Board of Admiralty had or had not some idea or some scheme of what would happen in the event of a war with France? He agreed entirely with the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone that we were living in a fool's paradise until we thoroughly considered the situation. He did not know whether the Committee would have the hon. and gallant Admiral, whom he saw opposite, rising that night and attacking his brother officer—[Admiral FIELD: Never, never!]—but he was persuaded that the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Charles Beresford) was a man in whom the country had confidence. He believed that the people, without exception, had immense confidence in the noble and gallant Lord. Making allowances for his professional emotions, the people were more prepared to give the noble and gallant Lord some scope, at least in those demands which were reasonable, than to trust blindly in the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty, whose only purpose seemed to be to show, like previous First Lords of the Admiralty, that he was better than any of his Predecessors, and that while the Navy was in his hands all would be right.
ADMIRAL MAYNE (Pembroke and Haverfordwest)
said, he thought that the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty missed the point of the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford), when he spoke of the gradual increase the Admiralty were working out. There was no doubt that the figures of the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty would be perfectly sound on the assumption that the Fleet was now in the position it ought to be. If the Fleet were in such a condition, then the amount of annual increase fixed upon by the Admiralty would be sufficient. He, however, totally denied that we had got a Fleet sufficient. Without wishing to go into minute details, he should like to put it generally that we had not now sufficient ships to keep the French Fleet blockaded in the two ports of Toulon and Brest. He spoke of Toulon and Brest as being two of the principal 181 ports, and he assumed that the French battle ships would be divided into two Fleets. If our Channel Fleet was at Portland or Plymouth, there was nothing to prevent the two French Fleets from combining against the Mediterranean Fleet. If our Mediterranean Fleet was at Gibraltar, the Toulon Fleet would have 400 miles start of us if bound Eastward. If our Mediterranean Feet was at Malta, the two French Fleets could combine and reach the Channel before we could possibly catch them. Consequently, to keep the two Fleets blockaded in Toulon and Brest, we must have at least one-third more ships than they had got always ready and off those ports, to allow for damage, stress of weather, coaling, and other necessities. He wished it to be clearly understood that it was to the battle ships—not commerce protectors—that the country must look, for it was always in the line of battle that England had won her victories, and it was the line of battle on which England must hope. It was in the battle ships being efficient, and sufficiently numerous, that our great strength lay, and he was quite sure that the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty, and those competent to judge, would agree with him that one battle of Trafalgar won would be a greater protection to our commerce than all the cruisers, and that one battle of Trafalgar lost would destroy our naval supremacy and commerce at one blow. That being so, he was afraid that what we wanted was more battle ships, and those battle ships built at once. While he did not altogether object to the view of the hon. Member for Cardiff (Sir Edward Reed) that some external light should be thrown upon the Admiralty designs, he feared that there would be enormous delay, and enormously lengthened debate in the House, if every hon. Member who thought he had the slightest knowledge of shipbuilding went into the Admiralty Office, and there formed his opinion of the proposals made on the responsibility of the Admiralty, and argued out in the House all the flaws and faults which, in his judgment, existed in each ship. He thought his hon. Friend would remember the time when he strongly advocated the adoption of circular ships. [Sir EDWARD REED: Certainly not.] His memory 182 might have failed him, though it seldom did. He remembered a letter in The Times from the hon. Gentleman describing a certain cruise in the Admiral Popaff; and he was bound to say that his impression was—erroneous, he had no doubt it was, if the hon. Gentleman said so—that if the hon. Gentleman had been Comptroller of the Navy we should have certainly have had one circular ship, if not more.
§ SIR EDWARD REED
said, he wished to ask permission to explain that his hon. and gallant Friend was entirely wrong. He saw the vessels he referred to, and described their characteristics as very interesting, but, as to recommending the construction of circular vessels in this country, it never entered his mind. He never made any such recommendation.
said, that, of course, he accepted the hon. Member's explanation, but he wished the hon. Member, when he wrote to The Times again, would be more careful as to the language he used. He (Admiral Mayne) was seeking information, and when he read the letter in question he believed firmly that the hon. Gentleman was in favour of circular vessels, and he believed that there were many others who were of the same opinion. Now, as he was anxious to get as rapidly as possible ships, with the guns in them of course, ready to keep the French in Toulon and Brest, he hesitated to have any more opinions called in than we had at present. He dreaded one thing, and there was every reason to dread it, judging from what was said before the Naval Estimates Committee, and that was that the Admiralty were not working upon a settled plan. There was one point his noble and gallant Friend (Lord Charles Beresford) always urged, and it could not be too often insisted upon—namely, that there should be some plan upon which the ships were to be built, and some plan upon which the men, and officers, and guns necessary for the Navy should be fixed. He remembered that in the Committee Sir Arthur Hood—the First Sea Lord—was asked his opinion as to the number of ships which we ought to have, and that he replied that he would like six more fast cruisers. Thereupon he was asked, "Why six any more than two or 63?" and then he (Admiral Mayne) thought that they 183 were going to get at the right thing. Now he thought that the First Sea Lord, the head of the whole intelligence of the administration, would answer, "Why, because I have matured, and laid before my Colleagues, a plan, putting down all the combinations which can possibly occur in Europe, both for and against us, and I am satisfied that these combinations can be met by the Navy of this country with the addition of six fast cruisers." That was the sort of thing one would expect, because he should like hon. Gentlemen to remember that, whatever might be the difference of opinion as to the principle of fast cruisers—and even on that point those much criticized gentlemen, Sir G. T. Phipps Hornby and Sir Thomas Symonds, had a plan, whether it was right or not, and that it showed exactly what the cruisers would, in their opinions, be called upon to do in time of war—there could be no difference of opinion as to the battle ships we required. The First Sea Lord did not say that, having arrived at an idea of the possible combinations against us, he found we wanted six more fast cruisers, but what he said was that it was "his opinion" that these additional cruisers were required. He (Admiral Mayne) thought that when the country was asked to spend millions of money they ought to have something more than a bare opinion. The Second Sea Lord wanted the same number of ships that any two European Powers had, and the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty had assured the Committee that night that he never said that we had enough ships, but that he had always said we required more. But the noble Lord was not the only Gentleman who spoke sometimes for the Admiralty. The noble Lord's financial adviser delighted to stray occasionally from the rigid rules and lines which governed finance into criticisms of the strength of the Navy, and he had said several times, in different forms of words, that we had all we wanted, and that we had more than the two most powerful nations of Europe put together, and on one occasion, if not more, he named France and Russia. The hon. Gentleman did not take into account what we would have to do—namely, keeping at sea and blockading ports, and that if we were blockading 184 Toulon, with the insufficient Fleet we now had, we should not have a single ship to meet Russia if she came down from the Baltic, or a single ship to send to the East if we wanted to meet her in the Dardanelles or the Bosphorus. That being so, he was only too delighted to hear the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty say that there was to be an increase in the shipbuilding programme next year. Those were, indeed, tidings of comfort and joy, and once more—he knew many of his friends would call it weakness, amiable weakness—he was going to trust to the Admiralty, for once more he was going to vote for the Admiralty, in the hope that they would see a fixed plan adopted, and that ships would be built which would put us in a position to meet all possible demands upon the Navy. As to the tonnage question, he was surprised that it should ever have been mentioned again, because the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty could not have forgotten that the very tonnage he claimed we had in March last—30 or 40 per cent more than France—was the exact amount of tonnage, as nearly as possible, that Admiral Baird's Squadron had over Admiral Tryon's Squadron. The two Squadrons were in about that proportion; and that proportion enabled the enemy to take Liverpool and various other towns. The difference of opinion between experts was a very small matter when boiled down, because all the experts agreed before the Naval Estimates Committee as to the necessity for that which he now hoped would really be carried out next year. Upon the commercial question, reference had been made to the neutral flag. One of the most surprising statements made by the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty, and also by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Forwood), was as to the effect of war upon our commerce, and the hon. Gentleman had said that it was doubtful whether any precaution now taken would, in the event of war, prevent shipowners and merchants seeking the protection of a neutral flag. The sailing of vessels under a neutral flag would not prevent the captain of any enemy's cruiser detaining the vessels, and whether the vessels were ultimately condemned in a Prize Court or not would be comparatively immaterial, because, assuming 185 that they were bringing supplies to this country, they would be detained sufficiently long to bring about starvation or semi-starvation here. He need hardly remind hon. Gentlemen that an enemy's Prize Court would be in no hurry to adjudicate upon such cases, so that very possibly we might lose our food supply. The detention alone to which vessels would be subjected would be quite enough. He thought it was going a little beyond all the ordinary limits of what one expected from Englishmen when it was openly stated by the head of one large line of steamers that what they would seek in the event of war was the protection that a neutral flag would give, and that, consequently, they were opposed to building fast cruisers for the protection of commerce. All he could say was that he hoped that that was not the patriotism which was common among shipowners.
Order, order! The hon. and gallant Gentleman is straying from the Vote when he enters on that question.
said, he would only add that he trusted the Admiralty would bear in mind what was said by Lord Armstrong as to the fast merchant ships which they were taking up. That those vessels should be taken up was perfectly right, if only to prevent them falling into the hands of other countries; but he thought it was extremely doubtful whether they would ever be able to use them in war, because if they employed the fastest and largest merchant ships to run after vessels, they would take away from the carrying power of the country too much. He, as the Representative of a Dockyard constituency, entirely agreed with the views which the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) expressed as to the hardship suffered by the Dockyard men last year. He knew the reduction in the Dockyards was necessary; but he could not help deeply regretting the way in which that reduction was carried out. He regretted that at the time the reduction was made the facts which necessitated the reduction were not laid before the country; because, had it been pointed out to the Dockyard men that between the years 1880 and 1885 something like 5,000 men were added to the Dockyards, and that there could not be permanent work for so many, a reason 186 would have been shown for the reduction. But, as it was, the reduction came most unexpectedly, and with the greatest hardship. He trusted that if the increased shipbuilding programme of next year was carried out, as he hoped it would be, sufficient work would be found for the Royal Dockyards, and that the men would be placed on a permanently secure footing.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
said, that as he was absent from England when the Navy Estimates were first under discussion, he was glad to take that opportunity of saying a few words on the progress of the work in the Dockyards. He was pleased to be able to give a general support to the First Lord in the programme he had proposed. He was also able to support the noble Lord in the very interesting controversy which had been raised by the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford). The noble and gallant Lord would excuse him for saying that in the comparison he had made between the English and French ships he had taken an optimist view of the condition of the French Navy, and a pessimist view of the condition of the English Navy. Since this matter was last under discussion he had given very considerable attention to a detailed comparison between the Fleets of the two countries; and he was certainly able to back up what had been said by the First Lord of the Admiralty in regard to the condition of the two Navies. In some respects he thought the noble Lord had understated the case rather than overstated it. The noble Lord had said that after deducting the number of vessels building, and also the few obsolete vessels, it would be found that of armoured battle-ships the French had 18 ships, while we had 35. It must be borne in mind that of the 18 battleships of the French Navy no fewer than nine were wooden vessels with armoured sides. He believed he was right in saying that of those nine all but three had been built a longer number of years than 15. It was known that vessels of that type could not possibly last for more than from 17 to 19 years. Those vessels, therefore, were fast approaching the period at which they must be absolutely unserviceable, and no longer worth repair. That was a very important 187 matter in considering the relative merits of the two Fleets. All the 35 English vessels were built of iron; and therefore, in that respect alone, we had a great advantage. Another point which was worthy of observation was that in his calculation the First Lord did not include the armoured cruisers. He (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) found that the armoured cruisers of England were 12 in number, including the Impéieuse and the Warspite; while those of France only numbered four. There was a third point which was also very worthy of consideration, and in respect to which also the noble Lord did not do full justice to his own policy, and that was the effect which had been produced by accelerating the progress of vessels under construction. The average time occupied in the completion of a French ironclad was 10 years; but, further than that, the French had laid down in their Dockyards so large a number of vessels—cruisers, and other types of vessels—that their programme was completely mortgaged for the next two years. He thought he was right in saying that the French could not possibly undertake any new work of any kind upon any vessel, unless by delaying the completion of vessels already in hand, until the end of the year 1890. The very reverse was our case. In pursuance of the very wise policy which the noble Lord had been pursuing for the last three or four years, we were very little mortgaged in the future. We were expending this year about £3,000,000 upon new construction, and at the close of this year only £1,500,000 would be required for the completion of the vessels now in hand; in other words, we were only mortgaged to the extent of a half-year. If hon. Members made a comparison between what would be the condition of the English and French Fleets at the end of 1890 they would find it would be possible for us, by 1890, to spend£4,500,000 more upon vessels of the same class. That money might be either spent in commencing new ironclads or upon cruisers, whether armoured or un-armoured. That money would enable the noble Lord to commence and advance considerably four or five armoured vessels of the largest type, and something like 15 cruisers. Taking into consideration all the circumstances, he had arrived at the conclusion that never, during the 188 last 20 years, had this country been so superior in strength to anything which might be produced by France, or any other Foreign Power, than it was at the present moment. His own belief was that the vessels now completed in this country were relatively superior to those of the French to a greater degree than they had been at any time during the last 20 years—certainly during the time he had taken an interest in naval matters. He believed that relative superiority would be still greater at the end of the year 1890, when the programme of work commenced would be complete. For these reasons, it would not be wise or expedient to enter upon any great programme of shipbuilding other than what might be undertaken out of the normal expenditure of the country. Next year the First Lord would have a free field before him. In consequence of his policy of not mortgaging the future he would be able to produce a very large programme of new work, spread over three or four years, involving the construction of a very large number of vessels—as large a number as it would wise to lay down at any one time. For this reason, he was strongly of opinion it would be wise to go on prudently, commencing next year a considerable number of new vessels, armoured or unarmoured, and not undertaking any such gigantic programme of construction as was recommended by the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford). The wisest course was to lay down year by year such a number of vessels as could be completed in the course of two or three years, and to avoid anything like an exaggerated programme. After having expressed this general approval of the policy of the First Lord of the Admiralty, he wished to say that there were one or two points upon which he felt hesitation and doubt. One matter in which he disagreed somewhat with the First Lord was as to the two vessels, the Blake and the Blenheim. Those were vessels of 9,000 tons each, unarmoured, and they were, he believed, able to compete with two French vessels of 6,000 tons displacement. Well, in his opinion, it would be better to build three vessels of the size of the French vessels—namely, of 6,000 tons displacement, than two of 9,000 tons, even though the larger might steam at a much greater rate; because 189 it must be remembered that they were not to be fully protected with armour even against quick-firing guns. The last vessels of a somewhat similar type built in this country—namely, the Inconstant and the Shah, had not given much satisfaction; and he thought, on the whole, that it would be wise not to construct vessels of this size and description. Any Board of Admiralty who would send vessels of this enormous size to sea, with 500 to 600 men on board of them, would be laying themselves open to a very heavy responsibility. He certainly thought it would have been much wiser, instead of building enormous vessels so inadequately protected, to have built three ships of 6,000 tons. Another point he wished to comment upon was the very large number of vessels provided in the programme now before the Committee of very small size. He found there were to be no fewer than five vessels of the Buzzard class, costing £56,000 each, with a speed of under 14 knots; and no fewer than 20 more, costing £50,000, and steaming from 12 to 13 knots an hour. The total cost of those 25 ships would be £1,280,000. He could not but think that it would be far wiser to have spent that money in building cruisers of larger type, and of a greater rate of speed. He knew the argument would be used that those vessels were required to supply the place of other vessels of a somewhat similar type in distinct squadrons; but it appeared to him they ought to ask whether the time had not come for them to revise these foreign squadrons, and to replace inferior vessels by vessels of a larger type and a higher rate of speed, and which would be useful in time of war? Those the Admiralty were building would not be of use in the event of war breaking out, which were simply constructed to act as police in times of peace. They would be liable to be picked up in time of war by the swift cruisers of an enemy. Those ships therefore, would add very little to the strength of a Navy. Would it not be wise to restrict, as far as they possibly could, the construction of vessels of a small type, and supply their places by larger vessels of a limited speed, and which would be really of some use in the event of hostile operations? Looking generally at the programme of the Government, and the immediate wants of the Navy, he could not but think 190 that those wants were in the direction of larger cruisers with a higher rate of speed. At the same time, he certainly would not advise laying such ships down in very great numbers. The Estimates now before the Committee, and the programme of the work of the Admiralty, afforded an illustration, he thought, of the necessity of caution in laying down any very large number of vessels of the same class at the same time. It seemed to him that there was a very rapid advance being made in the rate of speed which could be got out of cruisers of the larger type. He might put it down that in the course of every three years an increase of speed, amounting to two knots, was attained by our cruisers. He observed in the vessels actually now building a good illustration of this fact. There were three vessels of the Mersey type, of 4,000 tons each, now being built, which had a speed of 17 knots, and would cost £227,000. On the other hand, three others of the Medea and Melpomene class had been laid down a year later, with a tonage of 2,800 tons, would have a speed of 20 knots. In other words, the smaller vessel, costing a less sum of money, would beat the others in speed by no less than three knots, whilst the armaments would be very little different. The larger vessels would carry two 8-inoh guns and eight 4-inch guns; whereas the smaller vessels would carry 6-inch guns. The smaller vessels, which would have a greater speed, would cost £141,000; whilst the larger ones would cost £227,000. He quoted those figures as an illustration of the rapid advance which was being made in naval construction at the present time. Improvements were taking place every day, and the Board of Admiralty were finding themselves able to get a higher rate of speed, and better results, even out of smaller vessels. He thought, therefore, that, looking generally at the state of the facts and the programme before them, it was only right to say that they should proceed in these matters with moderation and caution, building only in each year that which was required for actual service. And now he had only to conclude by expressing a general approval of the programme of the present Vote, and the general policy which had been maintained by the First Lord of the Admiralty, subject only to the reservations 191 he had already made. Before he sat down, however, there was just one other point to which he should like to refer. The noble Lord said the other day at Glasgow that although the Estimates were reduced by £900,000, as compared with those of last year, yet that that was, to a certain extent, an unreal reduction, inasmuch as £400,000 of it was caused by a saving on the Vote of the last financial year to the credit of the present Government, out of which saving he had been permitted by the Treasury to purchase stores. Now, that was a large operation—a much larger one than he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) ever recollected taking place before with the consent of the Treasury. It was such a large operation, in fact, that he thought it ought to have been mentioned by the noble Lord in his Financial Statement. It was true the noble Lord had alluded to the fact; but it was in such a slight way that he did not think it would have been possible for anyone, reading the noble Lord's statement, to arrive at the conclusion that an operation of that magnitude had been effected; and the noble Lord had rather overstated the amount, for the Secretary to the Admiralty had last night asserted that the amount was £300,000, and not £400,000. The noble Lord had said that the whole saving had been in Dockyard management; but it appeared that only £100,000 was due to economic management, the rest, as he understood, was due to less expenditure on machinery; and therefore he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) took it that it was owing to the work of the contractors not having been effected in the current year. Of course, if only £100,000 could be saved in any way in Dockyard management, there was a saving in wages; but it appeared to him, at all events, that an operation of such magnitude as this in one financial year, resulting in reduced expenditure, should have been referred to in the Financial Statement of the First Lord. Then, again, in his Glasgow speech the noble Lord had further stated that the remaining part of the £900,000—namely, £300,000—was not, truly speaking, a saving within the year, inasmuch as that was accounted for by the arrangements which they had entered into with the Australian Colonies. He (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) agreed with the noble Lord that in comparing 192 the expenditure of the two years, that £500,000 ought not to be taken into account. Therefore, taking those two items into account, practically the real expenditure for naval purposes during the present year would be equal to the expenditure of last year, there being no reduction in the true sense of the word. They might take that, he thought, as an established fact. At the beginning of the Session some credit was taken by the Government for having effected a reduction; but it now appeared that there was no true reduction. The matter was one rather of financial detail than touching policy; and it had been on the question of policy that he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had mainly desired to address the Committee.
§ MR. EVANS (Southampton)
said, that perhaps he might be allowed to afford a little information in respect of the statement made by the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford), with whose remarks he entirely concurred. He had listened to all that fell from the noble and gallant Lord, and to everything that had followed from the First Lord of the Admiralty, and he was bound to say that, to his mind, here as elsewhere, the noble Lord had not succeeded in meeting the arguments of the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone. The First Lord of the Admiralty had, in the course of his remarks, made use of the argument of the damage done by the Alabama. Well, the damage done by the Alabama had come very well within the reach of his (Mr. Evans') own knowledge, for he had had a great deal to do with insurance matters at the time the Alabama was afloat. The First Lord of the Admiralty had said that the Alabama only took one steamer. That was perfectly true; but, at the same time, she had totally destroyed the American maritime commerce. The Secretary to the Admiralty, who was well acquainted with these subjects, would, no doubt, bear him out when he said that the American clippers before the Civil War did very nearly half the trade between America and the Port of Liverpool. But when the Alabama and the Shenandoah sailed to prey upon American commerce, the idea was not that they should capture North American commerce—because that was an impossibility—but to destroy that commerce 193 in another way. The effect of the depredations of those vessels was to raise the rate of insurance and render it impossible, not for shipowners to send ships to sea, but for owners of merchandize to send their merchandize to sea in the ships. Not only was it necessary to insure a ship, but it was also essential to insure the cargo at a very high rate of premium; and merchants, when they selected what ships they should send their goods in, naturally sought those where the rates of insurance were such that a profit could be made out of the merchandize. American commerce, therefore, had been transferred to neutral vessels. He should like to refer to another matter in which the noble Lord seemed to be under some illusion—and he took upon himself to go into these matters, because, though he was a new Member, representing a new constituency, the members of his constituency had to pay their quota towards whatever might have to be found to defray the expenditure of the Government. While he quite agreed with the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone, he thought it was quite as essential, even as the change they desired to bring about, that they should see that their money was well spent. He so utterly agreed with the noble and gallant Lord, and so strongly desired to do all he could to help on this question, that he was anxious now to concentrate the interest of the Committee upon essential points. The First Lord of the Admiralty spoke of protecting our trade routes. Well, he (Mr. Evans) was familiar with our trade routes, and he could assure the Committee that it was impossible to protect them. It was perfectly absurd to suppose for one moment that even if we had to deal with Italy alone, leaving France and Russia and Germany out of the question, we could efficiently protect our trade routes; for the insurance on merchandize passing along those routes would render it impossible for us to have ships on them. And on the routes in which he himself was interested, he was perfectly convinced that if we were at war with a Foreign Power there would be no merchandize for the steamers to carry. Our merchandize would necessarily pass into the hands of neutrals. Our merchandize would pass into the hands of the Americans or the Germans Therefore, he 194 held that the idea of providing extra ships to protect the trade routes was only embarrassing the object which the noble and gallant Lord had in view, which was to give us a fighting Navy which could take care of our vessels in any event. The noble and gallant Admiral (Admiral Mayne) who had taken part in the debate said that fast steamers on these great trade lines were of no avail. That was not his (Mr. Evans's) view. How were they going to coal their vessels? They could not do it at our small coaling stations. It would be impossible, in the event of a great war, for us to send our vessels to the Indian Ocean and to the Australian and South American Stations, and to coal them at the few small places we had up and down the world. It would be necessary to coal these ships by means of those vast transports, which could carry 3,000, 4,000, or 5,000 tons of coal, and could lie at any point which might be indicated, without the knowledge of anyone. He only made these few observations because he was certain of the necessity of devoting the money which the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone was anxious to raise, and which he (Mr. Evans) trusted he would succeed in raising, to the fighting part of our Navy, and not upon the multiplication of large ships for the protection of our trade routes.
§ ADMIBAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
said, he had been anxious that this Vote should be taken before he addressed the Committee, but he understood that it was convenient to the Government that hon. Members should offer their observations upon the Vote before the Committee, in order that the remaining Votes should be taken with rapidity afterwards. He should like to say a word as to what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who was formerly Secretary to the Admiralty—namely, the right hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). If he (Admiral Field) had felt any misgiving as to the wisdom of the programme of the Admiralty, it would be due to the approval which that programme had received from the right hon. Gentleman; for he could not but remember that the right hon. Gentleman was amongst the most active to oppose the construction of those two magnificent ships, the Nile and the Trafalgar. 195 He would strongly advise the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty to disregard all the advice which came from that quarter. Such advice was of no value whatever from a naval point of view. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford would pardon him for those observations; but that was not a time to be nice on matters of this kind, and he felt it necessary to speak in straightforward language. Naval men were in the habit of speaking in plain and unambiguous terms. Now, he (Admiral Field) felt it necessary to pull himself together, for he felt rather nervous, because he was, to a large extent, oppressed by what he had read in the very able speech of the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty at Glasgow—a speech couched in most eloquent language. He referred to the speech of the 11th of October. He had read that speech with great care, and had made copious extracts; and what made him feel so out of tune were the remarks in which the noble Lord, having shadowed forth his naval policy to his listeners, who cheered him to the echo—although the chairman of the meeting did not seem so very well pleased with the noble Lord's statement—said that naval officers and critics who took an interest in the well-being of the Service could also very materially help the Government, and should not do anything to conduce to the embarrassment of naval administrators. The noble Lord had spoken of the "discordant utterances of the experts." Now, he (Admiral Field) did not know whether naval experts were to be held up to ridicule because they gave "discordant utterances." They had "discordant utterances" amongst every class. He never yet heard half-a-dozen politicians agree on any subject. Naval men, at any rate, were not discordant upon one topic. They were all of opinion that the extension of the shipbuilding policy of the Admiralty was necessary, and that it was essential to have definite plans. Therefore, they were perfectly in sympathy with the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone, and gave him every credit for having drawn attention to this important matter. The First Lord of the Admiralty had gone on to say that existing difficulties could be removed if all those who took part 196 in naval questions would bear in mind, as indeed many did, that the advancement of the Navy, and not self-advertisement or self-glorification, was the object to be attained. Of course, the noble Lord had not intended to apply those observations to naval men on that (the Ministerial) side of the House. They were, no doubt, intended for the hon. Member for Banffshire (Mr. R. W. Duff), the hon. Member for Lichfield (Sir John Swinburne) and other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. He (Admiral Field), in common with other naval men, thanked the First Lord of the Admiralty for the statement that the Admiralty were now buckling to their work, and were at last making up their minds to give the country something for its money. He did not sympathize with people who were always blaming the Government. It was not the Government who were to blame in this matter of naval policy, but it was the House and the country on whose shoulders the blame rested. The Government could not move on their own initiative. They wanted stirring up from behind and squeezing. Thanks to the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone having been set free by his retirement from the Government, and thanks to his having got up meetings in different parts of the country, including the City of London, and thanks to their having got the Press on their side, they had made great progress in squeezing the Government. Great good had resulted from what had taken place during the past year or two; and the Government were now moving as they had never moved before. The present Lord Mayor had made some very remarkable observations on naval matters recently. The opinions of former Lord Mayors—particularly of the late Lord Mayor—were not very much in favour with naval men; and they were, therefore, glad to see a man representing large and powerful interests in the Metropolis saying such things as these at the Mansion House—namely—Grave doubts are expressed in any well-informed quarters as to whether the Navy has been kept up to a strength proportionate to its requirements; and it is a very serious question for us to bear in mind that all the wealth we have accumulated may be destroyed if we lose our first line of defence.The Lord Mayor had gone on to say 197 that Her Majesty's Government would be heartily supported by the people in any measures they proposed for bringing about the more perfect security of the country, provided the money was well spent. Well, naval men did not want money wasted. They were born economists. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members cheered in an ironical manner, but he was perfectly in earnest in what he said. They desired, no doubt, a strong Navy, and regarded expenditure as a secondary consideration; but, to a country like England, expenditure ought to be a secondary consideration where the safety of her vast interests and commerce were at stake. The first Lord of the Admiralty had said to-night that he was assured by his naval advisers that the British Navy enjoyed absolute supremacy, so far as any one Foreign Nation was concerned, in the matter of fighting strength. Well, he (Admiral Field) did not know that it was to be the policy of any Government in this country to secure no more than supremacy in fighting strength over one nation; and he certainly thought that was not our best policy. Our old policy—and the policy upon which we had built up our naval prestige in the past—had been that the naval strength of this country should be double the strength of any other country. The noble Lord had said that the Government were doing their best to meet the general wants of the Navy, and that they desired to go much farther next year to meet the National requirements. Naval men were much obliged to the noble Lord for that. The noble Lord had referred to the Earl of North-brook—and he (Admiral Field) had taken the noble Lord's words down. He had said that the new departure taken a few years ago was, in some degree, due to the Earl of Northbrook; but naval men had not short memories. The new departure was, in the opinion of naval men, due more to the Russian scare than to the Earl of Northbrook; and they could not but remember that the Earl of Northbrook had stated at one period that if he had £3,000,000 to spend on the Navy he should not know where to apply it; and yet three months afterwards an extraordinary grant of £5,000,000 was obtained by him for the purpose of naval construction. He (Admiral Field) therefore maintained that England must give a great deal more 198 credit to the Russian scare which woke her up to a sense of her danger than to the Earl of Northbrook. And they must not forget that a large share of credit was due to the Press for the enormous assistance they had given in this matter—particularly to the penny press, of which The Pall Mall Gazette had taken the lead. To come to another point, at present the Chief Constructor of the Navy was the designer of ships. They all admired this gentleman's ability; but they all looked upon him as a very overworked man. They all thought it would be a very good thing if they could revert to the plan adopted, he believed, during the period that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) presided over the Service. The right hon. Gentleman appointed a Committee of Designs, and many naval men thought it would be a good thing at the present time if the Constructor of the Navy could be assisted by the appointment of a similar Body. In fact, naval men had this fact on their side—he remembered asking a Question in the House upon this very point, and the noble Lord giving him a not very satisfactory answer; but since that time Mr. White, the Naval Constructor, himself had told the Committee on the Navy Estimates that personally he was in favour of having outside opinion brought to bear on this important portion of naval construction. There fore, in this matter the noble Lord had his hands strengthened, if he desired to appoint such a Body as a Committee of Designs. The hon. Member for Cardiff (Sir Edward J. Reed), whom they all looked upon as an able and high authority upon these matters, had told them that differences of opinion existed with regard to the qualities of respective types of fighting vessels; and those differences of opinion were an argument in favour of the appointment of a Committee of Designs. Now that quick-firing guns were being brought to the front, naval men were not quite satisfied to see guns mounted en barbette; and that was a problem which had to be grappled with by naval constructors and naval men. It was surely not a very remarkable thing that naval men should endeavour to wake up the Government on matters of this kind. They were reminded of what France was doing. Well, he did not care what 199 France was doing; but he gathered from the papers—from the paper of the 23rd of November—what Germany was doing. France might have a reason for being slow in the building of her ships; but it was rather a significant fact, and one which it behoved us to bear in mind, that Germany, who had nothing to fear from naval attack, and whom we looked upon as a warm friend, was enormously developing her naval resources. Not satisfied with her annual expenditure on the Navy, Germany had voted £5,840,000 for the building of 28 new battle ships and of new cruisers. [An hon. MEMBER: In 10 years.] He (Admiral Field) had not taken down the period over which the money was to be spent—it mattered not to him; the crucial point was that they had voted the money to build the ships. This fact served his argument to this extent—that it showed that other nations, as well as England, were endeavouring to obtain powerful Navies, either for the purposes of defence only, or for the purposes of offence in the future by combination with other Powers. This was all the more reason why we should not only maintain our Navy at its present strength, but largely increase its strength and efficiency. England had too long been asleep on this question; and he did not think the Representatives of the people could be too thankful for the signs of awakening in her. There was another matter upon which he desired to say a word—namely, the noble Lord's statement as to the saving of £900,000 upon last year's Estimates. He (Admiral Field) had never known what that saving meant until he read the Glasgow speech. Now that they had heard that speech, however, he thanked the noble Lord for not having refunded the money to the Treasury, and having spent £400,000 on Naval stores, and the remaining £500,000 on Australian cruisers. He (Admiral Field) did not wish to say any more, but desired to set an example to hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, and not prolong the discussion. He would rest satisfied with what he had said, although, as a matter of fact, if he yielded to his inclination, he could speak for an hour on these topics. He desired, however, to express his warm appreciation of the statement put forward by the First Lord of the 200 Admiralty, although he did not think that that statement went quite far enough. He had with him a bundle of opinions expressed by eminent officers who were almost worshipped and idolised in the Navy—such men as Sir Thomas Symonds, Sir Spencer Robinson, Sir Geoffrey Hornby, and others, whose advice it was safe for the country to follow—within limits. According to the naval Colleagues of the First Lord of the Admiralty, of whom there were three—[An hon. MEMBER: Four—there is the Controller.] Yes; four, including the Controller, who was a very valuable man; but he had been alluding to the three Administrators. Those three naval authorities had given evidence before the Naval Estimates Committee, which had very much interested naval men when they came to read it in the Blue Books. Naval men were rather astonished to read the evidence of the First Naval Lord; and, unquestionably, the First Lord of the Admiralty would be very ill advised if he permitted himself to be guided by such advice. Surely it was a descent from the sublime to the ridiculous for a Naval Lord, when asked his opinion as to the condition of the Navy, to say that he was not satisfied with the state of the Navy, but all he wanted was six more cruisers. The noble Lord should take the advice of other experienced naval men. There were plenty such ready to advise him in preparing a programme, and to report to him as to the result of the Summer Manœuvres, and if he would only consult them he would not be likely to go astray.
§ SIR JOHN PULESTON (Devonport)
said, he desired to ask one or two questions with reference to a small matter of detail; but, first of all, he should like to say that he had been struck by an observation elicited from an hon. Member as to the steps which were being taken by Germany for the development of her Navy. The impression had been conveyed to the Committee that the new ships ordered by Germany were to take 10 years in building. His (Sir John Puleston's) understanding of the matter, however, was that the money appropriation was to be spread; over 10 years, but that the ships were to be built in less than three years. He said this in order to prevent an erroneous impression going forth to 201 the country on the authority of a Member of that House. It was an important correction; but, apart from that, the evidence of the development of Foreign Navies, to be derived from the circumstance, was a matter of importance when they were coming to consider the question of our own naval supremacy. The result of the discussion that night, he ventured to say, would be very useful. Now, he did not at all rejoice at the fact; but he ventured to say that it was the general opinion of the Committee that the First Lord of the Admiralty had not at all succeeded in demolishing the arguments of the noble and gallant Lord, the Member for East Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford); on the contrary, he believed that this debate, and especially the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, would be read by the people of this country as explanatory of some statements made of late by the First Lord of the Admiralty, which had led the country astray. He did not say that the First Lord of the Admiralty had intentionally led the country astray, for they all knew that the First Lord was the last man who would attempt, either at the Mansion House or the Guildhall, or anywhere else, to say that which would, in the slightest degree, lead astray the opinion of the country; but it was quite certain that the statements the noble Lord had made, in an excellent after-dinner speech, had been misunderstood. ["No, no!"] He begged his noble Friend's pardon; but he believed what the First Lord had said had been misunderstood. This had been very well put forward by the noble and gallant Member for East Marylebone; and he was glad that a disclaimer had been offered to the country to-night, because the words previously used had been undoubtedly misleading. The noble Lord's statement was to the effect that we could beat all the rest of the world with our present Navy; and no doubt the people of the country were delighted to hear that, and, coming from such an authority, were prepared to place confidence in it; and the moral he (Sir John Puleston) desired to draw for the delight of the country was that the country was most anxious that we should have a powerful Navy, capable of coping with any emergency. He thought that what had been said in this debate that night 202 showed conclusively that our Navy was insufficient for defence; and therefore, of course, quite useless for attack. That he took to be the unanimous conclusion, so far as he understood it, of Members of the Committee, as demonstrated by the actual speeches and notes of assent which they had heard. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty had dwelt upon the fact that we were year after year spending more money than our French neighbours; but he would point out that the French Navy had been already brought up so close abreast to ours that this country would have to spend very much more money than the French Government spent in order to resume its proper position as a Naval Power. That was a point which ought to be dwelt upon. Some 25 years ago the insurance of our commerce, dependent upon the strength of our Navy, was some 5 per cent, as compared with 1 per cent at the present moment—that was the proportion. He had been intending to say a word or two on the Alabama, in answer to the First Lord of the Admiralty; but the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Evans), who was an authority on marine insurance subjects, had anticipated him. The hon. Member for Southampton could be trusted as an authority on this matter, he was fully aware, as he had personal reason to know his acquaintance with them. It was surprising to hear the First Lord of the Admiralty make a point to the effect that the Alabama had only captured one steamer. It was a matter of common notoriety that no ship had ever disturbed the commerce of a country so much as the Alabama had; and in this statement the Secretary to the Admiralty could bear him out. The Alabama had absolutely dislocated and disturbed American commerce in every way; and if, in the event of our being at war with a European Nation, two or three Alabamas were let loose upon our commerce, no one could estimate the amount of damage which would result. He congratulated the country and the First Lord of the Admiralty upon the statement that the Admiralty had come to the conclusion that our Navy was not strong enough, and that next year we were to have a much more important programme of naval construction. He thought, however, it was a matter for regret that the noble Lord had not 203 taken the Committee into his confidence Out of doors the noble Lord had, in very eloquent terms, dwelt upon the increased shipbuilding programme he was going to bring forward. Well, they all felt, when these speeches were made on the authority of a Minister of the Grown—especially in days like these, when there was so much apprehension felt as to the inefficiency of our Navy—that hon. Members should be among the first to be taken into the confidence of the noble Lord as to what he proposed to do. They had it from the noble Lord that the Navy was not strong enough, and that it was to be largely strengthened; and he was glad that this was so—that they had such an admission from the noble Lord himself. It was the First Lord's opinion a little while ago that the country was not at the back of the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone; but he was glad that the First Lord and his Colleagues at the Admiralty had now arrived at a different opinion. Now, before sitting down, he would just refer to one other matter, which the First Lord of the Admiralty had referred to more than once, as to the ways and means of getting funds together for increasing the Navy. The noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone had referred to the suspension of the Sinking Fund. He (Sir John Puleston) did not agree with his noble and gallant Friend altogether on that point. He had taken an opportunity in that House, in the earlier part of the Session, of suggesting that as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had succeeded so admirably—
§ SIR JOHN PULESTON
said, all right; but he thought he was entitled to go into that subject by way of comment upon statements already made. However, as he had already said, he rose to ask specific questions. He wished to put a question with regard to the Shipbuilding Vote, and he trusted that the First Lord of the Admiralty, or the Secretary to the Admiralty, would say one or two words in reply before the Vote was taken. The subject he wished to refer to was the check measurement in connection with shipbuilding. That was a matter greatly agitating the people 204 in the constituency he represented, and all other constituencies where shipbuilding operations were carried on. This cheek measurement was an unfair way of proceeding where there was such a thing as task and job work. When a man exceeded an allotted task he should get an allotted pay; but, in the present case, he did not even suggest that. On these questions of check measurement these people were not allowed to know what—[Lord GEORGE HAMILTON: I know all about that.] The noble Lord was kind enough to say that he understood this question; therefore he (Sir John Puleston) would not go further into the matter. He desired to know, however, if it was a fixed thing that the hired men in our dockyards were not to be allowed to remain at work beyond 60 and up to 65, if regarded as medically fit. The age had been limited at 60; but an order was issued extending it to 65, but that order had been suspended. He trusted there was no intention of permanently suspending it. Private employers of labour would admit that they had no objection to keeping a man at work who had had 20 years' experience, beyond the age of 60, if, after medical examination, he was declared to be as fit as ever he was. No employer of labour would contend that it was desirable to dispense with the services of such a man until, at least, he reached the age of 65, if physically competent.
§ MR. W. L. BRIGHT (Stoke-upon-Trent)
said, that, after careful consideration, he had arrived at the conclusion that there were several things in connection with the Admiralty Administration with which he entirely disagreed. He had, on two occasions, got up in that House to ask certain questions in connection with our steam ships. But he did not intend to follow up those remarks on the present occasion, having regard to the lateness of the hour. He wished, however, to make some suggestions to the Committee as to the way in which business men in the City thought the ships of the Admiralty might be made much more serviceable than they were. In the first place, some competent persons thought that it was a mistake that any specification for ships or engines should come from the Admiralty at all; they thought that the builders should make their own specifications, 205 and be absolutely responsible for them when the ships were taken over. They also thought that no ships should be built in Government Yards whatever. [ADMIRAL FIELD: Oh!] The hon. and gallant Admiral laughed at that; but did he ever see a ship being built in a Government Yard? He had himself several times gone down to Portsmouth and seen ships in course of construction. They had heard that it took six years to build some of these vessels. ["No."] He said that the mode of building ships at Portsmouth was absolutely ridiculous in his eyes; and, further, that if his own business, or any shipbuilders' business, were carried on in the same manner, bankruptcy must ensue. The only other suggestion he had to make was that they should get their money's worth; and the only way of obtaining it was by trying what they were going to buy; and his suggestion was that the ships of H.M. Navy, before they were absolutely paid for, should be sent on a trial trip to Malta and back, at full speed with forced driving. When that trial-had been successfully passed, the country would be in possession of a ship fit for H.M. Service. [An hon. MEMBER: She would break down.] Let her break down. It would be better that she should break down while on her trial trip than afterwards. He believed that there were few of the new colliers in Cardiff which could not race any of H.M. Ships from this country to Singapore. He said that the trials to which our vessels were submitted were of no use whatever. The hon. and gallant Admiral would, perhaps, be amused by an anecdote which he would relate to the Committee. He was building a pair of engines in the North of England, and the builder told him that he had gone into a neighbour's place, and said, with regard to some work, "Surely you are not going to send that stuff in for the Government." "Why not," said he, "they are good enough for this short trial." There was no steam trial at all. He could prove to the noble Lord that when a certain vessel was on trial the safety valves were screwed down, and water was pouring over the engines from top to bottom. [Lord GEORGE HAMILTON: 96 hours' trial.] He would like to know whether any of H.M. ships could steam for 96 hours at full speed? He very much doubted it. In making these few remarks 206 he merely wished, as a plain business man, to put his views before the Government; and he thought that the plan of sending a vessel on a trial trip to Malta and back could be very easily adopted.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. FORWOOD) (Lancashire, Ormskirk)
said, the hon Gentleman who had just sat down suggested that the Admiralty should not send out specifications for ships and engines; but he doubted if the hon. Gentleman were having a ship built whether he would not send to the shipbuilders particulars of what he desired, and be very careful to specify all he required as to scantlings, steaming power, coal capacity, and other matters. Again, did the hon. Gentleman ever get a shipbuilder to consent to defer the acceptance of a ship until she had performed a trial trip to Malta and back?
§ MR. W. L. BRIGHT
said, that the builders of the Mercantile Marine knew that they would have the ships thrown on their hands if they were not satisfactory. He himself had a guarantee for six months.
§ MR. FORWOOD
said, these were precisely the same terms as were made by the Admiralty; indeed, be was bound to say that the terms of contracts for engines were more onerous than those of the private shipping firms in the country. With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Evans), although he agreed that the Alabama destroyed the commerce of the United States for the time being, yet had it not been for the Navigation Laws of the United States, which preclude the admission of foreign vessels to their flag, it would not have happened. A vessel once transferred to the British flag could not be again purchased by the American shipowners.
§ MR. FORWOOD
said, he agreed that the insurance question had much to do with the case; but, no matter what protection was afforded by cruisers or convoys in case of war, he held that the merchant would seek the neutral flag whilst it was to be had, and so save the extra cost of insurance. The hon. Member for Devonport (Sir John Puleston) had inquired as to what was being done with regard to check measurement 207 for wages. He might explain to the hon. Gentleman that check measurement was an additional system of supervision that had been adopted at the Dockyards, in order to see that a man did a fair day's work. A man was paid a day's wages, and occasionally the overseer measured up the work done by him to see that it was adequate for the wages paid, and if too little, a proportionate sum was deducted. With regard to the question of hired men. These were now kept on until they were 65 years of age, provided they were medically fit.
§ SIR JOHN PULESTON
said, the Rule had been absolutely suspended by the Admiral Superintendent, and he had asked whether the Order of Suspension had been repealed?
§ MR. FORWOOD
said, he spoke with some little confidence that, as long as a man was well and fit, he was continued in the Service to the age he had mentioned. There were some important remarks in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) for which he thanked him, especially those in which he had dealt with the programme of the Admiralty, and for his general concurrence with it. The right hon. Gentleman had called attention to two very important ships in that programme, two of the largest cruisers yet laid down; and he had rather criticized the policy of the Board of Admiralty by suggesting that he would prefer that three vessels of 6,000 tons should be built than two of 9,000 tons. The object which the Admiralty had in view was to have vessels which would sustain their speed in a seaway; because they all knew that the speed of a small vessel in a seaway went down more in proportion than that of a larger vessel. And another element in vessels of the large size was their coal capacity, and by a vessel of the kind laid down a very great distance could be traversed at 10 knots without replenishing coal, which in time of war would be a matter of immense importance. A very important matter—namely, the protection of the crews of the cruisers, had been brought forward by his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff (Sir Edward J. Reed), and also by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford. Since these vessels had been laid down, experiments 208 in high explosives had shown that additional care and attention must be paid to the protection of the crews; and fortunately, by the system recently adopted by the Board of Admiralty, they had not, when laying down the ships, limited the size to that required for the precise amount of ammunition, guns, and machinery which it was intended to put on board; they had taken a margin of 4 per cent, and they would be able afterwards to make use of some of that margin by putting, possibly, casemates, or side armour, on the vessels, so as to protect the crews when at the guns. They did not know-exactly what the exact form of the protection would be; but experiments were going on, and with the margin he had referred to, the fighting qualities of the ships could be improved as the work proceeded. An hon. Member had suggested that they should expose to the House more of what they proposed to do. On that point he had to say that the Admiralty claimed to have extended the information contained in the Estimates in every possible way, and otherwise given information to the House of their intentions. He admitted to the full that now as soon as a vessel was laid down Foreign nations found out what they were building. But there was an interval between the adoption of a design and the commencement of building in which Foreign nations could not get at what they were doing; for example, he knew that by not divulging the particulars of these two ships certain Foreign nations, without having the benefit of our plans, had had to determine plans of their own for cruisers. And although he thought that the House should be in the position of a shipowner when going to lay down a ship, and know generally what was being done, still they ought not to expose in too much detail what they intended to do. He thought this a good opportunity, without going into a point which had been often contested, to mention that while they knew that the belts of several of our ships were immersed lower in the water than was orginally designed, yet such circumstances had arisen in the case of French vessels. He had in his hand particulars of four recent French belted vessels; and the height of their belts above water was exactly the same as that of 209 our cruisers—namely, 2 feet 6 inches; and although those vessels had their belts carried to the ends, still he doubted whether it gave the same protection as our armoured deck from any inrush of the sea, if pierced by shot, afforded. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) had alluded to the points of battle-worthiness and seaworthiness. He thought the hon. Gentleman would allow him to say that there was no doubt a measure of seaworthiness; and in the case of a ship that had to encounter and live through storms and heavy seas, it was one upon which a practical man was able to form an opinion; but, with regard to battle-worthiness, he believed there were as many opinions as there were ships. The hon. Members for Cardiff (Sir Edward J. Reed) and Banff (Mr. R. W. Duff) had criticized the policy of the Board of Admiralty in laying down small gun vessels; and, in reply to that he had simply to say that they were constructing a type of vessels which naval authorities considered it was essential the country should possess for service at the several stations, and which, in time of war, would be found of considerable use, especially in connection with our African Stations and elsewhere in the East. They had laid down gunboats of a type very much superior to those before constructed; and they believed they had provided a sufficient number for the purposes of the Navy—at any rate, for the present; so that they would be able to devote their attention to the construction of larger ships. The hon. Member for the Faversham Division (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had made some remarks on the subject of the men discharged from the Dockyard at Sheerness. There was no more painful duty to perform than that of discharging men from the Dockyards; but in this case it was an absolute necessity; it was impossible to keep the men, because there was no work to give them, the numbers in different trades having to be readjusted to meet modern requirements. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green, he thought, would not have complained of mismanagement if he had read the Report of this year, which gave great credit to the Admiralty with regard to the business administration of the Department, and also alluded to their having taken in hand most of the 210 reforms indicated by Mr. Ritchie and Admiral Graham. A good deal had been said as to the relative strength of the Navies of France and England; and perhaps the Committee would allow him to read a short extract from the Report of the Committee appointed by the Parliament of France to inquire into the state of the Navy. The Committee said:—The French Navy ought to have for its object equality in numbers with two principal Continental Navies of Europe combined, in the same way as England makes it a rule to have a Navy stronger than any two Continental Powers. France, unfortunately, has not attained her end; partly owing to the waste of her resources, and partly owing to the requirements of her Army, which have obliged her to limit the expenditure on her Navy. England possesses 301 vessels, excluding torpedo-boats, of which 57 are armoured, as against only 124 possessed by France, of which 34 are armoured, and 94 of all sorts possessed by Russia.That was the opinion of the French Committee, and showed the way in which France herself looked at this question. No doubt there were those in France who took a pessimist view, as there were in England; but he believed that the policy pursued by the Board of Admiralty of a steady, continuous shipbuilding policy would secure for the country the position which it held today, and which it ought to hold—of having a Navy of larger strength than that of any other two European countries.
SIR JOHN SWINBUENE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said, he rose to draw attention to the great want in Her Majesty's Navy of ocean despatch boats. He saw no reason why they should not have three or four vessels of the kind that would steam 600 miles a-day; a high rate of speed, no doubt, but one which was achieved daily in crossing from Dover to Calais. In case of war, and of the Suez Canal being blocked, they would not be able to depend for a moment on the existing submarine cables. Even for three or four weeks this year we had been without telegraphic communication with the Australian Colonies. He thought, then, that there ought to be an ocean despatch boat stationed in the Channel, another at the Cape of Good Hope, and a third at Ceylon; they would be in telegraphic communication by land with Great Britain, and we should then be entirely independent of submarine cables for the purpose of communicating with all parts 211 of our great Colonies. He would also like to see one of these vessels maintained on the Australian Station, and he thought the cost of it might well be left to the Colonists themselves. He would also suggest that there should be others at Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore. There would be no difficulty whatever in building these ships, and he did not suppose that three of them would cost more than one of the large ironclads; they should be able to steam 6,000 miles without stopping to coal, and at a certain rate of 600 miles a day. They would be entirely devoid of armour, and thus secure the first requisite of speed; and they would be able to carry one long gun, which, in time of bad weather or heavy seas, could be stowed below, in the same manner as in the case of the gunboats built at Elswick for the Chinese Government; and they would be further armed with the old-fashioned brass 24-pounder Howitzer, a most useful gun for close quarters; and machine guns of the Gatling, Maxim, and Nordenfelt type to guard against a surprise or sudden attack. In view of the importance of communication in time of war, he submitted this proposal to the consideration of the First Lord, more with the desire of preventing wars in the future by being able to communicate rapidly with our Colonial possessions when any misunderstanding might occur with some Foreign Power.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ (2.) £923,500, Shipbuilding, Repairs, Maintenance, &c.—Matériel.
§ (3.) £1,514,200, Shipbuilding, Repairs, Maintenance, &c.—Contract Work.
§ (4.) £11,500, Martial Law, &c.
§ (5.) £73,500, Educational Services.
§ (6.) £33,100, Divine Service.
§ (7.) £143,800, Royal Naval Reserves.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD (Marylebone, E.)
said, he must ask the First Lord to give some sort of definite assurance that the Navy Estimates would be taken at an earlier period next Session. There would have to be a long debate next year on the question of shipbuilding, because he intended to bring that question forward, and take a Division upon it. On the question of the Naval Reserve, he desired to ask 212 the noble Lord whether he was aware that of 150 lieutenants authorized only 49 were enrolled; that of 270 sub-lieutenants authorized only 117 were enrolled; that of 200 midshipmen authorized only 138 were enrolled; that of 150 engineers only 14 were enrolled; and that of 150 assistant engineers authorized only four were enrolled—in short, that only 322 were enrolled out of 920 authorized. He would ask his noble Friend to take up the whole question of the Royal Naval Reserves, which at present were not well organized. In time of war we might make an enormous use of the captains and men of the Mercantile Marine, and his opinion was that half of the crews should be subsidized to be used in case of need. We ought to be able to draw largely on the Mercantile Marine at such a time, and some system should be arranged—as it might be easily if the men were better paid—by which they could be made of use, for we should certainly have to make use of them, particularly those in the Engineer's Department. He must again complain of the utter want of organization or plan at the Admiralty with regard to what would have to be done in the event of the country being engaged in war; and he said it was far better, by a little expenditure in time of peace, to get what we wanted than to have to get it in time of panic. The French had put compulsory service in the Reserve on all their fishermen, so that our system compared very badly with theirs. While on the question of Reserves, he said there ought to be a system of signal communication between the Fleet and the ships of the Mercantile Marine. He asked whether, at the present moment, there was any system, or whether the noble Lord had sketched out any plan by which the Coastguard stations might be used for signal stations to which the Reserve men could be sent and taught the system of signalling, which in time of war would be of immense assistance and save much money to the country.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF (Banffshire)
asked why the reduction from 1,000 to 600 had been made in the number of reserve stokers?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMI-EALTY (Lord GEORGE HAMILTON) (Middlesex, Ealing)
said, he agreed that these reserves should be made as 213 efficient as possible; and, moreover, that the First Royal Naval Reserve ought to be a body of men on whom the country could rely in time of emergency. Although he admitted that they got a great deal from the men in the service in which they put them, yet if they were taken away from their own work for a longer time, they would be subjecting them to competition in their trade. Whenever, therefore, a reserve was wanted, the greatest care was necessary to see that the period of training was not unduly extended. It would not, in his opinion, be possible to establish a system of signalling such as the noble and gallant Lord had referred to. But he was looking into the matter of he deficiency of officers. They ought to try to increase the number of officers belonging to the Royal Naval Reserve; but there were a number of officers who only wished to wear the uniform, and he did not think that these could be relied upon in time of emergency. The subject, however, was one to which special attention ought to be given. A suggestion had been made sometime ago, that they should give stokers the training necessary for the Service; but although a retaining fee of £5 was paid to every man who was well qualified and could bring a certificate of good character, for some reason, which he could not quite understand, the plan proposed had not succeeded. But he could assure his hon. Friend (Mr. R. W. Duff) that the question of reserve stokers was being looked into.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ (8.) £117,000, Miscellaneous Effective Services.
(9.) Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £212,100, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expenses of the Admiralty Office, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1889.
§ MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
said, he believed that this was the only opportunity of devoting a few minutes to the question of the form in which the Admiralty Estimates were presented to the House. He was aware that it had been the subject of grave discussion between the Admiralty and the Treasury, and that the Public Accounts Committee had taken the view of the latter, and had 214 not adopted that of the Admiralty. It seemed to him a matter of the greatest misfortune if those who wished to study and to compare the Admiralty expenditure of different years were unable to do so by the figures as presented to the House. He suggested that as the Treasury and the Public Accounts Committee had practically come to the conclusion that the old form, which had continued from the year 1834, was the right form they should have for this year and the next (and possibly the year after, so that the Estimates in preparation might not be disturbed), a double form of statement—that was to say, a statement according to the manner in which the Estimates used to be rendered, and also in the form in which the Admiralty, without the consent of the Treasury, had for the last two years decided to prepare them; and then, having a double form of account for three years, that they should revert to the old system, with the modifications approved by the Public Accounts Committee.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Lord GEORGE HAMILTON) (Middlesex, Ealing)
said, the question of the accounts, and the manner in which the Admiralty should present them, had been a matter of controversy between the Board, the Treasury, and the Public Accounts Committee. He did not think the continuity, for the purpose of comparison, was destroyed by the new form of accounts. Of course, if continuity was of paramount importance, no change in the form of accounts would have taken place; but he undertook that next year a double account should be presented, so far as the actual Votes were concerned, so that the right hon. Gentleman and those who took an interest in continuous comparison would be able to make it. The reason why the Board of Admiralty came to a different conclusion from the Treasury and the Public Accounts Committee was that they did not Look at the accounts from purely an accountant's point of view. His idea of the form of accounts had always been that they should show, not merely a record of expenditure, but such a form as would be useful for administration, and would enable those who were responsible carefully to check and supervise daily current expenditure; whereas accountants merely looked at the form of accounts without taking into consideration 215 the requirements of Ministers and the great difficulty which they Buffered from not having an intelligible form of accounts. The accounts placed before the House showed the total expenditure in a very simple form; and he believed that the distribution papers really showed the expenditure at the Dockyards for the first time—the different allocations under the Dockyard Vote. And if, as he believed, the Controller and Auditor General was able to make use of those distribution papers, they would be of great service in reporting to Parliament, and the House would have more check over expenditure than before. He was of opinion that a considerable improvement had been effected even if the accounts had not been given in the same form as before.
§ SIR EDWARD REED (Cardiff)
said, he agreed with his right hon. Friend that there should be continuity for the purpose of comparison. But, at the same time, he hoped nothing would be done to take away from the House the valuable information contained in the Navy Estimates during the last two or three years, which he must do the Government the justice of saying had enormously contributed to the intelligent discussion of the Votes. With regard to the left-hand statement which accompanied the accounts, he thought this hardly in the right place; but he was bound to say that he, for one, had found the information which it contained extremely valuable. With regard to the Engineer Officers of the Naval Reserve, and more particularly the position of Engineers in the Navy, he thought the position of the Engineer-in-Chief was not satisfactory, and that a discussion on the whole subject of the Engineers in the Royal Navy was desirable. He should himself call attention to that subject on the Estimates.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD (Marylebone, E.)
said, he would again ask the noble Lord to take into consideration the question of signalling. There were 83 Coastguard stations, and he would like to see some plan carried out with the Postmaster General for putting the whole of these in telegraphic communication with the headquarters of the Admiralty. He need hardly urge how important this was in the interest of the country in time of 216 emergency. Lloyd's had 14 stations on the coast, and in Denmark the men in charge of the lighthouses were telegraph clerks; and their services were not only of use in time of war, but were at all times of much value to the commercial community.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, that last year he undertook that the question should be looked into; and, as a matter of fact, arrangements were made by which a considerable number of Coastguard stations were connected, by means of the Postal Telegraph, with the Intelligence Department. Each year a large addition would be made to the number of Coastguard stations thus connected; and it was estimated that, in case of emergency, communications with all the stations could be established in a fortnight or 10 days.
§ DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
said, he had listened with a great deal of interest to the remarks which had fallen earlier in the evening from the noble and gallant Lord the Member for East Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford). But his pleasure at hearing the noble and gallant Lord was not altogether unmixed with amusement. The noble and gallant Lord was a practical sailor, and one whom the people—the Irish people especially—greatly admired. The Irish noticed with pleasure the noble and gallant Lord's career, for they regarded him as an excellent example of what their country could produce. But passing from that question, which was certainly not pertinent to the Vote under consideration, he desired to point out what a white elephant the Admiralty possessed in the person of the Civil Lord (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett). The Civil Lord, or Parliamentary Lord, received a salary of £1,000 a-year for doing nothing at all. No; he must qualify the statement. The Civil Lord occasionally did something; he was most constant in his attendance at the Law Courts, where he, from time to time, greatly contributed to the amusement of the people assembled there. Last year the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) proposed the reduction of this Vote by the amount of the salary of the hon., learned, gallant, naval Gentleman (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett). Upon that occasion the Committee were told of the wonderful amount of duties which the hon. 217 learned, and gallant Gentleman had to perform. It struck him that those duties, if they were properly performed, were so ponderous and so weighty that they would, in the course of 12 months, reduce to an emaciated skeleton even the Herculean frame of the hon., learned, gallant, Civil Lord of the Admiralty. Before he came into the House just now he took up a book which hon. Gentlemen would agree with him gave the best information as to the duties of the Civil Lord—it was the Official Handbook of Church and State. He found that the Civil Lord superintended the Accountant General's Department. He (Dr. Tanner) had been constant in his attendance in the House, and he had heard Questions put day after day concerning Admiralty affairs. Those Questions were either answered by the First Lord of the Admiralty or else by the Secretary to the Admiralty. The hon., learned, and gallant Gentleman (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) very rarely put in an appearance at all. During the last 12 months he (Dr. Tanner) had put at least 40 Questions about Haulbow-line, and he understood that the hon., learned, and gallant Gentleman ought to have answered those Questions, because they related to his Department. But only upon one occasion did he succeed in getting an answer from the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. Of course, he spoke with a great amount of diffidence in the presence of this distinguished Gentleman. He found that the hon., learned, and gallant Gentleman directed works, the Packet Service, the Civil affairs of Greenwich Hospital, Dockyards, schools, education, seamen's libraries, Naval Inspections, and last, but not least, he absolutely took care of the chaplains. Of course the hon., learned, and gallant Gentleman, who was a descendant of the Pilgrim Fathers—[The CHAIRMAN: Order, order!]—might reasonably be entrusted with the direction of the clerical Department of the Navy. The Committee were entitled to some explanation of the work done. £1,000 a-year was not to be found every day, and especially for doing very little. He said it advisedly, that the work connected with the Office of Civil, or Parliamentary, Lord was next to nothing. He was not the first person who had drawn attention to the existence of this extraordinary sinecure. He thought 218 that when money was required to put the Navy in a state of efficiency, some, at least, ought to be found by the sweeping away of sinecures such as this, which was one unworthy of the Admiralty. The time had come when this Office should cease; and, therefore, he begged to move the reduction of the Vote by £1,000, the amount of the salary attachéd to the office.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £211,100, be granted for the said Service."—(Dr. Tanner.)
§ MR. GILLIAT (Clapham)
desired to take that opportunity of bringing before the Committee the case of a midshipman named George Grover, who joined the Bacchante in 1886. The Bacchante was one of two ships employed in the dangerous service of slave chasing on the coast of Zanzibar. The Briton, the other ship employed in slave chasing, lacking officers, young Grover, a lad of 18, was sent on board that vessel, and there did lieutenant's duties. Grover was sent slave chasing, and he (Mr. Gilliat) understood that the boats used in that service were of a remarkable kind. While the fore-part of the boat was fitted up for the accommodation of the men, the after-part, in which the officers were placed, was comparatively open, resembling very much a hansom cab. The lad, with a lieutenant and 10 men, was exposed to all the dangers of the monsoon. He was exposed for 16 days to a deluge of rain and to all the malaria of that inhospitable climate. He suffered from blood-poisoning and ulcers. When he returned to the Bacchante he was down for 58 days, suffering from blood-poisoning. At the end of that time he had partially recovered, but was pronounced fit for service. He was then sent to the Mauritius, but after a little time he was invalided with rheumatic fever and ulceration. He was sent back to Plymouth; his pay was stopped; for 11 months he was kept in suspense, and then he was discharged from the Service. More than a year ago he (Mr. Gilliat) applied to the First Lord of the Admiralty to grant the lad, who had done lieutenant's duties, a pension. It was not denied that pensions could be granted for exceptional service, and he claimed that the service of this lad was very exceptional. It was 219 most dangerous service, in which a midshipman should not have been employed. The reply he received was that a Medical Report had been given, in which it was stated that Grover's suffering did not result from the hardships to which he had been exposed, but arose from other causes. The Report was confirmed by the doctor of the Bacchante, but he (Mr. Gilliat) contended that the sufferings of young Grover were entirely owing to the exceptional hardships to which he was exposed. The evidence of Grover's family doctor as to his strong constitution, and the independent evidence of Doctor Bond, a physician of the Westminster Hospital, went to show that Grover's exceptional service was clearly the cause of his suffering. Under these circumstances the father's natural impulse was to try to obtain from the Admiralty some employment for his son in which the lad might be useful to his country, and in which he might bring his experience to bear—say as a clerk. The reply he got was that the Civil Service Commissioners had to do with such matters; and, when appealed to, those gentlemen said they must look for a clean bill of health, which, of course, could not be afforded. He (Mr. Gilliat) maintained it was bad policy to utterly cast adrift young and promising officers of this kind. He had no intention of dividing the Committee; but he earnestly appealed to the First Lord of the Admiralty to reconsider his decision, and to recognize that this was a case of very exceptional hardship, in which exceptional pension might be given.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB (Tower Hamlets, Bow, &c.)
said, he wished to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty if he could give the Committee any information as to what had been done by the Intelligence Department with respect to furnishing Commanders-in-Chief on our different Stations with maps, showing the routes of commerce which they were to protect in time of war? A few months ago it was stated that instructions would be issued to the Admirals commanding Stations abroad. He desired to know whether any Admirals had, since that date, had the necessary information supplied to them; whether they had had such maps placed in their hands which gave them clear information as to the value and directions of British commerce passing over the water 220 area which they had to protect in time of war? In conclusion, he had only to say he believed a great deal of the heavy charge for the administration of the Navy was largely due to the fact that we had not attended sufficiently to the internal reorganization of the Navy. We were still working on lines which were really out of date. We were attempting to work a vast Navy from a common centre by memoranda; whereas, by a proper distribution of the work, we might get rid of a great deal of writing, and so save the considerable expense of administration.
§ MR. LEGH (Lancashire, S.W., Newton)
asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he proposed to make any change with regard to the information we obtained from the Naval Attaché; whether he had any intention of appointing an additional attaché? For all our information we were dependent upon one gentleman alone; and it must be perfectly obvious it was beyond the capacity of any man to keep pace with the Naval and Mercantile intelligence of all countries. He was perfectly well aware that, in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, attachés of all kinds were looked upon as incumbrances; but this was an exceptional case. The Naval Attaché was the only man from whom the Admiralty had to obtain information with regard to Foreign Navies. It might be said that the Treasury would refuse to sanction the expense of an additional attaché; but he had to make a practical suggestion. We were represented in all the principal countries by Military Attachés. Some of those gentlemen were not overburdened with work; and if the Treasury refused to sanction the expense of an additional Naval Attaché, he suggested that one of the posts of Military Attaché—say, that at Borne—should be abolished, and a second post of naval attaché established in lieu of it.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, he did not think it was necessary to appoint an additional attaché. His hon. Friend (Mr. Legh) would recollect that we were the greatest Naval Power in the world; and that, therefore, Naval Attachés came to us to find out what we were doing. We sent Military Attachés abroad, because we were not a great Military Power; but it did not at all follow that because we had a considerable 221 number of Military Attachés, we should have a corresponding number of Naval Attachés. It was very difficult to get information; but if it should ever be necessary to appoint an additional attaché, a naval officer could be detached from the Admiralty. He was afraid he could not give any other answer to the question put to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gilliat) than that which he had already given. Upon the statement of the facts of the case the Committee would see he could not adopt any other course than the one he had adopted. The case was a very sad one. This young officer was stationed on the East Coast of Africa. He was engaged in suppressing the Slave Trade, and was for a considerable number of days in an open boat. All the crew, including himself, suffered from illness; but on their return to their ship they recovered. Grover was sent to the Mauritius, and there he suffered from an attack of rheumatism. From that attack he had never recovered. He had only about 18 months service; but the hon. Gentleman asked that the lad should be made a pensioner for life. There was only one condition under which such an application could be considered, and that was if the medical officers were clearly of opinion that the lad's illness was the result of his service off the East Coast of Africa in the endeavour to suppress the Slave Trade. He (Lord George Hamilton) referred the question to two medical officers, and neither of them were able to give a certificate to that effect. He had, therefore, no option but to refuse the pension asked. There was nothing in regard to which the House was more susceptible than an increase of the Non-Effective List; and certainly nothing would justify a young man with 18 months' service being made a pensioner for life but the most clear and conclusive evidence that his present condition was due to exceptional exposure during his service. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bow (Sir John Colomb) had asked whether every Commander-in-Chief abroad had received instructions as to what he should do in time of war. Of course, one of the primary duties of such, officers would be to protect the trade routes in the vicinity of their Stations. As men of the world the Commanders-in- 222 Chief abroad had knowledge of the trade and commerce of the Stations for which they were responsible; and, therefore, it was unnecessary to send to them instructions which must be of a rather elementary character. He agreed with his hon. and gallant Friend that it was desirable, as far as possible, to diminish unnecessary correspondence; indeed, the desire of the Admiralty was to give Commanders-in-Chief general instructions, and to trust to their ability and capacity in carrying them out. The Government had been in conference as to the dimensions of the Bombay Dock. They had arrived at a conclusion both as to the depth, height, and general size of the Dock, and the plans were being rapidly proceeded with. They had not yet come to any decision as to the distribution of the expenditure between the two Governments; but his hon. and gallant Friend (Admiral Field) would be glad to hear that no delay had occurred in consequence.
§ MR. J. M. MACLEAN (Oldham)
asked, how many years it would take to construct the Dock? He understood it would take about nine years to carry out the plans.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, that an enormous time would have been required to complete the original plan; but he imagined that the plan decided on could be completed within two or three years. If his hon. Friend would put a Question upon the Paper on the subject he would be glad to answer it.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF (Banffshire)
asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, whether he had yet received the Report on the Naval Manœuvres; and, if so, when he would lay it before the House?
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, that the Committee had made a preliminary Report, and were now engaged in drawing up their final Report. He proposed to lay the whole of the Report before the House, except so much as related to purely strategic considerations. He hoped to be able to lay the Report on the Table next Session.
§ DR. TANNER
said, he had moved to reduce the Vote, and he thought the least the noble Lord might do, especially as he had resisted all the attempts made to increase the expenditure, was 223 to be courteous enough to make some reply.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, he had not referred to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, because he thought it was a jocose rather than a serious proposal.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, that the hon. Gentleman had enumerated the duties of the Civil Lord. The ex-Civil Lord (Mr. R. W. Duff) was present; and it was admitted, on all hands, that he discharged his duties with advantage to the Admiralty and to the Naval Service. The same might be said of his hon. Friend (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett). The hon. Gentleman discharged his duties—[Dr. TANNER: What are they?] The hon. Gentleman himself had enumerated them.—[Dr. TANNER: Has he anything to do with the chaplains?] Certainly not; but when he (Lord George Hamilton) was asked a question he wished to treat it seriously. In the first place, the Civil Lord looked after the Works Department. In the next place, he had to deal with all questions relating to any part of the Civil Department of the Admiralty, and that gave him a very considerable amount of work. In addition to that, the Civil Lord discharged the duties which every member of the Board of Admiralty had to undertake. Looking to the work which was required, he did not think the Office was overpaid. The hon. member for North Cork [Dr. TANNER: Mid Cork] complained that the questions he had put relating to the Haulbowline Dock had been answered by him. He thought he might undertake that all the hon. Gentlemen's questions in reference to Haul-bowline should in future be answered by the Civil Lord.
§ DR. TANNER
said, he would not press his Motion; but he wished the Committee to understand that one of the reasons why he had called attention to the Office was the paucity of the attendances of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty in the House, notably at Question time. The hon. Gentleman had very little to do, although he was supposed to be one of the Parliamentary Lords. As was pointed out in the columns of the public Press, the hon., learned, and gallant Gentleman spent the major portion of 224 his time in the Law Courts. The hon., learned, and gallant Gentleman's work at the Admiralty must be very light indeed, or else it must be very perfunctorily performed. As, however, he had got a sort of explanation from the First Lord, he asked leave to withdraw his Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB
said, that when last he rose he did not ask whether instructions had been sent to the different Admirals as to the way they were to protect commerce; but he asked if facts were supplied to the Admirals as to the distribution of commerce over the particular areas of water they had to protect? The distribution of coal, for instance, would become, in time of war, a most important matter. It would be necessary for the Admirals to know where coal was coming from. There were only three sources from which coal was supplied—namely, the United Kingdom, Newcastle in New South Wales, and British Columbia. Was there any organization at the Admiralty, by means of which information would be supplied to the Admirals in time of war as to what they had to protect?
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, that the arrangements for the conveyance of coal were practically complete.
§ DR. TANNER
said, he would like to get from the First Lord some assurance that something had been done in connection with the subject of medical education. In the Committee on the Naval Estimates the First Lord said a scheme had been drawn up whereby medical officers, when they came home from abroad, would be admitted to the Metropolitan Medical Schools. Had anything been done in the matter?
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, the Director General was anxious that all medical officers should have some hospital work when they came home. A scheme had been drawn up; but he did not now know the details of it. If the hon. Gentleman would put a Question to him on the subject he would be happy to answer it.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
asked the First Lord, if his attention had been drawn to the system of burning coal without there being any smoke? He did not know the name of the system; but he understood it was adopted on the steamers plying up and down the Thames.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, he had heard nothing of the system; but he would make inquiry concerning it.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow, at Two of the clock.
§ Committee to sit again To-morrow, at Two of the clock.