§ ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, in view of the pledge given by him on the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for North-West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) for a Royal Commission to inquire into the state of our Naval and Military Defences; in view also of the letter published in The Times of September 23, 1884, signed W. H. Smith, pressing for a searching inquiry into the state of the Navy, Her Majesty's Government will consent to re-consider the terms of the "Order of Reference" to the Royal Commission on Naval and Military Administration, so that the inquiry may embrace the reception of evidence from 1626 competent professional witnesses as to the sufficiency or otherwise of our existing Naval Force to meet the requirements of the Empire for the better enabling Her Majesty's Government to base their Naval policy upon fixed principles?
TEE FIRST LORD (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I stated on Thursday the circumstances under which the Reference to the Royal Commission had been somewhat narrowed from that which had been originally proposed. I should have been very glad if it had been possible to adhere to the letter of the proposed Reference; but after making every endeavour to do so the Government found themselves unable to constitute a Commission which would have reported within a reasonable time, and in adopting the course they had found themselves compelled to take they have not excluded an examination by some other method of the important questions which are omitted from the present Reference. My hon. and gallant Friend now asks if the inquiry to be conducted by my noble Friend the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) may be extended to the question of the sufficiency of our Naval Forces. In the debate, and in the terms of Reference as proposed in March, I insisted on the responsibility of the Government for the adequacy of the Forces of the country. I declined to include the question as one that could be submitted to a Commission; and I adhere to that view, accepting to the fullest extent the very heavy responsibility which, under our Parliamentary system, rests upon the Heads of the Departments and upon the Government as a whole. We have the advantage of the counsel and assistance in administration of eminent professional authorities, of which it is our duty to avail ourselves. We have not ceased to devote our anxious and careful attention to the development of the defensive resources of the country; and while we are prepared to maintain that great advances have been made during the last three or four years, we are not insensible to the duty of continued vigilance, and of persistence in a policy by which the available mechanical power of the country shall be used to make our strength at sea adequate to our responsibilities.