HC Deb 05 March 1888 vol 323 cc207-11

First in order, I will take the defences of our selected coaling stations, both because these are the furthest advanced towards completion, and also because they have been subject to a more thorough and exhaustive scrutiny than has been the case with the other two categories of ports. In the proceedings of the recent Colonial Conference will be found, not only the principal portions of the Reports of Lord Carnarvon's Commission of 1879—which, for the first time, laid down a comprehensive scheme for the defence of the principal coaling stations of the Empire—but also a full account of the work now being carried out in consequence of those Reports. The Commission examined very carefully into the relative importance of the different coaling stations throughout our Colonial Empire, and ended by selecting those which are now being defended. For the present, at all events, I am of opinion that the list, as drawn up by them, must be considered, with one or two exceptions, as complete. Changes in trade routes, increase of population, or other circumstances, may, after a time, bring into special prominence places hitherto considered as of minor importance. But the points where works are now being executed were chosen after the most searching examination; and the primary duty of any Government at the present time appears to be to complete as rapidly as possible the task which has already been taken in hand. One very important addition to the list has, however, been made, to which I shall presently refer.

A scheme based on the recommendations of the Commission for the defence of our coaling stations was first laid before Parliament in 1884. Since then a fuller knowledge of the requirements of each place to be defended, and of the defences now thought essential by professional opinion, and still more the great cost of modern breech-loading armaments—at that time imperfectly developed—have largely added, as was foreseen by the Royal Commission, to the estimates of the necessary expenditure.

The addition to the list of stations drawn up in 1884, to which I have just alluded, is that of Table Bay. The original scheme laid before Parliament made no financial provision for the defence of this important harbour; but I venture to think that my action in including it among the stations to be protected will not meet with disapproval. This work, therefore, has also been undertaken, and an agreement with regard to it was entered into with Sir Thomas Upington during the Colonial Conference last year. Its execution has been expedited as much as possible, though the completion of the necessary works depends upon the Colonial Government.

With this exception, the programme which was prepared four years ago remains substantially unaltered, and has been carried out by means of annual Votes, which have averaged about £200,000 a-year.

The following table will give a clear idea of the work already done:—

Coaling Stations. Works. Armaments.
Estimated amount agreed to by Treasury and Colonial Governments. Expended to 31st March, 1888. Remaining to be expended. Estimated amount agreed to by Treasury. Expended up to 31st March, 1888. Remaining to be expended by Imperial Government.
To be paid by Colonial Government. To be paid by Imperial Government.
£ £ £ £ £ £ £
Aden 64,500* (by Indian Government.) 64,500 42,300 22,200† 79,950‡ 51,220‡ 28,730‡
Trincomalee 25,000 16,500 8,500 11,080 11,080
Colombo 24,820 1,820 23,000 60,660 60,660
Singapore 81,000 76,850 4,150 120,614 87,204 33,410
Hong Kong 116,000 109,250 6,750 153,910 130,310 23,600
Simon's Bay 53,000 40,700 12,300 43,280 11,970 31,310
Table Bay 59,000 7,000 Expenditure not yet reported. 59,000 75,000 42,950 32,050
Sierra Leone 30,000 30,300 15,000 10,840 4,160
St. Helena 7,000 5,600 1,400 2,400 2,400
Mauritius 55,000 12,800 42,200 (money voted.) 56,895 17,195 39,700
Jamaica 41,250 19,500 21,750 70,750 2,355 68,395
St. Lucia 30,000 30,000 18,500 4,000 14,500
King George's Sound and Thursday Island To be paid by Colonial Government. 28,000 28,000
2nd class coaling stations§ 35,551 9,721 25,830
Further unappropriated expenditure ║ 14,410 14,410
Total 400,320 257,750 154,900 103,150 786,000 395,655¶ 390,345
200,720 135,100
* Figures (old-faced) represent the sums paid or payable by Colonial Governments.
† Outstanding accounts between the Indian Government and the War Office make us unable to guarantee the accuracy of this estimate.
‡Same amount to be paid by Indian Government. § Including Esquimalt, Port Elizabeth, &c. ║ For completing guns not yet appropriated to particular stations. ¶ Part of this may not be paid before 1st April, 1888.

From this table it will be seen that the Imperial expenditure remaining upon this service for works and armaments is £493,495. But this sum does not represent all that is necessary. It is much to be regretted that the original statement of the cost of protecting our coaling stations, which was made to Parliament in 1884, contained no allusion to certain items upon which outlay will be required. It made no provision whatever for the increased barrack accommodation necessary for the garrisons. At St. Lucia, for instance, where everything has to be created, the erection for the new defences, just about to be commenced, involves the simultaneous erection of barracks. At other places additions to existing barracks, or the adaptation of other buildings to the purpose, are required. It is impossible to form an absolutely accurate estimate of the sum required to complete the barracks necessary for the requisite garrisons for the coaling stations. The outside estimate of gross expenditure now before me amounts to £750,000. But the contributions from some Colonies, and the proceeds of the sale of properties to be vacated in others, have to be taken into account. I am, however, assured that the best estimate possible under the circumstances gives the sum necessary to meet immediate necessities, and without the expenditure of which it would be impossible to garrison our coaling stations satisfactorily, as £350,000.

Again, there is the submarine mining defence of these stations, and the light armament necessary to protect it. This work has been carried on steadily during the last two years; and has, at several stations, made very satisfactory progress. £165,609 has already been expended on this service, and in order to complete it, £66,451 for buildings, ships, and stores will be required.

Taking, therefore, the Estimates given above, we may assume that the minimum sum necessary from Imperial funds to place our coaling stations in a condition to properly resist the kind of attack they might anticipate in war is—

Works and armaments 493,495
Barracks 350,000
Submarine mines, stores, &c 66,451
Total 909,946