§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
1. Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £220,500 be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expenses of the Admiralty Office, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1891.
§ (4.49.) CAPTAIN VERNEY (Buckinghamshire, N.)
There are 150 military men in the House, but not a dozen naval men, and I hope the Committee, therefore, will not be impatient when I ask it to consider one or two matters of interest to Naval Members. I do not desire unnecessarily to take up the time of the Committee, but the particular point I wish to draw attention to is the Report of the Royal Commission—
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Lord G. HAMILTON, Middlesex, Ealing)
Yes; but there has been an understanding that Vote 12 should be taken first. There are only three Votes, and this is to be taken first.
§ (4.50.) CAPTAIN VERNEY
I think there can be only one opinion in the Committee as to the extreme importance of this Report. Its value is partly due to the high standing in the country of the men appointed on the Royal Commission, whose words could not fail to have great weight with all hon. Members, whether they are conversant with naval affairs or not. I do not think it is too much to assume that every word of the Report was carefully weighed and considered. The Royal Commission was appointed on the 12th of June, 1888, more than two years ago, and it has furnished two Reports. The first dealt with the Navy and the second with the Army. The first was dated June 10th, 1889. I do not think it is unreasonable the Navy should expect that the Government should have taken some action on a Report which has now been before 282 them more than 12 months. It deals with the defence of the United Kingdom, and I do not know that anybody could bring before this House a subject of more importance than that. The Commissioners state that little or no attempt has been made to secure that combined action between the Navy and the Army which would be necessary in time of war. I think that is a startling fact to bring before the Committee. We are told that no combined plan of operations for the defence of the country has ever been worked out. In the 13th paragraph we read of the "unsatisfactory and dangerous condition of affairs." In the 98th paragraph we come to the suggestions made to deal with this dangerous condition of affairs. Departmental changes are suggested, and in the 20th paragraph there is a suggestion of a Naval and Military Council. In the 40th paragraph the Commissioners recommend four things in regard to naval administration.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
Might I interrupt the hon. Gentleman by saying I informed the House months ago that all the recommendations of the Committee had been acted upon and were actually in working order.
§ CAPTAIN VERNEY
I confess I take to myself some blame for not having been aware of that. It certainly will be gratifying to the country to know that that is the case. I now turn to page 21, paragraph 63, of the Report, where the Commissioners say—We assume that, as in the case of the Admiralty, the Parliamentary head of the Department must continue to be a civilian.It is remarkable that throughout their Report the Commissioners express themselves in favour of having an exactly parallel organisation in the Army as in the Navy. They urge that, unless we have a parallel organisation in the two Services, we gain nothing by having reorganised the Navy. On page 29 we have a Special Report signed, "H. Campbell Bannerman." He is a gentleman who has had some experience in the Admiralty; and he says on page 29 that this proposal is, in fact, the kernel of the Report—That in future the Secretary of State should be advised by the heads of the several Military Departments, and who may be equally, separately, and directly responsible to him, as 283 well as for the advice they offer to him as for the conduct of the business of their Departments.This, exactly corresponding to the organisation of the Navy, would enable the shore defences to meet and balance the Naval defences of the country. I have another remark to make. I had occasion a day or two ago to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty who was responsible for the failure of some guns in target practice recently off the West Coast of England. That question was not answered because a Report had not reached the Admiralty. Under the present system the responsibility appears to rest with the Commander-in-Chief (page 23),Who alone would be accountable to the Secretary of State even for such a matter as the defective design of a heavy gun.On the face of it, that is an absurdity. I do not think that our naval officers can be generally satisfied that responsibility for naval guns should rest upon the Commander-in-Chief of the Army. While I would not for one moment say anything which would hurt the feelings of an officer who has served his country so well for years, I do hope some way may be suggested by which this anomaly shall be removed. I hope that the result of the Debate may be to strengthen the hands of the Military Authorities in completing the organisation of the Army on lines parallel with the organisation of the Navy, and so remove the stigma, coming from such a responsible and weighty body of gentlemen as those who formed the Royal Commission, that the organisation of our Army and Navy is unsatisfactory and dangerous, and that no attempt has been made to place in on a sound footing.
§ (5.8.) MR. DUFF (Banffshire)
I think the House and the country will be anxious to know the details of what has been done. So far as this Report goes, I am bound to say that the Government appear to me to have paid very little attention to it. The Secretary of State for War has said that there is to be a Committee of the Cabinet, and that Committee of the Cabinet appear to me to have the whole matter in their own hands. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs, the kernel of this Report really is in the 19th paragraph, where it suggests that the heads of Departments 284 should meet and form some programme. I want to know in what respect that recommendation has been carried out. On reading this Report, and from what has been said by the First Lord of the Admiralty, I have come to the conclusion that some arrangement was made by which the First Naval Lord, the representative of the War Office—the Adjutant General or the head of the Ordnance Department—and some others were to form themselves into a Committee. Of course, it could only be an advising Committee. I do not believe that Cabinet Ministers, however able they may be, can take the initiative in affairs connected with the defence of the country. They must have professional advice; though I admit that they are finally responsible, yet the initiative must come from the War Office. Nothing has yet been said with regard to what has been done on paragraph 19. I want to know what has been done with regard to the position of the First Naval Lord. Sir Frederick Richards, a man of great experience, proposes a reduction of his routine duties. Is it proposed to relieve him of many of those routine duties by giving him a captain and secretary? I think that would be a very good thing indeed. But I entirely dissent from the Report where it places the First Naval Lord above his colleagues. That would not be for the benefit of the Service. Sir Frederick Richards also refers to the question of naval ordnance, and I do hope in connection with this subject that the First Lord will be able to assure us that he will lay on the Table the Report of the Departmental Committee, in order that we may see what the Army are really doing in regard to ordnance. As to the suggestion of Sir Frederick Richards, on page 34 of the Report, for a separate Naval Ordnance Department, that, no doubt, would be very expensive, and I do not think we have a right to ask the country to go to that expense unless we are quite satisfied that it cannot be encompassed in any other way. This is not a new proposal. We used to have an Ordnance Department on which either Service might call. Was that a satisfactory arrangement? I do not think it was. I have representations from several officers that they do not altogether approve of the system. If you had a separate Ordnance Depart- 285 ment I am not at all sure that you would get over your difficulties. I do not mean to say that you would have so much trouble as you have now. For my own part, I have never been able to see why the Admiralty should not go to Woolwich and say we want so many guns, and then, if Woolwich could only supply a few of them, the Admiralty should go into the market and get their own guns. The objection hitherto has been the want of interchangeability between the two Services. Against that objection I would mention that there would be an Ordnance Committee for supplying designs to the Army and Navy. If there is one design I cannot see why one stock should not be made from it, and why the Admiralty should not be able to order their own guns. I think it is worth while attempting that system before going to the expense of a separate Ordnance Department. I think the First Lord of the Admiralty will facilitate discussion if he tells us what has been done to carry out the recommendations of the Commission.
§ (5.20.) SIR R. TEMPLE (Worcester, Evesham)
I would not have ventured to address the House had I not been a Member of the Royal Commission and had a hand in the Report which has just been commented upon. Now, I desire to say that after a very searching and impartial investigation the Admiralty came out well—thoroughly well. Inasmuch as the management of the Admiralty has often been adversely criticised in public, I hope that this result will be regarded as highly satisfactory by the majority of the House and by the nation at large. In the Admiralty there are three elements—first, the junior Lords, each one of them with definite responsibility for his own Departmental work, together with a voice in the general policy of the Navy whenever called into council, though with absolute deference to the First Lord. Then the First Naval Lord now has virtually a separate responsibility and position of his own, subject always to the authority of the First Lord. He is relieved, not entirely, but largely of Departmental business, so that he may give his undivided thought to the great question of the fighting power of the Navy. If it should be found in time of 286 danger that our fleet is insufficient, we shall have a right to know whether the First Naval Lord recommended a force which would have been found sufficient, and whether the professional adviser at the Admiralty gave adequate counsel to the First Lord. Then we have the First Lord of the Admiralty as the absolute and final authority, because he is answerable to Parliament. I submit that this system comprises individual responsibility for the members of the Admiralty, together with combined action in case of need, and with one head solely responsible for the final decision. Such an organisation is essentially a powerful one, commensurate with the mighty power of our armament, and national defences. Further, I am bound to say that many distinguished Naval Authorities and other officers gave evidence before us, and we were struck with the confidence they testified in the Admiralty, which seems to command the esteem of the great Service over which it presides. Lastly, one word as regards the ordnance. The hon. Member for East Bucks seems to think it a very dreadful thing that the guns of the Navy should be made by the Army Authority.
§ CAPTAIN VERNEY
I never said that. I said it was absurd that the Commander-in-Chief should be held responsible for them.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
Well, but that comes to the same thing. And the hon. Member for Banff, who last spoke, seemed to be of the same opinion. Now, I must remind the House there are only three alternatives. You must either have a separate Ordnance Department, such as once existed and was abolished, or, failing that, you must have the ordnance made by the Army for the Navy, or by the Navy for the Army, because uniformity of size and fashion of sample is essential in the event of war. Therefore, I submit that you must have one Department; and if you do not have a separate Department you cannot do better than follow the existing plan of this country, namely, that the Army should make the guns for the Navy.
§ (5.25.) LORD G. HAMILTON
It is very gratifying to have this testimony to the organisation of the Admiralty from one who has had experience in the service of the Government of India, 287 which all will admit has been marvellously effective. I am glad to find that one who was formerly a distinguished member of the Governor General's Council is able to appreciate the constitution and organisation of the Department, which is now carried on and maintained very much on the lines as that to which he has been accustomed. I think it must be admitted by all impartial readers of the Report that it may be fairly pointed out that only four allegations have been made against the Department. I have been able to give effect to those allegations by making changes, which no doubt, have been conducted quietly, and therefore have escaped the notice of hon. Gentlemen. The Commission pointed out that there are two spheres of action in which the Army and Navy ought to operate. The only fault found with the Navy was that it was not prepared to respond to the operations of the Army, and that there was no fixed plan laid down by which the duty was imposed upon the Admiralty in time of peace to convey troops to different parts. My opinion, and the opinion of every distinguished naval officer I have met, is that expressed by Sir Frederick Richards, who says—"To give such a guarantee would be, in my opinion, as wrong as to expect it." And you may depend upon this: that whenever the Naval Forces of this country are in serious danger, it will be due to unnecessary dispersion. The one thing above all others necessary to the Admiralty is not to enter into engagements to unconditionally scatter its ships so that they cannot be readily concentrated in our own waters. With regard to other recommendations of the Commission, I am glad that I may, without exaggeration, say that we have fully complied with them in our present system. The hon. Member for Banff went on to criticise certain remarks of Sir Frederick Richards in which he proposed an alteration of the existing system of supplying the guns. Now, I have said on several occasions that neither my right hon. Friend the Minister for War nor myself are thoroughly satisfied with the system of supplying the guns, but we thought it better to make the most advantageous use of the system which we have, though I have no doubt that the natural tendency of events will be to give the Navy control 288 over its ordnance. Every step that has been taken in that direction has resulted in increased efficiency. Under the circumstances, I do not think it is possible to accept any proposal for a change, but there will be no prevention of any step in that direction. I believe the constitution of the Navy is a good one. It certainly attaches to every Naval Lord responsibility for his Department. It gives him high status by making him a member of the Supreme Governing Board of the Admiralty. By the distribution of Papers in the Admiralty, every Naval Lord will be fully cognisant of the general policy. The simplest and most effective way of answering the questions which have been put to me will be to lay on the Table a Paper which will show what was the distribution of business some years ago, the alterations which were made in 1885, and again in 1888, and the further alterations recently made for the purpose of giving more full effect to the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I think the Paper would give general satisfaction to those who take an interest in naval questions. It will show that the First Naval Lord of the routine which has hitherto attached to his office, and clearly and distinctly defines the duties of the other Naval Lords and their responsibility for the Departments over which they have control.
(5.30.) ADMIRAL MAYNE (Pembroke and Haverfordwest)
I regret to say that I must differ not only from the First Lord of the Admiralty, but from hon. Gentlemen who have also spoken. The hon. Member for the Evesham Division (Sir R. Temple) seemed to form an idea of what the First Naval Lord really was from what he ought to be, and he actually tells the Committee that if disaster happens to our fleet, we have a right to know who is the First Naval Lord, in order to call upon him to answer for it. We have had it not only from First Lords in this House, but from volumes of evidence before Commissions and Committees, that the First Lord of the Admiralty considers himself solely and entirely responsible. As I have said, when speaking upon this subject before, he claims responsibility in this House when there is no trouble; he does not claim the responsibility when the fleet has been beaten at sea. He does not claim 289 responsibility when the Admiral in command is being abused by everybody. But we have had in evidence, within the last few years, from the First Sea Lord himself, that he had no responsibility whatever. We had it from Sir Arthur Hood and other Lords that they considered they had no responsibility. Sir Arthur Hood went so far as to say that, seeing this House would not vote money for ships, it was of no use the First Sea Lord thinking of how many there ought to be. This House has never refused to vote money for ships when asked. Of course, if it is not asked, the House is not likely to volunteer a large sum of money. The mere fact of the way the money was voted when Sir Thomas Brassey was in office in 1884, and when the present First Lord asked for it, shows there is no difficulty about the matter. The real fact is, there is no responsibility whatever in the Board of Admiralty. The First Lord is nominally responsible, but he cannot sign a document in the first person singular; he has no individual existence whatever. If the First Sea Lord occupied a position such as that described by the hon, Member for Evesham, that would go far to meet the difficulty. If the recommendations of the Commission were carried out, and we had means of knowing that the advice of experts was being acted upon at the Board, then we should feel that the First Sea Lord was to some extent in the position in which we wish to see him. But if anyone happens to take up a minute or two of the First Sea Lord's time by calling upon him, I think he would be found sitting before a pile of routine papers, trying to get rid of them, and having no time to devote to the more important questions to which the hon. Member for Evesham says the First Sea Lord can now devote himself. It is the old story that we heard during the Russian scare, when the First Sea Lord being wanted for some important matter was found bestowing the deepest consideration on what was to be the pattern of a hat riband. He has every kind of routine work put upon him, but no time for serious work. With reference to the Ordnance, I should like to urge most strongly upon the First Lord further progress in that path which he says will tend to its being made an entirely 290 separate department. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duff) objects to a separate Ordnance Department because of the expense, and he quotes evidence to show that the old Ordnance Department did not meet with unqualified approval. The old Ordnance Department was conducted on no commercial principle whatever. It had a soldier at the head, and everybody, I was going to say, scrambled for guns and got them as they could. What is wanted is a separate Ordnance Department, with a civilian at the head, who knows what he is doing, and at whose right hand should be a Naval Officer and Military Officer of high rank, through whom both Services could obtain what they want. And, perhaps, what is most important, the guns should be voted for in this House upon a separate Vote. There should be no question of not ordering the guns because it increases the Navy Vote or the Army Vote. The country does not care about these considerations, because the money comes out of the same pocket. If we had a separate Ordnance Department, it would reduce the Army and Navy Votes proper, and the guns ought to be provided more cheaply and better than now. The responsibility for guns used in the Navy resting with the Commander-in-Chief of the Army is, of course, ridiculous. Sir, the difficulty in criticising this Report is that we are working entirely in the dark. This Commission was appointed to inquire into the administration of the two great spending Departments, and we have not before us one word of the evidence upon which that Report has been framed, although it shows plainly that most important evidence must have been given. The noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord R. Churchill), in his separate Report, says—The evidence before us in many particulars disclosed a state of things more seriously unsatisfactory and possibly more pregnant with danger than Parliament or the public imagine.'We have been told that we cannot have the evidence because certain gentlemen gave it under a pledge of secrecy. So they did, but only with respect to a certain part of their evidence. I asked one of the witnesses, and he said he considered secrecy was only advisable as to about 12 out of some 70 questions asked him, and an officer of 291 high rank told me that in sending in the answers to printed questions he did not say all he wished, because he had not the protection of publicity. I cannot understand the lack of courage there must have been among those gentlemen, who were afraid to have their views made public. Unless they made personal attacks on individuals, which ought not to have been received by the Commission, I can conceive no circumstance which would make any gentleman wish to hold back his fair and candid opinion of the administration of the Admiralty or the War Office. The First Lord of the Admiralty spoke just now of not pledging the Navy in time of peace to the conveyance of the military in time of war. In that he is unquestionably right. It is not merely the conveyance of troops, or the transport of a certain number of men, but you must also have a fleet to send with those troops. You cannot take troops on an expedition unless you are prepared with sufficient ships of war to cover their landing, and to defend them against attack during the voyage. In fact, you would have to send a large squadron, and to be always under a pledge to do that would, as the First Lord very properly says, be the most injudicious and rash promise that could possibly be made by any Admiralty. I should like to say, before I sit down, that we have been told by the First Lord that it is of the utmost importance that we should have a dock at Gibraltar and a dock at Bombay. Neither of these is forthcoming. Why? It appears as if Treasury clerks are to be allowed to govern the Navy. We were told that a Departmental Committee was considering the question, and, in answer to a question, I was told there was not a single Naval officer upon that Committee.
No doubt the provision of all docks is a financial question, but if the First Lord is to be really responsible for all the requirements of the Navy, the money for docks or anything else, when wanted, ought to have been forthcoming. While I admit to the utmost that the present Admiralty has done great things, yet I maintain that every obstacle is put in their way by the 292 most faulty system which exists, except that of the War Office.
§ (5.50.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I listened with interest to the statement made by the noble Lord that he has practically carried out all the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I rather hoped the noble Lord would proceed to tell us what he had done, instead of referring us to a Memorandum not yet before us. Under the circumstances, the First Lord must not be surprised if the discussion is resumed next Session. Looking to their Report, I think it must be satisfactory that the Royal Commission do not find any radical defects in the Admiralty. It is now absolutely certain that the First Lord of the Admiralty is supreme at the Board; that he is responsible to Parliament and the country for the management of the Navy; and that the other members of the Board are responsible to him for their own particular Departments. The responsibility of the First Naval Lord has been clearly laid down in the Orders in Council—he is the principal Naval adviser of the First Lord of the Admiralty. On that account he ought to have more time at his disposal, and ought not to be occupied so much with matters of detail. The recommendations of the Royal Commission on this point are of the greatest importance, and ought to be fully carried out. I also attach very great importance to the recommendation of the Royal Commission, that there should be closer communication between the Admiralty and the War Office. I wish to know whether that recommendation has been carried out, and whether the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War, with their advisers, meet in Council. I do not attach any great importance to the recommendation that the Prime Minister should preside at such meetings, his time is already so fully occupied by other work that I do not think he would be able to give much attention to questions relating to the Army and Navy; but I do attach the greatest possible importance to the recommendation that there should be frequent communications between the heads of the two great Departments. The recommendations made by both will be submitted to the Cabinet, and will be of the greatest value in shaping 293 its policy with regard to Naval and Military matters. With a view to closer communication, it is of the greatest importance that the two great Departments should be housed in the same building and, therefore, I must express my deep regret that it should have been decided to proceed with the erection of buildings for the Admiralty and War Office, where it will not be possible for them to communicate easily with one another. I believe it would still be wise to erect some great building on some other site, in which both Departments might be housed under the same roof, devoting the other buildings to some other great Public Departments. I must, in conclusion, enter my protest as to the way in which the Navy Estimates have been dealt with this Session. Looking back to a long experience, I do not recollect any year in which the Navy Estimates have been treated with so much neglect. Generally they are brought forward at a time when the House could give them sufficient consideration. But, during the present Session, there has been only one sitting of four hours given to them. I do not suggest that the head of the Admiralty was guilty of any manœvre, but a large sum of money was voted during the dinner hour, which enabled the Admiralty to proceed with their business without coming to the House for more money. I think that will be a lesson to us in the future, and we shall do our best to prevent the Admiralty taking more than the first Vote on the first night of the Naval Estimates, so as to ensure that the others will come on at a reasonable period of the Session for the further discussion of Admiralty matters. At this point of the Session, and in the absence of a number of hon. Members, who I know desire to take their part in Naval matters, I do not think the Committee can possibly do full justice to all the important questions that arise on these Votes.
§ (5.58.) MR. HANBURY (Preston)
If I am in order, there are only two questions which I desire to put. Before the Naval Estimates Committee, in answer to a question of mine, the First Naval Lord said that in the experience, not only of himself, but of previous Sea Lords, they never in the beginning of the financial year had been called upon to 294 say what the strength of the Navy ought to be. Therefore, I ask my noble Friend, now that he has assigned specific duties to the separate Lords of the Admiralty, has he assigned the special responsibility to the First Sea Lord of informing him in the beginning of the year what the state of the Navy ought to be? Again, with respect to guns, all I want is that the Navy should order its guns in a business-like fashion. I maintain that the Navy ought to be able to order its guns from the War Office as from a private firm; and if it orders its guns from the War Office it ought to be able to treat the War Office as it would treat a private firm. Take the history of one of our 110-ton guns; I think it is a scandalous history. The order was entrusted to the War Office, and it was sent on a common contract form. My point is that, whether the Admiralty order guns from the War Office or from a private firm, it ought to draw out its own contracts and test its own guns. There is one other point I desire to raise. It is a good many years since we had any Report as to the Naval Reserves. I do not think we have had one since the Duke of Edinburgh was Admiral Superintendent. At the present moment considerable doubt exists in the public mind as to the value of the force. Why are the annual Reports not now published? Would it not be as well to go back to the old rule of making them public?
§ (6.2.) SIR E. J. REED (Cardiff)
I think my hon. Friend has hardly attached sufficient value to the remarks which fell from the First Lord. I, for one, cannot but express my satisfaction at the numerous changes which are being carried out at the Admiralty in the direction of increasing the responsibility of the Senior Naval Lord, especially relieving him of a great deal of his routine duty. I agree with my hon. Friend that the revelation as to the absence of responsibility on the part of certain Sea Naval Lords, and particularly of the Senior Naval Lord, is astounding. I think it will be well for us to give the Board of Admiralty encouragement in the direction indicated by the words of the First Lord. It ought not to be the case that no highly-placed Naval Authority should be available to whom we can look for satisfactory information 295 as to the strength, movements, and preparedness of the fleet in time of war. As to the recommendation of the Committee regarding a Council or Committee of professional heads of Departments, I do not think that such a body should include any outside person possessing no official responsibility. It would be a very injudicious proceeding to bring into a permanent Council of this kind anyone who has no responsibility. Such a danger would be increased by giving the Council a deciding power. Still, I do not believe that in these days any Committee or Council, consisting of politicians alone, or politicians and naval officers alone, could do full justice to the subject in the present condition of the Public Service in the Navy any more than it could in the Army. The use of mechanical appliances in the Navy is superseding, to an enormous degree, the action of men, and I can scarcely understand how, at a time like the present, when questions continually arise touching the relations between the great Departments—questions, for instance, relating to the transport of troops, the escort of transports, the length of a voyage, and the consumption of fuel—a Committee of the Cabinet could deal with such matters. I think, that what is wanted is the appointment of a Joint Committee comprising the heads of professional Departments, as an advising, but not as a deciding, body. I could mention many urgent cases in which the necessity of closer communication between the War Office and the Navy is demonstrated. For instance, on the subject of harbours, ports, and river defences, the Local Authorities in the various localities have the greatest possible difficulty in finding out who possesses the deciding power in those matters, or whether they ought to go to the War Office or the Admiralty. That is one matter which might be considered by a Joint Committee, comprising professional officers of both Services. Through the courtesy of the Secretary for War I had the privilege the other day of witnessing the launch from the shore of a Brennan torpedo. These torpedoes are intended for attacking ships off the coast, and in connection with them there are many matters, such as the choice of places where they shall be fixed, and other technical questions, which ought to be dis- 296 cussed by a Joint Committee of Army and Navy officers. I regret that nothing has been done in the direction indicated by the Committee in Clause 20 of the Report. The Secretary for War the other day seemed to suggest a want of confidence in the value of technical assistance; he went so far as to say that technical men are good to advise, but not to decide. I wish to know why the assistance of technical persons who are most intimate with the operations of war is to be limited to giving evidence before persons who are not in the possession of the requisite knowledge. I have one fault to find with the constitution or working of the Board of Admiralty; I do feel that it adheres too much to the old lines laid down by a past age. The services of sailors, politicians, and technical men ought equally to be utilised. In the Engineering Department especially is the assistance of technical men needed. The truth is, the Navy, like the Army, is being kept an aristocratic Service. Engineers and technical men are not aristocrats, and these branches are consequently being kept down by Naval officers and politicians at large. At the present moment the whole Engineering Service of the Royal Navy is in a state of considerable dissatisfaction, because they know they have not a single person on the Board who is interested in them. I advise the First Lord not be guided merely by his Naval officers, and to take into serious consideration whether he will not give some large measure of satisfaction to that branch of Her Majesty's Service upon which success in any and every operation of war in the future must depend. I, for one, knowing with what ease this dissatisfaction in an engine room of a ship might result in disaster at a critical moment, do not feel that the Navy of the country is as safe as it might be made.
§ (6.19.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I rise to ask as to the use of the gun-boat Britomart, lately, off the coast of Kerry. Her Majesty's ships have been used recently off the coast of Ireland for the purpose of facilitating evictions, but on occasions previous to the use of the Britomart, so far as I am aware, they have only been utilised for the purpose of conveying the Sheriff and the armed forces of the Crown, to assist him in the carrying out of the evictions. But there 297 has been a new departure in this instance, and I contend it has been a completely unjustifiable development of the procedure. These proceedings arose out of a dispute between an Irish landlord, the Earl of Cork, formerly a member of the Royal Household, and his tenantry, who live on the Blasket Islands. These tenants derive their living mainly and substantially from fishing, and fishing-boats are their principle implements of trade, and the means by which they procure their livelihood. Now, this gunboat was employed against those people, and the first question I have to ask is, by whom was the gunboat requisitioned for the purpose, and by whose authority was it allowed to be so used. Was it by the authority of the First Lord of the Admiralty, or of any other official? Not only did the Britomart convey the Sheriff and his officers from the mainland to the islands, but it also carried a number of employés of Lord Cork. I submit it was the duty of this landlord to find a conveyance for his own employés, and that he had no right to use one of Her Majesty's ships for the purpose. When the gunboat reached the island a seizure was made, and it appears to me that that seizure was contrary to law. According to the Civil Bills Act, debtors are entitled to retain the implements of their trade to the value of £5. The proceedings against these tenants were under writs of fi. fa., and they, therefore, had the right to retain the implements of their trade to the value I have mentioned. The only implements of trade which they possessed would be their fishing-boats, and I contend that Her Majesty's gunboat was used for an illegal purpose when it was utilised for the purpose of towing away from this island the boats of these unfortunate fishermen. Another question which I have to put is, by what rule of law, or by what usage of the Admiralty, or by what precedent which can be quoted, is a justification to be made out for using one of the ships belonging to this country for the purpose of taking away the property of private persons, and conveying it from those islands to the mainland. It must not be forgotten that, by taking those boats, the authorities deprived these poor fishermen of the means of pursuing their industry, or of procuring 298 food, while, in the case of illness, they were also deprived of the possibility of securing medical aid. This is an act of war—an act of war on the part of the commander of one of Her Majesty's ships against a poor and helpless community. No doubt the transaction is open to explanation, and I think we are entitled to insist upon a full explanation, and, therefore, without any personal reference to the First Lord of the Admiralty, in his position as a Minister of the Crown, I beg to move that the Vote be reduced by £1,000, simply in order to call attention to this matter.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A, Salaries, be reduced by £1,000, part of the Salary of the First Lord of the Admiralty."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ (6.25.) LORD G. HAMILTON
A good deal of information has already been given on this subject in reply to questions put by hon. Members opposite. War vessels are sometimes employed for the purpose of assisting the Civil Authorities in enforcing the law, and I believe that in the present instance the Britomart was employed for that purpose. The practice in Ireland has been that any gunboat or vessel connected with the Admiralty can be requisitioned, if no other means of conveyance can be found, and as no other means of conveyance was available, in the instance referred to, the Britomart was so employed. I understand it is the duty of naval officers, when a requisition is forwarded to them, to assist the Civil Authority in enforcing the law. With regard to the persons conveyed in the gunboat, I believe, that outside the officers and men on the boat, the only other persons were the Sheriff, his bailiffs, the police officials, and certain land agents. It appears to me that the officer in charge of any vessel is perfectly right in taking on board persons who are willing to assist in enforcing the law. The hon. Member who has just spoken has asked me whether the seizures which were made were legal, and in reply to that, all I can say is that I can give no opinion on a legal matter of the kind. It is not for the officers of a vessel to consider whether the proceedings are legal or otherwise. With regard to the goods that were seized, I believe that if a number of cattle had been seized, the 299 seizure would have been justifiable, and, therefore, do not see why the seizure of boats is illegal. That is all the explanation I can give on the part of the Admiralty. I do not think it is the business of naval officers to express any opinion as to the legality of the orders under which they act.
§ (6.32.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
The noble Lord who has just sat down has laid down a very startling doctrine, and I think if he had considered the question for a moment he would not have made such a speech. I would ask the noble Lord whether, supposing the Sheriff had captured so many tons of hay, or so many fields of potatoes, it would have been the duty of the blue-jackets to have loaded the hay on board their vessels, and to have dug up the potatoes and put them in the hold amongst the gunpowder. We are told it is the duty of the Naval and Military Services to protect the Sheriff Supposing the Sheriff seized the one ewe lamb of a widow, would it be the duty of one of the protecting soldiers to take it on his shoulders and toddle off with it to the Sheriff's pound? If Her Majesty's ships are to be used for the carriage of the tenants' assets, why are not the backs of Her Majesty's soldiers to be used in the same way? What are the facts about the captain of the Britomart? Is he not the man who, in Bantry Bay, ran down the little yacht of my hon. Friend because it had a green, streamer on it?
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
I am not aware that he was ever engaged in any transaction of the kind. The hon. Member is thinking about Captain Blackburne, of the Shannon.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Well, that shows the spirit prevailing amongst the officers of Her Majesty's Navy. I withdraw the statement about the captain of the Britomart. I put it to the noble Lord, however, does he persist in the suggestion that the towage of these boats was protection? The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary allowed the police to work the battering-ram in Donegal, on the ground that it was necessary for the protection of the Sheriff. We exposed that contention to this House, and since then the police have not been called upon for battering-ram duty. In this case I say it is only humbug to pretend that the 300 Sheriff could not have got conveyance to the Blasket Islands. There are boats galore on that part of the coast of Kerry, and is it to be supposed that Lord Cork and his agents, who own the principal part of the coast, could not have got a boat in which to convey the Sheriff and some of his emergency men to the island? If you lay down the doctrine that it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to provide sea conveyance for Sheriffs, you must say also they are bound to provide land conveyance, and they must place horses and carts at the service of the Sheriff, every time Mr. Smith-Barry, or any other gentleman connected with the land question in Ireland, wants to make a seizure. I suppose, also, according to the noble Lord, they must provide gun-carriages in which the things seized can be taken away. I would suggest to the noble Lord that he should revise his opinion on this important question, because no lawyer would support it. I say it is no part of the duty of the Government to provide means of conveyance. One of the means of conveyance at the disposal of the Government is a war balloon. Will it be contended that, if the Sheriff called on them to do so, it would be their duty to provide a war balloon to take him over to the island and to bring back the potatoes and other belongings of the tenants? The suggestion that the Government are bound to help the Sheriff to carry away his booty does not hold water—not even bilge water. It is perfectly absurd for the noble Lord to say that this action was necessary for the purpose of protecting the Sheriff, The protection of the Sheriff is a mere farce, and the contention put forward by the noble Lord shows that, as we have always contended, the Government of Ireland is a mere landlords' association. After all, we subscribe to the cost of the Britomart and to the wages of the captain and the seamen. We do not want to have our money used in this way. The captain of the Britomart has exceeded his duty, and it is monstrous that he should be backed up in his excess of duty. I remember the eloquent speech in which the present Chief Secretary for Ireland denounced the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) for having sent gunboats to Skye. I 301 should like to know whether the Member for Derby sent marines into the crofters' houses to take away their little store of winter feeding for the benefit of the Duke of Argyll. Suppose you sent marines to a tithe seizure on the Welsh coast, would the marines take the tenant's stock on board one of Her Majesty's ships, in order that it might be afterwards sold for the benefit of the Archbishop of Canterbury? No, Sir, it is only in Blasket Island that these things are tolerated. I hope we shall have some further expression of opinion from the Government on the subject.
§ (6.45.) MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
As I understand it, a writ of fieri facias has been executed, and the captain of one of Her Majesty's vessels has taken charge of the goods and chattels seized under it, and has moved them. Now, I want to test the legality of this proceeding. I have understood hitherto that nothing could be clearer than that, while the forces of the Crown might be called upon to protect the Sheriff in the execution of his duty when any resistance was anticipated or was in course of being shown, they had no right whatever to interfere in any way with the seizure. The test is a very, simple one. To whom is the writ of fieri facias directed? Not to Her Majesty's Fleet, but to the Sheriff of the county. If Her Majesty's sailors have a right to remove goods, Her Majesty's land forces, as has been already pointed out, have a similar right. Is it contended that if the Sheriff of Middlesex levied under a writ of fieri facias he might send to Woolwich or anywhere else to get gun-carriages for the purpose of removing the furniture or other goods seized? The proposition is ridiculous. It is clear that an actually illegal act has been committed. In whose custody were the things seized when on board the Britomart? They were in the custody of the commander of the Britomart, and not in the custody of the Sheriff. Suppose the Parcel Post is used for the removal of goods which have been seized by the Sheriff, if the goods pass into the custody of the Government, as they must, whether they are put on board a ship of war or into the vehicles of the Postmaster General, they pass out of the custody of the Sheriff. I do trust that responsible Members of this House, who contend for some show of 302 legality in the proceedings of the Government in Ireland, will support the position we take up on this question. I am glad to see that the Attorney General has just come into the House, and I would appeal to him to express his opinion upon the legality of what has been done.
§ (6.51.) MR E. HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
I am sure the challenge of the hon. Member to the Attorney General cannot pass unnoticed. I see the Attorney General and the Solicitor General are putting their heads together to see what answer they shall give.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir R. WEBSTER, Isle of Wight)
I really must ask the hon. Member not to make these observations. I have been asking for the facts. I know nothing at all about, the matter.
§ MR. E. HARRINGTON
I have much pleasure in stating the facts. The Island of Blasket forms part of my constituency. There is upon the island no resident medical man, and no clergyman. If, as alleged in this case, all the boats are taken away, I do not see how these poor islanders can get to the mainland when the doctor or the priest is needed. The gunboat, Britomart, took on board in Tralee Bay, Mr. Cecil Roche, the County Inspector, three District Inspectors, and the Sheriff and Sheriff's officers. These men went to Blasket, Island, and, in lieu of rent, seized' the canoes and boats belonging to the islanders, leaving no means of proceeding on shore, and no means of securing the fish, which forms a great part of the sustenance of these poor people at this period of the year. Hon. Members may still recollect the harrowing descriptions that were given a few years ago of the poverty and destitution of these islanders. Newspaper men visited the place and found the people were living on turnips and seaweed. The Irish potato crop is now believed to be failing. This is the time the First Lord of the Admiralty chooses for lending a vessel in order actually to starve the people. The noble Lord says the people have met the demands made upon them. He might just as well announce to me that they had taken up all the stocks and shares in the market at the present day. They never could pay. They are on the verge of starvation, and have 303 nothing with which to pay. They may have attended the sale and redeemed their boats for a few pence. The noble Lord has not answered a single question addressed to himself about his own business. Am I to be told that at any time Mr. Cecil Roche wants a cruise in these waters, a gunboat is at his disposal? Surely there have been some communications with the Admiralty on the subject. The noble Lord will remember that some time ago, when the French fishing boats were taking the bread out of the mouths of these people, I asked him to send a gunboat to protect their fishing rights. He said he could not spare one, and he sent out an old cutter, whose maximum speed, I suppose, was about four knots an hour, to catch the French fishing boats, which have each a crew of 12 men and are provided with screws. The noble Lord thought it ridiculous that the men of the Blasket Islands should have this boat to protect their fishing rights. That was a question of protecting an Irish industry, but when it becomes a question of the destruction of an Irish industry, and the torment of the people, seemingly the consent of the Admiralty is not sought in the matter, and the captain of the Britomart can lend the services of his ship on his own responsibility. I think the way my hon. and learned Friend dealt with this matter—though he touched it with a light hand—will commend itself to the Attorney General opposite, and I shall be surprised if, when the Debate is over—some naval officer on the Government Benches does not get up and make a decent protest against this disgrace to an honourable profession. This case is a disgrace to the Navy, and I am surprised that men bound by the ties of Party pretend to lend their sanction to the theory that it is part of the duty of the Navy to act as the servants of the Sheriff. I am more interested and concerned in what may be called the humane aspect of the question than in the legal one. These people are treated as if they are a hostile nation. They are left to starve and die on the rocky island, and this is done under the flag of the British Empire, the glorious Union Jack that Home Rulers are tearing to pieces. I would rather see it torn assunder than see it disgraced by such work as the Brito- 304 mart has been performing. The Cabinet shows that, in its every move, it is actuated more by its sympathy with the landlords than by any desire to vindicate law and order.
§ (7.3.) THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir E. CLARKE, Plymouth)
The moral question put by the hon. Member as to whether it was right or wrong to use the Britomart for the purpose of conveying the Sheriff to this island, and bringing back the goods of the islanders, is quite apart from the legal question put by the hon. Member for Northampton. I understand that the hon. Member for Northampton put a proposition before the Committee—and he challenged assent or dissent from the proposition— that it was absolutely illegal for this boat, the Britomart, to be used, or, as he said, for a gun-carriage to be requisitioned by the Sheriff of Middlesex from Woolwich, for the purpose of conveying goods which are seized by the Sheriff. I do not agree that it was absolutely illegal. It is clear, I think, that the Sheriff was not entitled to requisition the ship for the purpose of conveying goods seized, but in this case the Sheriff, as I understand, went on board the boat and was taken to the island, for the purpose of effecting a seizure. The goods were brought back by the Britomart, and certain boats were towed away. The hon. Member says that the goods passed from the custody of the Sheriff to that of the Forces of the Crown. Now, I do not understand that that was the case at all. The goods were in the custody of the Sheriff all the time. There was nothing illegal in asking the persons on the ship to assist the Sheriff in removing those things. There was no duty on them to do it. At the same time, they were entitled to do it, and there was nothing illegal in their action. The question of law is a simple one, and I do not desire to go beyond that question. I, however, shall be happy to supplement what I have said if the hon. Member thinks there is any part of the question he has propounded which I have not dealt with.
§ (7.7.) MR. BRADLAUGH
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for what he has said, but he has not quite replied to my question—probably because he did not hear me. I assumed that the Sheriff had a writ of fieri facias, 305 but I said that no person not constituted a bailiff by the Sheriff has a right to take possession of any goods under that writ. I suppose the Sheriff's powers are limited and made clear by law; but this is the question I desire to have answered: Whether the goods can be put on a vessel of war, or war carriage, and whether the Sheriff can have any authority where the military law is supreme. Suppose the captain of the Britomart were sued for trespass for carrying away the chattels. He could not justify himself on the ground that he was acting under the instructions of the Sheriff, because the Sheriff has no right to request him to take possession. I was struck by one phrase the hon. and learned Gentleman made use of. He said what had happened was not "absolutely illegal." Was it illegal at all?
§ SIR E. CLARKE
The hon. Member used the term "absolutely illegal," and asked whether we assented or dissented from the proposition he laid down. I do not agree that it was absolutely illegal, but I do not mean to qualify my statement in the least. I say it was not illegal.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
With all due respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, I think that "on the other side of Westminster Hall," as we used to say, it would have been held to be absolutely illegal.. The authorities might protect the goods in the possession of the Sheriff, and protect the Sheriff in carrying them away, but the doctrine laid down by the learned Solicitor General would be most dangerous. If it is to be laid down by the Law Officers that the naval officer is acting rightly in seizing goods for the Sheriff, then the same rule will hold in the case of military carriages when required.
§ SIR E. CLARKE
I am distinctly of opinion that there was nothing illegal in what was done. I know of nothing to prevent the Sheriff from asking the assistance of any person to convey away goods seized. There is nothing to prevent a military or naval officer rendering assistance, and I do not assent to the idea that because it is a naval officer who renders such assistance, the goods in any way pass out of the custody of the Sheriff. Dealing simply with the question of law, I venture to say there was nothing illegal.
§ (7.14.) MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
I will not deal with the question of law, as that can be dealt mith by men better qualified than myself, though, as a layman, I should say that the point made by the hon. Member for Northampton, is an exceedingly strong one. What I desire to call attention to is the fact that the Solicitor General made a, most important declaration—from my point of view quite as important as if he had said that the whole of the proceedings were, illegal. What did he say? Why, he said that the Sheriff had no right to claim the assistance of these naval officers and seamen. He said that the Sheriff had no right to requisition the ship to begin with.
§ SIR E. CLARKE
What I said was that the Sheriff had no right to requisition a ship of war or a baggage wagon for the purpose of conveying away goods seized.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
And he went on to say that there was no duty resting on the captain or the men to take them.
§ MR. DILLON
Yes; that is what I understood. Now, let ns compare that with the statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty in reply to the hon. Member for West Belfast. The First Lord of the Admiralty did not stop at justifying the captain of the Britomart in carrying away the boats or in towing them away—some people have said that they were actually taken on board the Britomart, but that does not matter—but he went further. If my memory serves me rightly, he said that in his judgment it would have been the business of the captain to take cattle on board. That would have been a most extraordinary process. Surely, if that is so, we are justified in contending that it would have been his duty to take furniture in the same way. It comes to this, then. The captain of one of Her Majesty's ship is to act as the servant of the Sheriff. The First Lord of the Admiralty says it is the duty of Her Majesty's ships to carry out the Sheriff and his officers' orders, whereas the Law Officers of the Crown say there was no such duty upon them.
LORD G. HAMILTONM
No questions were put to me, for I was obliged to be away from the House. I had no notice of this case.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
The argument of my hon. and learned Friend I understood to be that, assuming it was the officer's business to convey the cattle, it was his duty to convey the boats. I cannot express a legal opinion upon the matter.
§ MR. DILLON
This is an extremely important matter. If the noble Lord cannot now express a legal opinion upon the matter why did he allow the Britomart to go on this most objectionable mission? I contend that the First Lord of the Admiralty ought to have consulted the Law Officers of the Crown, and satisfied himself of the legality of the proceeding, before the Britomart was permitted to go on this most objectionable expedition. There is not, I believe, a naval officer in the House who is not ashamed and annoyed at one of Her Majesty's ships having been sent on this marauding expedition against this island. Should it not have been the duty of the First Lord of the Admiralty to have refused to allow the Britomart to go on this cruise? We have it now on record that a ship of the British Navy has been requisitioned by Cecil Roche and Company to go on this most odious and detestable duty of starving out these unfortunate islanders under circumstances to which I will presently allude. I say the noble Lord ought to have consulted the Law Officers of the Crown, and have found out whether he would be justified in allowing such an expedition. His desire should have been to save Her Majesty's Navy from such a scandal. I have heard officers of both the Navy and the Army speak in bitter terms of indignation against the duty they are called upon to perform in Ireland, for they are well ashamed of being called on to harry the poor peasants to pay unjust rents to grasping landlords, and I say the noble Lord should have taken advice on this subject, and in the spirit of these officers 308 should have done all in his power to save Her Majesty's ships from this miserable duty. Can it be maintained that the Admiralty did not know anything about this transaction? Can it be possible that they do not know 'whether or not Her Majesty's ships go to certain places, and commit what are believed by many people to be illegal Acts? One thing we now know is that the Britomart volunteered for this odious work, no duty being laid upon them to undertake it. That is a monstrous position, and I think that every one connected with the Navy ought to be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast for having introduced the subject. It is very unsatisfactory that we cannot get a definite decision whether the acts done by this ship were legal or not, but it is to be hoped that the result of this discussion will be that no other ship of the Navy will be sent on similar expeditions on the west coast of Ireland. Does the noble Lord remember the tragic occurrence which took place in connection with the Wasp, when making a swoop down on the inhabitants of Tory Island? The ship went to the bottom. Many lives were lost, and I venture to say that more money was lost to the Treasury of England by the catastrophy than would purchase the fee simple of Tory Island three times over. It is time these matters were investigated; it is time these miserable landlords, who try to drag rents out of the country that the country is not able to pay, should be refused the assistance of Her Majesty's ships. The First Lord of the Admiralty was not content with getting up and defending the Britomart, and saying that its commander was justified in carrying off all kinds of goods seized by the Sheriff, but he presumed that we should be glad to hear that the result of this raid had been a settlement with the landlords—that the tenants had been compelled to pay their rents. On that I wish to ask the noble Lord two questions. First, has he satisfied himself that the potato crop is not in danger of failure, and that the tenants, after being forced to pay these rents out of their small savings, have means to meet the coming winter; and, secondly, can he say whether, after the settlement the Britomart returned with the boats of the 309 Blasket islanders. If the boats were not returned a gross injustice has been committed, and it is a disgrace to the captain. I do not know how the facts are in this matter, but I think the First Lord of the Admiralty should make inquiries; and, if he finds that the boats have not been returned, he should administer reproof to those who are to blame. I think we are entitled to replies to these questions. It would also be a great relief to the Irish people if, at the same time, the noble Lord would declare that in future he will not permit any ship or officer to be employed in similar work beyond what the strict letter of the law permits.
§ (7.26.) LORD G. HAMILTON
It is obvious that I cannot say whether the tenants of Blasket Island have sufficient means to meet the coming winter or not. With regard to the potato crop, I can only say that the Chief Secretary is anxiously watching the matter, and is receiving Reports from all parts of Ireland.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
If there is any likelihood of the potato disease showing itself, there will be an inquiry, and, no doubt, the island in question will be reported on. In respect to the action of naval officers or ships in future, the Solicitor General has expressed his opinion, on the legal aspect of this matter. The rule which is enforced, and which, in my opinion, ought to be maintained, is that vessels should only be employed for the conveyance of Sheriffs in such cases as the present, when there are no other means of conveyance.
§ LORD. G. HAMILTON
I understand that, practically, there was no other means of conveyance. As I have said, a vessel should only be thus employed when, there are no other means of conveyance, and not where the object or purpose is to save a small pecuniary sum to those who are going to make the seizure. As to whether the boats were legally or illegally seized——
(7.30.) LORD G.HAMILTON
It is clear from the answer of the Solicitor General that it was not imposed on him, and I hope hon. Gentlemen will be satisfied with my assurance that I will take care that in future, whenever it is necessary for a man-of-war to be employed for the conveyance of Sheriffs, it shall be strictly confined to that duty.
§ (7.32.) MR. DILLON
After the speech to which we have just listened, my own idea will be not to divide. I think the noble Lord has, to a great extent, met us reasonably. The only point I would desire to emphasise is this: He said that in the future these gunboats would not be supplied unless there was absolutely no other means of conveyance. I am perfectly well aware that if the Magistrates say an immense force of police is necessary, it may not be possible, except at enormous expense, to provide ordinary means of conveyance for them; but while a gunboat might be allowed to convey police as a guard to the seizing party, it does not follow that the Sheriff should go in the boat as well.
§ (7.33.) SIR R. WEBSTER
I have really nothing to add to what has fallen from my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General. In answer to the questions which have been put, I should, however, like to say that the duty of the forces is only to aid when protection is necessary, and where they are requisitioned for the purpose. I think it would not be right to allow those forces to be employed simply to save the land lords or agents expense. A requisition ought to be made, when protection is necessary, for the protection either of the Sheriff or of the persons who are to carry out the procedure. I think the hon. Gentleman has laid down what may be regarded as a fairly correct view on the subject.
§ (7.34.) CAPTAIN VERNEY
More than one hon. Gentleman below the Gangway has used the word "disgraceful" in commenting on the conduct of the captain of the Britomart. I know nothing of the captain of the Britomart. I do not even know his name. I have myself been employed on more than one occasion on service of this kind, and I know there is no work more distasteful to a naval officer, and none in which he would be less likely to go one inch 311 further than he is required. I am certain that the captain of the Britomart did not go in any way beyond his duty, and no disgrace attaches to a man who does his duty and no more.
§ (7.35.) MR. E. HARRINGTON
I am certainly surprised at the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I am better pleased with the opinion expressed by Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench than by the observations of my hon. and gallant Friend. Surely they are not all angels in the Navy
§ MR. E. HARRINGTON
Well, I think we have now reduced the possibility of these vessels being used in disgraceful exhibitions of this kind. I desire to say to the First Lord of the Admiralty, as I contradicted him across the House, that my hon. Friend beside me raised a question of this kind about 10 days ago. On that occasion, I asked a question with regard to the protection of the fishing industry, and the next day there appeared in the papers the account of the cruise of the Britomart. Then, I said, in the presence of the noble Lord, I would confine myself to asking whether the noble Lord would give the House any account of the cruise of the Britomart. I now ask the noble Lord by what process are these gunboats requisitioned, and I ask him to say why this gunboat, which was on the coast, was refused for the protection of the fishing industry, and was given for this purpose.
§ (7.38.) MR. BRADLAUGH
The language used by the Attorney General is very satisfactory, and the way it has been received by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) prevents the necessity of continuing the argument. I am bound, however, to point out that in the only authority I have been able to get at the moment—Archibald's Chitty—I find the law is very clearly stated, namely, that no one except the person to whom the Sheriff directs the warrant, or the bailiff whose name is put into the warrant, has any power to take and carry away the goods, and the bailiff cannot appoint any deputy to execute the warrant.
§ (7.39.) MR. H. J. WILSON (York, W.R., Holmfirth)
We sometimes hear a good deal about obstruction and the waste of time in this House. But who is it that has been wasting a great deal 312 of time on this occasion? It is a good many days now since we first heard complaints against the captain of the Britomart, and I wish to remark that if the answer now given by the First Lord of the Admiralty had been forthcoming at an earlier period an hour or two of the time of this House might have been saved.
§ (7.40.) MR SEXTON
I understand that during my absence from the House the Government have given an undertaking, first, that the Queen's ships shall not in future be supplied for the conveyance of the Sheriff and his force, except in case of absolute necessity, secondly, that the Queen's ships shall not be used to convey persons other than the Sheriff and his force, and, thirdly, that the Queen's ships shall not be employed to remove property which has been seized. The giving of these undertakings makes it clear that the case brought forward was just. They also attain the object with which I ventured to submit the case to the House, and I have, therefore, great pleasure in asking leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ (7.41.) LORD G. HAMILTON
I did not say that the gunboat should not, under any conditions, convey someone to point out the place where the decree was to be executed.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ (7.42.) MR. E. HARRINGTON
I am sure, as the First Lord of the Admiralty is in a kind mood, he will give a guarantee that next fishing season he will allow a gunboat to cruise off this coast for the purpose of protecting the local boats. They are not as long or as strong as the French boats, which have generally 12 men on board.
§ (7.43.) LORD G. HAMILTON
I will say at once that one of the duties of the Navy is to protect the fisheries. One of the difficulties we have to contend with is the rapidity with which foreign fishermen move from place to place. Very often, when the captain of a gunboat hears that a foreign vessel is in one locality, and proceeds there, he finds it has gone to another locality. Certainly, 313 however, we will endeavour to protect the fisheries.
§ (7.44.) DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
The First Lord of the Admiralty will recollect that the Committee which sat upstairs on the Navy Estimates some time ago devoted a great deal of attention to the condition of the medical officers in the Navy. In the course of the year before last the Director General of the Navy, Mr. Dick, expressed his concurrence with a proposal, which I understand is going to be carried out, namely, that medical officers when they have completed a service of seven years will be granted a certain leave in London to attend the Metropolitan hospitals, and try and brush up their professional knowledge. I want some assurance from the noble Lord as to when this is to be carried into effect. Then there is the question of leave. These gentleman only get a fortnight's leave in the year when they are doing duty in the Mediterranean. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give us some satisfactory assurance on this matter also. There is also the question of travelling expenses. Is it not simply ridiculous that a medical officer should be paid off, say, in the North of Scotland, and should have to proceed to Devonport, at his own expense, in order to join the new ship to which he is appointed? The medical men in the Navy are as good men as are to be found in Her Majesty's Forces, and I really think you will be saving expense, and acting in a wise and beneficial way, if you accede to the demands of the medical men for fair treatment.
§ (7.50.) MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
I desire to deal with a matter of general administration. The Board of Admiralty is composed of the First Lord of the Admiralty, the First Naval Lord, the Second Naval Lord, and an additional Naval Lord, the Junior Naval Lord, and the Civil Lord. This appears to me to be rather an obsolete combination. It comes down from a period when the Navy was very different from what it is now, and its administration was very different. Within the life-time of most men in this House the Navy has undergone a remarkable change. The old ships of war are entirely things of the past, and the floating forts which now supersede them are not only differently manned but differently managed from 314 those of old days. On the Board of Admiralty there is no corresponding change. With the increased use of machinery, and the development of modern ships, the position of the engineers becomes more important every day. When I have myself been on board some of these monster ironclads I have been astounded and bewildered. It is perfectly plain that the men concerned with their management are men upon whom the efficiency of the fleet to a great extent depends. The noble Lord has admitted that to some extent, and Lord Charles Beresford told us last year that the question of winning or losing an action might largely depend on the engineers. Under these circumstances, it behoves the noble Lord to consider whether the treatment this class of officers receives from the Board is such as they can fairly be satisfied with. I am inclined to think that the representations made by the engineer officers have a great deal to recommend them. I only suggest a different distribution of the present pay, and a different constitution of the Board, so as to enable the engineer element to have an adequate representation upon it. During the last 20 years the importance of the engineering portion of the Navy has been put strongly to the front, and yet you find that the position and pay of the engineer officers has practically not been touched. These men are not merely executive officers. They are not, like the naval officers themselves, mere nominees. They are not introduced into the Navy by favour. Their qualifications are of an exceedingly important description. Some years ago the Whitworth Scholarships were established, and the singular success of the naval engineer officers in respect of these scholarships was such that, in the year 1882, they were absolutely debarred from competing for them. Only the other day there was a competition for posts in the engineer service, and one of the Whitworth scholars was amongst the successful men, but, in spite of his scholarship, he only got a second class certificate in the examination. It will, therefore, be seen by the Committee that the qualifications of these men are very considerable. The pay, however, is very low. I will not dwell on arguments I might use, but will go at once to the objections the noble Lord has 315 raised to any serious interference with the existing state of things. He argues that men in a similar position in the Merchant Service are not better paid, and that the Admiralty find an unlimited number of candidates. Now, I traverse both these statements. I have looked into the matter, and have worked out the details, and I find the facts are the other way. The chief engineer on an Atlantic liner gets £30 a month, besides being messed free, and he has no expense for uniform, and he has a number of advantages which an engineer in the Navy has not. If the noble Lord means to compare the mean rates of pay of engineers in the Merchant Service with those of the engineers in the Navy, then it would be equally fair to compare the rates of pay of other persons in the two Services. If he compares the rates of pay of doctors, stewards, and cadet officers in the two Services, he will find that his argument will carry him a length he will scarcely care to proceed to. But if he will treat the engineers of the Navy as compared with the Mercantile Marine engineers in the same way as other classes of officers are treated he will find it will be absolutely necessary that a very substantial inerease will have to be made to the pay of these men. Now, so far is the supply of candidates from being unlimited that the facts seem to indicate the very reverse, and that the supply is falling off in a very remarkable manner. Last year, for 32 studentships there were 177 competitors, of whom 85 obtained the minimum of qualifying marks; but this year there were only 93 competitors, and, while the minimum of marks was raised from 770 to 880, of the 93 candidates only 34 qualified for the 40 vacancies, so that six of the unsuccessful candidates of the previous year had to be brought in. Then four of the candidates failed to pass the medical examination, so that all the vacancies are not filled up. It is not then correct to say that the supply is unlimited. I understand the noble Lord proposes to lower the standard of examination for students, and this seems to indicate that candidates do not offer themselves in sufficient numbers to meet the demand. The time for training has been reduced in some instances from six to five and even four years; six assistant engineers have just entered after completing only four years of stu- 316 dents' time in order to make up the required number. Then, with regard to educational expenditure, although in these Navy Votes a very great deal of money is expended for the education of students as executive officers, the amount devoted to the important class of engineers for the Navy is disproportionately small, and I think there should be a redistribution of the educational resources placed at the disposal of the Admiralty. The great point, however, is the constitution of the Board of Admiralty, and it is astonishing to me that the deficiency of the Board in engineering skill is a point not taken up by the Commission presided over by the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale. There ought to be in direct communication with the First Lord some one with practical experience of present-day engineering in the Navy, some one in touch with the living Service afloat. At present there is nothing of the kind. There is, I know, an Engineer-in-chief, with a salary of £1,000, but there is all the difference between having an engineer at the service of the Board, and an engineering member of the Board. I suppose there is a prejudice against this, connected with the old traditional system of nomination and appointment by favour and influence which has so long prevailed throughout the Navy. Why is it that the Admiralty have not introduced the same system as has been adopted in the Army? For a commission in the line, a man has now to enter for a competitive examination. It is not a very stringent examination, but there is the satisfaction in thinking that an important branch of the Service is open to all citizens. But it is not so in the Navy, and why it is not so is a matter that certainly deserves consideration. Of late there has been a disposition on the part of the Admiralty to fall into line with the general feeling of the country. There are many points in connection with naval administration that invite comment. Many have been dealt with in the Report of the noble Lord's Commission, some have been mentioned in detail, and some have been but cursorily touched upon, though vital to a sound administration of such a Service as the Navy is. But, because of considerations that weigh with all members of the Committee, I do not care to press these 317 points now. Those I have submitted will, I hope, commend themselves as not unworthy the attention of the noble Lord.
§ (8.12.) MR. DUFF
One question I desire to put to the noble Lord in relation to the naval manœuvres. When the naval manœuvres were first instituted, Parliament was supplied with full Reports, by the captains of ships, of the action of the ships and the working of the guns. But this year we have been supplied with what the Admiralty are pleased to call "Narratives of the manœuvres," which are little more than repetitions of stale newspaper reports, and do not contain, in an official and responsible form, that "truth about the Navy," to enable the House to judge what value the nation is receiving for its money. I do not know why the earlier practice has been departed from; it was very useful form of giving information, and I think more for the interest of the Service. I hope I shall not be told that we want to conceal our defects from other nations, because it is perfectly well known that any Government can get any information it wants in reference to the manœuvres. For ourselves we want practical information, and it is not to be expected that we can get that from newspaper reports.
§ (8.15.) SIR W. PLOWDEN (Wolver-hampton, W.)
I desire to emphasise what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Admiral Mayne) that there ought to be laid before Parliament so much of the evidence taken by the Royal Commission as is not absolutely confidential, so that it may be seen on what authority the proposals of the Government are based. The noble Lord the Member for Paddington has told us in the Report that the evidence discloses a state of things more serious, more unsatisfactory, and more pregnant with danger, than Parliament or the public imagine; and such a statement seems to call for the publication of so much of the evidence as can be given without prejudice to the public interests.
§ (8.17.) LORD G. HAMILTON
I cannot accede to the suggestion of the hon. Member who has just sat down, as officers gave their evidence before the Commission on the understanding that it would be treated as confidential. Questions of the kind have, I believe, been 318 put to the First Lord of the Treasury more than once, and the answer has been that it would be a breach of the understanding upon which the evidence was given, to make that evidence public, and it would not be for the public interest. If I were to attempt to give portions of the evidence excluding other portions, the result would be to mislead those who might read the published portions. I have been asked a number of questions which I will endeavour to answer. The hon. Member for Mid Cork has asked me a question in reference to travelling allowances for medical officers to which I cannot just now give him a definite answer, but if he will put his question on the paper, I will give him an answer. As to giving notice to medical officers when they are told off for foreign service, I can only say they are given as long notice as is possible, and if there have been instances to the contrary, they have been due probably to oversight. I will look into the point, and take care it is remedied. A scheme to enable medical officers on leaving their ships to visit London hospitals is now before the Treasury, and I have very little doubt that it will be soon in operation with great benefit to the public service. The hon. Member for East Donegal has called attention to the engineering branch of the Naval Service, and has made an appeal for the improvement of their status. His proposal assumed two shapes, first to recognize the engineering branch of the Navy on the Admiralty Board, and secondly to raise the pay of this branch of the service. I have expressed my views before, and as the hon. Member has put forward certain facts, I will put other facts which will show the difficulty of granting his request. The education of the engineering officer costs far more than that of the executive officer, though the amount appearing on the Estimates is less; and besides, there are the expenses of apprenticeship, which have to be met by youths entering the engineering professions apart from the Naval Service. I still believe that the Admiralty can obtain a sufficient supply of candidates, though no doubt the responsibilities of engineer officers have increased in recent years. But the amount of engineering talent has also enormously increased in the same time, 319 and it is a somewhat carious fact, as I could show from Board of Trade Returns, that payment of engineers in the Merchant Service has gone back rather than forward. On board ship we do not want a large staff of highly trained engineer officers of high status and with high emoluments, but capable working men, to superintend the working of the engines. The back-bone of the complement must be essentially of working engineers, and on all these large liners which make such exceedingly rapid voyages across the Atlantic the great bulk of the engineers are equivalent to engine room artificers in the Navy. Then, too, it must be remembered that the engineer officer is almost continuously employed and the executive officer is not. With the engineer officer promotion is almost automatic; of the executive officers, two out of three are compulsorily retired. I draw a distinction in engineering work between designing engines and managing them. No doubt the time may come when it will be necessary to pay the engineers who design engines higher salaries than at present, for the Admiralty undoubtedly do not remunerate engineering talent as well as private employers do, and within the last few years we have lost two or three officers from that cause. I am opposed to having an engineering officer on the Board of Admiralty, because a technical expert on a supreme administrative body is out of place. It was once tried and did not answer. The Board should be occupied with questions of administration and organisation, and should go outside its own circle for technical advice. The Engineer-in-chief of the Navy holds a most important position, and much has been done to improve his status. He is now officially responsible and signs the specifications for the machinery which is put into the ships. The hon. Member for East Donegal is mistaken in assuming that there is a system of select nominations for the post of executive officer. There is a limit to the number of candidates nominated for the Naval Service, but I am only too glad to have the names of persons qualified to compete from any quarter. It is, however, necessary to take more care in investigating the antecedents of boys so nominated than in the case of young men entering the Army at a later age. 320 associated together for purposes of education on board the Britannia, and anybody who has experience of the training of lads, knows the evil effects of bad influences at an early age. Subject to this limitation competition is as open for the Navy as for the Army; and one alteration has been recently made in the system of nomination. Only a short period for nomination is now allowed, as under the old system we found that when boys were nominated at 10 years of age the interval was occupied in cramming. With regard to the question raised by the hon. Member for Preston, I have told the hon. Member in private what I say now, that I think inference has been drawn from a portion of Sir Arthur Hood's evidence, which is not altogether fair. The gallant Admiral is not accustomed to be examined by a number of expert and adroit gentlemen, some of whom had the object of making Sir Arthur Hood say what they wanted him to say, rather than what he wanted to say. In my personal experience at the Admiralty, I have never known a Naval Lord more ready to take responsibility upon him self and act fully up to that responsibility.
§ MR. HANBURY
That is not the point; Sir Arthur Hood said he had never been asked to express his opinion as to the adequacy of the Fleet.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
That is true; but I think the hon. Member will see there are certain limitations. Much as I appreciate the assistance I receive from any naval colleagues on the Board, without whose help we could not carry on our administration, certainly I would never allow any naval officer to have control of the Naval Estimates and dictate——
§ MR. HANBURY
The noble Lord does not appreciate my point, which was this. Before the Estimates were framed, the First Sea Lord, who is an expert in the matter, had never gone into the question as to what were the necessities of the Navy in ships or men, what were the actual requirements of the Service from other than a financial point of view.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
That may be so, but if you analyse the reasons which induced him to make that statement, you will see it was impossible for anyone to undertake that duty unless by special direction of the 321 Cabinet. My hon. Friend must be satisfied with my statement that we have since made great progress. The annual Naval Manœuvres supply a test of the equipment of our vessels. In my opinion they are very valuable for that purpose, and I hope that they will be repeated every year. As to the suggestion of the hon. Member that I should lay on the Table a detailed report respecting the manœuvres, I may point out that in any such report it would be necessary to criticise the respective operations of the rival Admirals. That would be rather insidious, and it would also be undesirable to publish for the information of foreign nations details as to every defect in every ship taking part in the manœuvres. A statement of a general character I might not object to lay before the House, and, of course, I shall be very glad to answer any question put to me concerning the behaviour of individual ships. Then my hon. Friend has suggested that we should order our own guns. My reply to that is that we do order our own guns, although we employ the War Office as our agent. We draw up our own contracts. The test which is imposed is the charge which the Ordnance Committee lay down as the full charge for the gun, with 25 per cent, added. I am not at all sure that the test is not too severe. With regard to the Naval Reserves, I will ascertain whether the report of the Admiral superintending that branch of the Service can be laid before the House. We do not care to call out the Reserve too frequently, as it punishes the men by depriving them of their employment, but I do receive a report from Sir George Tryon, the Admiral Superintendent, every year, and I will see if it is desirable to lay the next one on the Table of the House.
§ (8.37.) DR. TANNER
There are one or two points on which I should like explanations. I observe that there is a substantial increase of £2,000 in connection with the constructive staff. Is this to be a permanent increase? Another matter on which I wish to speak is one which I never lose an opportunity of bringing before the House. I think it is perfectly ridiculous that this country should be called upon to provide salaries for individuals who 322 practically speaking do nothing. In this Vote there is an item of £1,000 for the salary of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. The Navy has three representatives in this House, the First Lord, the Civil Parliamentary Lord, and the Secretary to the Admiralty, yet frequently there is no one here to answer questions put by hon. Members. Even if the Civil Lord is here, it is utterly impossible to draw him out, I suppose because he knows very little about seamanship. Now what work does he do for this £1,000 a year? He does not go up and down the country as formerly, nor does he now entrance the House by his post prandial eloquence: he simply seems to turn in here and go to sleep on the benches. His office is simply a ridiculous sinecure. I protest against such posts being created and maintained, for I hope that if these gentlemen are to be rewarded for their political services, the Carlton Club should put its hands into its pockets. I hope these questions will be answered.
§ (8.43.) LORD G. HAMILTON
There was an enormous amount of additional work in the Constructive Department last year, and I am sorry to say the increase is likely to be maintained for a few years. As to the duties of the Civil Lord, among his many duties, he superintends works, including contracts; he sees to the purchase of stores, of land for coastguard stations and of building sites; he superintends the signalling staff of the Navy; has to do with pay, allowances and pensions; look after the charitable funds connected with the Admiralty; appoints naval schoolmasters, &c.; and conducts any inquiries that we may wish to have made.
§ (8.45.) DR. TANNER
I am obliged to the noble Lord for his explanation. It shows me why things are so mismanaged. I can now understand how it is that thousands of pounds have been wasted on Cork Harbour without any real work being done; the result being that you cannot even dock a gunboat there.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
2. Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,659,300,be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Personnel for Shipbuilding, Repairs, and Maintenance, including the cost of Establishments of Dockyards and Naval Yards at Home and Abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1891." (8.46.)
§ (9.17.) COLONEL HUGHES
I have at last the privilege of calling attention to the low wages paid by the Government in Her Majesty's Dockyards——
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ COLONEL HUGHES
With regard to the number of unskilled labourers employed in the dockyards receiving less than 20s. a week, the First Lord of the Admiralty was a few months ago good enough to give me the exact figures. I find there are 4,542 at wages ranging from 19s. downwards, and of these 1,037 are receiving wages as low as 15s. a week. The condition of the men at the lower rates is one of considerable hardship. A labourer at Portsmouth, after 17 years' service, receives the magnificent salary of 17s. a week, out of which he has to pay 4s. 6d. a week for rent. There are others who, after 14 years' service, receive 14s. a week. In most of those cases the rent varies from 4s. to 5s. a week. There are many cases in which the wages, if divided among the members of the family, would give for their support 2¼d. per head per day, and it must be very hard indeed for a family to live in anything like decency and comfort on such paltry wages. At Chatham there are men with eight years' service earning 18s. a week, out of which they have to pay 4s., 4s. 6d., and even 5s. for rent. One man with a wife and six children gets 15s. weekly and pays 4s. 6d. for rent. In Deptford the rent runs up as high as 8s. 6d. a week. In London it would be generally at least 2s. a week more than in the country, and yet a man who has served 10 years is still receiving at Deptford 15s. a week. Therefore, the rule does not apply at Deptford as at Pembroke, that after three years' service a man should get a slight rise. I should like to know the reason for that. The family of a widower, with six children earning 16s. and with 5s. a week to pay in rent, has 2¼d. per person a day to support them in London. It may be said that the Government has a right to get labour at the cheapest possible rate, and that it is the duty of the Authorities to go into the market and get labourers at whatever rate they are willing to work for. That doctrine is borne out very much by a document 324 issued from the Treasury some years ago, which laid it down that the rate of wages which men are found willing to take must be the full market rate, as it is optional to refuse or accept it. That was in 1861. I do not think that is a rule which we in this House wish to be acted upon. It is a very strong thing for any man in this House to rise and complain of the conduct of his own Party, but my complaint applies equally to both Parties, and whoever may be in power should not allow this to go on any longer if it can be avoided. The mere statement of the miserable wages paid to these men and the lives they necessarily lead, should compel the Government to make close inquiry and rectify this dreadful condition of things. This House grants money for the public service, the distribution of which it leaves to the different Departments, but not with an absolute discretion to do what they like with. Members are, therefore, justified in seeing that there shall not be 4,500 people in the dockyards receiving less than a £1 a week— less than the market rate and less than they can bring up their families upon. The House is not required by the Empire to save money out of the miseries of the poorest of the men we employ. These men, by the favour of the Conservative Party, have votes, they have been educated and their children are being educated, they read the papers, and they see that while they only receive 15s. a week, £70,000 is given for a picture to place in the National Gallery, and £19,000 is spent in buying up a pension granted in the reign of Charles II., and this money is paid to a rich man, while 4,500 men who work for Her Majesty building ships get such low wages that it is impossible for them to keep themselves respectable. One man told me that he went and broke stones in the parish yard before he accepted this miserable wage, but he relented at last for the sake of those dependent on him for a livelihood. The Government ought to be a pattern to the employers of the country. The Commission of the other House which sat on sweating put in the strongest possible light the duty of the employer to see to the interests of their working people. If that is a duty, as I believe it to be, the Government in this rich 325 country sets a bad example to employers by paying 15s. a week for unskilled labour. We have not the excuse which ordinary employers have got, that owing to competition they have to cut everything as fine as possible. The Government have not the excuse of competition. I cannot bring myself to believe that those at the head of affairs really believe in their hearts that they are justified in paying wages which are not sufficient to keep body and soul together. It may be said with regard to the dockyard labourers on the establishment that they will receive a pension at 60 years of age. But they never live to get the pension. I have been to their homes, and I can assure you such cases of distress never came to my knowledge before. We spend thousands of pounds in looking after the inhabitants of other countries, but we neglect our own very much. No doubt the law of supply and demand control the conditions of labour, but if we have any control over the employment, for the sake of example to others, and in duty to ourselves, we should take care that labour received an adequate wage. It is a most serious thing, because when these men are driven to distraction by want, they form themselves into combinations, they call themselves Leagues, and they get into the hands of agitators. If it is the duty of any one to attend to these men's complaints and requests, it is the duty of the Representatives in Parliament, but upon applying to the different departments, you meet with this answer, that if a man is to work in the department, no Member of Parliament ought to interfere between that man and the department. I admit it is rather strong to complain of the department, and I would not do it if I could avoid it, but it is a greater evil to allow these men to lead wretched lives where we can prevent it. I feel that the House is the proper quarter in which to bring the question forward, and that the House will, sooner or later, settle it in the interest of labour. Of course, we all have our constituents to look after, and believe me, that as far as I am personally concerned, I have only the general good of the community at heart. There has been great agitation lately in the labour market, the overstocked state of the market making it desirable to look into it. A large number of people who come 326 from abroad are unable to obtain employment to maintain themselves, and a large number of agricultural labourers flocking to the towns, and also unable to find employment, causes such competition that the labour market is overstocked, the only solution for it appearing to point in the direction of emigration. But upon that question I will not touch upon the present occasion. With regard to these 4,400 men we employ, it ought to be a pleasure to us to give them fair wages and to treat them as if they were our own private servants. At the present moment these men are not paid sufficiently well, and, therefore, you cannot expect them to do their full duty. Some of those interested in philanthropic work would do far more good if they would look into these cases, and bring the necessary pressure to bear upon those who have the employment of these people. As to the labour market being overstocked, no doubt that is right, but for the Government to pay low wages will not remedy it. I have now mentioned the salient facts, and if I do not get any attention this time, I shall endeavour to renew my proposal year after year until the conscience of the House and the conscience of the people outside is awakened to this labour question, which is growing in importance. It is said that 18s. a week is not enough to keep a man employed in the Post Office if he has a family, and if that is not enough for the Post Office, how is 15s. a week enough for the dockyard? labourers? Why should it be 18s. a week in the Post Office, and yet 15s. is considered enough in Deptford Dockyardi I think I have said sufficient to introduce the subject, and I hope during the recess the matter will be thoroughly looked into, and in order that it may be the beginning of a constitutional agitation in this House, I shall be very pleased to put the question on record by taking a division which will let the working men know what friends they have. And if they have not enough friends now, they will have by and by, for the Irish Members, with all their faults, are still generous, the Scotch Members are, no doubt, economical, but they only desire fair value for their money, and the English Members are as full of justice as ever; and by a combination of good feeling in 327 this House it may be possible to put sufficient pressure upon those of our officers who employ these men. I join issue at once on the question that we have no right to pay more for an article than we can get it done for, because that would justify the making of a dozen shirts for 10½d, But that is not the question, and in order to raise the question I have brought forward in a constitutional manner, I beg to move that the Vote be reduced by the sum of £100, because the large sum of money paid in wages is not fairly distributed; if it was there would not be this class complaining of distress nor the low wages which I have had the honour to represent to the Committee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item B, Wages, be reduced by £100."—(Colonel Hughes.)
§ (9.37.) LORD G. HAMILTON
I think it desirable that I should speak at once in answer to the speech of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the Committee informed us he is the friend of the working man, but, at the same time, I am bound to say he gives one an extraordinary impression as to his interest in the working man by selecting that one item of the Vote that goes to the working man—namely, the payment of wages—and moves the reduction of that by £100.
§ An hon. MEMBER: The forms of the House.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
The hon. Gentleman might have raised the question some other way; he might have selected some other portion of this Vote, but he deliberately selected that part of the Vote that appertains to the wages of the men, and he selected it deliberately, because he said he wished out of this Vote of wages to have a more equal distribution. Now, Sir, I will not detain the Committee long, but I want them to consider this question in the abstract, so far as it applies to our dockyards, cannot say I agree with the propositions of the hon. Member in the form in which he has taken them; but I agree in this, that the State should set an example to private employers, though I do not myself—and I do not suppose anyone in House will—believe these men give 328 a good return. But the hon. Gentleman did not exactly indicate to us what was the nature of the rise, or even the nature of the proposition he wished us to assent to. He said there were a certain number of persons who receive low wages, and he went on to say that 20s. per week for all these branches was much less than the market rate, and he further went on to say he advocated this payment of excess over the market rate, because there was no competition with Government establishments. Now, I have had some experience during the four or five years I have been First Lord of the Admiralty of dockyard establishments. Five years ago, one of the main difficulties I had was to contend with the opinions expressed by gentlemen who represented constituencies other than dockyard constituencies, that unless those who were entrusted with the management of these establishments could introduce a good economic system of administration so as, in some way, to approximate the cost of Government establishments to those of competing private firms, the taxpayer should refuse to regard them as permanent establishments of the country. I think it would be a great misfortune for the Navy, and the nation at large, if the dockyards were not permanent national institutions. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Government having employés in a locality should set an example to all others, that they ought not to fix their wages by the lowest rate at which a starving man can work, that there should be a margin, so to speak, over and above the market rate, but to what extent are you prepared to carry it? Even now, under the improved system of dockyard administration, we find great difficulties. This is a question that affects the taxpayer, and would the taxpayers assent to our so fixing our schedule of prices above the market rate as to render it impossible for these establishments to compete with private yards? What every one, who wishes to favour any particular establishment or institution, should do is to ascertain and notice those influences that are likely to be permanent. Unquestionably the predominant feeling in this House as regards national establishments competing with private establishments is that they should be economical in their 329 management, and if by a snatch division at the end of a Session, or some other time, some hon. Gentleman like the hon. Member for Woolwich (Colonel Hughes)—who represents a constituency almost exclusively composed of Government employés—got this assent, and got a rate far in excess of the market, that very proposition would endanger the maintenance of this institution, as a permanent national institution; therefore, in whatever we may do we must be careful of these matters. Now, Sir, I admit the hon. Gentleman was at some disadvantage; he wished to raise his question on the Ordnance Vote in connection with the Arsenal at Woolwich, but he was unable to do so, and, therefore, has very properly raised it on the Dockyard Vote, connecting it, however, with the Deptford Dockyard. It is perfectly true there is a certain proportion of unskilled labour in the dockyards which only receives a remuneration of 15s. a week. The hon. Gentleman, to illustrate that, has given cases of labourers and widowers with large families, and I am compelled to say that if a widower with a large family is still in receipt of 15s. a week, it is because he is not a good workman, because 15s. a week is not intended for married men with large families. I have looked into this question closely during the past few years, and have made personal inquiries at every dockyard as to the class of labour the dockyard officials can obtain whenever they advertise. If hon. Members will carry their recollections back four or five years, they will remember the Board of Admiralty, of which I was the head, was compelled to reduce the establishment because certain of the trades were not adjusted to the work they had in hand, and so far from the wage then being found inadequate, it was contended that the action I took inflcted injury upon the neighbourhood. I received a good many deputations at that time from various classes, and I made it then a matter of personal inquiry at all the dockyards. It is not true to say that these men who come are men out of employment, because, as a matter of fact, they give up other employment to come to the dockyard. Only this morning I was informed by the Superintendent at Chatham that they could obtain any number of labourers if they advertised for them, men who were at present in 330 employment. The reason for that is obvious to certain Members of this House, and especially those who represent the labouring classes. It is known perfectly well that the average wage paid weekly is not the only consideration, but that there are others. Those other considerations are continuity of employment, specified hours of labour per day, and, above all, the prospect of advancement, and whenever you get those advantages combined, even with a low rate of wage, you can get good men and you can make the initial wage for entrance into an establishment a matter, so to speak, of secondary importance. I quite agree that 15s. a week is a low wage and one at which a man ought not to be long employed. When we passed that rule finding that we could obtain any amount of labour we wished in the locality, we thought we ought to make it clear that 15s. per week was the initial wage for young men. We did not object to take into our employ anyone with a family, but we make it clear, this was to apply to young men or to pensioners, or anyone entering as an unskilled labourer at the dockyard. At the end of the first year the wage was increased to 16s. per week, with a further rise to 17s. after the second year, with the prospect, if a good workman, of going up considerably above 20s. a week. These are the arrangements we made, and I believe they act very well, and I am informed that under the new conditions, established by the rules that we can get any amount of labour, even of a better class than was obtainable before, and there is no dissatisfaction in the dockyard upon that point. In the dockyards there have been employed this year 21,000 men, and out of that 21,000 men there is only 1,000 at 15s. per week, and those 1,000 men are almost exclusively young men, or boys you may say, or pensioners. I believe if we adhere to that rule and make it clear this low rate of wage is merely adopted as a test of the capacity of the men, and that they can rise up to a very much higher rate if they show they are possessed of the qualities of a skilled workman, we shall draw a better class of labour than we get now. Then again, the Pension Fund, which includes officers and artificers, is 22 per cent. of the annual sum voted by the House for the establishment of men, 331 therefore it must be obvious to hon. Gentlemen that the pension is a consideration which must not be ignored. I believe I am also right in stating if you take dockyard employment as a whole, if you take the number of hours the men have to work per day, the continuity of employment and the prospect of advancement, the industrious labourer has a better chance of promotion in the dockyard than in any other class of employment in the country. If that be so, should we be justified in holding out to the hon. Gentleman any prospect of raising the wages to the extent he suggests? I feel it is our duty to make clear to those over whom we are placed in authority we will do our best to investigate any grievance they may have, and will do what we can, consistent with our duty to public finance, to improve their position. But I do not know quite what the hon. Gentleman wishes me to assent to to-night. If it is that we are to raise the initial wage in the dockyard 25 per cent., if that is the proposition the hon. Gentleman places before the Committee, I say at once it is not one to which we can assent in any shape or way. There is a good practice at the Admiralty, that when the Board visits the different dockyards some member of the Board sees the men personally, listens to what they have to say, he and they being alone, no superior officer of the Department being near them, and any expressions that may fall from them are subsequently reported to, and considered by, the Board. The Secretary to the Admiralty and myself early last winter went carefully through all the petitions that came from all the dockyards. Amongst them were some stereotyped petitions asking for increase of wages as regards the labourer, but no facts were adduced of any kind or sort to show that the wage which was then given was not considerably in excess of the market rate in the locality. We also had to consider a number of petitions from establishment men and the artificers, but I do not think the hon, Member proposed to deal with the skilled labour.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
But in one sense they are connected with each other as a class. I think that our 332 establishments, like the dockyards, give the men a greater chance of promotion, and enables a thoroughly industrious man to get on better than is the case in private employment. In considering and fixing the establishment we determined to increase the number of skilled labourers on the establishment, and, therefore, for the last three or four years we were compelled to stop entries in to the establishments, because we found them in excess of what we required, and moreover it was necessary to adjust certain branches of labour and various, trades one to another. We have now arrived at the point at which the establishment can be permanently maintained, and we therefore propose, for the future, fill up every vacancy that may occur on the establishment, and upon the establishment the labourer will bear a large proportion to skilled labour. I have now dealt with the question of the dockyards; I have shown that 15s. a day is merely the initial rate of wages; and I have shown the Board of Admiralty have determined to make investigation in to every case on the application of the men. It is perfectly true that there is a large portion of labour in the dockyards which receives only a remuneration of 15s. a week; but I am bound to state that if a widower with a large family is still in receipt of 15s. a week it is because he is not a good workman. The wages of 15s. a week are not intended for married men with large families. I have looked into this question and made personal inquiries at every dockyard as to the class of labourers who could be obtained whenever the authorities advertised. I was much attacked when I had to reduce the number of redundant labourers, and it was contended that the action I took had inflicted a great injury upon the neighbourhood. It is not true, however, that the men who came to the dockyards are-men out of employment. They gave up their employment to go to the dockyards, and the actual wage paid is not the main consideration to them. There are other considerations—continuity of employment, fixed hours of labour per day, and, above all, prospects of advancement. These advantages combined make the actual wage of comparatively secondary importance. I believe 15s. a week is 333 a low wage, and not a wage at which a man ought long to be retained, but under the new rules it has been made clear that this wage is for young men, or pensioners with other means of subsistence. At the end of the first year they are advanced to 16s., and at the end of the second to 17s., and then they have prospects of entering the various branches of skilled labour which went up considerably over 20s. per week. This arrangement has worked very well. We can get any amount of labour even of a better class, and there is no dissatisfaction in the dockyards. There were this year 21,000 men employed in the dockyards, and out of this number only 1,000 are earning 15s. a week; these men being almost exclusively young men or pensioners. The hon. Gentleman opposite says that so great are the misery and distress that the pension is of no consideration, that the men die before they are able to obtain it, but the Pension Vote is 22 per cent. of the annual sum voted for establishment wages, and therefore the pension is a consideration which must not be ignored. Taking all the advantages into consideration, I think the industrious labourer has a better chance of promoting himself in the dockyards than in almost any class of employment which he can find. I and the Secretary to the Admiralty have carefully considered all the petitions from the dockyards, and we determined to increase the number of unskilled as well as skilled labourers in each establishment. For the last three or four years the Department was compelled to stop entries into the establishments, because it was found there was some excess of requirements; and, moreover, it was necessary to adjust certain branches of labour in various ways one to another. We have now arrived at the point at which we think the establishments can be maintained, and we, therefore, propose for the future to fill up every vacancy which may occur from the men upon the establishments as far as possible. In addition to the continuous employment, shorter hours, and prospects of advancement, men on the Government establishments get holidays, sick pay, and medical attendance. It is this combination and aggregate of advantages which made Government employment so agreeable to working men. 334 With regard to Deptford Victualling Yard, it is true there were a few men there at a low rate of wage. There are 37 men who get 15s. a week; 10 of these are under two years' employment, and the remaining 27 are reported upon as indifferent workmen. If, then, it is a question of raising the wages of the men in this establishment the Board of Admiralty must consider the quality of the labour given, because I am afraid I must say that a number of the men there employed have been retained for a good many years, not for the value of their labour, but more for charitable purposes. ["Oh!" "Shame!" and "Withdraw!"] Hon. Gentlemen who interrupt me have not understood the object of my remark. Those are men who had they been in private employment would probably have been discharged, inasmuch as they are not good workmen. That is admitted. I must not be misunderstood. What I contend for is that if the scale of pay is to be revised the Department must also revise the return for that pay. Perhaps I expressed myself somewhat too plainly; what I meant to say was that the head of the establishment would have got rid of these men before if he had looked simply to the return they gave for their wages; but he had kept them on—if hon. Members did not like the word "charitable"—from humanitarian considerations. ["Oh!" and "Shame!"]
§ MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
Then on what ground were they first engaged as workmen? Who was responsible?
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
I wish to make my meaning perfectly plain. There is a greater tendency in Government than in private employment to keep men on if they are once on the books; and with regard to the men I referred to, the manager of a private establishment would probably have got rid of them.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
Because they are inferior workmen. They are kept 335 on because the fact of their having wives and children prevents their discharge. There is no escape from the proposition I have laid down. I will undertake personally to look into any grievances, but I cannot undertake, and no representative of a Government can undertake, to assent to any proposition which asks him to raise the wages of the workmen in Government employment 25 per cent. above the market rate in the locality.
§ (10.15.) MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
This is the first time a responsible Minister has declared that the Admiralty employs men from philanthropic motives. Tomorrow the country will be surprised to read the declaration by a Minister of the Crown that workmen are employed in Government establishments on humanitarian principles.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
What I said was this: I alluded to one establishment where 37 men are employed at 15s. a week. Of these, 10 are under two years' employment, and the remaining 27 are very indifferent men.
§ MR. FENWICK
I am within the recollection of the House, and I say I understood the noble Lord to say these men were receiving a low rate of wages because they were inferior workmen. What I should like to know is, why are they employed at all if inferior workmen? I should like to know whether the rate of wage that these men receive is less than that paid for similar duties by private firms. I should like, also, to call the noble Lord's attention to a statement made by a gentleman well acquainted with the duties performed at the Government dockyards. This gentleman made a speech, and in it he referred to a statement made by Professor Elgar before the Royal Commission, and certainly Professor Elgar's observation does not bear out the statement made by the noble Lord as to the character of the workmen or the character of the work done in the Government dockyards.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
I never said a word as to the inferior quality of the work. I referred to one particular establishment. My observation was exclusively confined to that. The generality of the labour given, I have said, was excellent.
§ MR. FENWICK
I am glad to hear that, and I should like to continue the observation. Professor Elgar said—From what I have seen in private yards, we can get as much if not more work than a private firm gets out of its men, and I am quite sure that the dockyard men are the best class of men who can be found throughout the country.[Ministerial cries of "Hear, hear!"] Yes, but do you treat them as similar men are treated in private firms? Let us see. The noble Lord says the wage received by a workman in Government establishments is not the only thing the Government consider, but likewise the advantages of continuity of employment, short hours of labour, and the prospect of advancement. But this advantage of continuity of employment merely applies to the skilled workmen. Men who are steady, skilled, and constant in attendance at their work will find continuity of employment with any private firm, so that this advantage is not peculiar to Government dockyards. With regard to the shorter hours, even on the noble Lord's own showing, they are very little shorter than those at private firms, and the prospect of advancement is a very dubious advantage, both in his own opinion and in that of the dockyard labourers themselves. With regard to superannuation, is it not a fact that when a man is placed on the establishment he immediately suffers a reduction of wages of from 2s. to 2s. 6d. a week?
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
Certainly it is not a universal rate, and if a man wish to remain on trial he can do so.
§ MR. FENWICK
Well, at least the noble Lord will not deny that a very large percentage of workmen placed on the establishment list immediately have to suffer. They are reduced, say, from 32s. 6d. to 30s., or from 30s. to 28s. I would ask the noble Lord whether it is not a fact that in the event of a man on the establishment dying before he is 60 the whole of the deductions made from his wages go into the hands of the Treasury, without his widow or children receiving one iota of compensation?
§ MR. FENWICK
Very well, then the noble Lord admits that the Treasury makes a profit out of the deductions, and that the widows and children are allowed to go without them. With regard to 337 the comparison of wages, at the present moment the established men in the Government yards are receiving something like from 28s. to 30s. per week, whereas in London and other large dockyard towns the rate of wage for the same class of labour is from 38s. to £2 2s. per week. Then there are a large number of divisions and graduations of labour in Government dockyards which do not exist in yards of private firms. There are 70 fourth-class smiths in Portsmouth Dockyard, whose service averages 20½ years. These men are receiving 4s. 9d. a day, which is from 20 to 25 per cent, below the rate in private firms, while the third-class receives 5s. 6d. per day, which is from 22 to 30 per cent, below private firms, while their prospect of advancement is very slender, as shown by the average length of their service. I am glad to hear that some consideration is to be given to the case of those men, and I would suggest to the noble Lord the expediency, if nothing can be done this Session—and I do not suppose that anything can now be done—of recommending the Government early next Session to appoint a Select Committee to go into the whole case of the dockyards of the country, with a view of getting at the truth as to the relative positions the men occupy as compared with a similar class of workmen in private dockyards. I think that such a step would give unbounded satisfaction to the employés in Government dockyards, and that then there would be something substantial to go on in the consideration of the question.
§ (10.25.) MR. H. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN (Kent, Faversham)
I must express my deep regret, which I think is shared by many Members, at the unfortunate course which the Government have felt bound to take with regard to the discussion of such an important subject as the Navy Estimates. It is little less than a public scandal that the question of the naval defences of the country should come up to be discussed when their adequate discussion is an absolute impossibility, and I hope that in a future Session the Government will remember the promise they have undoubtedly given that Supply shall be taken at as early a period as possible. I would suggest that in November or January, whenever it is that they meet, the Government should have the courage of their own opinions 338 in which they will have the support of nine-tenths of the House and of 99 out of 100 sensible beings outside, and deal with the farce of private Members' nights, and take Tuesdays. I wish to express my general concurrence with the views put forward by the hon. Member for Woolwich, who has taken the only way of bringing the subject forward at all, and I entirely concur in the suggestion made by the hon. Member opposite. If the Government will assent to the suggestion, they would find it will expedite the course of business. There will be always grievances and irritation where a body of men have this to complain, that not only are their grievances unredressed, but unheard. If the complaints made be true, then a true remedy can be found for them; if untrue, at least the men cannot say that they have not had a hearing. The fault is not mine, or that of my constituents, that we are placed in this position. The first grievance to which I wish to call attention is that of the shipwrights and smiths in the dockyards, and herein I think I may count on the support of all Members who represent dockyard constituencies. The men complain that whereas they have the same duties to perform as men in private yards, their pay is less than the pay in private yards; and I may mention, in reference to the case of the shipwrights, that their work is more onerous than that of shipwrights in the employ of private firms, for while, in the latter, the shipwrights are concerned with the wood work in the Admiralty yards, they undertake every species of work up to the largest ironclad. The average pay of shipwrights in the dockyards is 5s. per day, as against 6s. 6d. in the private yards. while smiths are paid 5s. in the dockyards and 8s. 6d. in the private yards. I think it is an anomaly which cannot be defended that workmen engaged on national work should be under less favourable conditions than men in private employ. Then, again, payment by tonnage and the check system is regarded by the dockyard men as nothing less than sweating, and the men ask that they shall be paid for the actual work performed. The smiths work is checked by officials who are not practically acquainted with the trade, but are mechanics, and, strange to say, the men have no means of knowing how 339 the estimate is arrived at. If the work exceeds the required estimate the man hears nothing of it, but if it falls below, details are not given, but he is called before the superintendent, lectured, threatened with dismissal, and fined such a sum as the case seems to deserve. The men at Sheerness complain bitterly of the injustice of the system, and, as I say, they ask that they shall be paid for actual work performed on a known and recognised method of computation. The smiths also complain of the stoppage of promotion, and that when a vacancy occurs in Class 3 a man in Class 2 is expected to perform the work of the man above him, and does not receive the proper rate of pay for it. That seems to me an unfair proceeding, and calculated to stop that spirit of healthy rivalry which ought to exist in Her Majesty's Dockyards. Another grievance has relation to pensions, and as this has already been treated upon I will only say a few words on this point. If after 20 years' service an "established" man attains the age of 60 years he receives 10s. a week, but if he happens to die at 59 every farthing taken from his wages to form the superannuation fund is lost to his widow and children. I do not believe that in private employment such a scandal would be permitted. I do hope we shall have an assurance that this grievance will be remedied. The case of the hired men—men not on the establishment—is different. They, after 20 years' service, receive a lump sum. The hired men ask that in the matter of pensions they should be placed on the same footing as the men in the establishment. I may mention that at Sheerness there is no feeling of jealousy on the part of the established men; they join with the hired men in this wish. Then there is a grievance on the part of the major trade apprentices. They are entered for seven years, but during that time they are not allowed to compete for other vacancies, as is the case with the minor trade apprentices entered for six years by Local Authorities. Further, they ask that they shall be allowed to serve the last five years of their term at sea as the best means of learning their profession. The leading joiners complain of their rate of pay, and ask that they should be allowed the same leave as other officers; the dockyard writers request that they may 340 be assimilated with the second division clerks in the Civil Service; and the Royal Naval pensioners complain that they do not get the pensions to which they are entitled. I wish, on behalf of my constituents, to acknowledge their gratitude to the Board of Admiralty for the attention which has been given to dockyard matters. They consider that they have never, under any previous Board of Admiralty, had such good and careful treatment, and with respect to work they have nothing to complain of.
§ (10.37.) MR. BURT (Morpeth)
It is impossible at this period of the Session, and in the present state of the House, that we can adequately discuss the many questions that arise upon this Vote, and I confine myself to one point. My hon. Friend the Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broadhurst), who is unavoidably prevented from being present, has placed in my hand a letter he has received from the Secretary of the London and Southern Counties Labour League, to which my hon. Friend has desired me to call attention. The noble Lord in his speech has laid down what I consider a very good principle, that the Government should set an example of justice to employers of labour, and not be satisfied with paying merely the wages obtained elsewhere. But evidence submitted by the Association which sends my hon. Friend this letter seems to show that the rate paid by the Government is below rates paid by private firms, that where the ordinary labourer is in some instances paid by the Government 15s. a week, elsewhere he receives 17s. a week, and that similarly skilled labour is paid for on the scale known among the workmen as the cheat system. The facts set out in this letter, which I will submit to the noble Lord, that dockyard labourers are in some instances paid wages not exceeding, and even lower than wages paid to agricultural labourers, show that it is most desirable that the Admiralty should accede to the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck, and the hon. Gentleman opposite (Colonel Hughes), and direct an inquiry into the subject by Select Committee. Before this Committee dock labourers and others would give evidence, and I have no doubt that out of the information gathered a satisfactory settlement would be arrived at, and true economical 341 principles of administration need not be violated. The hon. Member opposite seems to have made out a strong case, and from the support he has received we have every reason to hope that his proposal for an inquiry will be accepted.
§ (10.42.) MR. C. J. DARLING (Dept-ford)
I do not desire to prolong the discussion, but, as representing a constituency particularly interested, I would say a few words. The noble Lord has promised to inquire into the case of the men employed at Deptford Victualling Yard at 15s. a week. It is perfectly true that 37 men are employed there at this low rate of wages; 10 of them have been engaged for two years; the others for longer periods. The noble Lord says that, on coming to look into the case, it may happen that of these 27 men it may be found that there are some who are what are scripturally called unprofitable servants. The noble Lord made use of expressions which evoked interruptions from hon. Members opposite, and he said that the result of the inquiry might be that these men might find themselves none the better, but rather worse off, and that it might be found that whatever wages they were paid they did not earn them. Now, I do not think I should be doing my duty to my constituents if I did not say that these men are perfectly ready, as my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Hughes) has said, to submit their case to inquiry. I do not suppose that the House of Commons will desire that the men should be maintained upon humanitarian considerations. And as to the value of their services, I can only say that the statements of the men themselves differ entirely from the information which the officials of the yard have given to the First Lord of the Admiralty. But, however this may be, the men are quite ready to submit their case to inquiry, believing that it will be found that they are not adequately paid for the services they render, and I am glad that the noble Lord has promised that some investigation shall be made, The understanding I take to be that if these men are not worth their wages they must go; but, on the other hand, if they are worth more than they now receive, the wages shall be increased. I find a difficulty in assenting to some of the propositions put forward by hon. 342 Gentlemen opposite, but I agree that it is desirable that a Committee should be appointed to fully and systematically inquire into the grievances of the different classes of workmen that have been brought forward. It will settle definitely whether the workmen have just cause of complaint or not; and I cannot understand how any Public Department, if it holds a strong position, can suffer any disadvantage from such inquiry. For my own part, I cannot understand how the Department could continue for years to employ men below the market rate of wages, and, indeed, at a rate at which it is not possible for men to exist. I cannot see how it is possible. I do not find that I can get anything below the market rate, and I cannot understand how a Department can accomplish it. Much has been said about the scale of pay in Government employment being below the rate paid by private firms; but I am puzzled to understand why it is, if such is the case, that the Government can get men to serve them. If there are, as has been alleged, private firms wanting steady men, and offering continuous work or better terms than the Government offer, why do not workmen avail themselves of these opportunities, and cease to serve this parsimonious Government? When we are told of men giving up 30s. a week to get on the establishment at 28s. a week, then it appears to me there must somehow be an inducement to them to make the bargain. When a man ceases to be a hired man he is not bound to continue as an established man; and if he accepts lower immediate payment, it must be that he has compensating prospective advantages. I confess it is a puzzle to my mind, if it is a fact, that men perfectly competent to exercise their judgment, and give votes on the affairs of the country, continue to employ their industry in Government yards when they could get better terms elsewhere. Why should they do so?
§ MR. C. J. DARLING
That may help towards an explanation, but there are many among my constituents and elsewhere who are not persuaded of the truth of the proposition that Government employment offers distinct advantages. I do hope that the Government will see their way to grant some inquiry into this 343 matter, if it be only for the purpose of allaying popular prejudice.
§ (11.1.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)
I have listened with great interest to the Debate during the last hour and a half. [Laughter.] This subject is not a laughing matter. It might be a subject for derisive laughter from the hon. Member for Galway, but I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I have not considered it from that point of view. In common with all who are responsible for the government of the country, I regard it as a matter of the highest importance that the men who are employed in Her Majesty's dockyards and arsenals should be well paid and contented, and that they should he capable of rendering good work for the wages they receive. I am sure that the House of Commons would not desire to under-pay any of the servants of the Crown, and that, on the other hand, the House would feel that they were incurring very great responsibility if they paid more than was reasonable under all the circumstances of the case. The Government take the view that they ought themselves to conduct an inquiry into the grievances of these men. The course which the Government proposes to take is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Treasury should associate themselves with the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Secretary of State for War, and the Secretaries of the two Departments, with the view of inquiring into the circumstances and conditions under which the labour of the dockyards is conducted at the present time, and of ascertaining for themselves, before the next Estimates are presented, whether, in their judgment, changes are necessary in those conditions. In January or February next the Government will be in a position to state their views to the House. Every opportunity will he given to the men themselves of making their claims known to the Government. One of the duties of the Secretary of the Admiralty is to appear from time to time in the dockyards, and to hear by himself and for himself every grievance and Petition, whether from classes or individuals. I trust that the men will avail themselves of this privilege on the next opportunity, and that they will feel that they have every right of appeal 344 to supreme authority while rendering loyal service to the State. I hope that the House will be satisfied with this explanation, remembering that the Government is bound to be careful in the administration of public funds.
§ (11.10.) MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
I have listened with attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I agree with him that this subject is no laughing matter. It is one I have taken deep interest in, and I may say that I have had a number of these men before me, and I have heard them state their case in their own language; where by I have been enabled to judge as to what their grievances really are. I may point out that one disadvantage under which we labour in this Debate is due to the want of an authoritative standard of information as between hon. Members and those who represent the Government. It must be admitted that there has been considerable difference in the statement of the case as between these two parties, and it was mainly in view of this fact that my hon. Friend the Member for the Wansbeck Division of Northumberland suggested that the Government should make the investigation asked for. I feel sure that if the Government were to assent to the appointment of a Select Committee before which the men could make their statements, great advantage would result from the investigation; and if it is not now too late, I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he will not consent to such a settlement of the difficulty, especially when he remembers that it is asked for on both sides of the House. Our contention is that in cases of this kind bad wages produce bad workmanship, and that the same results are not obtainable as in those cases where a good rate of wages prevails. From my own inquiries made amongst the men in one of the Government Dockyards, I found that one of the grievances of which the men complained was this: that every two workmen had, as they put it, to carry a third man on their backs. I do not mean to say that this statement is absolutely correct, but, at any rate, it is one which is worthy of investigation. If there is not something in it, how can we account for the large expenditure which makes the Government work so much more costly than that which is done in private 345 dockyards? I hope the Government will grant this Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman says we shall have further information in January, and that then we can take what action we think fit. That may be so; but why should we not have an opportunity of taking earlier action? I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consent to the request which has been so strongly urged from both sides of this House, that this matter shall be fully and fairly investigated by a Select Committee.
(11.20.) ADMIRAL MAYNE
The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. H. Knatch-bull-Hugessen) has so fully stated the case he has laid before the Committee that I will not go further into that matter, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman who has moved this Amendment will accept the offer which has been made by the First Lord of the Treasury. If the Government have such a good case as they allege, nothing but good can possibly accrue from such an investigation. If the proposal of the First Lord of the Treasury is accepted, I hope it will be carried out as speedily as possible, and that care will be taken that the workmen shall have every facility for putting their case before the Committee themselves, and not filtered through their superior officers. This is of great importance. It is not strictly correct to say that every Petition brought forward by the men is heard by the Admiralty; and that is a matter which requires to be looked into very closely. When the inquiry does take place, I trust the Committee will so shape their investigation that the evidence they may take will not be simply filtered through the officers of the dockyards. I am very glad to hear the statement that the vacancies in the Establishment are to be filled up, because I know that in the dockyard which I represent there are many vacancies which ought to be filled up, and I have not the slightest doubt that the announcement of the filling up of those vacancies will create a feeling of universal satisfaction in all the Government establishments.
§ (11.25.) COLONEL NOLAN
I regard the question we are now discussing as one of very serious importance. It affects, as we have been told by the hon. Member for Woolwich, something like 31,000 unskilled labourers, and the rise which has been asked for in whose 346 wages would amount to a very considerable sum per annum. Many of these poor labourers who are earning their 16s. or 17s. per week have to pay as much as 5s. or 6s. a week for rent, and an increase of 2s. upon their wages would make a considerable difference to them. From this point of view the question is one of great importance. If, however, the Government are to insist on the principle of going into the market and getting the cheapest labour obtainable, they would be setting a very bad example to other large employers, such, for instance, as the Railway Companies and the proprietors of the private dockyards. You must have a certain amount of labour; but if you restrict that labour to the lowest possible rate of remuneration, you may depend upon it that you will suffer in proportion. There is no doubt, however, that although the Government gets its labour somewhat below the ordinary market rate, the work it gives does possess the advantage of continuity. Still, by raising the rate of remuneration, they would, to a large extent, be protecting themselves against strikes, and I think they ought so to arrange their terms that strikes would be practically obviated. I trust that some such inquiry as has been asked for will be granted, and I sincerely hope that it will lead to a much better state of things in Her Majesty's Dockyards. These officials have their own objects, and laudable objects, to serve to show that they can manufacture cheaper than private firms, but we must keep this principle within control. As you cut down the price paid for labour, so you get gradually less skill in the labour you employ. We must remember there has been a singular immunity from strikes in Government Dockyards. The men behave very well. They do not combine and seek by striking and agitation to find a remedy for their grievances; they bring forward their grievances in the constitutional way in which all public servants should make their complaints known. The House of Commons, therefore, is bound to treat them fairly. A Departmental Inquiry is promised, but I think that a Committee of the House is a preferable mode of resolving the question whether the wages paid in the dockyards are according to the market rates or not. I should recommend the hon. and gallant Member 347 for Woolwich to go to a Division, and I think if he gets, as he ought to get, the support of Conservative Members representing dockyard constituencies, there is little doubt that we shall get a Committee next year, while I am afraid a Departmental Inquiry by permanent officials will burk the whole matter.
§ (11.32.) COLONEL HUGHES
I have a great responsibility thrown upon me. Certainly in the first instance I asked for a Departmental Inquiry, and this was refused. But now there is an offer that the whole matter shall be looked into by four of the ablest statesmen we have, and, in the interest of the workmen, I do not think I can do better than to accept that offer. If a Committee were promised, nothing could be done this Session. I hope the result of the inquiry will be a Report in such a shape that we shall have not only the conclusions, but know something of the way in which these conclusions are arrived at. If the conclusions should not be satisfactory, our demand for a Committee will be strengthened inasmuch, as we can say we have given the Government the opportunity of putting things straight, and they have failed. On behalf of the men I represent, I thank Members on both sides for the sympathy displayed, and I think it is my duty, in the interests of the men, to accept the offer made. I hope I may consider that I have a full assurance that the statements of the men shall be absolutely represented to those gentlemen who are to consider them, because there have been Petitions on this subject, duly presented through the proper official channels, which have never reached the heads of the Department at all. I rely on the undertaking given, and think I shall be acting wisely in accepting the proposal. It would have been more pleasant had the offer been made earlier, and then it might have saved a long discussion. Meantime, I, of course, understand that the grievances clearly proved will not have to wait for remedy until January next. If it is apparent that a man is underpaid at 15s. a week, he will be given an increase in his wage. On this understanding, and relying on the disposition evinced by the Government, I do not propose to put the Committee to the trouble of a Division.
§ (11.37.) MR. HOWELL
I am decidedly averse to a Departmental 348 Inquiry. We know that the men who come forward and give evidence in these inquiries are marked, and we know that the inquiry will be more or less in the hands of the officials under whom the men work. I am astonished at the Members for the dockyard constituencies of Woolwich and Deptford so readily accepting the offer made by the Government. I am in favour of a Select Committee, in order that the inquiry may be a real one into the condition of dockyard labourers. If I wanted a reason I could find it in the speech of the noble Lord. He has admitted that incompetent labourers are kept on at the dockyards merely as a matter of charity.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
No, I alluded to one particular establishment. I said nothing about dockyards, except that the work there was exceedingly well done.
§ MR. HOWELL
I have a distinct recollection of what the noble Lord said, and I know that he subsequently tried to minimise the effect of his speech by restricting it to a particular establishment. The Admiralty should employ skilled labour, and pay the normal price that labour fetches in the market, but it is a complaint among workmen that there is a tendency to take on a large number of unskilled workmen, and pay them lower wages, in place of skilled workmen. The hon. Member for Faversham has mentioned the complaint in Sheerness Dockyard, that unskilled men are set to supervise skilled labour. Let Government Departments act on the principle private employers know to be sound, that it is the cheapest in the long run to pay men for skilled labour, and not seek to get the work done by unskilled workmen. We want an inquiry by a Select Committee which can protect the men who come to give evidence, and I shall be very much surprised if the constituents of the hon. Member for Woolwich are satisfied with the way in which this question is treated. As to the men whose labour is said not to be worth 15s. a week, I would say it is no part of the duty of the First Lord to act as a relieving officer for paupers, whether in Deptford, Woolwich, or elsewhere; it is his duty to get the best skilled labour, and to pay the proper wage obtaining in the district.
§ (11.47.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 64; Noes 124.—(Div. List, No. 243.)
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ 3. £1,670,000, Shipbuilding, Repairs, Maintenance, &c.—Material.
§ (11.53.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
There are some questions I have to raise in relation to this Vote, but I propose to defer these to the Report stage, which I trust will be taken at a reasonable hour.
§ Vote agreed to,
4. Motion, made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,300,700, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expense of Contract Work for Shipbuilding, Repairs, and Maintenance, including the cost of Establishments of Dockyards and Naval Yards at Home and Abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1891.
§ (11.55.) DR. TANNER
This is the second million proposed to be voted, in a couple of minutes. I think some explanation is due from the responsible Minister, some statement in regard to the expenditure, some comparison with expenditure last year, some statement of Departmental policy.
§ (11.55.) LORD G. HAMILTON
I shall be very happy to afford explanation on any specific point, but, as the hon. Member will see, this is merely a section of the Vote which the Committee have been discussing for the last four or five hours. It is simply divided into sections for the convenience of the House, and this is the section dealing with contract work by private firms.
§ (11.56.) DR. TANNER
On this point of contracts I do not see why Ireland should be boycotted, as it is. We have an admirable harbour at Cork, and splendid stores and appliances. From these millions so rapidly voted, I think we may fairly urge that a proportion should be expended on the country from which so much Revenue is raised for Imperial purposes. I should like to have an assurance in that direction.
§ (11.57.) SIR E. J. REED (Cardiff)
As the designs for ships being built under contract do not differ from those being executed in the dockyards, no question arises on that account. It is for this reason that no remarks have been made upon this section of the Vote from this (the Front Opposition) Bench.
(11.58.) MR. A.O'CONNOR
The point raised by my hon. Friend (Dr. Tanner) 350 is a perfectly reasonable one. Out of this large Naval expenditure, to which Ireland contributes a considerable share, Ireland gets but a few niggardly crumbs in connection with Cork and Haulbowline. Why does not some of this money find its way to the encouragement of industry in Ireland, where there are firms capable of undertaking contracts? It is important that this clause should be looked into.
§ (12.0.) LORD G. HAMILTON
We did invite Irish firms to tender, but the largest of them in Belfast declined to do so. I agree that we should spread the ship building over as wide an area as possible, and that as there are two firms in Ireland who do their work in such a way as to bear favourable comparison with that of firms in Great Britain, they should have a share of the contracts. The claims of Ireland are not lost sight of, and this year we have given larger contracts to her than in previous years. I admit that Ireland should have a fair share of the contracts, and that the Admiralty always invite firms of standing and respectability to compete.
§ (12.2.) DR. TANNER
I find from the Estimate that this year you have a substantial increase of £40,000. Now, I am always loth to rise and speak on matters with which I am not conversant; but to justify my action just now I must point out that you have this substantial increase. Will the noble Lord explain the increase, and say whether or not it is to be permanent?
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. FORWOOD, Lancashire, Ormskirk)
There is no increase; but a decrease of £264,000.
§ DR. TANNER
I am always glad to be corrected when I am in error. I have had some difficulty in understanding the Estimates, and if I have made a mistake it is in consequence of the way in which the Estimates are framed.
§ (12.4.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)
It is not a wise thing to have all your eggs in one basket, and it seems to me it would be wise to have arsenals and secondary dockyard supplies at Cork and on the Clyde. You should have these places on every coast, so that in the event of war breaking out you could not be cut off from your supplies by the blockading of one or two naval ports.
§ (12.6.) MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
The noble Lord has not replied as to contracts in Ireland and the places where they have been given out. As this matter was originally mentioned in the House by myself a few years ago, I may be allowed to express a hope that the contracts for supplies have been continuous. If that is so, I have no doubt that the manner in which the Navy has been supplied has been satisfying to those who are entrusted with the inspection of the commodities. What I want to know with regard to the firm to which allusion has been made—and which did, at one time, perform a satisfactory piece of work—is whether the Admiralty have seen their way to continue the class of work which was entrusted to that firm. If I remember rightly, the contract spoken of as having been given to this firm consisted of a water tank. I have no doubt the water tank was made perfectly, and to the satisfaction of those who had to inspect it; but new Estimates have been before the House two or three times since that contract was given to this firm. If the contract was merely a trial on the part of the Admiralty to see how an Irish firm could turn out a vessel of this kind, and if it has turned out satisfactorily, I want to know why no work has been given to that firm from that day to this. I think that when a water tank was given to the South of Ireland to construct, and two vessels of the Swallow pattern were given to a firm in the North of Ireland to build, and the work has been done so as to satisfy the Department, fresh contracts ought to be given. I want to know if further boats have been given to the North of Ireland to build, and, if not, why not? Have boats been built elsewhere, and, if so, has the work been done better than in the North of Ireland? I do not speak in a strain of jealousy. I do not care where the work is given so long as it is given to communities from whom taxation and supplies are drawn, but I do submit that, if contracts were properly completed and delivered by firms in the North and South of Ireland some years ago, it is strange that there has been no work of the kind done there since. Contracts have been given in the North and South of England, and also in Scotland, but Ireland has been left out in the cold. We thought that the water tank which 352 was given to the South of Ireland to construct was only a preface or beginning to some kindlier treatment of that part of the country, which contributes largely to the Imperial taxation; but we have heard nothing about it from that time to this. I now challenge the Government to say whether these contracts have been fulfilled or not in a satisfactory manner.
§ (12.15.) MR. A. O'CONNOR
I have looked through the Estimates very carefully, and I fail to find that, beyond a ridiculously small sum, there has been anything spent on Ireland at all. The noble Lord himself must be under a misapprehension. He would not, I am sure, lead the Committee to suppose that Ireland gets anything like her proportion of this £14,000,000 under these Votes. He would have us believe that something like a proportionate amount of the Revenue from the country is spent in Ireland, but such is not the case. At the victualling yard in Ireland you have only seven labourers employed—occasionally only five—whereas in the yards of this country you have thousands and tens of thousands of men constantly employed. The Committee is misled on this matter, and I would ask the First Lord of the Admiralty to explain how the matter stands.
§ (12.17.) MR. J. O'CONNOR
It is two years ago since we voted a sum of money for the purpose of putting machinery in the machine room at Haul-bowline Dockyard. Is that machinery in perfect order? Has it been in use since it was put up, or has it been allowed to get rusty? Is there anyone employed there to keep it oiled and fit to be used in the event of our being at war?
(12.18.) MR. MAC NEILL (Donegal, S.)
I should like to ask the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Forwood) what has become of the contracts he promised to the people of Govan on the eve of an election there? He promised the people mountains of gold—or contracts which would mean mountains of gold to the electors. Will the hon. Gentleman give a specific account of this matter to the Committee?
§ MR. FORWOOD
I have not had the pleasure of going to Govan, and I certainly never made a speech there.
(12.19.) MR. MAC NEILL
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I was under a mistake. I meant the Civil Lord.
§ MR. FORWOOD
In answer to the observations made by hon. Gentlemen 353 opposite with reference to contracts given to Ireland, I should like to point out that contracts for something like £2,000,000 were offered to firms in Ireland, but those firms were too full of work even to take Government contracts.
§ MR. A. O'CONNOR
Out of £16,000,000. Will the noble Lord undertake that next Session this Vote shall be taken at such a time as to admit of reasonable discussion?
§ (12.21.) LORD G. HAMILTON
I cannot give an undertaking, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, but the usual practice will, I suppose, be followed. Vote 1 is taken first, and then the subsequent classes of the Estimates, The hon. Gentleman must recollect that this Vote really carries out the policy of the Naval Defence Act of last year, and that was discussed at considerable length.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ 5. £1,463,500, for Naval Armaments.
§ LORD G, HAMILTON
The First Lord of the Treasury stated that he would take Report of Supply on Monday or Tuesday. I hope the hon. Gentleman will remember that he, among others, had an opportunity of discussing the Admiralty Vote.
§ (12.23.) MR. DUFF
I have had no opportunity of discussing it. I know what discussing Votes on Report means. If a statement is contradicted from the Treasury Bench we have no opportunity of reply. It will not be convenient to me to be here on Tuesday. My first complaint with regard to this Vote is this. On the 20th February I moved for a Return, showing the number of guns actually delivered. I have since frequently asked for a Return, but have never succeeded in getting it. That is not respectful treatment of the House of Commons. The non-production of the Return lays the Government under the suspicion that the guns are not being produced with that 354 rapidity which we are frequently told about. Last year the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War said he hoped to receive 23 guns in the first quarter, 32 in the second quarter, and 26 in the third quarter. I should like to know how much of that programme has been fulfilled. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in his latest statement, takes credit for the fact that the production of guns has been fairly satisfactory. I find that only 27 guns of above nine inches diameter were actually produced last year, or five more than in the previous year. It is said we want 112 guns, and at this rate it will take a very long time to carry out the Government programme. To-night, the First Lord said the Admiralty were making their own contracts for guns. I cannot reconcile that with the noble Lord's Memorandum, in which he says the Admiralty are not responsible for the weapons. Allusion has been made by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) to the contract for 110-ton guns. The matter was commented upon in the Report of the Auditor-General. The careless manner in which these contracts are made is shown by the fact that one of the conditions imposed is, that if the article is not satisfactory, another is to be furnished within 10 days. A 110-ton gun within 10 days! The Controller General rather goes out of his way to point out the extraordinary delay that takes place in delivering guns. He says that 24 guns of over nine inches, ordered as far back as 1885, have not been delivered, although they were promised in 1888. The guns of the Sanspareil were ordered on the 10th of May, 1886, and delivery was promised in April, 1888. The First Lord says in his statement that they will be delivered some time in the year 1890 or 1891. I should like to know whether these guns are yet on board the Sanspareil. I am quite willing to admit that the present Government have made some efforts to make up the leeway with regard to guns, but I do not think we shall ever obtain satisfactory results as long as the present system is continued. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has expressed an opinion in favour of making the Navy alone responsible for its munitions of war. Until you adopt that principle I am satisfied you will have continuous repetitions of the scandalous 355 delays that occur in the delivery of guns. You will also have constant confusion in time of peace, and, I believe, disaster in time of war. Some time ago I submitted a Resolution on the subject. It was defeated, but ever since then the Department appears to have been moving in the direction I indicated. I am satisfied that the sooner they carry out my proposal entirely the better it will be for the Service and the better for the country.
§ (11.36.) THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE, Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
The hon. Member did me the honour to quote a speech I made last year, but he did not do me the honour to refer to the speech I made this year on the same subject. In the last-named speech I took up the very sentence he has quoted, and gave the House the fullest information on the subject.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
Will the hon. Member allow me to speak? In the month of March this year I told the Honse exactly how far the anticipations regarding these guns had been verified. I am not going to delay the Committee by repeating the observations I made in March, but if the hon. Member will refer to my speech he will find that what I say is absolutely accurate. I will tell the Committee what is the case now. We have entirely overtaken the block which existed some time ago. We were in considerable arrears, which arose very largely from the fact that guns were required at the same time, not only for a large number of new ships but for putting new guns into fortifications. It was utterly impossible, under the circumstances, to obtain the requisite number of guns without considerable delay. I am happy to say that now no ship is waiting for guns which have not been completed. The last two 110-ton guns are passing through Woolwich, and will shortly be put on board. There are 70 guns ready to be shipped.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
It is quite impossible to go into all the details. We are now able to say we are in a satis- 356 factory condition. The hon. Member asked a question with regard to the form of the contract for 110-ton guns. I have already explained the cause of the error referred to. It occurred before I had anything to do with the Department. The reason was that up to that time we had never had any dealings with contractors. Armstrong was then first beginning to make guns for the Army and Navy, and was practically treated as a branch of the Woolwich establishment. Now we enter into formal and regular contracts, in which all the necessary conditions are inserted.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
I did not know it had not been delivered. I am sorry for the delay, and will take care that it is delivered at once.
§ (12.41.) COLONEL NOLAN
I must say I think the way several items are lumped together in these Estimates is confusing and leads to great inconvenience. I think the different amounts should be presented separately; for example, that the guns turned out of Woolwich should be separated from those turned out by private contractors. There is another point to which I wish to draw attention. Three or four years ago I put a question to the Admiralty on the subject of submarine vessels, and was informed that it was under consideration. I would now ask whether the Admiralty is doing anything in the matter. These boats are, of course, not very reliable in the present stage of their development, but should really efficient ones be constructed it would be easy to destroy a whole fleet in the course of five or six hours. I hold, therefore, that great responsibility rests with the Admiralty in the matter. Great advances have been made of recent years in relation to ships of this description, and I should like to know whether the First Lord of the Admiralty has a definite statement to make, and whether the Department is sufficiently alive to the vast importance of the subject.
§ (12.45.) CAPTAIN VERNEY
The statement made by the Secretary of State for War is exceedingly interesting and very satisfactory. He tells us that a year ago we were much in arrear in the matter of guns, but that now we have 357 overtaken the demand. Well, I would ask him to supplement that information by telling us who was responsible for the delay of last year, and to whom the credit of the improved supply this year is due. That seems to me a sensible question to ask, as the facts are such as everyone ought to know. The Report of the Royal Commission states that the only real responsibility rests on the Commander-in-Chief, and that he alone is responsible to the Secretary of State even for such a matter as the defective design of a heavy gun. I want to know if that is the case to-day? Has there been any change since this Report was made, and is it the fact that, under the present system, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army is responsible for the heavy guns of the Navy, or whether the responsibility has been shifted to any other quarter?
§ (12.47.) LORD G. HAMILTON
With regard to what has fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) as to items being lumped together, I must point out that at the commencement of the year it is not possible to distinguish exactly what class of guns will have to be made. The hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks we should draw a distinction between Woolwich and private contractors, and that seems to me a very reasonable suggestion. Next year I will try and give the statement as the hon. Member proposes. As to wire guns, to which reference has been made, no doubt they are very reliable and have a longer range, but they are extremely expensive. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will be glad to learn that our modern ships are so constructed that wire guns can be used to replace ordinary guns at any time. The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked me if we had received any Reports as to submarine vessels. I am informed that Reports as to the performances of submarine vessels abroad are carefully considered at the Admiralty. The experiments hitherto made in this country have not been very satisfactory. Not long ago one of these boats went to the bottom of the dock, where she was being tried, and stuck in the mud. I think for many years to come, at all events, submarine vessels will not be of general use, but they are weapons of offence on which the Admiralty ought to keep its eye, and we will 358 give it our attention and consider all Reports on the subject from our representatives abroad.
§ (12.59.) MR. DUFF
As to sub-section (d,) relating to small arms, I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if any magazine rifles have yet been ordered for the Navy. The other day I saw that we sent out some boats and arms for the Shiré River, and it struck me at the time that magazine rifles would have been extremely useful in connection with such an expedition. In fact, it seems to me that magazine rifles would be more useful on such occasions than any other form of rifle. Each boat will have eight or nine men on board, and, if one of those crews should be attacked by large bodies of natives it would be much easier to beat them off with quick firing guns. We can see plenty of these magazine rifles in use in Pall Mall, but it seems to me that it would be much more sensible to send them out to such places as the Shiré River. I should like to know how the matter stands.
§ (12.53.) LORD G. HAMILTON
No magazine rifles have been supplied to the Navy, or for the particular service to which the hon. Member has referred. The supply of these rifles to the Navy is clearly a secondary matter, as compared with the demands of the Army, and, in addition, the Martini, with its larger calibre, was considered to be more useful for naval service.
§ DR. TANNER
I would like to draw attention to the setting up of old hulks for use as powder magazines. Would it not be better when powder magazines are wanted to build new ships for the purpose than to patch up old hulks? To my mind, there is a vast amount of money wasted upon these old vessels, and it does not seem to me to be at all a business-like way of spending money. We have been told that all the guns required by the Admiralty are now in hand, and that a considerable amount of leeway has been made up. If any Member of the Committee will cast his eye over the Accounts for this year and the preceding year he will find that the items balance each other; that is to say, we are asked for the same amount of money this year as we were asked for last year. This is rather curious, seeing how difficult it is to form an estimate of the exact 359 amount to be expended, and how difficult it is to adhere to an estimate that has been framed. It appears to me, studying the way in which public money has been spent, or misspent, that even when the Government has to do its business in a proper business-like way, it has to make up leeway. Under these circumstances, it is curious how the Accounts for each year balance each other. Members go through these Estimates and try to curb undue expenditure, and yet are received with signs of impatience by hon. Gentlemen opposite I maintain that we are legitimately entitled to examine into the way in which these large sums are spent. It is very difficult for many of us to deal with these financial matters, just as it is difficult for others to deal with medical matters—though they come easy enough to me. I would like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty for information as to this £20,000, spent on patching up old bulks.
§ (12.58.) LORD G. HAMILTON
Owing to the increase of the Navy, a large increase has taken place in the armament necessary for it, and as there is not sufficient room for the additional powder, we have found that the best way is to convert old hulks into powder magazines, and moor them out in the tideway at Portsmouth and Devonport. The cost of this system is only one-eighth of what it would be if we built new magazines.
§ Vote agreed to.