HC Deb 12 March 1888 vol 323 cc927-9

The experience gained since last year, and the opportunities afforded during that time of making close and minute comparison between the strength of the Navy of this country and that of foreign nations confirms my previous statement, that our relative superiority is undoubted, and that we shall, if the present expenditure be maintained, each year increase that superiority. Our organization for war has much improved during the last year, and satisfactory progress has been made in working out and fitting together the complementary parts of a scheme for the full utilization in time of emergency of the naval resources of the country. Looking, however, at the three main component parts of a fleet, ships, guns, and men, we have no reason to be dissatisfied with what we have got, if we take not an ideal standard, but that common to the Fleets of our neighbours. The ships recently completed and commissioned have fulfilled on the whole the undertaking of their designers, and although one or two casualties have occurred in the past in the manufacture of our larger guns, out of the great number issued during the last 18 months for service none have in any sense failed.

The determination of the Government to effectively arm the coaling" stations abroad and the home ports must largely increase our offensive naval power, for the bases of operation from which our Fleet can issue will require little or no naval defence.

But if it is permissible to speak with confidence of our superiority so far as actual fighting power is concerned, when we consider the defence and protection which our commerce may require, extreme caution and reserve must be exercised. The conditions of naval warfare have so changed, and are so changing from day to day, that nothing but actual experience could justify any confident prediction as to how a thoroughly effective protection can be given by any fleet to a commerce whose sea-going steam tonnage is double that of the rest of the world.

In the revision and preparation of our present Estimates we have made provision for all immediate requirements, and we have not hesitated in every direction to cut off extraneous and questionable expenditure. But new wants may more than counterbalance future economies, and it would, therefore, not he safe in our judgment to attempt hereafter to place at a lower total than the aggregate sums to be spent this year upon naval objects, the future annual expenditure of the Navy.


28th February, 1888.