§ Order for Third Reading, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a third time."
§ MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
I am surprised at the haste with which the Government are endeavouring to push through this Bill, though to some extent I can understand it. With the object of the Bill I have no sympathy; my position is objection to it in toto. From the first I opposed it, and nothing has been said during the debates on the various stages to induce me to change the opinion I have formed, that the Bill is an evil in itself, vicious in principle, and calculated to precipitate an appeal to war. I venture to think that in the near future it will land us in administrative difficulties, and possibly international difficulties. We have absolutely no guarantee for the economical expenditure of this vast sum of money, nor have we indeed any guarantee that it will be rightfully expended. Nor do I think the object with which the Bill is brought forward will be attained, namely the creation of a Navy that shall be efficient in the sense in which efficiency is understood by those who have expert knowledge of the Naval Service, and especially in the view of the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord Charles Beresford), who seems to be practically the author of the measure. The reason is obvious to me, though perhaps not so obvious to those who have not carefully read the various papers which have been put before us during the last three years, and do 399 not understand the actual position into which we have drifted as regards the Navy. I am surprised that the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone, and the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) have not carried into practice the principles which they have professed over and over again, and desired that no large additional expenditure should be incurred in regard to the Navy until there is an absolute reform in the administration of naval affairs. I hold this to be a most important matter, and again and again has it been urged upon the Government. Investigations have been made, elaborate reports have been presented, but so far as I am able to judge, comparatively few of the reforms insisted upon have been carried into effect. I am not prepared to say that attempts at reform have not been made, but little has been effected. My attitude towards the Bill is by no means an attack upon the noble Lord (Lord G. Hamilton) and his colleagues for bringing in the measure; my observations rather tend to show that what have been proved to be necessary reforms at the Admiralty have not only not been carried out, but in some very important particulars have not yet been by any means attempted. It seems to me of the first importance that the administrative body having control of these 21 millions should itself be reformed, and should give an account to the country of the manner in which these vast sums are expended. The First Lord has all along regarded our action too much in the light of an attack upon Her Majesty's Government. He cannot sustain that view, but on the contrary, he has a right to congratulate himself on the way this Bill has been received on this side of the House, and especially by right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench. I can well understand their position, in so far as the constitutional question is concerned—they have raised that definite question, and I shall not go into it; but so far as the actual demand in the Bill is concerned, they have taken no particular stand in regard to it, and that I can only account for by supposing that their near connection with the Admiralty has tainted their judgment and they do not see how to grapple with the question. But the noble Lord has no reason to 400 complain of us as to our attitude towards the measure. Indeed, so far as I am concerned, and I think I can speak for some others, my desire is that, if the money is voted, it shall be economically expended so that we get our money's worth. If I receive some guarantee that the money shall be so spent, I shall feel more satisfied than I do at present. The noble Lord was somewhat facetious with regard to Members on this side and their attention to his speeches. He assumed that our object in studying those speeches was for the purpose of proving that he was inconsistent in some minor particulars. I can assure the noble Lord that I had not the remotest idea of that kind, but certainly we did not expect to find his utterances time after time contradicted by official documents presented to the House, and in themselves self-contradictory. This, however, has been the case. There was a very singular incident a few nights ago. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) quoted in good faith from official documents, believing those documents gave the facts as only the Admiralty could give them. He was followed by the Junior Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett), who presented figures with an assurance that they were absolutely correct. But the figures so given did not agree with those given by the first Lord nor with the figures given for the information of the House in a Return. Now I would ask seriously, if we are not to rely on the accuracy of these official documents presented to the House, upon what shall we rely for information and how are we to get at the facts? In all our quotations from documents and official utterances we have been actuated by the desire to get at the truth. I have no desire to throw obstacles in the way of our having a magnificent fleet, a fleet all sufficient for all purposes, but I want to know whether we are or are not in a position to compete with other naval nations in case of conflict. Well, we are assured over and over again that we were in that position, but then in the course of a few months, say weeks, we were told that we are in so dilapidated a condition in regard to the Navy that it is absolutely necessary to spend 21 millions of money, and that the money must be voted without delay. Now, I think the Government would do well 401 when we are concerned with a large expenditure on a great Department to give Parliament an absolutely reliable and full statement of the case. Never has the House refused to grant money when the expenditure has been shown to be necessary for the Naval Service, and so it will always be if necessity is shown. When we quote from the noble Lord's speeches he, by some method, explains away what he has said, saying what may be true yesterday may not be true to-day. Well, certainly, circumstances sometimes change suddenly, as in time of war for instance. But we are not at war, nor do I see any signs that we are approaching a state of warfare. Whether these warlike preparations are likely to be a provocative of war is another matter. I do not expect hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite to agree with me, but what happens is this: We are told, for example, that France and Germany are forming large fleets, and possibly they are, but why? I believe a year or two ago we found it necessary, as we said, to spend a large sum of money on warships, guns, and munitions of war, and thereupon these foreign nations thought this meant something, that some attack was to be made somewhere, and so they began augmenting their armaments. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen point to this and say, "We must build some ships; we must keep ahead and preserve our supremacy." So, actually, having provoked this increase of shipbuilding on the Continent, we make further efforts to keep ahead. I doubt the wisdom of such a policy as this. Why should we lose our heads in this competition upon warlike expenditure? I endeavoured, from the information presented to us, to get at the state of our Navy, and discover how it is that the necessity for this expenditure has come about. The noble Lord assumes that we regard the Admiralty as a veritable sink of iniquity; but I do not think we have said anything to justify that impression. But I certainly do share the opinion that there is much wasteful expenditure, and, so far as I can gather, there is very little supervision or control, and no one seems to know exactly what expenditure is absolutely needed, or how the money has been expended. And here I have a particular complaint to make. For some time past we have been dealing 402 with Navy expenditure, and in this Bill we assent to a large expenditure in that direction. I have been looking anxiously for the accounts of Dockyard expenditure and the Report of the Auditor General, and I hoped to find from these the evidence of some of those reforms the noble Lord said had been initiated. I am not prepared to say that some have not been initiated, but I do not find from this Report just circulated that much has actually been done. This bulky Blue Book was only circulated this morning. I have not made myself fully acquainted with its contents, but from the Report it appears that the Auditor General has not been able to make a very careful audit of the accounts. I find that the test audit of the accounts for 1887–88 had to be suspended because the Auditor General could not go on with it. Then a Treasury Minute was passed in January last, and the Auditor General was asked to take up the accounts again, and the Treasury in that Minute undertook that the position of the Auditor General, as regards these accounts, should be defined by legislative enactment. The Auditor General explains that he has not had time for a proper test audit. It may be very satisfactory when he does make it, but we shall not know until the evidence is placed in our hands. From the evidence we have, it does not appear that things have been so well carried out as some of us were led to suppose from some of the late utterances of the noble Lord. I have not time to go into much detail, but I may mention that in paragraph 21 in reference to joiners—it may not be the worst example, but I give it—the Auditor General says:—Several instances of apparently excessive cost were found in the Joiners' Balance Sheet at Portsmouth, where, for example, 13 engineers' spare gear boxes were found to have cost £93 1s. 11d., while the Rate Book value was given as £32 10s Od.You see the wide difference between the estimate and the actual price.The explanation given on the balance sheet is that the Rate Book price is incorrect; but as no amendment of the Rate Book price of the articles was traced at all equivalent to the difference disclosed, a question has been put to the Admiralty on the subject.Well, I do not know what the answer may be, but certainly points such as 403 these should be cleared up when these accounts are placed in our hands. It appears that some of the accounts have not been gone into because there was not time. Remarks are made about irregularities in the valution of stock, and a great many other things. My complaint is that this book has not reached us early enough, and does not give us sufficient information. As a precedent, the noble Lord quoted the method pursued years ago by Lord Palmerston in regard to fortifications. Politically speaking, the noble Lord is not old enough to remember the circumstances connected with that fortification scheme. I remember many circumstances connected with it, and I know that it was referred to out of doors, if not in this House, as "Palmerston's folly." I remember also seeing the works in course of construction at Portsdown Hill and other places, and certainly any man of common sense would have pronounced the scheme foolish from its commencement. Yet this is the precedent quoted by the noble Lord when embarking on a great shipbuilding scheme. I hope it may not in the result turn out to be a complete precedent, and that the programme when carried out will not effect its object. It is foreshadowed by the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone, and hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite endorse his view that this is only a small instalment of what will ultimately be required before the Navy is brought up to the desired standard. That is not a view that I hold. I cannot believe that the ordinary Estimates, presented year by year, if properly and economically administered, would not give us a Fleet sufficient for all purposes, even in time of war. As I have said, there is no guarantee that all this money will be wisely expended. I cannot think that high naval officers at the head of the Dockyards are the right men in the right place to carry out this programme. I say this without any reflection on gallant and distinguished officers. I only say I cannot think that they have the qualifications for the post. You want a man who has intimate practical knowledge with all these details of shipbuilding. It may be that their way of discharging their duty is in every respect satisfactory, and I have heard it stated that things are being carried on better than 404 formerly. I am very glad to hear it, but it seems to me we ought to know exactly what is going on, and how the officers are discharging their duties. I do hope and trust that when this Bill is passed, one of the first things that will be done by the Admiralty will be to place ample details before the House—details that we can vote upon without the fear of their being challenged by subsequent details picked out of a pigeon-hole at the Admiralty to which no one has access but the First Lord of the Admiralty and his colleague in this House. My desire is that this large sum of money, if voted by the House, shall be so expended that the nation will get money's worth for the money spent. That is one of the things we are sent here to secure. What we want is that we shall get as much for our money as would be obtained in any private shipbuilding yard. Any private ship-building company would be able to give satisfactory replies to its shareholders, and surely in Her Majesty's Dockyards, where we have the pick of the men of the nation, and where we pay the highest salaries, we ought to find officials who can present us with such a statement as will satisfy us in regard to this expenditure. I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time on this day six months.
Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Howell.)
Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the question."
§ MR. PICTON (Leicester)
I rise to second this Motion. I have on the Paper notice of an Amendment which, of course, I shall not have an opportunity of moving now. That Amendment expresses the ground on which I protest against the passing of this Bill. It is on the ground of policy that I protest against it. The expenditure is not so much larger than our ordinary expenditure as was at first supposed. I believe there will be an increase of some £1,700,000 a year for seven years. I would ask why there was such a flourish of trumpets about the introduction of this new programme? Was it to sound a war note through Europe? Or was it to gratify the Jingo supporters of the Government? The love of the English- 405 man for his Navy is well known, and for some time we have had dinned into our ears the declaration of Richard Cobden that he would spend if necessary £100,000,000 upon the Navy. Yes, but there we always the condition, "if necessary." What we are insisting upon now is that the necessity for this expenditure has not been shown. The fact is, that the question turns upon policy, and the policy which requires an enlarged fleet has never yet been explained to the House. Obviously the strength of a fleet that would be amply sufficient for the ordinary protection of our commerce and the maintenance of the connection between the various parts of the Empire in times of peace is a very different thing, indeed, from that of the fleet which will be necessary if we are going to meddle in any plot or intrigue in Europe. I maintain that the only position for this country to take up is one of what I may describe as cordial neutrality towards all the world. It is only by ostentatiously ignoring that point of view that our opponents on the other side of the House are able to accuse us with any face whatever of want of patriotism. We are as anxious for the safety and prosperity of our country as any hon. Gentleman opposite, but we maintain that those who are going to vote for an increased expenditure on the fleet are going to vote for a meddlesome foreign policy. It is against that we protest. If it were in our power we would decline to advance one single farthing towards such a costly piece of mischief. It is easy to show that if our Colonies and our commerce alone were being considered we should want no increase of the fleet. It is said we must make our fleet equal to any two foreign fleets. Is it probable or is it possible that, without our meddling with any European intrigue or going beyond our own business, any two European Powers will conspire together to capture one of our Colonies, or to play the pirate towards our commerce on the high seas? I would ask any hon. Member of common sense, is it conceivable that France and Russia would combine together to attack any of our Colonies except on the ground of some European complication? I do not believe that even the most valiant of the gallant Gentlemen opposite will say for one moment that they would do so. If 406 we never enter into any complications, if we determine to mind our own business, it is absurd to suppose that any two nations would, without cause shown, join to attack our Colonies. The First Lord of the Admiralty said in introducing this measure that the amount of forces available for attacking our commercial interests are continually increasing. But who wants to attack those interests? Are we living in a world of pirates? Are foreign countries nothing but dens of robbers? I myself have more faith in human nature. [Ministerial laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen who laugh at our simplicity in this respect imagine that they are living in the middle ages, when every man's s hand was against his fellows. They forget altogether the advance of the world. They point to the terrible armaments that are in existence—armaments for which we are very greatly responsible—and they say "How can we live in a world like this unless we are armed to the teeth?" But foreign nations are beginning to see more and more that these large armaments are a curse, and they are all longing to get rid of them. The Declaration of Paris has been referred to. At the time when that Declaration was being drawn up there was a considerable amount of correspondence between this country and the United States, and if the European Powers had been willing to assert that all private property even in the ships of an enemy should be free from capture, the Americans would have joined in the Declaration of Paris, and our commerce on every sea would have been sacred. Of course, I know dangers might arise. Every treaty is liable to be broken; but still, taking all ordinary human probabilities, we are perfectly safe in saying that if our rulers at that date had only had common sense, and had only freed themselves from absurd superstitions and traditions so far as to join the United States in that rational extension of the Declaration of Paris, we should not have been at this moment called upon to enlarge our fleet. At this moment I doubt not, if the Government would take the initiative, both the United States and the Governments of European Powers would be only too glad to enter into any such agreement. And to whose interest is it that this should be done? We have a commercial 407 navy equal to all the commercial navies in the world. I find that our shipping in most of the considerable ports equals the shipping of all other countries. Surely it is more to our interest that merchant shipping should be protected than it is to the interest of those who have small navies; and yet it is we of all people in the world who have been the obstructives, and who have refused to enter into this engagement. It is not now too late. If, instead of peddling with new guns and new ships, our Government will enter into negotiations with other nations, I have no doubt that the Declaration of Paris may be enlarged, so that our merchants might be able to sleep in peace. But that does not suit hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite. The word "supremacy" has been used again and again in the course of this debate. We are assured that our supremacy at sea must be absolutely guaranteed. [Ministerial cheers.] Yes, that is the spirit in which foreign nations are dealt with. We are not to have peace, nor quietness, nor friendliness, nor neighbourliness, but supremacy. Well, Sir, of course, that is a challenge to other nations to build an ironclad for every one of ours if they can afford it. The hon. and gallant Admiral (Admiral Field) laughs, because he knows this country has a longer purse than most others, and he likes to play at the game of extravagance. It reminds me of a game children at school sometimes play at, and which they call "showing each other for the most." One shows a halfpenny and the other produces a penny. Then the first shows a sixpence and the second a shilling, and the richer of the two wins and asserts his "supremacy." I maintain that the repeated emphasis with which our "supremacy" has been asserted during this debate is an unworthy challenge to the rest of the world. We are told that the number of men who are to be added to the Fleet will not be sufficient to man all the vessels. What is to be done with the vessels that are not manned? Our ships of war are no longer the beautiful and romantic structures which in days gone by were moved by the winds as things of life. They are huge floating factories, crammed almost on every deck with expensive machinery. It is well known that machinery suffers 408 very much from idleness, and when these ships lie idle in our docks for a long time the machinery must suffer. Just one word in conclusion as to the influence we ought to exert on the rest of the world. I am sure we must all feel that militarism is a terrible blot on the civilisation of the world. I cannot but think that the suffering now being caused by the prevalence of strikes throughout Germany is almost entirely due to the monstrous and wicked extravagance with which the results of human labour are lavished on the means of destruction. In order to meet the heavy demands of money necessary to supply these armaments all kinds of heavy imposts have to burden commerce. It is not, as the Fair Traders inform us, solely for the protection of French and German industries that the import duties are imposed, but because that is the only way in which money can be raised for the purpose of meeting the heavy military expenditure. If the people had to pay the amount by means of a poll tax or an income tax, there would be a rebellion next week. Therefore, these heavy imposts are placed upon commerce. The result is that prices rise and wages sink until the poor workers are so miserable that they have no resort but to strike work, and sometimes even to threaten violence. What, I would ask, are we doing to help our fellow-creatures? If we had the courage of our grand position in the world, if we believed in the moral supremacy of this country, we should pursue a peaceful course, and set an example of moderate, gradual, and peaceable disarmament, and I have little doubt that, little by little, our example would be followed. Instead of that, we go about swelling with vanity and bragging of our naval supremacy, thus forcing other nations to continue their armaments. By such conduct we lessen commerce in the world, we diminish our own prosperity, we take the bread out of the mouths of millions of workers in Europe, and we diminish the comfort of our own workers. It is on these broad grounds of policy that I emphatically protest against these unpatriotic and wasteful measures. I know my words may fall upon deaf ears. But I hope that in the next Parliament I shall meet some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite face to face—I do not think I shall meet many 409 of them, but I hope I may meet some—and we shall then see on which side is the public opinion of this country. The people have never yet been awakened. They do not know their own power; but when they realize, not their sordid interests, but their higher moral interests and the interests of civilization, and when they know their power, the Government, and the hon. Members who support this retrograde, heathenish policy, will be swept off the Benches of this House.
§ * ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
I do not propose to spend much time in answering the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, but I would suggest that the Government should employ the hon. Gentleman as a special peace Commissioner to go to Berlin to convert Prince Bismarck to his views. When this has been done, it will be time for us to give up our ideas about naval supremacy. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell), whom I always listen to with interest, and who always impresses me with the fact that he speaks from conviction, has spoken about the inconsistencies of politicians. For my own part, I have long given up the idea that I should find politicians consistent. If the hon. Member desires to find consistency in a politician, I would advise him to go to Derby for it. The hon. Member says we have, under the present system of administration, no guarantee that this money will be rightly expended. I can assure the hon. Member that the Navy cannot afford to wait until the reforms of administration which he wishes to initiate have been carried out. I have, however, no objection to the reforms going on side by side with the requisite expenditure on the Navy. I am well aware that there has been much to complain of in the past with regard to our dockyards, but no Government and no Board of Admiralty have done more than those at present in office to improve the system of dockyard administration. The hon. Member alludes to certain inconsistencies, and says he cannot trust politicians. Then why don't you trust us? If you do trust us we will not deceive you. We have no desire to plunge the country into war. On the contrary, we have as much interest in keeping down expendi- 410 ture as hon. Gentlemen opposite, but we know the real necessities of the case, and I maintain that no Government has done more than the present to try and improve the administration of the dockyards, and to bring them up to the required standard of efficiency. It has been our duty to study this naval programme. If a man is ill he does not quarrel with his physician as to the nature of the medicine he gets. If he gets an emetic he takes it, knowing that it is for his good; and if we prescribe an occasional emetic, it is for the nation's good. I will not say more in regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green. He is a good-natured man, and I have no doubt he was honest in all he said. But the hon. Member himself is slightly inconsistent. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) said the other night that he should stand by the Report of the Committee on Hereditary Pensions. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green followed his Leader in the same direction, but if he is prepared to follow the Report of the Committee which sat upon these Pensions, why should he decline to follow the Report of the Committee which sat last year on the Navy Estimates and of-which he was himself a Member?
§ * ADMIRAL FIELD
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I thought he was. The Committee recommended that the Board of Admiralty should submit a programme to the Cabinet before the Estimates are fixed. The Board of Admiralty have never carried out that recommendation till now. Then I would ask the hon. Member for Bethnal Green as he supported the recommendation of one Committee last night that he should support the recommendation of the other Committee now. He says he believes that the Government are yielding to the pressure of the Services. I only hope to a certain extent that is true, but I think the hon. Member is paying us too high a compliment without intending it. We have done our best to wake up our sleepy countrymen, and no one has worked harder than myself to subject the Government to pressure. I rejoice to hear that the Government have yielded to the pressure of the Service, and I am 411 much obliged to the First Lord of the Admiralty for the compliment he has paid naval men in that matter. We have been subjected to a great deal of criticism; but I do not much regard that of the Senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who always appears to speak with his tongue in his cheek. The hon. Member treats these matters like a game of chess. But in conversation I have always found the hon. Member ready to declare that the Navy of this country should be double that of France. Mr. Cobden said if he learned that France was trying to bring up her Navy to a level with ours he would build two ships to her one, even if it cost £100,000,000.
§ * ADMIRAL FIELD
I was not alluding to the right hon. Gentleman, but to the hon. Member for Northampton. I will not, however, waste time in arguing the question. The hon. Baronet who seconded the hon. Member spoke about Jingoes, and he said "I do hate Jingoes," but at the same time he seems to hate only the old Jingo spirit. I may remind the hon. Baronet that the power of the country was built up by Jingoes and can only be maintained by Jingoes. It is the Jingo spirit of this country which has made it what it is. If we read history we shall find that our Naval and Military heroes were Jingoes. It will be a bad day for England when Englishmen are taught to despise the Jingo spirit. We have also been subjected to criticism from our friends. The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Maclean), who, I am sorry not to see in his old place, told us that it is absurd to maintain now the Fleet which we had at the end of the Napoleonic War; no one ever contends that we should, but we want a Fleet double that of the strongest of our neighbours. He asked whether all the Navies in the world could blockade these islands. Perhaps not, but a great disaster at sea would bring us to our knees. It would not be necessary to invade the country, for there would not be three months' food in it. Two-thirds of our supply has to come from abroad, and we have also to obtain our supply of raw material from abroad. If it cannot come in the Lancashire mills will be silent and the people starve. If we suffer a Naval disaster we shall be 412 at the mercy of our enemies. The hon, Member says, "Could they seize your Colonies? If you were defeated on the high seas they would compel the surrender of your Colonies and India."
§ * ADMIRAL FIELD
No; but somebody else did, but I cannot charge my memory with all the unwise things that hon. Members have said. Among those unwise things was that of the hon. Member for Oldham, who said that if we suffered disaster we could make terms with our enemies. Hon. Members may think there is no danger, and that we are all wild and visionary persons. We have for many years maintained that our Navy should be equal to that of any two other Powers, and I am thankful to say that the Government, owing to the pressure which has been put upon them by public opinion, have resolved to have a Navy equal to that of any two Naval Powers. I am also thankful that the Government have taken naval men into their confidence, from outside the Admiralty, and that they consulted nine Admirals before they put their proposals before the country. This is the first time that has been done, but I hope it will not be the last. I do not think that it is necessary to waste much time on the statements of the hon. Member for Cardiff (Sir E. Reed). The hon. Member is in the habit of making strong statements in this House. There is one thing which I do admire in the hon. Member. He is an intense believer in himself, and he is what I may call a strong admirer of himself. In the sort of love-letter which he sent to the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington he accuses the Officials of the Admiralty, and he employs all the hard names we are accustomed to hear him use here. It appears to be the ambition of the hon. Member to act as universal umpire upon all the Admiralty designs. Well, of course, his day may come, and he may be able to show that he is qualified to be First Lord, Chief Constructor, and Controller rolled into one. What is the condition of our reserve at this moment? Seventeen battle ships ready altogether at home, and only five in the Mediterranean, whilst the French have 14 or 17 at Toulon. If war were to come now we must at once send nine battle ships to reinforce the Mediter- 413 ranean Fleet, or withdraw it altogether; this would only leave eight battle ships at home besides coast defence vessels. By the new scheme we are to have 70 ships, 10 of which are to be battle ships. In this House great changes may come about, but that is all the more reason why we should not leave it to future Parliaments to reduce Estimates. It is all the more necessary to put the affair into the form of a Bill. It is one thing to cut down the Estimates, as in times past, to our sorrow. It is quite another thing to repeal an Act of Parliament. There we have to deal with the other House. (Laughter from the Opposition.) Oh, I am perfectly frank. If hon. Members opposite think we are going to have a new Parliament and Home Rule for Ireland, it is all the more necessary to make Ireland pay her fair share towards the defence of the Empire before it is too late. I rejoice over this matter. Our Navy is our very life, and although hon. Members may not like the term "our naval supremacy," the English people like it. Hon. Members seem to think that the commerce of the country is not in danger, and they talk of bloated armaments. In 1793 our commerce with the whole world amounted to £40,000,000; it is now £1,000,000,000 sterling. What happened in the last war? Our trade in 1793, when we were supreme at sea, was under £40,000,000, and we lost in two years no less than 3,000 vessels captured while we captured 800 only. In six months, in 1804 and 1805, we lost 271 vessels and captured seven only; from 1793 to 1814 we lost 10,871 vessels, valued at £200,000,000, and we captured 1,031 privateers, with 9,400 guns and 69,147 men. We also issued 10,605 letters of marque. If our loss from 1793 to 1814 amounted to £200,000,000, what would it amount to now, when we have £1,000,000,000 of commerce at stake, and have daily afloat on the high seas £150,000,000 sterling of commerce? Our steamers number over 5,000, and we have over 14,000 sailing vessels. What a glorious harvest that would offer to the privateers of an enemy if we were not strong enough to protect it! There are those who, in spite of some miserable crotchets, know in their hearts that there is nothing so important to maintain as the supremacy of England 414 at sea, and while we are in power on this side of the House, we mean to maintain it. Our commerce is now twenty times as great as it was in the last war. And if we were unfortunately to find ourselves involved in a war to-morrow, if it were then discovered that we have not taken adequate precautions, we should deserve to suffer. But we cannot wait until we get our deserts. I am quite willing to address any working class constituency in England, even Birmingham, the heart of Radicalism, on this matter. The opposition to this Bill, which has come from the Front Bench opposite, has not been upon the merits of the measure, but only on its financial aspect. The right hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) has called the financial proposals weak-kneed and flabby finance. I may throw back that phrase with interest and declare that the present position of the Navy is due to the weak-kneed and flabby Liberal. Governments in the past. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) says that the Liberal Party have always been in favour of a strong Navy. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman has not studied the question as closely as he has studied some others. I have felt it my duty to search into the history of the past. From 1832 to 1842 the Liberals were in power. In 1842 Sir R. Peel came into office, and what was the Liberal inheritance to which he succeeded? The condition of affairs was so serious that Sir W. Bowles felt it his duty to write a letter in September, 1844, to the First Lord of the Admiralty calling attention to the very serious danger which England had escaped in connection with the Syrian question. There was actually a plot for the seizure by the French Admiral Lalande of the English Fleet, because it was so weak in the Mediterranean. He had 10 vessels, while we had only 8; and it was proposed also to invade Ireland with an army of 30,000 men. That letter had a salutary influence, and important changes were effected, and the Navy was shortly afterwards increased. It is contrary to the fact, then, to say, as the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton has done, that the Liberals have always been in favour of a strong Navy. Naval men who have thought out the question and who are 415 prepared to give their lives for the country's honour, have a right to be listened to; and I say that the country has been living in a fool's paradise—it has been living upon its prestige since the old war, admiring the glorious days of Nelson, but not taking the necessary measures to keep up our naval strength and power in the present times. The necessity of doing that is as great now as it was in those days, and it is owing to our departure from the policy of our forefathers that we are now in our present position. I believe that the Government possess the confidence of the House, and that this modest proposal is sure to be adopted. I have myself such admiration for the Chancellor of the Exchequer that I am willing almost to accept anything which he proposes. "Now, what are the financial arrangements? The hon. Member for Leicester and others talk about an extravagant expenditure, and I suppose they will go about stumping the country in the autumn denouncing this wicked Tory Government. The expenditure upon the Navy is to be £10,000,000 extra, and how does the Chancellor of the Exchequer propose to make up the deficit? The right hon. Gentleman proposes a small addition to the Beer Duty, which the brewers are kicking up a row about, and also 1 per cent extra Death Duty for all estates over £10,000. I look upon that as a splendid arrangement. None of us will feel the extra Death Duty while we are here; and when we have gone to our rest we need not trouble about it. Our heirs and descendants will have no grievance; indeed, there are no grievances at all about those proposals, which will work in the direction of national thrift. Lord Derby has told us that every man who saves money and puts by anything is a national benefactor. In this case people can insure their lives and pay a little extra, and when they go to their rest they will be looked upon as national benefactors, while the greatest benefactor, of all is the Chancellor of the Exchequer who is inducing them to do it. I approve of every proposal in the Bill from top to bottom, and if I can find any fault at all with it it is that it does not go quite far enough. All I can say is that the Government deserve hearty support. I believe that in the country, as well as in the House, they will receive that 416 support and that the Bill will be passed by a large majority.
§ * SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Sir, if anybody but the gallant Admiral who has just sat down had made such statements as to the motives of those who oppose this Bill we certainly should have appealed to you for protection. I believe that one of the greatest rows that ever occurred in this House was on an occasion when Lord Althorp said about the Irish Members in very mild terms the same thing which the gallant Admiral has said in very strong terms on this occasion. But there is something about the hon. and gallant Admiral which always disarms resentment. The hon. and gallant Admiral says that the recommendations of the Committee which sat on the Navy Estimates for the increase of the Navy were not sufficient.
§ * ADMIRAL FIELD
What I said was that the Committee on the Estimates virtually recommended the Board of Admiralty to increase the strength of the Navy.
§ * SIR G. TREVELYAN
The hon. and gallant Member referred to the important Committee which sat upon the Navy Estimates, and I understood him to imply that the Committee thought the Navy was insufficient. As a matter of fact, the Committee did not consider it within their competence to say whether the Navy was or was not sufficient. They certainly did not recommend what the gallant Admiral says is one of the principal merits of the Bill—namely, that the Government should pass a Bill that would take it out of the power of future Parliaments to alter their policy in the future, and that would enable the House of Lords to override any change of opinion in the House of Commons; and, above all, the Committee did not advise the Government to build ships out of borrowed money. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green says that this Bill has received very fair treatment. I think so, too. It did not meet with any vigorous opposition until the Second Reading; and some of us reserved our opposition until we were quite certain that the Bill would be insisted upon, in all of its most serious and objectionable details. But the more Gentlemen on this side looked at the Bill, the more they disliked it. 417 We dislike it most because it runs the nation into debt for services which ought to be paid out of the Estimates. I have here a Paper which the noble Lord has laid on the Table, giving a list of the obsolete ironclads in the Navy. I have looked at the dates at which those ironclads were completed, and I find that on an average this class of vessels have a life of 26 years. Now, I ask the House, is a ship with a life of 26 years a proper object for the borrowing of money with a view to its construction? But it is a much more serious matter when we go from the ironclads to the cruisers; and here I must ask the House to notice one argument which I do not think has been put very strongly before it up to the present moment. Now, here are eight cruisers which are now obsolete; that is to say, that will be obsolete, say, by the year 1890. Well, these cruisers were completed between the years 1874 and 1878; that is to say, that the life of a cruiser is, as every one who has paid attention to the subject knows, from about 11 to 13 years. This being so, what are we to say when we find Her Majesty's Government actually asking this House for powers enabling them to borrow money for the building of a number of ships whose average life will be from 11 to 13 years? Why, if this course is to be adopted, the next thing we may expect them to do will be to come and ask us to borrow money for the purchase of horses, or anything else that will only have a short existence. Now, Sir, I regard the principle involved in the course adopted by the Government as a most dangerous one. Up to the present time even the barracks of our marines have been built out of the ordinary estimates; and if we are going to adopt the principle that we should borrow money to build cruisers, I do not know where we shall stop. If we once adopt such a procedure we shall find that whenever the Military Secretary requires the means for a special expenditure—such, for instance, as new rifles or artillery—he will come down to the House and ask us to borrow the money needed. In the next place, I am extremely alarmed at one circumstance in connection with our finance. I observe that there is a spare sum of £3,054,000, which will be left in the hands of the Government over and above what is put 418 down for the completion of their programme. Now, this will be spent in new shipbuilding, and I am very much afraid it will be spent in bad ships—for this reason: the thoughtful and hopeful part of the Government programme is that it appears to have been proved that they had at last come to the conclusion that they ought to do away with the small, slow gunboats which are of no use in peace and which would prove absolutely useless in war, and henceforth rely on ironclads and cruisers. But I find that during the last two years the Government have proposed to lay down no fewer than 15 of these old and useless gunboats. That being so, the noble Lord has gone back on the proposal of the Government with regard to these vessels—a class of boats whose speed is only some 13 or 14 knots, and which in time of war would have to keep away from the sea in order to avoid being taken off into the enemy's harbours. For my part, I do not like the idea of putting upwards of three millions of money into the hands of a Government which has not given up once and for ever this system of building small ships in order to create more commands. The hon. and gallant Admiral opposite has told us it is the naval men who ought to be our instructors in these matters; that we ought to obey them when they call on us to spend £21,000,000 on the increase of our fleet; but I am afraid that when we have spent that, they will only be asking for more, for I would remind the House that it was the naval men, not only in olden times, but still more recently, who insisted on successive Boards of Admiralty following the suicidal policy of building gunboats and other vessels that were, and are, of no use, either in peace or war. I trust that in the course of this debate we may have an emphatic declaration from the noble Lord on the part of the Government against this policy being continued. But the main object of the policy of the Government is that it will tie our hands in the most serious manner. Have hon. Members fully considered the fact that under the clauses of this Bill we are to lay down 10 ironclads all at once? Now, just think for a moment what this means! The Audacious and the Invincible, which were launched in 1870, were thought to be exceedingly fine ships, and at that 419 time I have no doubt people would have been very glad to have had 10 of the Invincible or Audacious class.
§ * SIR G. TREVELYAN
But my argument is as to building them all at once. If we had been asked to have built 10 ships of the Invincible type all at once what would have been our excuse for taking a course which would have incurred so enormous an expense when we remember what has subsequently happened? Well, Sir, in 1880 we built two other ships, the Ajax and the Agamemnon; but let us suppose we had built 10 Ajaxes and Agamemnons. Why, within a very few years we began to build on entirely different lines, and laid down an entirely different class of vessel—that is to say, we adopted the type of the British Admiral. Can the House conceive the position we should have been in if we had had 10 ships of the Agamemnon class on the stocks at a time when the most advanced and scientific knowledge in the country was in favour of building vessels after the model of the British Admiral? Or, to put it in another way, just fancy what would now have been thought if, two years ago, we had laid down 10 ironclads of the Collingwood and the Benbow class. In such a case, I suppose that not only the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff (Sir E. Reed), but every other hon. Member who has any practical or scientific knowledge of naval construction, would have felt extremely disgusted when other ships of the Nile and Trafalgar class were proposed to be built, but could not be built because we had 10 of the Admiral class in hand; but yet, at the present moment it is proposed to build 10 ships all at once, which will cost, I suppose, something like £700,000 or £800,000 each. Nevertheless, it is, to my mind, a much more serious matter when we come to the cruisers. The House will have observed the enormous number of these vessels it is proposed to lay down, practically at once; for I feel sure that the Secretary to the Admiralty will not give out the contracts at a time when the market is unfavourable, but will carefully watch the market and see that, although the contracts must be put out in twelve months, it must be with as sparing a hand as 420 possible. Well, it is proposed to lay down 42 cruisers all at once. Now, in 1880, there was a class of cruiser well-known as a good seaworthy class, which was in very high favour. They were of a speed of about 13 knots, and a great number of them were then built. In the year 1889 those ships are obsolete. They are no longer regarded as the proper type for cruisers, and I put it to the, House, can you conceive what would have been the position of things at the present moment if, in 1880, we had laid down 42 cruisers of the then type of vessel? But that is the sort of thing the Government are proposing to do. The Admiralty, of course, got the best advice they could, and no doubt they very wisely used that advice in laying down, at the time it was given, a certain number of vessels of the class then accepted; but it is another thing to lay down so large a number as 42 ships all at one time. I now desire to put forward what are my principal financial objections to the Bill, and shall conclude by noticing a remark of the hon. and gallant Admiral opposite, which filled me with absolute consternation, but which, I have no doubt, contained a true prophecy. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that naval men were satisfied with the expenditure as far as it went, but would soon be asking for more. There is no doubt that naval men will be right in asking for more if this Bill be passed; because, assuming that in four or five years' time these new cruisers will be as obsolete as those that have preceded them, the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends will come forward and say, "We have our docks filled with vessels of a peculiar and obsolete type; we must now have others of the newest type," and it will be very hard for the Admiralty to answer the demand. I must here express my regret that the noble Lord at the head of the Admiralty Department has not stuck to a sentence which appeared in his printed statement last year—a sentence not used offhand in a speech, but printed and circulated as an official utterance. The noble Lord said:—The experience gained last year and the opportunities afforded during the time of making close and minute comparisons between the strength of the Navy of this country and that of foreign nations confirm my previous statement that our relative superiority is undoubted, and that we shall, if the present 421 expenditure be maintained, each year increase that superiority.I think these were very manly words, and I am bound to say that I take exception to what was said by the hon. and gallant Admiral when he thought they were inconsistent with the ideas of our forefathers. The old English way of carrying on war was by making the Navy strong enough for defence, but not to block up every possible hole or loophole through which danger might come. They knew very well that if they went to war they must incur danger, and also begin by incurring a certain amount of loss; but, at the same time, they endeavoured to make themselves as formidable in an offensive manner as they possibly could, so that their adversary should beware of them, and should come out of the war in such a condition as to determine that he would never enter into another. I think it is a most futile thing to try and provide, either by sea or land, that at such or such a time war shall not be an imminent danger; because whatever you do you cannot succeed, and the result will be that you will only expend in time of peace the resources you ought to husband for time of war. I will here tell the House what passed between me and a very eminent sailor the other day, and I have no doubt, if I were to name who it was, that that sailor would be recognised as a very high authority, as well as one of the most spirited of our fighting tars. We were taking a long ride in the country, and we had two or three alarmists with us, out of whom that gallant sailor was very glad to take a little fun, and above all, he was pleased to encourage them in the proposal to spend money on the Navy. All through a two-hours' ride the alarmists continued to get more and more gloomy, while we began to make more and more admissions as to the weakness of our Navy; but as we came home again my friend the sailor said, "After all, if we did go to war, we should give any other Power the worst licking we ever gave them yet"—only he did not say "worst," but used a phrase that sounds more appropriate in the mouth of a gallant sailor than in mine. I believe that to be the opinion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite. My belief is that that is the spirit of the old Navy—namely, that it is 422 desirable to make our Navy so strong as not only to enable us to conquer in the event of war, but also strong enough to prevent any other country being tempted to go to war with us; though, at the same time, we should not be so unwise as to think we can so strengthen it that if we should happen to go to war we should not incur any danger or loss, because that is impossible. In fact, I believe, according to the words used by the noble Lord, that our Fleet was in such a satisfactory state of strength before this immense expenditure was proposed, and, therefore, upon that ground, and because this large expenditure is founded on principles of administration and finance which I cannot possibly endorse, I shall vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ * LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
The House will have noticed that in the various speeches that have been made since this Amendment was before us, we have only had the same arguments repeated over and over again; for, having had occasion to sit here and listen to more criticisms on the Bill than probably have been heard by any other Member of the House, I can say that, although hon. Members having strong objections to the measure have stated their case very fully, every argument used by the two first speakers in this debate was exhausted in the first speech made some little time ago by the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Cremer), who made so able a statement of his position against our proposal, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer deemed it worthy of an immediate reply; and those who have listened to the subsequent debates will agree that the case of the Opposition has not been stated so well as when it was first put by the hon. Gentleman. But I may say that the speech of the hon. Gentleman, and those of every other Member entertaining the the same views, have all been vitiated by the admission that this country may at some time be in danger; yet at the same time the hon. Gentleman said we ought to wait till the danger was upon us.
§ MR. CREMER (Haggerston, Shoreditch)
The noble Lord has not faithfully interpreted that portion of my speech to the House. What I said was that the House was warranted in demanding from the Government informa- 423 tion as to whether there was danger to be apprehended, and that unless proof was supplied that the danger was real, and not imaginary, we should be justified in declining to vote the money.
§ * LORD G. HAMILTON
I was only giving the sense and not the actual words of the argument of the hon. Gentleman, whose contention was, that when danger came upon us, then would be the time for us to act; and I say that there is no argument by which that proposition can be supported, because if there be one thing which has been more conclusively proved than another in regard to naval or military warfare either of old or recent date, it is the utter impossibility of making adequate arrangements on the spur of the moment, when danger is at hand. If this were so in the past, it is still more so at the present day, when the various nations of the world possess more powerful armaments, and are in a better state of preparation than formerly. The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me (Sir G. Trevelyan) has repeated at great length the arguments which had been stated before by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), who has over and over again raised the question about the number of ships to be laid down all at once. I admit that there is some force in that argument, and if time were not in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, a primary consideration, no doubt it would be preferable to adopt a more leisurely procedure. But as it is, we believe that the ships we propose to build should be completed by a certain period. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has stated that it is for the Executive alone to indicate the nature and extent of the forces they require; but whatever complaints and criticisms have been urged in regard to this proposal, no right hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House has attempted in any way to curtail the proportions of the scheme. All the objections they had made had been as to the method of finance by which we propose to provide the ways and means for carrying out our proposals. Now, Sir, it seems to me that the great difference between the proposals of the Government at the present moment and similar proposals made in former years is this: that no 424 Government has ever suggested and brought before the House a scheme as to which every kind of information has been so fully detailed; because, in regard to this matter, I may say that to such an extent have the Government been desirous of taking the House into its confidence, that the only material Amendment to the Bill was one proposed by an hon. Member below the Gangway, who said that we had tied the hands of the Admiralty too much in our proposal to carry out greater efficiency in the maintenance of our Fleet. The fact is that if we had erred at all we had erred in giving too much information. In giving this information we desired that everyone in the House should know exactly what we propose in our scheme, so that they might give it their deliberate sanction, and when that scheme was sanctioned we were anxious that it should be carried out with as much rapidity as possible. But in past years the practise has been somewhat the reverse; it has been to get the House to assent to a scheme of shipbuilding, and when assented to, slowly to carry it out. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir G. Trevelyan) has called attention to a passage in a statement which I submitted to the House last year. I can only say that I repeat the statement, and have nothing to retract. As far as our naval strength is concerned, I believe we are superior to any of the other naval powers, and I believe also that we shall be still stronger next year than now. But, if the right hon. Gentleman had gone a little further, he would have seen that I spoke with extreme caution as to the protection of our commerce; and the views I then held have since been confirmed by the Naval Manœuvres. If we are right in strengthening our Fleet of cruisers, it is clearly essential that we should lose no time in adding to that portion of our Navy. There is, I admit, a difference between our action in the past and our proposals for the future. With regard to the scheme of the past, I was not responsible for its inception nor its scope; I have had nothing to do with it but to carry it out, and I have done so with as much rapidity as I could. But the present scheme is based on a different idea. It is entire in itself, it lays before the House all the details 425 in relation to it, and is a distinct advance on the proposals of previous Governments. We have endeavoured to accredit the scheme, not only by consulting as largely as we could our naval officers, but by also taking this House into our confidence; and the result has been that our proposals have received a greater amount of popular support than has been accorded to any scheme brought forward for many years past. This is shown by the attitude of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, for if they had thought the measure as unpopular as they pretend it to be, the opposition it would have met in its previous stages would have been of a very different character from that by which it has been met. I trust the House will now assent to the Third Reading of this Bill, and by so doing put on record their approval of a scheme, not the least merit of which is that it has been associated with an amount of publicity as to all its details, and a principle of procedure, which I hope will be followed in any future scheme of a similar character.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I should not have obtruded myself upon the House in this debate had not the First Lord chosen to fix on me as the person who was mainly and directly responsible for the insufficiency of the British Navy. Two or three days ago he made a speech in which he said that this Bill was specially constructed in order that security might be taken against me in the future. I am glad the noble Lord anticipates the early recurrence of a period when the Liberal Party will again be in the ascendant. Well, what is the noble Lord's case? He says the Liberal Government in 1886 ran down the Navy and left it in an inefficient condition, and that the person mainly responsible for that was the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had cut off the quick-firing ammunition. I am afraid I shall fall in the opinion of the First Lord when I tell him that I never heard of quick-firing ammunition. At any rate, that was a thing with which I had nothing to do. All I had to do was to provide the amount of money that was deemed to be requisite to give us an efficient Navy, it being for the person who was responsible for the Naval and Military expenditure to see how the money was 426 spent. Now, what was the course which was taken by the Government, which is now charged with having made inadequate provision for the Navy of this country? The largest Naval expenditure that ever took place was in 1885, and a great part of that, although provided by us under a Vote of Credit, was expended under the administration of the noble Lord. In 1886, when we were responsible for bringing forward the Estimates, the noble Lord said they were abnormally high. Those are the Estimates for which he blames me, and he comes forward and says:—"You are the people who have left such a terribly insufficient Navy."
§ * LORD G. HAMILTON
I did not accuse the right hon. Gentleman of leaving a terribly insufficient Navy. I said that a large number of guns were ordered and the ammunition to render the guns efficient was struck out, and my authority for saying so was the right hon. Member for the Stirling Burghs, who implied, as the Minister for War stated, that that decision was deliberately arrived at by the Cabinet.
§ * MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Then I fear I must also explain. These quick-firing guns and their ammunition are a constant armoury from which the noble Lord and his colleagues derive their weapons for attacking us; there is no lack of quick firing in that respect. What happened on the occasion referred to was this. The Secretary for War stated that the cutting-down of this quick-firing ammunition was the work of the War Office in reducing the Admiralty Estimates for the year. I corrected him, and explained that the Estimates as a whole had to be reduced from the original proposals as a matter of public policy, but that any particular reduction which was effected in the Estimate for Naval Ordnance was made with the consent and acquiescence, of course, of the First Lord of the Admiralty.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I cannot go into this question of the quick-firing guns. I must leave the War Office and the Admiralty to fight it out between them. I am simply speaking of the action of the Government of which I was a member and of the finance for which I was responsible, and what I affirm is that as regards the Naval expenditure of this country we did as much 427 and more than any Government had done in leaving an efficient Navy. And I will prove that from the mouth of the noble Lord himself. Within a few months of his coming into office, and when he must have known perfectly well what was the state of the Navy, the present First Lord stated at the Lord Mayor's banquet that the ships in commission, armoured and unarmoured, exceeded the combined force of the three greatest Naval Powers of Europe. That was his description of the condition of the Navy he had inherited from his predecessors. And yet now he goes about the country endeavouring to induce people to believe that Liberal Governments always run down the Navy. The gallant Admiral the Member for Eastbourne Division of Sussex used a curious illustration when he selected the year 1844—a date when the Tory Government had been three years in power.
§ * ADMIRAL FIELD
I quoted a letter on the subject written in 1844, but actually referring to the state of things prior to 1842.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I will prove my argument from the mouth of the noble Lord himself. It was his duty in 1887 to bring forward the Naval Estimates, and, remember, he had succeeded to a Government which had insufficiently provided for the Navy. And at that time he—or rather the Chancellor of the Exchequer—was in a more fortunate position than I was, for instead of a deficit he had a surplus. Was it not his duty to produce increased Estimates to make up the deficiency we had left behind us? Let us see what he did do. In the Memorandum prefixed to the Navy Estimates, the noble Lord said they showed a decrease of £793,000 as compared with the expenditure of the preceding year, and that the large augmentation of our fighting strength and the satisfactory condition of the Navy would render it possible with judicious management to associate for some time a reduction of expenditure with an increase of Naval efficiency. This, of course, was the result of what had been done under the Northbrook programme. I am bound to say that for a single year the noble Lord kept his pledges, for in 1888 he proposed a reduction of nearly a million in the Navy Estimates. Thus, although he 428 charges us with having insufficiently provided for the Navy, he was able in two successive years to reduce the Estimates to this extent. When was it discovered the Navy was inefficient? In 1888 the First Sea Lord wanted only half-a-dozen fast cruizers. He was satisfied with everything on the 16th of June. Sir A. Hood on that date, in reply to Question. No. 4,234, said he was satisfied with everything else. Then when was this enormous expenditure found to be necessary? The First Sea Lord was satisfied on the 16th June, and the First Lord of the Admiralty says the new plan was made in July. What an extraordinary thing! Could a great plan of this kind be made in two or three weeks? What discoveries were made in that interval? What does the noble Lord tell us? He says—"I learnt a lesson from the Autumn Manœuvres and that changed my mind." But the Autumn Manœuvres did not take place until after the scheme was produced.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
I never said I changed my plans. I said my previous opinion was confirmed by the result of the Naval Manœuvres.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
But how about the First Sea Lord? He said on the 16th June he was satisfied with everything at the Admiralty. Did not the noble Lord communicate his plans to the First Sea Lord? Surely the First Sea Lord never knew a proposal was to be made for a great increase in the Navy, or he would not have deceived the Committee. When was he told? The noble Lord tells us it was the finance of 1886 which had reduced the Navy into this condition. Really, Sir, anything more preposterous it seems to me impossible to conceive. The fact is, it was done at the last moment. We know what was the real cause of the change in the mind of the noble Lord. It was not the Autumn Manœuvres which changed the First Lord's mind; it was the "sweet little cherub that sits up aloft" who was behind him. It is all nonsense to talk about the plan being recommended by the responsible advisers of the Admiralty; it is nothing of the kind. The Navy, I am convinced, is still as strong as it was when it was described by the First Lord at the Lord Mayor's banquet, and if he did not in two years discover its defects, it was because they did not exist. I prefer to 429 take the deliberate convictions of the advisers of the Crown expressed through the First Sea Lord—and who has said pretty much the same thing ever since. He stated it before the Civil Engineers the other day, and I noticed that some newspaper demanded his instant dismissal. I believe these are the true convictions of the Government and their advisers on the subject, and, believing that this is an entirely artificial scare, I for one shall vote against the Third Reading.
§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
As the discussion would have to close in five minutes' time if the Third Reading is to be taken this evening, and as many Members desire to speak, I beg to move the Adjournment of the Debate.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned." —(Mr. Fenwick.)
§ * MR. W. H. SMITH
I hope I may appeal to the House to give the Bill a Third Reading on the present occasion. My noble Friend purposely shortened his remarks in order to give the right hon. Member for Derby an opportunity, of which he has well availed himself, to express his views on the Third Reading of the Bill, which has been before the House in a great many stages. I appeal to hon. Members who have already expressed their views to allow those views to remain on record, and not again to repeat them, so as to greatly delay the business of the House. I should not ask hon. Members to do so if I did not feel that it is in the interests of the House itself that the Bill should now be read a third time.
§ * MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
I did not intend to take any part in the debates on this Bill, but I am anxious to hear what answer the noble Lord has to make to the statements of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, as, in the absence of a satisfactory reply, I shall charge the Government with having imposed an absolutely unnecessary burden upon the people. [An hon. MEMBER: Talk it out.] I have never talked anything out in this House, and do not want to begin. The right hon. Gentleman is calling upon us for an extravagant expenditure, and in order that we may hear the answer to the instructive speech of the right hon. 430 Gentleman the Member for Derby, I hope the First Lord of the Treasury will agree to the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ * MR. W. H. SMITH
My noble Friend is prevented by the Rules of the House from answering the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ * MR. W. H. SMITH
I requested my noble Friend to shorten his remarks in order to give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to speak after him. I can only repeat it is not, therefore, in the power of my noble Friend to reply to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby.
§ SIR W. LAWSON
Is there no one on the Treasury Bench who knows anything about the Admiralty but the noble Lord? If so, we shall not at all object to his replying. I really think that a more monstrous proposition than to close this debate now I have never heard in this House. I hope the Government will have the decency to allow the debate to be adjourned.
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
Many of us desired to speak on this Bill on the Second Reading, but the noble Lord took the extraordinary course, when he concluded his own speech, of moving the closure. I do, therefore, think we are justified in asking that the present debate be adjourned.
It being ten minutes to seven o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.