Resolution [1st April] reported.
That it is expedient to authorise (a) the expenditure of a sum not exceeding £21,500,000, for the purpose of building, arming, equipping, and completing for sea vessels for Her Majesty's Navy; of this expenditure a sum not exceeding £10,000,000 to be issued out of the Consolidated Fund in the seven years ending on the 31st day of March 1896; and a sum not exceeding £11,500,000, to be issued out of moneys provided by Parliament for Naval Services during the five financial years ending on the 31st day of March 1894.
§ Resolution read a second time.
§ *MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
I must throw myself on the indulgence of the House, as, from the consequences of a very bad cold, I may not be able to submit the matters to which I desire to call the attention of the House as clearly as I could wish; but I will do so to the best of my power. The first part of the Resolution we are now asked to adopt deals with the amount of money—twenty-one and a-half millions—proposed to be expended under the new programme on ships and guns for the Navy. On this question we had a full debate on Monday last, and the House arrived at a conclusion upon which I will not now say a word. But the second part of the Resolution refers to the manner in which this money is to be raised and applied, and perhaps, in referring to this second part, I may touch incidentally on the other Resolution, which has not yet been adopted in Committee, but which, as the right hon. Gentleman said a few minutes ago, relates to the carrying out by the Executive Government of the details of the first Resolution now before us. It is proposed, with respect to £11,500,000 to be expended in the Dockyards on the construction of a certain number of ships, that that money should be voted in the usual way in 1603 Supply. The other part—£10,000,000—which is to be applied to the construction of ships under private contract, is to be a charge upon the Consolidated Fund, under the Bill to which this Resolution is a prelude. With respect to the £11,500,000, the peculiarity of the plan, so far as I understood the speeches of the noble Lord and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is this. On the one hand they propose that the money should be voted by Parliament in Supply in the usual way; but they have suggested, and I suppose the Bill will carry this out in detail what I will venture to call a sort of March-and-April arrangement. As matters are at present, if at the end say during the last month (March) of the financial year any moneys are left unexpended under a particular Vote, it must be paid back to the Exchequer; while, on the other hand, if there is likely to be an excess in the year's expenditure on contracts—I am not speaking of great contracts for ships, but stores, and so on—if the contracts are executed more quickly than was anticipated when the Vote was taken, then, unless moneys can be provided from savings on other Votes, the expenditure must be postponed to the first month (April) of the next financial year. Now, I understand, the Government propose by a clause in the Bill to obviate the necessity of these two inconveniences in March and April, though we do not quite know the manner. It will have to be jealously scrutinized; for it may involve our being drawn into entirely altering the rule under which public payments are made. Formerly the Votes of Parliament expressly provided for the particular sums which were wanted for the service of the financial year; but many years ago the wording was altered, and the Votes are now for the amounts coming in course of payment during the financial year. It is now proposed in some way or other, to go back to the old system, and if we adopt it in respect of the money paid by the Admiralty for ships and stores in the Dockyards, it will form a precedent, and the House may be asked to go back in respect of the other services to the system deliberately abandoned by Parliament on a review of the great inconvenience of voting anything but actual cash payments. When we see 1604 the Bill we shall know whether this is so or not. We were urged by the First Lord of the Admiralty to make this charge in consequence of the very large sums which have either to be postponed or hastened in March, or just at the close of the year. But he will find in other branches of the Service that this is still more felt, particularly in connection with public buildings. This, however, is a matter of comparative detail. The main objection which I make to the proposal of the Government is as to the manner in which it is proposed to deal with the £10,000,000 to be charged on the Consolidated Fund for ships to be built by contract. What is the proposal of the Government in that respect? They have laid on the Table a Return showing in detail how it is suggested that the contemplated programme should be financially arranged, and if hon. Members will refer to that statement, they will observe that of the £10,000,000 no less than £9,200,000 is to be spent during the next three years, while during the following four years the equal charge spread over the seven years will continue. What would the practical effect of that be? I have said that out of the £10,000,000 £9,200,000 are to be paid in the next three years, and the comparatively small sum of £800,000 is left over for payment in the next four years. I take it that we may estimate the probable duration of the present Parliament, after what we have heard of the intentions of the Government, at somewhere about three years. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] Should the period be shorter it will be all the better for my argument. Taking, then, the whole of the £21,500,000 charge during the course of three years something over £17,000,000 will have been expended upon the ships provided in the new programme, while for the same period the sum which the taxpayer will have to pay will be only about £12,000,000. During the following four years the amount to be spent will be £4,500,000, whereas the amount to be raised by the next Parliament will be £9,500,000. In other words, under this scheme, we, of this Parliament, shall relieve ourselves from raising £5,000,000 out of the money to be spent upon shipbuilding, leaving that sum to be provided for by a future Parliament in addition 1605 to the cost of the work actually done during that period. That appears to me to be a very serious proposal which on the face of it must startle those who are accustomed to watch the public expenditure. Is it right that this Parliament should have the satisfaction of spending £17,000,000 of public money while it only charges the Exchequer with £12,000,000, leaving to the succeeding Parliament the spending of £4,600,000, while it will have to extract from the taxpayer £9,500,000? My first grave objection to the proposal of the Government, therefore, is that they are postponing to future years large charges for shipbuilding which will have actually been defrayed. Such a proposal is opposed to the uniform practice of Parliament, at any rate, since the great Reform Bill. Perhaps the House will allow me to say that upon this question, not only has financial authority, properly so called, been absolutely unanimous, but that such an authority as Lord Palmerston, who took a wide and general view of these questions, but was not a strict financial purist, expressed himself in unmistakable terms in 1860 when a large expenditure was proposed to be incurred for fortifications. On the 23rd July, I860, Lord Palmerston said—To borrow for the expenses of the year would be as spendthrift a proceeding as for an individual to borrow to defray his household expenses.He added—But Parliament has encouraged individuals to raise money for the permanent improvement of landed property, and what is expedient for an individual cannot be inexpedient for a nation.This was Lord Palmerston's justification of the fortification tax, and ever since that practice has been established there have been only two occasions upon which loans have been raised, both being cases in which the money was required for works of a permanent nature. The hon. and gallant Admiral opposite would scarcely contend that ships of war came under that category. There, therefore, has never been an occasion when, with respect to ordinary expenditure for the Naval or Military Services the dictum of Lord Palmerston has not been followed. But something happened last year of which I desire to 1606 remind the House, and particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Proposals were then made as to which very distinct pledges were given by the right hon. Gentleman. In the first place it was proposed that £2,000,000 should be expended upon the coaling stations abroad. Hitherto the charge in respect of expenditure on these coaling stations under Lord Northbrook's programme had been defrayed out of the annual Estimates; but a departure from this rule was defended by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the ground that these were works of a permanent nature, similar to the works constructed by Lord Palmerston, and that greater expedition in their construction was necessary, and on the faith of the assurance given by the right hon. Gentleman, that the proposal then made in respect to this expenditure would not be drawn into a precedent, our opposition to the proposal was withdrawn. But there was another proposal of the Government as part of the same scheme last year, which contemplated the expenditure of £850,000 towards the construction of a Fleet for the Colonies, and it was also proposed that the charge should not be defrayed out of the ordinary Estimates. This departure from the generally accepted principle was defended on the ground that it was part of an arrangement, under which the Colonies were themselves to contribute £125,000 a year for a term of years for the construction and maintenance of the Colonial Fleet, and hat, therefore, this expenditure was really for them, and to be repaid by them; and, of course, not to be governed by the rules affecting shipbuilding for the Imperial Navy proper. I intervened twice in the debate, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the first occasion acknowledged that the view I took of the danger of the proposal was sound. My right hon. Friend assured the House that it would not be treated as a precedent. Subsequently on the 15th of May my right hon. Friend was required to give a distinct and definite pledge, and he said, speaking expressly of Votes for Shipbuilding, "I should very much deplore if this were in any way turned into a precedent. I shall always adhere to the principle that the needs of the year should be met out of the Revenue of the year." In giving that pledge on 1607 a just principle of finance the right hon. Gentleman spoke not only for himself personally, but for the Treasury, and he laid down a principle which ought to be scrupulously followed. Having regard to that distinct pledge, how can he, with any consistency, make the present proposal? Such a scheme as this, which proposes to spread over several years charges of no excessive amount actually defrayed in one year, may be correctly described as weak-kneed and flabby finance. It is an attempt to make things for the moment pleasant all round, very different from the course pursued in former years. Upon the last occasion when a large increase of expenditure on the Navy was deemed requisite, the whole increase was thrown on the Estimates of the years in which it was spent. Here are the figures. In 1858–59 the expenditure on the Navy, eliminating the Packet Service, was barely £8,250,000, while in 1860–61 it was £13,300,000, an increase of over £5,000,000, which was boldly placed on the Estimates, though the main portion of that increase was due to a great scheme for increased naval construction. This increased expenditure was met, not as it is at present proposed, by spreading it over a number of years, but by increasing the Income Tax which in those two years was raised from 5d. to 10d., producing between £4,000,000 and £5,000,000 additional revenue. We ought to hear from the Government why the rule that was acted on then and always since is to be departed from now. Another consideration which makes this proposal very objectionable is, though of a technical of an important nature. The whole of our recent policy in regard to the voting of money and accounting for it has been to secure more and more strict connection between the two. Take for instance Vote B in the present Estimates. The new form is expressly adopted so that the House may have before it in each year the expenditure on each ship, cash, stores, and incidental charges audited by the Auditor General. How is that consistent with the plan which spreads a large expenditure over a series of years without reference to the particular year in which the expenditure occurs? The two plans are absolutely inconsistent. The advance in the direction of strict business accounting 1608 indicated by Vote B I recognize. I think there will be great difficulty in carrying it out; but I recognize it as an earnest of the wish of the Treasury in communication with the Admiralty to make the public accounting more strict than it has been hitherto. But it is impossible to combine this rigid system with one which throws the idea of an annual Estimate and charges entirely to the winds again. The House is aware that, from time to time, we have had to take large Votes of Credit. Formerly, Votes of Credit covered both Army and Navy expenditure, and might be expended in a series of years until exhausted. A Vote on Account for this year, for instance, you might spend this year, or the year after—you must go on spending it until the amount is exhausted, and you might apply it to either military or naval services.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster
The Vote of Credit you mean.
§ *MR. CHILDERS
Yes, a Vote of Credit. But of late years the whole construction of Votes of Credit has been entirely altered. Votes of Credit now are only taken for the current year, so much for the Army and so much for the Navy. They cannot be used after the financial year, and the last refinement has been that the particular Services for which the Vote of Credit is to be expended must be shown on the Estimate attached to the Vote of Credit; and any departure from this would be the subject of remark. Now, the present proposal is based upon anticipations more than hinted at by Her Majesty's Government as to the possible condition of Europe in times to come. But if in any of the years covered by the present plan this House should be asked for a Vote of Credit, how is it possible that a Vote of Credit strictly limited to a year can be worked in connection with this plan of providing for them the expenditure of ten millions in seven years? The thing is absolutely impossible. The object of a Vote of Credit for the Navy would be, among other things, to expedite contracts or to enable you to make fresh ones. How can you operate upon a Vote of Credit that can only be spent in one year, and make it fit in with 1609 charges not necessarily defrayed in one, but in seven years? These, as I have already said, are somewhat technical questions, but it was my duty to refer to them. There is another objection to the plan of the Government. I do not think that, so far as the contract arrangements are concerned, the Admiralty themselves appreciate what the plan is. I listened with great care to the interesting speech of the Secretary to the Admiralty on Monday last. He dealt with a great many topics; but towards the end he said, referring to the specific arrangement proposed to be made in regard to this £10,000,000, that it was a very common thing to make contracts, such as mail contracts, and to enter into engagements with individuals for a term of years, contracting to make money payments out of the Annual Votes of Parliament. He said he saw no difference between that and the present plan; but there is all the difference possible between that practice and what is now proposed. In the case of mail contracts you make arrangements extending over a series of years, but in each you vote the exact sum required, and you provide that it shall be paid out of the Supplies granted by Parliament. The two things are diametrically and absolutely antagonistic. Therefore it is that I say the Secretary to the Treasury—whose ability we all recognize—has not in this respect sufficiently studied the plan of the Government. That, again, is not, perhaps, so important an argument as one or two of the others to which I have alluded; but I now come to what seems to me to be the main objection to this proposal. The main objection to the plan of the Government is, in my judgment, to be found in the un-wisdom of stereotyping for five years the shipbuilding ideas of the moment. It was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in the past delays have occurred from changes of policy on the accession of new Governments or in consequence of changes in the Admiralty; but this has not happened in any appreciable degree, and I will give the House the proof of this at least for 30 years. In 1859, when the Government of Lord Palmerston succeeded that of Lord Derby, there was undoubtedly a considerable increase in 1610 shipbuilding, but nothing that had been planned by the Government of Lord Derby was to be at all interfered with. Additional ships were to be built, but there was nothing which answered the description of the right hon. Gentleman that there had been delay in the expenditure of money voted by Parliament owing to changes at the Admiralty.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
I did not only mean changes of Government involving new Boards of Admiralty, but changes in the Boards themselves by which new views are introduced.
§ *MR. CHILDERS
Yes; I am about to refer to such a change in a few moments. There was no change in policy at the Admiralty between the years 1859 and 1866. In 1866 there was a change of Government, but Mr. Corry made no change in the programme of his Predecessor; he only added to it by building a class of ships commonly called the Audacious class of a new type. In 1869 I had the honour to become First Lord of the Admiralty, but we did not postpone for a day the construction of any ship which we found being built; on the contrary, we increased largely the expenditure on ironclad shipbuilding; and we took in hand the new turret ships Devastation and Dreadnought, which were pronounced by the Royal Commission the type of the future for the Navy; and there was no interference with the plans of our Predecessors. The same thing happened in 1874. In 1878, 1879, and 1880 there had been a great reduction in the charge for battleships effected by the present First Lord of the Treasury. When Lord Northbrook took office in 1880, he carried out strictly in respect to ship-building the plan of his Predecessors, with this difference, that he added year by year in 1881, 1882, 1883, and 1884 considerably to the charge; and in 1885 he brought forward the programme of additional shipbuilding known by his name, but without in the least interfering with the ships in course of construction. In 1885 and 1886 the noble Lord opposite did not interfere with the plans of his Predecessor, but only pushed on somewhat more rapidly the construction of the ships which they had proposed. There was only 1611 one case in which this rule was departed from, and that was by my right hon. Friend himself. When my right hon. Friend became First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1871, he found, with respect to shipbuilding, a state of things that required extreme care to avoid alarming the country. A great ship had been lost; and that resulted in the appointment of a Royal Commission, over which Lord Dufferin presided, to consider what should be the future type of battle-ships. For this reason, during the first two years of my right hon. Friend's Administration he most wisely held his hand, in order that as to the type of ship to be adopted, the alarm in the public mind should be set at rest. When the Commission had reported the ships under construction were hastened; and with that one exception there was no material departure by a Board of Admiralty from the plans of their Predecessors. But what would have been the effect if they had adopted the proposed five years' rule? The Admiralty in 1867, when Mr. Corry was at its head, came to the conclusion that it was desirable to add a certain number of ironclads to the Navy, and, as I have said, they adopted what was known as the Audacious class of ships. At that time almost everybody agreed that the old broadside ship was the best for fighting purposes, and we had very little or no experience of any other kind of ship. Foreign Governments, indeed, for some time afterwards continued to build broadside masted ships. But what did science bring us only two years later? Why, in 1869, the whole system changed, and we introduced unmasted turret ships in place of broadside masted ships. If, therefore, in 1867 we had decided on building 40, 50, or 60 new ships, according to the ideas of that time, if the plan had been adopted in 1867—when there was a considerable addition to the Navy—of stereotyping our ships for five years, the result would have been little short of disastrous. Again, let us take another striking example. Up to the year 1878 the guns of the Navy had been for many years muzzle-loaders; and if in 1878 we had built a large number of ships, those ships would have had muzzle-loading guns, and within four or five years they would have been entirely obsolete. It was only in 1881 that it 1612 became perfectly clear from the inquiries of the Ordnance Select Committee that we ought to substitute breechloading for muzzle-loading guns. Ships which carry heavy breechloading guns must be not in detail only but in some of their main principles quite different from, those which carry muzzle-loading guns; and we should have gone on, building ships for muzzle-loading guns-after the unanimous opinion of the experts, of Parliament, and of the country had entirely changed on the subject. I have given these two illustrations as striking ones, which I do not think can be answered. It is not prudent for us to think that we have already got all wisdom—that wisdom will die with us. Progress is constantly being made in these matters, and in my judgment it would not be wise to lay down, as the Government now propose to do, all at once a large number of ships of a particular type, based on the scientific information of the present moment. It would be better to go on from year to year, not altering any individual ship after she has been laid down, but improving each new ship which we build in accordance with the progress of science. We do not know what improvements even two years' science and progress may not produce in these matters. I trust, therefore, that the Government, instead of adhering to a programme which depends on the scientific knowledge of the present day, will see reason to modify it in the sense I have indicated, so as on the one hand to complete each ship according to the knowledge we have when she is commenced, but on the other to commence from year to year new ships with the advantage of the improved knowledge which has been acquired. In one respect I entirely agree with the declared policy of the noble Lord. When you have once taken a ship in hand, do not tinker her. Lay down the number of ships required to be commenced in any given year, and having once laid them down, finish them as rapidly as possible; do not apply little alterations here and little alterations there, which not only cost money, but which lose time, and are in other respects inconvenient to the Service. But this is quite independent of the general principle which I have tried to explain to the House. Let us 1613 not imitate the novel Budget arrangements of French and German Governments. It is popular on the Continent to frame these great schemes extending over eight or 10 years, and we know that the folly of that course has been already proved in the case of France. In Germany, too, there is a dislike of annual Budgets. There is no practical difficulty connected with voting the money required from year to year; while there are grave objections, financial, administrative, and political, to altering our time-honoured system of annual Votes in Supply; and to that system I trust the House will adhere. In conclusion, I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.
To leave out all the words after the word "Navy," to the end of the Resolution, in order to add the words, "but this House sees no reason why provision for the building and arming of ships to be employed in Her Majesty's Service should be made otherwise than in accordance with the constitutional practice hitherto observed, namely, by annual Votes in Committee of Supply,"—(Mr. Childers.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Resolution."
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Lord GEORGE HAMILTON,) Middlesex, Ealing
The right hon. Gentleman has confined his remarks to two points connected with the shipbuilding scheme of Her Majesty's Government. He objects to the method by which it is proposed to raise the £10,000,000, and also to the method by which the money is to be disbursed. The right hon. Gentleman has also raised some general objections as to the inadvisability of stereotyping shipbuilding by laying down a large number of ships of any one particular type at a time. He has pointed out that great changes occur in ships' armaments, and that therefore it is not advisable to mortgage your income for a long period in advance for the construction of any one particular class of ship. With a good many of the right hon. Gentleman's observations the Government entirely agree. The great object of the Admiralty has been to expedite shipbuilding; we maintain, and the right hon. Gentleman agrees, I take it, that whatever number of ships are laid down they 1614 should be pushed on and completed as rapidly as possible. I think there is not a dissentient voice to that. We go a little further, and say that if Her Majesty's Government think it advisable to lay down a considerable number of ships, they must adopt a procedure by which the ships may be completed with the greatest possible rapidity. Therefore, it being a paramount object, from an economical point of view, to rapidly complete whatever ships we have in hand, if the House assent to the Government proposals for constructing 70 ships, they must assent to the financial proposals which enable the Admiralty, for the first time in its history, to provide that every ship laid down shall be pushed on and completed with as much rapidity as is consistent with good construction. Therefore, Sir, if the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to give effect to the principle which he has laid down he must allow us to adjust our financial proposals, so as to carry that principle into effect. I wish just to address a few words to the House, as the representative of one of the spending departments. It is the fashion in many parts of the House in reference to the Admiralty and the War Office to assert that they are mere cesspools of maladministration, and to contrast their expenditure with that of private firms. But there is no private firm in the country which is tied and hampered as the War Office and Admiralty are. Not only do these Departments have to give a most minute account, under a series of the most complicated and technical rules, for every single farthing paid out—and I think it necessary, as, of course, economies can only be promoted by the representatives of the spending Departments being forced to account for every item of expenditure; but, in addition to this, over and over again both the War Office and the Admiralty have been hampered in their policy by what may be called the covert actions of the Executive Government, which often proposes to impose limitations upon the Department that are unknown outside. And when the Department, under these conditions, fails to carry out the programme it has in hand, it is then subjected to attacks from the very men who impose the restriction for not properly using the money at its disposal. If, therefore, ships are to be built 1615 rapidly, the funds must be provided. Nobody can dispute that. I have before me a Return showing the period occupied by certain ships in construction and completion. The more quickly a ship is built, the nearer its cost approaches the amount of the original Estimate. Now the right hon. Gentleman has contended that Boards of Admiralty are not in the habit of reversing the policy of their predecessors. If it be true that one Board after another has endeavoured to carry on the policy of its predecessor, and ships have been twice the length of time they ought to be on the stocks, and cost much more than they would have done if the construction had been pushed on, is it not evident that the delay and waste has been due to the limitations that have been placed upon the Admiralty by insufficient funds being voted? There can be no escape from that conclusion. I have some figures relating to the last two or three ironclads which were completed before I came into office. The Agamemnon took eight years and five months in building, and the increase of the expenditure over the original Estimate was £57,000. The Ajax was nine years one month in building, and the increase of expenditure over the original Estimate was £93,000. The Dreadnought was eight years five months in building, and the excess over the original Estimate was £224,000. But in this case there was a material alteration in the plan of the vessel. The colossus was six years ten months in building, and the excess expenditure was £90,000. The Thunderer was seven years 11 months in building, and the excess expenditure was £70,000. The Arethusa and the Phaeton, two of the last cruisers laid down before I came into office, took seven years and six months respectively in construction. If the practice of the past is to be adopted, and the ships in the present programme are to be as long in building, the right hon. Gentleman would be right in asserting that the Admiralty are mistaken in laying down so many vessels at the same time, because they would be more or less obsolete by the time they were finished. But the present Admiralty propose to build every single ship as quickly as possible; and if those ships are, in the opinion of naval experts, in advance of any existing ships of their types, either building or afloat, it 1616 follows that they must also be in advance of any ships ready for service when they are completed. Of the 70 ships to be laid down, 52 will be taken in hand in the present year; and no one whose has listened to the debates in the House, and who knows the characteristics of the ships, can deny that they are distinctly, in the essentials of speed and armament, superior to anything of their kind built before. The right hon. Gentleman must recollect that the present Board of Admiralty have deliberately stayed their hand in order to obtain sufficient information to justify them in embarking on a large programme. We are to have a large number of ships of a new type, but we did not venture to adopt them until they had been thoroughly tested. The Naval Manœuvres of last year tested the qualities of vessels as they had never before been tested in time of peace; and it is on the basis of this experience that the designs for new ships have been prepared. Now, Sir, when the right hon. Gentleman impresses upon the Government the advisability of having only a few ships in hand at one time, he is simply recommending to the Government a principle which, from the very moment when we came into office, we have kept before us and acted upon. What was the number of ironclads building, or in course of construction, when I came into office? In the year 1884–5 13 ironclads were building; and the Government of that day—the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian—added eight to the 13, so that in 1886–7 there were 21 ironclads building, the types of which were determined, and for the construction of which insufficiency money had been voted. We found this great number of ships in hand, and determined to complete them all before beginning a new programme. We reduced the number of 21 down to four in the present year, and the next year to that there was only one in hand, so that, so far from attempting to stereotype one kind of ship, the present Government have acted in the opposite direction. We have cleared off the ships in hand, and in proportion as they have been completed and more information has been acquired concerning designs, we have entered upon a fresh programme, which we propose to 1617 complete in an unprecedently short time. From the business point of view, therefore, if the House approve of the plan for constructing 70 new ships, you must make special financial arrangements for the purpose of completing the ships. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues object, not to the proposal to build 70 ships, but only to the financial procedure which we attach to that proposition; and therefore the House will perhaps allow me to state, from the Admiralty's point of view, what seem to be the great advantages of the course suggested. The question of Ways and Means must be looked at from three stand-points—the constitutional, the administrative, and the taxing. The Tight hon. Gentleman dealt especially with the two latter. But he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1885, and he and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian are responsible for the financial arrangements they made then for giving effect to Lord Northbrook's programme. If I contrast the two sets of proposals, it is not for the purpose of making Party capital, but simply to point out that the present Admiralty, with its additional experience, are desirous of avoiding the evils and difficulties of the former practice. Now, from a constitutional point of view, I assume I am right in saying that if this House is to have complete control over its expenditure, then it follows that the most intelligible forms of account must be presented to it. I assume that the great majority of hon. Members will assent to that proposition. In 1885 the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary to the Admiralty proposed to Parliament to spend £3,100,000 in specially providing for the increase of the Navy, and that entailed a large expenditure, including armament, of between four and five millions. The House assented, as it naturally would; but without one single particle of authority, statutory or otherwise, the Government gave the orders to eon tractors. Then, having done that, the Chancellor of the Exchequer endeavoured to make financial provision for that expenditure, and he proposed to spread that expenditure over five years, and the sums he proposed to meet that expenditure were—first year, £800,000; second year, £800,000; third year, £500,000; 1618 fourth year, £500,000; and fifth year, £500,000. The whole of these financial arrangements broke down. The first year the disbursements were £1,600,000; in the second year, £1,344,000; in the third year, £813,000; in the fourth year, £296,000; and in the fifth year, £59,000. Now, my only wish is to point out that the financial arrangements which were made were absolutely insufficient. In the second year that this programme was in force it entailed a much larger expenditure than was anticipated by the Government, and the right hon. Gentleman thereupon proposed to meet the demand by the suspension of the Sinking Fund.
§ *LORD G. HAMILTON
Yes; but where did the Ways and Means come from? If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the Budget he will see that they came out of the Sinking Fund. The operation of the Sinking Fund was suspended practically to make provision for that portion of Lord Northbrook's programme which had been wholly under-estimated the previous year; and although, owing to an increase in the revenue, it was not necessary to have recourse to it, that was the constitutional mode adopted by the right hon. Gentleman, who now insists on the strictest adherence to Parliamentary precedents. Yes, Sir; and the result of attempting to put the cost of this extra programme on the ordinary Estimates has been to disorganize Navy finance ever since. No one has suffered more from the impossibility of distinguishing normal from abnormal expenditure, which has existed ever since, than I have myself, because I have over and over again been accused of arbitrarily reducing the naval expenditure, whereas the difference between the Estimates for the several years for which I am responsible is mainly due to the inequality of the disbursement connected with Lord Northbrook's programme. I say we have before us a procedure which is on every ground to be avoided; it is inconsistent in itself, and it is unconstitutional inasmuch as the expenditure was incurred before the sanction of the House was given, and the provision made for it was wholly inadequate. The Government have avoided those difficulties, and by dissociating the abnormal from the 1619 ordinary Estimates they have placed clearly before the House what in their judgment is the normal and what the abnormal expenditure. From the administrative and constitutional point of view the arrangement of the Government is far preferable to that of the right hon. Gentleman in 1885. And, again, if we look at it from a technical point of view, it is clear that if these ships are to be built with the necessary rapidity, some such arrangement is obligatory. I know there are many hon. Gentlemen opposite who are such financial pedants that they desire to provide for the expenditure of each year out of the Votes of that year. But you have no alternative if you are to meet a sudden outburst of expenditure in one year but to put on all the taxation required to meet that expenditure, and then take it off again the next year. Such sudden increases of taxation are most detrimental to the trade and commerce of the country; and, therefore, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a proposal by which he intends to spread that portion of the expenditure over a period of seven years, although the expenditure itself is contracted in a period of five years. The right hon. Member for South Edinburgh objects to that proposal, and likens it to a Vote of Credit; but the Government have not had recourse to a Vote of Credit.
§ *MR. CHILDERS
I said that the system could not work side by side with a Vote of Credit if one should be necessary.
§ *LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
If that does not in the least resemble a Vote of Credit, then why allude to it?
§ *MR. CHILDERS
I said if you adopt this plan of voting Supplies for shipbuilding purposes, and it became necessary afterwards to take a Vote of Credit, the two could not run together. I added, I thought the Government should ask every year for the amount that was required.
§ *LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
The right hon. Gentleman is no doubt very courageous in regard to taxation. But in my Parliamentary experience he acted very differently as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ *MR. CHILDERS
I had to supply suddenly the war needs of the country up to eleven millions, and a Vote of Credit was essential.
§ *LORD G. HAMILTON
The Government are not going to have recourse to a Vote of Credit. The right hon. Gentleman's observations amounted to this—that the Government ought to have had recourse to a loan.
§ *MR. CHILDERS
I said the Government ought not to have recourse to a loan, but that this expenditure should be met out of ordinary taxation.
§ *LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
Then it comes to this—that the right hon. Gentleman would propose for the purpose of carrying out this programme, to put on an additional tax of three, four, or five millions one year, and take it off the next. That was a proposal which, although it might accord with so-called Parliamentary finance, would meet with the universal reprobation of all business and commercial men. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that there was another objection to the proposal of the Government, and it was that this Parliament would have the spending of the money, and the next Parliament would have the raising of the money. Now surely he cannot seriously advance that objection, because it is exactly what happened in 1885. He and his colleagues rushed into a very large shipbuilding programme and did not provide sufficient funds to carry it through, and the result was that next year there was a large and unexpected increase in the expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby did the best he could, but ultimately resorted to the old expedient and struck out of the Estimates something which was essential to the efficiency of those ships that were building, and the pen was drawn through the ammunition for guns with which they ought to have been provided. Let me illustrate the extreme danger of that proceeding. The particular class of ammunition not supplied was for quick-firing guns. Now, so closely balanced is the supply and demand of certain articles, that if once a deficiency arises it is years before it can be made up, and last autumn, when the Fleet was going through its manœuvres, the one class of ammunition which was deficient was that which the right hon. Member for Derby, or his subordinates by his authority, struck out, and the unfortunate First Lord of the Admiralty was assailed as an incompetent administrator because he did not supply a sufficiency 1621 of such ammunition. On page 6 of the Paper before the House, relating to Lord Northbrook's programme, hon. Members will see the number of new vessels then laid down. Independent of the vessels which were put out to contract, the cost was estimated to be £2,084,000; the provision for the commencement of these vessels in 1885–6 was £108,000; the future liability was £1,976,000; and, therefore, only 4 per cent of their cost was provided for. We propose to lay down vessels which will cost in the aggregate £16,100,000, and in the first year to make provision for spending upwards of £4,000,000. Well, that that is a right and sound policy no one can doubt, and that it would save money is indisputable. If it would give a better return and avoid taxation, are the arrangements of the Government to be upset for the sake of mere Parliamentary and financial pedantry? Then, Sir, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have a great objection to postponing charges. Have they never postponed charges themselves? There was a Fortification Fund that was raised by Parliament by a Bill and a loan, and later on there was a Localization Bill, for the purposes of which it was necessary to raise funds by a Bill and a loan. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite, however, when they raised certain portions of funds necessary by loan, always shirked it when it came to raising the remainder out of the Estimates, and year after year the Chancellor of the Exchequer refused to put it on the Estimates. From every point of view, except that of Parliamentary pedantry, I claim that the plan of the Government is the right one For the first time the spending Department has been allowed to call in their experts and technical advisers, and we have been able to adopt a plan by which we have calculated the whole cost of the scheme which we have been directed to prepare for the sanction of Parliament. We have placed that scheme in its entirety before Parliament, and the Admiralty have practically entered into a contract with the Treasury. We have said—"Give us this money and we can build the ships and arm them, and we are prepared to abide by our side of the contract." No doubt it is a large recommendation. If we are wrong, we shall be held responsible to 1622 Parliament, and Parliament can blame us. But this is the first time that a scheme so calculated and framed has been laid before Parliament, and the first time any arrangement of this kind has been entered into between the Treasury and the Admiralty. I do not take credit for this new businesslike procedure. The credit is due to the fact that there were, at the head of the Treasury, men who have enjoyed experience in connection with the great business and spending Departments. I have always regretted that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) was never associated with a spending Department, because the right hon. Gentleman can hardly realize the difficulties which they have to encounter. I remember when the noble Lord the Member for Paddington left the Government the right hon. Gentleman expressed the highest approval of the course adopted by the noble Lord. It was said that it was a great mistake for a Chancellor of the Exchequer to go into details. But it is just that policy of not going into details which has caused so much waste of money in the past. If the House is prepared, as it was the other day by an overwhelming majority, to give approval to the programme of the Government, for Heaven's sake do not let us dissociate it from a businesslike or practical procedure.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
I hope, Sir, that the House will recollect that this is strictly a financial debate. The objections taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers), in his very comprehensive speech, were entirely financial objections. He has been followed by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who has adduced what he thinks conclusive reasons from other quarters in favour of his general plan. But he has not met, nor attempted to meet, any of the objections of my right hon. Friend upon the finance of this question, and those objections remain down to this moment absolutely without reply. That being the case, I shall not repeat what has been said by my right hon. Friend. I will advert to one or two matters stated by the noble Lord, and I will endeavour to state clearly to the House what are the points upon which issue is now raised. The object and purpose of 1623 this debate have been entirely obscured and darkened by the noble Lord, who says that he understands right hon. Gentlemen on this Bench to take no objection to the amount of expenditure now under discussion. I am not aware that right hon. Gentlemen on this Bench have arrived at any collective resolution on that subject. For my own part, I must own that I am not aware of a sufficient justification for this large expenditure. At the same time, I am aware that Her Majesty's Government have means of information and judgment on this subject such as I do not possess, and I do not think proper to take upon myself the responsibility of refusing on a question of confidence, as this necessarily is, a demand made by the responsible advisers of the Crown. I speak only for myself; it is the view I take. I own there is great force in many of the arguments that have been used, and I am not prepared to challenge, as the Leader of the Opposition in this country, a great Party and Parliamentary issue upon a question which, it appears to me, must depend in the main upon the responsibility of the Government, and which I am disposed to that extent to leave in their hands. So much as regards the amount of expenditure; but I entirely agree with the noble Lord that that matter, be it small or great, is in no degree in question at the present time. The question is as to the mode of making provision for that expenditure. What says the noble Lord? He says the object of the plan is to expedite shipbuilding, and he treated the speech of my right hon. Friend as if my right hon. Friend had objected to expedite shipbuilding; but there is no objection taken to the expediting of shipbuilding. On the contrary, we are disposed to agree that whatever ships are laid down should be carried forward with all possible expedition to their completion. That matter has been treated as if it were a matter at issue between us; but upon it, so far as I know, there is no difference of opinion at all. Then the noble Lord also says that his policy has been to place before the House the entire scheme of the Government. Neither to that proposition do I care to take any objection whatever. If the noble Lord has found it his duty to propose the commencement of a plan 1624 which is to occupy several years in its execution, I do not object to his endeavouring to obtain the assent of Parliament to the general groundwork of that plan, and to give to that assent all the weight that can be given to it by the proposition of the Government, by full discussion, and by the deliberate assent of Parliament. Now I come to the point which is really at issue between us. It is a question whether the wants of the year ought to be provided by the free judgment of the House of Commons, and provided with reference to the expenditure of the year. The noble Lord says that it is financial and Parliamentary pedantry to hold that the wants of the year ought to be furnished out of the supplies and provisions made for the year. Now, Sir, there it is we join issue with the noble Lord. That is what he denounces as Parliamentary and financial pedantry; and he says that there are a number of these financial and Parliamentary pedants sitting on this side of the House. I hope there are, but I am bound to say we have got on the present occasion a Leader. Our Leader does not sit on this side of the House; he sits on the other side. Our Leader does not sit on the Back Benches of the other side; he sits on the Front Bench. Nay, more, he is the oracle of the Government for financial purposes, and he is the Leader in the doctrines of financial and Parliamentary pedantry. Here are his express words, which have already been quoted to-night. He said—I shall always adhere to the principle that the needs of the year should be met out of the revenues of the year.These are the words of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and these are the words which the noble Lord who sits by him has endeavoured to destroy. It is a rather awkward thing when one Cabinet Minister has to assail the fundamental doctrines of another. Unfortunately, in the contingencies of political life a necessity of that kind may arise. What I have to suggest is that when an operation of that kind is to be performed it ought to be performed with the utmost delicacy and gentleness. Strong language and antithetical and epigram-matical phrases are not adapted to the occasion, and if it was necessary for the First Lord of the Admiralty thus severely to deal with the Chancellor of 1625 the Exchequer, he might have been contented with making his arguments and drawing his inferences, but he ought not to have held the right hon. Gentletleman up to the world as the father and the leader of financial and Parliamentary pedantry. Financial and Parliamentary pedantry has been the guide of this country and of the Governments of this country in all the best financial times. The man who most of all laid down this doctrine of annual provision for the wants of the year out of the means of the year was the man who raised his own financial reputation to the highest point—namely, Sir Robert Peel—and raised it expressly and implicitly by maintaining that doctrine and by using all his eloquence and influence to induce Parliament to apply it. I will not refer to other periods, further than to say that the noble Lord's doctrine that taxation ought not to be raised to meet the wants of the year is, in my opinion, most dangerous and fatal to what I should call financial morality.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
The right hon. Gentleman is labouring under a mistake; perhaps he will allow me to explain. I did not say that the wants of the year should not be met by the revenue of the year, but that financial pedantry was putting on five millions one year and taking them off next year.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
I am not aware of any case, apart from operations of war, where it has been necessary to put on five millions one year and then possibly take it off the next year. Am I to understand from the interruption of the noble Lord that he has receded a little from his doctrine of financial and Parliamentary pedantry in order to smooth a little the chastisement he has bestowed on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that he is even disposed to give a qualified adhesion to the words which I have quoted from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and which satisfy all our extremest exigencies, and even perhaps go a little beyond them—"I shall always adhere"—always—"to the principle that the needs of the year should be met out of the revenues of the year." No, Sir, such cases do not occur in a time of peace, and in the ordinary course of our operations, as having to impose five millions one year and take them off next. It may be quite true that in a great exigency (I do not 1626 know whether it was as great as is now supposed to exist, but no doubt the public opinion of the country deemed it a very great exigency), which arose in the years 1859 and 1860, you may say that five millions of taxation were put on. The noble Lord says that Liberal Governments have always flinched from proposing money to meet the expenditure of the year, but I should like to see the noble Lord come and propose an addition of 5d. on the income tax in order to meet the charges he is placing on the country, and then we shall see who is disposed boldly to confront the necessities of the country. In 1859–60 we did propose an income tax of 5d. to meet the wants of the country; and I am bound to say that I believe that imposition of 5d., in the then state of mind of the country, was considered a bold and a right and a wise act on the part of the Government. There was no removal of those five millions in the next year, but, by a great effort and a long course of labour continued through several years, the income tax was gradually reduced from 10d. in 1860 to 5d. or 4d., at which it was left in 1866 when we quitted office. The noble Lord has introduced a good deal of retaliatory matter and of tu quoque, which I must point out is one of the moat inconvenient and objectionable things on the part of a Government which is justly jealous of the time of Parliament. He is almost compelling us to take up the time of the House, when in this debate, without any relevance to the subject at all, he goes back to what was done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt), or sanctioned by myself, giving us thereby distinct provocation to go back on the discussion of these subjects and introduce a great number of important topics into the debate, which are much better excluded from it. [A laugh.] I do not think hon. Gentlemen opposite will laugh if I say that that is a highly inconvenient practice on the part of a Government which is striving to save public time, if they really wish to save public time, as I am bound for Parliamentary purposes to suppose they do, but as to which I must own in my mind, sometimes, from practices like those of the noble Lord and other practices, I am tempted to entertain very considerable doubts. The noble Lord takes credit for not asking for a Vote of Credit 1627 on this occasion. It is not possible for him to ask for a Vote of Credit. If I understand a Vote of Credit, no Vote of Credit can be asked for in respect of expenditure which can be estimated for; but the noble Lord boasts that he has estimated for the whole of this expenditure, and having estimated for it, he must not take credit for not asking for such a Vote, because it is out of his power to do so according to the Parliamentary practice of this country. The point at issue is not expediting shipbuilding, which we regard probably as a good object; but what we conceive to be objectionable, as my right hon. Friend has shown, is the attempt of the noble Lord to withdraw five millions of money from the jurisdiction of Parliament. There are instances where it is right or allowable to proceed not by annual charge, but by loan, and the noble Lord thinks that he has made a point in referring to the case of 1860, when undoubtedly the provision made for the fortifications proposed by Lord Palmerston was made by a loan, and was not defrayed out of the annual Estimates of the country. That is quite true. I will not discuss the case of those fortifications now further than to say that the measure was unquestionably one demanded by the general and keen desire of the country. I hardly know a case where the country was more completely set upon a proposal, although many other things have occurred since. But the noble Lord must make this distinction. The legitimacy of resorting to a loan depends upon a fair consideration of the ability of the country to bear taxation. Where you have a very large increment indeed of your charge, you cannot go the whole length of providing—although the Chancellor of the Exchequer says you can—everything out of the resources of the year. What did we do? We added 5d. to the income tax—4d. in July, 1859, and another penny in February 1860; and, having done that, and having another charge to meet, we did think it was unreasonable to press the country to find every farthing for those fortifications out of the taxes of the year, and we used, therefore, a Supplementary Vote of Credit. Undoubtedly, as has been well said by my right hon. Friend, that was the best and the only course, not only in the judgment 1628 of Lord Palmerston but of the country. These fortifications were completely different in principle from an annual provision for our wants. They were in the nature, as was then supposed, of an addition to our permanent security, and the charge was one altogether analogous to one which cast a burden upon the State for the benefit of future generations. What we complain of in the present proposal is the withdrawal of these charges from the control not only of the present, but of a future Parliament. Three years hence, as I conceive, a new Parliament will be chosen. There are those who believe that the inclinations and ideas of that Parliament may be very different indeed from those of the present. But quite apart from speculations of that character, the true contention is that Parliament ought to be free. It is not desirable to bind, more than absolute necessity requires, the hands even of the present Parliament as to future years. The right and power of the Parliament is to judge the wants of the country from year to year, and much of the power and influence of this House, as well as the primary duty and obligation of the House, depends on the maintenance of that principle intact. But I must say it is going very much further indeed when, not satisfied with endeavouring to bind yourselves, you go beyond that, and endeavour to bind, by making charges on the Consolidated Fund, a future Parliament, as to expenditure of which you forbid it to be the judge, and of which our contention is that it ought to be the judge. What right have you to distrust Parliament? When has Parliament refused the reasonable, and even, perhaps, the unreasonable, demands of the Government? If the House of Commons has had a fault, it has been its extreme truthfulness and wonderful liberality, and its readiness to burden the country in deference to the demands of the Government. It is an ungenerous return, and necessarily, therefore, an unwise return, for the confidence so shown by the House of Commons to lay before it a plan by which you not only ask us to bind and forfeit our own discretion for coming years, but by which you likewise determine that a set of gentlemen who are to be elected by the country, we will say so far off as three years hence shall be also bound. If, as you on that side 1629 say, these wants exist, we on this side of the House contend that you ought to make provision for them now, out of the revenues of the year. I will not trespass much longer upon the time of the House, but I must just refer to the distinction between the two portions of this plan. The noble Lord wants to get statutory authority for his entire scheme, and he thinks he gets statutory authority under this Resolution and the Bill which will follow upon it. Now, I contend he will not. As I understand the Resolution, not one sixpence can be expended under it. The Bill will authorize the issue of ten millions from the Consolidated Fund, but the other and somewhat larger portion—namely, the 11 millions, which is to depend on Votes, cannot possibly be issued and charged on that Fund. Very well, the noble Lord has to trust the House of Commons for the 10 millions. Why not trust them for the £21,000,000? The noble Lord says he wants statutory authority for the plan, but he would have no statutory authority. You may give utterance to whatever magniloquence you choose, but it is of no force and of no avail whatever. Not one farthing can be spent in virtue of all the fine language that is used by the noble Lord, and our contention is that the House is entitled to this confidence. The House has always shown itself worthy of confidence, and the constitutional and the wise course is to repay the confidence of the House by similar frankness and trustfulness on the part of the Government. They have never been disappointed by the House; the House has never shown a disposition to take a niggardly course in matters affecting the defence of the country; and I think you will recognize the fact as men of business, as men of common sense, and not only as men of sound constitutional principle, that the solid basis of experience and the uniform practice of Parliament are in favour of showing you that you will be wiser in trusting to that solid basis of experience than in endeavouring to introduce new financial methods which savour, perhaps, of foreign finance. Foreign countries have not been so well habituated to regulate their balance from year to year as we have been happily accustomed to do, and it is to be hoped that, in fact, you will decline to depart from what 1630 is well known, and what has been well recognised all along, during the whole Parliamentary lifetime of all of us who sit here—certainly during my own Parliamentary lifetime—in making proper provision for the finances of the country. It has been clearly pointed out by my right hon. Friend—and it has not been denied—that £5,000,000 of the money, the expenditure of which is to be ordered by us, but the provision for which is to be made by the new Parliament, is, in fact—call it what you like—a loan. But you ought never to resort to a loan at all until you have exhausted the fair and just resources of annual taxation. When we had the income tax at 10d. in the pound in 1860, we thought we had exhausted those resources, and consequently we called in the aid of a loan; but with the income tax at 6d. in the pound, reduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year and the year before, it is absurd to say that you have exhausted those resources. There is no case for resorting to a loan. But you ought either to have declared that you would not do this, or you ought to make it known to the country that you are borrowing money which you leave to the next Parliament to pay. You, however, take it upon yourselves; you already presume, in defiance of all financial practice, in defiance of the Rules and precedents of this House, to take it out of the power of that Parliament to judge of the propriety of the expenditure which you are going to saddle upon it. We can protest against that altogether, but do not aggravate that offence by endeavouring to conceal it. You have placed this arrangement under a cover. None but the most expert financier, like my hon. Friend, after considerable labour, is able fully to understand the operation of this plan. It is an express departure from the principles of annual Supply to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has pledged himself in terms somewhat extreme; but the character of those terms being so extreme testifies to the profound nature of the convictions under which they were delivered by him, and the resolute determination which, in all circumstances, he should adhere to in giving them effect. This is done with no precedent—with no approach to a precedent. The noble Lord has not gone upon the case quoted by my right hon. Friend. As I have shown, 1631 the case of 1860 is no precedent. I leave that part of the speech of my right hon. Friend to produce its effect, in which he referred to stereotyping the judgment of Parliament on matters connected with the building of ships that are in a state of continual flux; but the grounds we have shown are, it appears to me, more than ample to induce the Government to modify, at all events, the method of their proceeding. I have said that you have nothing approaching to a precedent, but you are creating a financial precedent in this plan which is so bad that it contains in itself the seeds of future evil. There is scarcely any conceivable abuse in the finance of a country which may not be covered and justified by some future Government and by some future Chancellor of the Exchequer under the authority of what you are now inviting us to consider, both when that Government and that Chancellor of the Exchequer have no courage to look in the face the necessities of their position, and when they are endeavouring to flinch from the fulfilment of their known obligations and constitutional functions. On these grounds, entirely without reference to any question of the amount of this expenditure, I hope that the method of this provision will be seen by the whole House, to involve as it does constitutional and practical principles of the greatest possible importance; and we call upon the House, at all events within the bounds of moderation and practicability, to adhere to the sound principle which has been denounced by the First Lord, but which has been promulgated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—namely, that the wants of the year should be provided out of the Revenues of the year.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I will do my best to follow the injunctions of the right hon. Gentleman in the warning which he administered to my noble Friend, that whatever we do we should on no account carry the war into the enemy's camp. We are called weak-kneed, and we are to have every conceivable charge of financial incompetency brought against us, but we are not to be allowed to cite against hon. Gentlemen opposite precedents, which show that our proceedings are venial compared with some of the examples they have set us. The right hon. Member for Mid Lothian has challenged us about fettering the freedom of the 1632 House, in providing the funds to pay for the ships put out to contract. The whole of those ships put out to contract are to be laid down at once. I hope that will modify the view taken by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman says he is as much in favour of expediting the shipping as we are. We cannot expedite it more, than by laying down the whole of the ships at once, and putting them out to contract. I could understand the argument of the right hon. Gentleman if we were going to put out half the ships to contract at once, and another half later on, but do right hon. Gentlemen understand that the whole of those ships put out to contract are to be begun at once? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian referred to the propriety of leaving the arrangements for payment to a future Parliament, and said that a future Parliament might be differently composed from this Parliament, and that it might not take the same view as we do. How does that advance his argument? We do not fetter the judgment of a new Parliament with regard to any ships put down in the £10,000,000 programme, because the ships are begun at once. So far as this amount is concerned, therefore, the question resolves itself simply into the question how these ships are to be paid for. The right hon. Gentleman said that a man might have a doubt as to whether this money was necessary for the defence of the country or not, but we have had a vote on the subject. I did not watch the Division List, and I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman voted on the one side or on the other, but we do know how many of his Friends are in favour of this programme, and how many of them are against it. Of course, there is a large neutral body who are at once unwilling to inform thei constituents that they are opposed to this programme and unwilling to vote in its favour; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, as the Leader of the Party, has given the country no indication, even to-night, as to whether he thinks we are right or wrong in proposing this programme. What was the meaning of the argument of the right hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Childers), to which the Leader of the Opposition just called attention—that the House and the country would mark the extreme importance of waiting 1633 for the development of science? How can we wait, as is suggested, for the development of science? There really appears to be some confusion on this point in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. We consider that these ships should be laid down at once, because we want them to be ready to strengthen the defence of this country at the earliest moment. No doubt advantages have accrued and may accrue from delay. Developments of science may secure hotter ships being built, but what would be the result if, in the interval caused by the delay, war was to break out and find the ships not ready for the defence of the country, but still under the consideration of naval constructors and experts? The noble Lord has pointed out the length of time it takes to get these ships ready with their armaments and ammunition. I admit that there is some novelty in our proposal; but that novelty has been called for by bitter experience. Some change has been rendered necessary by its being proved to demonstration that the past system has been wasteful and extravagant, and has led to ships not being finished in time, and, when finished, being left without their proportion of armaments and ammunition. If it is a novelty it is, we consider, a businesslike novelty that the whole expenditure should be ascertained and provided for beforehand. The right hon. Gentleman claims that the freedom of Parliament shall be retained. But what does he mean by that? Does he mean that Parliament shall retain the right of cancelling the contracts? Future Parliaments can hape no discretion as to ships already begnn. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to what took place in 1859–60, when, to meet the panic of the day, the income tax was raised from 5d. to 10d. But the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to a more recent occasion when, in connection with the localization of the forces, a loan of £3,000,000 was raised. Why was that done? Why was that sum not thrown upon the Estimates of the year? I had the honour at the time of being associated with the right hon. Gentleman, and, if I remember rightly, the Estimates were already swollen by the abolition of purchase in the Army. But for all that the total charges of the year were not so heavy that the expenditure on localization might not easily 1634 have been provided for by votes But there was on that occasion none of this staunch adhesion to the principle which the right hon. Gentleman now regards as so important. The barracks which were then to be built were not regarded as coming within the term "needs of the year." They were treated as an abnormal addition to expenditure, and therefore it was not thought necessary that their cost should be defrayed out of the Revenue of the year. I think, therefore, I may say that our proposal is not unprecedented and irregular. On the contrary, it follows precedent, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that before initiating this proposal I looked carefully at what had been done in regard to the localization of the forces as a fairly analogous case to this. What we are about to do is to make up the arrears of past years. We have to make an exceptional effort to bring the armaments and ammunition to that state which we consider to be necessary, and I might add that the guns which will be constructed out of this expenditure may in some degree be regarded under present circumstances as being almost as permanentin their nature as the fortifications of Lord Palmerston. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh have referred to words which fell from me last Session to the effect that I considered that the needs of the year ought to be met out of the income of the year. The right hon. Gentleman triumphs and revels in that assertion of mine. But I am sure that, notwithstanding the right hon. Gentleman's observation, it must be clear to every Member of the House that what I meant was not that the entire expenditure of every year ought to be met out of the ordinary Estimates, but that whatever was fairly chargeable for the necessities of the year ought to be so met. It would be a preposterous suggestion that whatever is spent in any given year must always be paid for in that year. Why, in the event of war, the words I used might with equal fairness be quoted as showing that I considered that the extraordinary expenses of a war in any year ought to be met out of the Revenue of that year. Everything depends on this—is the programme for which the money is required an ordinary programme? 1635 If it is, it ought to be met out of the ordinary Revenue of the year. If it is an abnormal programme—an effort to make up for the arrears of the past and anticipate the needs of the future—it is ridiculous to say that the expenditure ought not to be spread over a number of years. There are some persons, I know, who consider that this expenditure ought to be met by a loan, but we have not resorted to that method. If we have done anything that can in any sense be so described, all I can say is that it is the shortest loan ever raised for so great an effort. By our proposal the whole of it will be repaid by the end of seven years—it will therefore fall practically on the present taxpayers. I cannot, therefore, by any means assent to the description of our proposal as flabby and weak-kneed. It would, I think, have been better, perhaps, if this debate had been deferred until the Bill was in the hands of hon. Members and right hon. Gentlemen. They could then have seen how careful we have been in so framing it as to retain the control of Parliament, so that no part of the funds shall be diverted in any degree from the particular purpose to which Parliament has destined them. I venture to say, whatever the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, whose great authority I entirely acknowledge, may be, that this is a business-like arrangement which will save money to the taxpayer, without introducing any new principle or any sort of financial laxity.
§ *MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
This is an important question, and too important to be disposed of with only a brief debate, and I hope that not only Members on this side, but that many Members on the opposite side of the House, will support this Amendment, and for this reason—namely, that hon. Gentlemen opposite claim to be the Constitutional Party in this country; and now they are practically, by the method in which they are supporting this Vote, setting at defiance all Constitutional practice which has hitherto governed this country. Now, Sir, we have heard of Esau selling his birthright. I am not here to defend Esau for selling his birthright, but, at least, this can be said in his favour—that he sold his own birthright, although he thereby deprived his children of their inheritance. But, Mr. Speaker, we are, on this occasion, not 1636 only selling our own birthright, but we are selling that which we have no right to sell; we are selling the birthright of our constituents, because we are parting with their right of voting money for public expenditure year by year, and of apportioning that money in the way in which it is to be spent. We have no right, Sir, to anticipate the vote of our constituencies, and I venture to say that every Member of this House who votes for this measure, and thus ties the hands of Parliament in future Sessions, will, when he seeks re-election, be visited with the judgment of his constituents. Now, Sir, it seems to me that we are taking a very extraordinary course with regard to this enormous Vote of £21,500,000. It has been pointed out over and over again that, under existing conditions, the Shipbuilding Vote would be increased if it could be shown to be absolutely necessary, and if it could be proved that it was prudent in the interests of the country. On such occasions the House has never withheld its hand when money has been wanted for the Navy, but in this particular case the Government, by its reckless dealing with finances, is endeavouring to anticipate what the future Votes of this House will be, and what the future decisions of the constituencies may be with regard to shipbuilding. Talk about laying down ships; why, we are tying the hands of our successors, and, more than that, the new vessels have never yet been sanctioned by the experts of this country. On all sides experts disagree as to the style of ships to be built; as to the armour to be placed on them, and, to a considerable extent, as to the armament to be supplied. But, Sir we have to-night heard from the First Lord of the Admiralty one very tangible reason why this Vote should not be agreed to. He has told the House to-night of a number of ships lying idle, already built, but waiting for their guns, and yet, at the same time, he is asking this House for £21,500,000 for the purpose of laying down new ships, and for completing those ships, when guns are not to be found for those already built. I shall protest against this Vote so long as the measure is before the House, and until it has finally passed into law; and I shall do this for one reason, and that is the utter unreliability of the statements of the noble 1637 Lord with regard to the requirements of the Navy. We have reminded him over and over again of his statements made in this House, to the effect that there is practically no need for any extensive expenditure upon it. Yet now we are told that there is an absolute need; and, more than that, the need is so great that we must vote the money in this particular Session as quickly as we can, and tie the hands of not only future Sessions, but possibly of a future Parliament. Now, the noble Lord has challenged the statements with regard to what he said on previous occasions; and he has very recently referred to it as though it were ancient history. But what is the case? In the first place, Mr. Speaker, the noble Lord himself, over and over again in 1886, 1887, and 1888, spoke with regard to the actual condition of the Navy, and said it was equal to almost any purpose. I can refer the noble Lord to a speech he made in this House, in answer to the noble Lord the Member for East Marylebone, so recently as March, 1888, in which he went into details with regard to the condition of the Navies in France, in Italy, and in Russia; and he compared the condition of the Navies of those countries with the condition of the Navy of this country. He said, practically, that we were ahead of those three nations combined, and he gave facts and figures in support of that statement. Yet, within 12 months of saying that, we are told that the Navy is in such a deplorable condition that it is not only necessary to spend £21,500,000 on it, but that it is absolutely necessary we should, in an unconstitutional manner, tie the hands of this and a future Parliament, in order to obtain a Vote of this money. And, Sir, there is another question—the question of responsibility. Now, we are to have our hands tied by this Act of Parliament with regard to the expenditure of this money, yet it is not yet settled by the Admiralty who is to take the responsibility for these vast engines of war, upon which three quarters of a million—and perhaps a million—will be spent. The Reports of Committees of this House show that the responsibility of the Admiralty is fixed upon no particular person or persons in regard to the expenditure for the equipment of the Navy, or with regard to any-thing 1638 else having reference to the Admiralty. On the contrary, the Committees of the House have agreed that the Admiralty itself, under existing circumstances, ought not to be trusted with these large sums of money to spend until it is reformed. Yet the noble Lord referred to these figures a day or two ago, in order to show the absolute necessity for this Vote. I say now, as I said at the time, that these figures were absolutely valueless. The noble Lord should have told us the exact state in which these ships were at the time they were drawn out; he should have shown what had to be completed and what had been completed. As it was, it was merely trailing a red herring across the path of the debate. And then, with regard to the noble Lord's declaration in this House, that there was no reduction of expenditure, that struck me as one of the most curious instances of forgetfulness I have ever heard in my life. If he himself refers to the statements which he made in this House in 1887 and 1888, he will find that he boasted of a reduction, and he ventured to assure this House, not merely in his speech, but also in his printed statement which was circulated to Members, that the then position of the Navy was such as to enable the reduction to be made not only at that particular time, but also at future periods. He has not corrected that statement as he has done many others in subsequent speeches, but even in his statement last year he referred to the statement he had made twelve months previously as a crowning piece of administrative reform; and he referred to the splendid condition of the Navy and the great improvements which had been effected. Now there is a turn in the tide of affairs. I should like to ask what has caused this change which has come over the spirit of the dream? Why, it seems to me, it is not far to seek. The noble Lord the Member for East Marylebone, and the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, and a few other Members, have been calling attention to the dilapidated state of the Navy, and the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty seems to have come to the conclusion that he was likely to lose the support of some of his friends, unless he took steps at once to strengthen the Navy. Now, many of us on this side of the House would be prepared 1639 to strengthen the Navy, provided always, firstly, that it was done in a Constitutional way, and so that there should be no wrench of the Constitutional practices of this House; secondly, that it should be done economically; and, thirdly, that the administration of the Navy should be put on such a footing that we should have confidence in the spending Department. Hitherto, we have been spending enormously the country's money without getting any real substantial return. We have been adding year after year to the Navy; we have been spending enormous sums, not only with regard to the general equipment of the Navy, but on the Shipbuilding Vote. During the last 21 or 22 years we have expended as much as seventy-one millions, yet we are now told that the Navy is in such a dilapidated condition that it is impossible for it to protect our commerce and to save the food of the people in case of war, unless this extraordinary expenditure of twenty-one and a-half millions is agreed to. Now, Mr. Speaker, I altogether call into question the position taken up by the noble Lord the Member for East Marylebone and others, as to the absolute necessity of having this great expenditure for the purpose of protecting our Navy. I say that our commerce and our Mercantile Marine is capable of protecting itself, and would be able to protect itself even without the assistance of our men-of-war.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the question before the House is the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh.
§ *MR. HOWELL
I will not pursue that question, Sir. I think I have stated the reasons why I strongly object to this Vote, and I support the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh, because I feel that it is an unconstitutional proceeding to tie the hand of this Parliament, and possibly of a successive Parliament, in regard to the expenditure of the public money; and I further object because it takes out of the hands of the constituencies the power of calling to account the Administrators of the day for the way in which they spend money on the Navy.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
I want to protest against the 1640 breaking down of the great principle which I consider our forefathers struck such a heavy blow in favour of in the seventeenth century—namely, the right of Parliament to vote every year's expenditure. And now, if the House will be kind enough to listen to me for a minute or two—and I will not keep it longer—I desire to say that I felt I could not give a silent vote on this occasion. I support the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh on the distinct ground that the proposal of the Government is giving up the right of Parliament to control the expenditure of this country, and I think it is introducing a most unconstitutional and dangerous precedent. I am, therefore, going to give my vote in favour of the Amendment.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 158; Noes 125.—(Division List, No. 63.)
§ Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ *SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
It might, perhaps, be more convenient, under many circumstances, to postpone the remarks I have to make upon this question until the Second Reading of the Bill; but I feel so strongly upon the matter, that I think it my duty to seize the first opportunity I can to address the House, and, so far as any remarks of mine are read in the country, to make my views upon the proposed enormous outlay on Her Majesty's Navy known to the country. During all the years I have had the honour of a seat in this House I have never known a question involved in so much fog as that now before the House. I listened with some interest to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman); but, whilst I admired his speech, and the energy with which it was delivered, it was not until near the end, if even then, that I was able to understand on which side of the fence he was going to climb down. There are three questions practically before us. Are we to spend this £21,500,000; next, how are we to raise the money; and next, on what class of ships are we to spend the money, if it is to be spent? I shall not trouble the House very long with comments on the two latter questions; but, with regard to the first, I desire to 1641 make a few remarks. The Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech—the one from which I hoped to get some light—was a kind of "Rule Britannia" speech—a speech we have heard over and over again in this House. He told us that, if Europe is to be at peace, England must be strong. He did not tell us how England is to be strong. It seems to me we have other ways of being strong than adding largely to our fighting force. There is the moral influence which, I trust, England possesses which gives us a force amongst the nations of the world, and which, in my opinion, is a better possession than even the ownership of large fleets and armies. The Chancellor of the Exchequer sat down without telling us that which we all wanted to know—who are we going to fight; for what are we making these preparations? If the Government desires to have the confidence and support of the House of Commons in financial matters they must be plain and open with the House. The first effects I found of the announcement of the Government that they propose to indulge in this large expenditure were paragraphs in the papers that other Governments were also proposing large expenditure to meet it, that we were entering once more into what was called by a right hon. Gentleman who sat for many years in this House a mad race of bloated armaments. I should not have risen to take part in this debate if I had not felt it to be my duty to protest against the needless panic and sudden alarm which seems to be worked up by the newspapers, and by members of the Services as to our not being sufficiently protected. We are going to spend our substance most unwisely, most needlessly, and I would almost say recklessly, and I am afraid that when we do this we get actually very little for our money. These round figures take us by surprise. So many millions sterling are to be spent in private yards, and so many in Government Dockyards. I have seen something of shipbuilding, but whenever I have seen a tender go out the figures are actually reduced to fractions. I think when the Admiralty are going to lay down these ships all at once that they ought to come to us with specifications much more carefully drawn and Estimates upon which we may rely. If we take the figures, they are very 1642 much more simple than they appear. The proposal of the Admiralty is to make the expenditure on the Estimates for 1888–9 a foundation, to ask this year £600,000 more for the Estimates, and to add to that sum a proportion of the 10 millions—£1,400,000. As I understand it, these 10 millions are in addition to the ordinary annual Estimates; and these 10 millions will be spent in a few years, comparatively—and the payment spread over seven years—bringing up naval expenditure to 15 millions sterling per annum. Now, contrast this with the expenditure of a few years ago. In the years 1870 to 1873—when naval expenditure had become a good deal higher than it once was—and in years of prosperity, too—when we could afford almost anything, naval expenditure very little exceeded, from year to year, 10 millions sterling; now we have got it up to 15 millions. In 1873 the naval expenditure was £9,500,000; but, by the present proposal, we are going to spend over the next four or five years 25 millions more! This is the ratio of increase in a comparatively few years, and I should like to ask—How far are we prepared to go? What has been the course of expenditure on the two Services since 1873? In 1873 the two Services reached a total of 23 millions. In 1880 the sum increased to 25 millions; in 1886 to £29,700,000; in 1888 to £30,400,000; and this year to 31 millions, with a special Estimate raising it to 32½ millions. The expenditure has gone up from 23 millions in 1873 to 32 millions at the present time, and that, too, as an hon. Friend reminds me, and as I know from experience, when shipbuilding is at least 30 per cent cheaper than it was 10 or 15 years ago. What has been doing in the Army all this time while the Estimates have been thus increasing? We have had the Regular Army, the Militia, the Volunteers, the Yeomanry increased from 519,000 in 1878 to the present total of 622,000. A hundred thousand more men than we had a few years ago and in a time of perfect peace! We have raised the Naval Forces from 70,000 to 90,000. Our normal Army and Navy expenditure has crept up from 23 millions to 30 millions, and our Army and Navy from 590,000 to 712,000 men. Whilst we have had this enormous 1643 increase in the annual Estimates, we have had a large number of special Votes I have not taken into consideration. The Abyssinian Expedition special Vote cost £185,000. The Ashantee War cost £927,000. The Russo-Turkish War involved us in an expenditure of 3½ millions—the South African Wars £5,300,000. The Afghan War cost 3 millions, irrespective of the expenditure borne by India. The Egyptian War cost £3,895,000, and the Gordon Relief Expedition £300,000. The localization of the forces cost us £592,000 and the Indian Army pensions £450,000. Then we have about 10 millions more added to the expenditure I have alluded to for naval and military operations, 1886, and we end with £10,000,000 for the Navy. When we look at the list of wars and things in which this country has been engaged, can any man get up and say there were more than one or two of them justifiable under any circumstances whatever? Then we have had Lord Wolseley, who is said to be our only great General, advocating conscription straight off. He was contradicted, I know, by the Commander-in Chief a few days afterwards, but Lord Wolseley laid down the necessity and advantage of that which I believe is utterly distasteful to every Englishman—enforced service in the Army and Navy. Many years ago a wise man said there were three daughters of the horse leech ever crying "Give, give," and it seems to me the insatiable spirit has passed into these Services. We are told the great principle on which we should proceed is to make our Navy equal to the Navies of any other two nations; but the Secretary to the Admiralty and the First Lord have made clear statements to the country to show that we already have a Navy up to that standard. How far are we to run this principle of making our Navy equal to the Navies of any other two Powers? If France is going to spend two millions on her Navy and Russia two millions, are we immediately to spend four millions, or, if they spend four millions each, is our expenditure at once to rise by eight millions? Where is this mad race in expenditure to cease? Is there to be no limit in the principle laid down? Show me your foreign policy that makes this increased expenditure on our armaments necessary? I believe if we had done many things that 1644 you have done we should have been accused of trailing the flag of England in the dust, and all that sort of thing. What, I ask, is the foreign policy that requires, all this expenditure? Is it France, is it Russia, is it Germany, that gives you all this anxiety. It cannot be America, because we are on perfectly good terms with the Republic, and the transactions in relation to the Alabama arbitration of recent years have put us on a better footing with them than ever we were before. In reference to the principle laid down for the strength of our Fleet, I may ask, have we ever engaged in a Continental war without an Ally? Hardly, I think, and certainly not of late years. At Waterloo the Prussians came to our assistance, and in the Crimean War we had, in addition to our Turkish Allies, France and Sardinia by our side. Are we going to quarrel with Germany about the Samoan Question? I am glad to see from the evening papers that the German Emperor is coming on a visit to this country; the friendly relations we have always had with Germany ought to sedulously be maintained. I further learn that His Majesty has expressed a desire while in England to see a review of the British Fleet at Spithead. If we are afraid of the intentions of Germany, would we submit our naval strength to the German Emperor's inspection? I do not entertain for a moment the idea of a quarrel with Germany. Do you apprehend danger from France in her present unfortunate position? France has a Consolidated Debt of 970 millions and a Floating Debt of 728 millions. Can any real danger be apprehended from France, with her Debt of 1,600 millions, on which a yearly interest of 54 millions is paid, and with her 24 changes of Government in the course of 19 years? How long could France afford to be at war? It is said that money can always be raised for war. We raised a great deal for our War Debt at 54 per cent, and much has been done by the admirable administration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to redeem it; but I see no apprehension of danger from France. Are we going to spend money to meet imaginary dangers, while every £10 thus taken from the pockets of the taxpayers are £10 taken from the trade and property of the country, and would become reproductive? These ten 1645 millions will be absolutely wasted so far as productive industry in the country is concerned, absolutely wasted in the building of ships, and which would otherwise go into the arts and industries of peace, increasing the happiness and prosperity of the country. You employ the money in work that adds nothing to national wealth and prosperity, and such money is wasted unless absolutely required for purposes of safety. I believe there is not a man in this House, on whichever side he sits, but long since came to the conclusion that a good deal of the money spent upon the Navy has been absolutely wasted. The hon. Member for Cardiff (Sir E. J. Reed) says the 17½ millions of money spent on the Navy since 1881 have been wasted, and goes on to say that no single ship can be trusted to perform in war the services for which this money has been spent. If anyone goes down to Chatham he will see ships lying there side by side, and rotting day by day. ["No!"] Well, rusting then. ["No!"] Well, I have seen ships lying there on which heaps of money have been spent, and which have never gone to sea.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
I am sure the hon. Gentleman is under an entire mistake. There are no vessels rusting or rotting at Chatham which have not been to sea.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
Or Portsmouth. There are some old wooden vessels which never went to sea because steel and iron superseded them; but that was 30 years ago.
§ *SIR J. PEASE
I am speaking, Sir, of what I have seen myself but a few years ago. Well, it seems to me that we ought to be very much more confident than we are of the general strength of our position. We have a very loyal people; there is only one part of the Empire which gives us concern, and I believe, if we were able to govern that country a little more in accordance with the views of its inhabitants, we might strengthen our forces by withdrawing from it all the soldiers and policemen who are there in time of public danger. We have enormous power in our Dockyards, and an enormous Merchant Fleet which, in time of war, could be used for bringing in provisions or for any other purpose. 1646 I believe there is on both sides of the House a great and firm desire to keep the peace in Europe. No doubt we have had several of our newspapers raising a cry of alarm recently about our want of strength, but those things have been disposed of in speeches made by right hon. Gentlemen in this House time after time. I want to know from the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir J. Fergusson) what has been done in the Foreign Office? Has the Foreign Secretary asked the Governments with whom we are on friendly terms to agree on some plan whereby the present insane rivalry may be averted? Sir Robert Peel, who was a man whose opinions were respected on all sides of the House, said a great many years ago that it is of no advantage for one Power greatly to increase its Army and Navy, as other Powers will follow the example, and the consequence must be that no increase of relative will accrue to any one Power, but there must be universal consumption of the resources in every country in military preparations. He said also it was the true interest of Europe to come to some accord, so as to enable every country to reduce its military armaments, which belong to a state of war rather than to a state of peace. Now, Sir, I ask, has not the time come when our Foreign Office may take this question and bring it before the Powers of Europe? We have all of us seen, in private life, when neighbours are disputing on various matters, and when both seem very anxious to go to law, and both are consulting their solicitors and taking counsel's opinion, if some neighbour stepped in and suggested a better way of settling their difficulties than fighting them out, both are perfectly willing to avoid that which they saw would only cost them terrible annoyance and expense. As with men, so, I believe, with nations. If we attempted such a course as I have described, we should find that there was a readiness on the part of the European Governments and countries who, like ourselves, hesitate about the constant expenditure upon armaments in times of profound peace, to adopt some plan whereby the expenditure might be avoided. The hon. Member for the Leigh Division of Lancashire the other night spoke of a clause which is in the Treaty of Paris 1647 relative to arbitration. Surely that clause has already been in use amongst the nations of Europe, and will be in use again in case of any emergency. I may differ from many hon. Members in the light in which I view war, but I feel sure that we have some common ground on which we stand. Everyone, I believe, and especially those who have seen the most of war, will readily admit that it is a gigantic evil, that it ought to be avoided if possible, that everything; that war produces is opposed to every lesson of the moral law, and to the spirit and letter of the religion we profess. This being so, surely this House ought to hesitate in an expenditure, the tendency of which must be for war, and which might, at least, be postponed until we are assured by the Government that every means have been tried of bringing about a better state of things. I ask the House to hesitate. Whilst we push forward we can never produce the result which we desire. Precept as to pulling up in this mad race of armaments will never bear fruit until it is accompanied by example. I am sorry ever to put the House to the trouble of a Division, but I feel on this occasion I should only discharge my duty in endeavouring to negative the Motion.
§ *MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
I am in favour of an efficient and sufficient Navy. The reason why I oppose the proposition of the Government is simply that they have not advanced any reasons whatever for the expenditure they ask us to embark upon. I am the more confident in making this statement now, because only an hour ago my Leader, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) said precisely the same thing in different words, adding that the Front Opposition Bench had not expressed a collective opinion upon it. I confess I heard that statement with some surprise after the events of Monday night. When, as Teller with the hon. Member for Haggerston (Mr. Cromer), I saw right hon. Gentleman after right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentleman after hon. Gentleman who occupy seats on the Front Opposition Bench pass me on their way out from the Government Lobby, I confess I drew the inference, and I think the country drew the inference, that our Front Opposition Bench had formed a 1648 collective opinion on this question of expenditure, and that by casting their votes for the Government on that occasion they had in the most effective way expressed that opinion. It appears now that in the course they took on Monday night our leaders were not acting in pursuance of a common plan arranged by those who ordinarily act together, but were merely expressing their own personal opinion, and I am sure they will be indebted to us for the opportunity we shall presently afford them of reconsidering their position. I revert now to a question I raised on Monday night, but which owing to the rather unfair treatment I received from Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite, did not receive the attention to which I think it was entitled. It is obvious that the strength of your Navy depends entirely upon the duties it will be called upon to perform, and upon the conditions under which in the event of war that war will be carried on. On Monday I called attention to a paragraph in the report of the Admirals respecting the Naval Manœuvres, a paragraph in which they distinctly suggested that in case of a maritime war we should repudiate the Declaration of Paris. I regard that as a discreditable and also as an impolitic statement. I pass by for the moment the great breach of public faith which is involved, and I fasten upon the impolicy of that proposal. I believe the Declaration of Paris to be founded, not less on reason and humanity, than upon the best interests of this country. The House is no doubt aware that one of the greatest nations on the globe, the United States of America, declined to accede to the Declaration of Paris, but why, because it abolishes the right of privateering, and it is obvious that to a country which has not a large established Navy that right is one which ought not to be hastily or rashly abandoned, but the United States has said over and over again that it is quite willing to abandon that right, on condition that private property is exempted from capture in war. I think this is an excellent occasion to impress on the Government the great duty of doing what they can, not to threaten to repudiate the Declaration of Paris, but to extend its operations, and I ask them in conclusion to approach other powers with a view to the revision of the Declaration of Paris, 1649 in the direction of exempting private property from capture by belligerents.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
During the short time I have had experience of this House I have come to the conclusion that there are two classes of men whose opinions in matters of expenditure we should not take too much account of—namely, those who occupy official and ex-official positions, and the admirals and colonels who have a very large interest in the plunder derived from the expenditure. Official life seems to change the best of men; and, believing, as I do, that we have on the front Opposition Bench some of the best men in the country, I can only account for their deterioration by the fact of their having held office. I not only protest against this expenditure itself, but I protest against our being asked to vote it without any attempt on the part of the Government to justify it. It would be an entire abdication of our functions as Members of Parliament if we were to lavishly vote the money of the people blindly and without any justification being shown by the Government. It used to be the proud boast of this House that it was the only assembly in the country that had control of the public purse; but I feel that if this proposition be passed in the shape in which it is proposed, the House will have abdicated to a very large extent the functions on which it has hitherto insisted. If the words which have been put into the mouth of Her Gracious Majesty in the past have any meaning, there can be no justification for this expenditure. I also strongly object to this proposal because I have no faith in the men who are to spend the money. Every investigation we have into matters relating to the Admiralty seems to me to prove that those who administer the Admiralty are the most incompetent and the most wasteful portion of the community. My constituents have sent me here to protect the national purse, and it seems to me that to trust a body of this character with this large sum would be against every possible fact which has been brought before us. I do not often agree with the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) but I do agree with him in his statement that the Admiralty are the most incompetent 1650 and extravagant body with which the country has had to deal. My experience of the past is that the more money we spend the more we have to spend, because before any long period has elapsed Ministers come down to the House, tell us that the money has been spent wrongly, and that we must provide more. I venture to say that five years after this money has been granted we shall have Gentlemen getting up from both Front Benches and declaring that the money has been absolutely wasted, and that we must vote £20,000,000 more. Then, I ask, if this expenditure is necessary now, why was it not necessary a few years ago? There is no change in the circumstances, so far as I can understand. We were told two years ago by the noble Lord (Lord G. Hamilton) that not only was the expense in the Navy sufficient, but that there would be a reduction. We shall now have to pay at least 25 per cent more for this money then if we had obtained it two years ago, and I contend, therefore, that the Government have been very lax in not putting the proposition before us on a previous occasion. Again, it seems to me that the fashion of ships is always changing, and I think we ought to hesitate before spending £21,000,000 on ships which many of the experts declare to be of bad design. The fashions of ships change like the fashions of clothes, and a man is not more justified in spending a large sum in ships which may be wanted years hence than he is in buying a large stock of clothes which will not be wanted until the fashions have probably changed. So far as I can make out, the proposal is that we should spend about £2,000,000 a year more on the Navy than we have spent in the past. I confess I can see no justification for such an extraordinary proposal. There is a great deal of mystery about the whole thing, and I say, if the proposed increase in our Navy is necessary, let us pay as we go. The fact is, that whenever the Tories are in office it means more expenditure and more taxation.
§ MR. H. COSSHAM
Yes, it does; and the whole history of the country shows it, the general result being that when they have spent the money they leave it as a legacy for posterity to pay. One of the greatest burdens we labour 1651 under to-day was put upon us by a past Tory Government—a burden almost sufficient to crush the life-blood out of the people. Depend upon it, the day is coming when the expenditure of this country and the burdens we put upon the people will become more than they will submit to. That expenditure is growing enormously, and, if this sort of thing continues, the question must force itself to the front—"Who is to pay it?" Will not the enfranchised democracy demand that commerce and industry alone shall not be called on to pay the cost, but that real property shall be made to bear a much larger share of the country's expenditure than it has had to bear in the past?
§ MR. H. COSSHAM
That is the question. I say the question will be whether this increased expenditure will not compel real property to bear its fair share of the burden. The question before us at this moment is whether we shall spend an additional twenty-one millions on our Navy, and I say that this will force to the front the question of who will have to pay—who shall be called on to bear the burden? The country will not consent to bear it as it has hitherto done, and a much larger share will, as I have said, be put on real property. If, instead of lending itself to the principle which leads to the creation of the most ships and the largest army, the country will only adopt the principle of trying to get other nations to settle their differences by arbitration, the glory will be ours and the greatest benefits will accrue to the human race. In conclusion I have only to say that I shall vote against the expenditure now proposed by Her Majesty's Government, and I think they would have been well advised if, instead of asking for a further extension of our Navy, they had endeavoured to prune down our Dockyard expenditure, and thus to save from the extravagant outlay on that Department the money that may be required for any reasonable addition to our Fleet.
§ MR. EVANS (Southampton)
I desire to put before the House a question which must deeply affect the expenditure upon our Navy, and which has not yet been alluded to by those who have taken part in the debate. In doing this I shall have to quote the remarks that have been made on prior occasions by one or two 1652 of the Members of this House. In the Times of the 9th of March there is a letter from the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord R. Churchill) in which the noble Lord said—For the purposes of effectually strengthening the Navy there is again universal agreement as to the absolute necessity for precise information as to the duties which the Navy ought to be expected to perform in the event of war with one or other of the European Powers.That is as to the duties the Navy may be expected to perform in time of war. Then, again, in the Times of the same date, there is a letter from the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord C. Beresford), who says—I then made it perfectly clear that the 74 ships I asked for were necessary for defence of our commerce and to insure the delivery of our food supply and raw material in case of a war with France alone, if we are to adopt the only right principle—viz., 'to watch, and, if possible, destroy every warship of an enemy.'And, beyond this, there is the First Lord of the Admiralty, who is reported in Hansard as having said—We are the carriers of the sea-borne products of the world, and it is utterly impossible to suppose that we should be able to protect our main trade routes.To what do these remaks all point, unless it is that the Admiralty are not able to define the duties the Navy will be expected to perform, but that they are setting aside a certain amount of naval power for the protection of the maritime commerce of the country. I propose to show that all the expenditure which is made in that direction is useless, and can be of no avail in any circumstances whatever. I am second to no man in my desire to have a thoroughly effective Navy, but I cannot go with the hon. Baronet who has cited Cobden with a view of showing that peace can be maintained without such aids; and, as he has called in Cobden as a witness, I will call him in too, and remind the House that he once said—"If you want to have peace in England you must have the supremacy of the sea." I am unfortunately familiar with the terrible devastations of war. I know what war means and what it would mean to this country, and I may add that the county I live in would be one of the first to suffer in case of a European conflagration. It will, therefore, be understood that if I say anything against 1653 the Vote, I am quite alive to the great risk incurred if any mistake is made. The First Lord of the Admiralty has said we are the carriers of about seven-elevenths of the produce of the world, and the First Lord is about right. What would be the effect of war upon this maritime commerce? There are two occasions which may be taken to form our judgment on this point—the American War, and the scare about Russia three years ago. When war intervenes, it does so by creating a war premium, which has to be paid on what is carried. You have the capital invested in the ships and the capital invested in the cargo, and every charge that has to be made in order to keep a ship going must be sustained by the cargo. When, therefore, war takes place, the cargoes have to pay a war premium. Well, what does that premium amount to? Before the American Civil War of 1860 the Mersey was full of American clippers. The Americans were our great competitors in the North Atlantic carrying trade; in fact, they had rather the better of it. The first premium that was paid as a war premium was only 5s.; but when the Alabama and Shenandoah came out the premium advanced until it reached as high as £40. It does not require any great amount of intelligence to know that such a premium as that absolutely killed the Mercantile Marine of America. Of course it might have been possible to have resuscitated it; but the reason why it was not was this: the enormous cost of the civil war made it necessary to raise an enormous amount of taxation. The Americans taxed everything, including steam engines and iron; and the result was that as we were at that time passing very rapidly into the steam system of carrying, no American could build a steamer at anything like the price that we could, so that it became impossible for America to compete with us in the carrying trade of the world. Then the navigation laws of America prevented the Americans from buying snips in foreign countries and sailing them under the American flag, and the result was that we were left as carriers of the main commerce of the world. Having alluded to the effect of the increased premium of insurance, I now come to the scare as to a war with Russia. Although that was only the 1654 faintest suspicion of a scare, it resulted in a premium of 15s. per cent. on our main trade routes. Now let us take the case of a great war. So great is our superiority in regard to our Mercantile Marine, not only in speed and efficiency, but also in numbers, that I should think between 80 and 90 per cent of the fast steaming vessels of the world belong to this country. In the case of a small war the Mercantile Marine of England would be the masters; but the effect of a great war—and it is in contemplation of the possibility of a great war that this expenditure is to be incurred—would be to destroy the whole of the Mercantile Marine of this country. When the First Lord of the Admiralty tells me 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, I will tell the First Lord of the Admiralty he does not know what he is speaking about. When the merchants of England find it impossible to bring their goods under the flag of England owing to the extra war premiums, the cruisers the Admiralty are going to build will wander along the main trade routes, the sole carriers of the English flag. It is said the British people possess such pluck they will face that state of things; but it is not a question of pluck; it is a question of pounds, shillings, and pence. It is a great pity that, with regard to our one line of defence on which we ought to be unanimous, we have no confidence in the administration of the Admiralty. There is no sacrifice which any man who has once seen a war would not make to stop the invader from putting his foot on our shores. What is the policy of the Admiralty? They are going to build 70 ships all at once. If a manager of any of our great companies were to say, as the First Lord of the Admiralty has said, he proposes to lay down at once a fleet of 70 vessels, he would not long remain in the position of manager. The policy of the great companies is to put down just as few vessels as is necessary, and then watch for improvements. No more suicidal policy can be devised than to lay down 70 vessels on a fixed plan, which the improvements of the next few years might render obsolete. I am sorry I have such a lack of confidence in the administration of the Admiralty that I 1655 feel constrained to vote against the Resolution.
§ SIR W. LAWSON
I desire to thank my hon. Friend who has just spoken for the contribution he has made to this debate, and I may add that a great many of those who sit on this side of the House were glad to hear the Leader of the Opposition say that, in his opinion, the large sum asked for by the Government is not necessary. This is encouraging, and we are further encouraged by the Division we have taken on the constitutional question. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House present themselves in two different aspects on this question. They are like the Attorney General, who appears in two characters. They say one thing in one character and another thing in another. When they are addressing the people on public platforms outside this House they represent one state of things, and when they come here they represent another. I was lately looking at what was once written by the great statesman we have just lost—Mr. John Bright. He was writing about the Liberal Government of the day, and he said—The Government has fallen prostrate before men whose whole idea seems to be to add indefinitely to Army and Navy expenditure—every million added increases the power to demand more, and lessens the power of the people to resist. I fear we are, as indeed all Europe seems to be, hastening to some great catastrophe from which, in our blindness, there is no escape; and we are helpless to resist or complain, because the Ministers who consent to the growing madness are our friends. If our opponents were in office, the Liberal Party would be asked to avert or to lessen the evil; as it is, we are blindly led, and we blindly follow.Now, our opponents are in office, and I hope—I would like to believe—that they will take a different course in future. The late Prime Minister said to-night that this expenditure was not called for; yet I see these hon. Gentlemen have been voting for it. I think it was a Vote of Confidence in Her Majesty's Government, because the noble Lord when he brought in his scheme said distinctly, and very properly, that it was introduced on the responsibility of the Government, and the Government alone. And he explained their policy—namely, an expenditure on the Navy and naval armaments of £21,500,000. Now, I object altogether to that policy. If you are to consider what forces there 1656 are in the world available to attack you, then there is no limit to the expenditure which you will be required to incur against every possible contingency which may occur. That seems to me a senseless policy—it takes into consideration nothing of the circumstances of the time. It makes no estimate of possibilities; it ignores the negotiations which you may make to avoid quarrels; it shows you have no trust whatever in those Ambassadors whom you maintain at very great expense throughout the whole world; it is certainly a Vote of Want of Confidence in the whole diplomatic body. I said I would not keep you to-night long. The noble Lord (Lord G. Hamilton) said the other night, "I have heard it all before," and I told him that he would hear it again, and he will hear it again both in this House and in the country, until either he or some of his colleagues give us some sort of reason for this most extraordinary proposition now before the country. Mr. O'Connell used to say that he went on repeating the same sort of thing over and over again until the echo of his words came back from the lips of his opponents. I have heard a great many echoes in my lifetime, and perhaps I may hear one from the noble Lord before he has done. I ask him again, because he has given no sort of answer, against whom are you arming? The noble Lord sits dumb, mute, inglorious upon that Bench. If you do not tell the country against whom you are making these preparations, no one will believe you when you say it is for the defence of the country. They will believe it is for something else. I believe you have got the idea into your heads on that side of the House, and some on this side, that it is a very popular thing to go up and down the country crying, "We are all for a strong Navy;" but I say you cannot separate the Army from the Navy, for both are parts of the preparations for war. If you have a strong Navy, you release your soldiers to go about committing raids, annexations, and robberies in every quarter of the globe. I consider that preparation is the first step to war. But now I am very glad to be able to quote what war is. I read in an article written by the 1657 noble Lord (Lord Charles Beresford) a few words of Lord Brougham, in which the noble Lord said be entirely coincided—I do abominate war as un-Christian. I believe it to be the greatest of human crimes. I believe it to include all others—violence, blood, rapine, fraud.But what does our only General, Lord Wolseley, say in his "Soldier's Pocket Book"?—We will keep hammering away at the counsel that honesty is the best policy, and that truth always wins in the long run. These pretty little sentences do well for the child's copybook; but the man who acts upon them in war had better sheathe his sword for ever.Do you think that you need prepare for war after you have heard that from your only General? Who has got up this scare? That is one thing which puzzles me very much; ever since this measure was introduced I have been puzzled over that. I have lived through a great many scares that have had some shade of foundation or other—either French Generals swaggering across the water, or Russians taking possession of rocks and sand somewhere, and which nobody wanted, or the great armies of the Continent becoming dangerous. Because these great armies are fighting one another, then that is the very time they will fall upon us. A more extraordinary idea I never heard of. I have come to the conclusion that the whole thing has been got up by the London newspapers. Everybody knows that the London newspapers are always wrong. I remember reading the incident of Diogenes who, when his town was preparing for war, rolled his tub up and down the streets, and, when asked the reason, he said, "Why, everybody is busy; I ought to do something." The noble Lord (Lord George Hamilton) is the modern Diogenes, clamouring, shrieking, and hallooing up and down the country, making a great stir, and making speeches "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." It is the greatest puzzle to me how this case has been got up. Perhaps someone on the other side will enlighten me. At any rate, we are out-voted to-night. I hope, however, the front Opposition Bench will keep in the good way. I will do my best to keep an eye upon them, for I think the country will watch which 1658 way they go to-night, especially after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. But whatever they do or say, I am happy to think there is a certain number of Radicals left in this House who on every occasion, by their voice and their vote, will oppose this most mischievous scheme, one of the most odious which the classes have devised for the robbery of the masses.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
I think the House is to be congratulated on the altered tone of this debate. I am sure before to-night the character of the discussion was one altogether unworthy of the House of Commons. The question was as to the expediency of spending £21,500,000 in a lump sum for the extension of the Navy, and the debate fell into a wrangle between experts as to how the money was to be expended if the House were willing to grant it. It seemed to me at that stage that the question was whether the money should be spent at all or not. Now, Sir, it is a very singular thing, so far as I know, that not one Member north of the Trent, not a single Member from the districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, who are very largely interested in the foreign commerce of this country, and in keeping uninterrupted the routes of our trade, has risen in his place to say one word in favour of the proposal of the Government for this increased expenditure. [An hon. MEMBER: Palmer.] The hon. Member (Sir. C. M. Palmer) can not be included; his case is isolated; he is a builder of war-ships himself; and as soon as he has concluded his contract for Spain he will be able to take up contracts for the First Lord of the Admiralty. You have the singular phenomenon in this debate that the men who are interested in our commerce, which is supposed to be in danger, have not taken part in it. Mr. Speaker, it cannot be denied that this is a very serious proposal, though it is 1659 true that the figure of £21,000,000 has been put in an exaggerated form. I am entitled to speak, as a Member who has unfortunately had to withstand previous scares in which money has been spent in a lavish, senseless manner, as we are about to do in the present case. Besides, I am personally interested for the supply of a large industry with which I am connected in the safety of our Mercantile Marine, as are other representatives of various districts in the North. Therefore, what is advanced by those connected with the North of England may be considered as worthy of some attention by Her Majesty's Government. There are, I think, three grave objections to this proposal. The noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill), when these figures were announced, said he believed they would create the greatest possible alarm abroad. To let it go forth to the world that we are going to spend £21,000,000 is a piece of bluster; what could be more childish than to present such a view of such a scheme to the civilized world? But I believe the time is most inopportune for such a declaration on our part. There is no doubt whatever that the state of Europe is one which cannot fail to cause anxiety to every reflective mind. I believe, with our departed Friend Mr. John Bright, that a catastrophe is before us. The Minister for War, addressing his conetituents not long ago, said there was a war cloud hanging over Europe, and that it might burst at any moment. I think there is a great deal to be said for that view of the right hon. Gentleman, and I have come to the conclusion that it is simply impossible for the civilized nations of Europe to keep up their expenditure upon armaments indefinitely. The time must be fast approaching when it will be found that the taxpayers of any one of the Continental States have no longer patience to bear these increasing burdens. The state of tension is such that the slightest accident may cause a conflagration all over Europe. Well, Mr. Speaker, I suppose that is the very reason why we are proposing to increase the Navy. I venture to differ altogether from a policy of that kind. The hon. Member for Oldham the other night asked what 1660 was the reason for this increase of the Navy. I say it is a reflection upon the House of Commons that any Government can come down and ask for an endorsement of their policy, involving, in the first place, an enormous increase of expenditure, and, in the second place, a change of policy towards foreign nations. If the money is to be put into ships which in a few years will be obsolete and worthless and not battle-worthy, I regard that as the greatest possible calamity. But the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Charles Beresford) advocated a Navy strong enough for any two nations combined in Europe; and he says if they intended to go to war, they would turn to see what England intended to do. Now, that is the very danger we incur by this increase in the Navy; we encourage this warlike spirit. The noble Lord, referring to some words in the Speech from the Throne, said there was an increasing expenditure upon armaments in Europe. There has been an expenditure going on for many years, but the noble Lord stated that it could not be said that there had been an abnormal increase in the expenditure of Continental States upon their Navies. There has been no sudden outburst of expenditure on the part of Russia or France which would involve to this country any danger. Reference has been made to the speeches of my hon. Friends who are par excellence the representatives of the working classes in this House. These eight or ten gentlemen, who can answer for the sentiments of working men in this House, are apparently not disposed to vote in favour of the proposed expenditure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer observed that the representatives of working men should, at all events, be anxious to protect the freedom of our imports and exports. I quite agree with that; at the same time we are not convinced that there is any new or serious danger menacing us, and which should lead us into increase of expenditure. That really is the policy of Her Majesty's Government upon which this proposal is based. I complain that on questions of this kind the House of Commons is not taken into the confidence of the Government. We are entitled to criticize their policy, as representatives of the people; we are not living under a despotism; we 1661 are not called upon to accept blindfold any policy from any Cabinet Minister, whether of a Liberal or Conservative Government, or, like the present Government, of a composite character. The noble Lord has told us that it will take 3 or4 years, possibly 5, before the ships can really be ready for sea, with their armour. Does anybody believe that the present state of things in Europe will continue five years without some modification? I believe that the change cannot be postponed two years. There have been extraordinary efforts made in France to have a peaceable year in 1889, so that the great Paris Exhibition might not be spoiled; but I think, Mr. Speaker, that Her Majesty's Government and the House of Commons may safely conclude that the struggle cannot be postponed for four or five years, unless there be a change of policy on the Continent of Europe. I think we have a right to ask what our Foreign Office has been doing for years. What is the use of this secret diplomacy of ours which we maintain at such enormous annual expense? I know Her Majesty's Government may reply that "we are comparatively powerless" to bring about the conditions of anything approaching peace. We do not expect that. It was no reflection upon Her Majesty's Government, when war broke out in 1870 between France and Germany, that we were unable to bring about an undertanding between those two countries; and it may be that we are now unable to ward off the approaching catastrophe. But that does not lessen our responsibility to do all that lies in our power to make an attempt in that direction. If our Foreign Office is worth anything, it ought to show that an attempt has been made in this direction. Reference has been made by the hon. Member for South Durham to Sir Robert Peel's opinion that an appeal should be made to the Continent of Europe. It would be one of the noblest tasks the Government could undertake to try to assuage this war feeling in Europe and bring about a better state of things. But if we compromise ourselves by increasing our Navy and our Army, we simply allow ourselves to be drawn into the stream of extravagance and folly which we are condemning in all other States of Europe. My own opinion is that Her 1662 Majesty's Government would have acted wisely and truly in the interests of the country if they had not attempted any expenditure, but had made the gravest declaration in the face of Europe and the civilized world that in any coming struggle we should observe absolute neutrality. We should declare that there is no justification for an appeal to arms, and that we would take no part in the fray. I have no doubt many hon. Members regard the suggestion I am making as cowardly. Now, Mr. Speaker, why should we pride ourselves on our insular position unless we are prepared to declare that our relations are not those of the Continental States? Our interests lie largely outside Europe. Of course we have interests in Europe. But on humanitarian grounds we wish to see good fellowship prevailing between Continental States, and it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to do everything they can to remove any difficulties that prevail. Have the Government ever asked themselves, in case there came a war on the Continent, is Great Britain going to be one of the principals in the war? Now, I submit that it is impossible we can take up such a position, as our responsibilities ought to be limited to our powers. And I say we have no power to cope with Continental countries in their huge armaments, neither can we throw on the Continent without an immense effort a single Army Corps, much less two or three. But, if we cannot interfere as principals in the struggle, are we prepared to take a subordinate position and to have our policy dictated by Continental States? I do not believe that the people of this country would listen to any such suggestion for one moment, and therefore, if we cannot be principals in the struggle, and if it be too humiliating to us to be subordinates, there is only one course open to us, and that is to keep ourselves entirely aloof from the fray. In doing that, I think we have a duty to perform towards Europe, and that is to declare that we have no intention to interfere by force of arms in any struggle that may take place on the Continent. And, if that is so, my belief is that there is no serious danger to this country whatever. Now, Mr. Speaker, if I may be allowed a moment or two longer, I would ask where does the 1663 danger lie? France is generally pointed to, because it has a large Navy, as being a source of danger to this country. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, France has her hands full; she is burdened, as we have already heard, with a prodigious National Debt, and also with an extraordinary expenditure for the maintenance of her armaments; while the relationships between France, Germany, and Italy, are such that, if France is contemplating a struggle of any kind, it is not against this country, but the object of her struggle will be the recovery of Alsace and Lorraine. If there is no real danger from France, where, then, does the danger come from? If the Government are not candid enough to tell the House against whom they are arming and against whom their policy is directed, we must try to find out for ourselves. Sir, I do not desire that a single word shall fall from me which will have the slightest tendency to increase and embitter the feelings which prevail on the Continent; and if I refer to the state of the Continent, it is only to express an opinion—which no doubt the people of this country feel—an opinion of regret that there is such a feeling of alienation and estrangement spreading itself throughout Europe. There is another source of danger, no doubt, in the action of Russia. Now, Sir, I am old enough to remember not only the outbreak of the Crimean War, but also the discussions which preceded that outbreak. This country was so foolish at that time as to make itself a principal in the struggle with Russia. We saved Austria, Germany, and Italy from their share of the responsibility in keeping back Russia in what was supposed to be an aggressive policy. But I believe that I am speaking the mind of the great majority of the people when I say that, if there should be further aggression on the part of Russia, it must, in the first place, rest with Germany, Austria, and Italy to withstand that aggression, although this country may have something to say, in the long run, upon the matter. We hope that the bulwark against Russian aggression will prove to be the growing forces of the Balkan States. In conclusion, I can only say, if diplomatists find themselves impotent, if Her Majesty's Government finds 1664 itself unable to do anything in the present emergency to turn the tide of this war feeling, let the House of Commons and the British House of Parliament speak to the peoples on the Continent, Parliament to Parliament and people to people. I have only one object in view, and that is to save my country from the folly and mistake which, as I believe, the country may be led into by the increase of the Navy, and by the policy which may come out of it. And I desire, further, to induce, if possible, by all the means in my power, the Government to make proposals which may lead Continental States from this ever-increasing expenditure; and if we fail in this attempt, at any rate we shall have done that which will redound to the honour of Her Majesty's Ministers and of the British House of Commons.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
I have listened for two hours to speeches, which are only reiterations of protests previously made, and against which the House has already decided by a large majority. There never was a Government that was more anxious than this Government to do what it can to preserve the peace of Europe, and that was less disposed to embark upon any policy of aggression. As this is the fourth night upon which there has been debate upon this preliminary Resolution—although the nights have not been wholly given up to debate—I think the time has arrived when a decision should be taken, and I therefore move that the question be now put.
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 200; Noes 136.—(Div. List, No. 64.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 215; Noes 128.—(Div. List, No. 65.)