HC Deb 02 March 1891 vol 350 cc1948-78
(4.20.) SIR J. COLOMB (Tower Hamlets, Bow, &c.)

I rise for the purpose of calling attention to the growth of Colonial Sea Commerce and increase of British Naval responsibilities caused thereby; and to move— That the growth of the Sea Commerce of the British Colonies and Dependencies and of the war fleets of Foreign Powers render it desirable that the annual Navy Estimates presented to this House should in future be accompanied by a Return showing the total number of war ships of each class in commission, in reserve, and building; the annual aggregate revenue; the annual Naval expenditure; the aggregate tonnage of the mercantile marine; and the approximate annual aggregate value of the Sea-borne Commerce of the British Empire and of each Foreign Power possessing war ships: and a further Return showing the annual Naval expenditure on Sea-going Forces, and the approximate annual value, exclusive of interchange with the United Kingdom, of the Sea-borne Commerce of British North America, British South Africa, British Australasia, and British India respectively. We are asked, Sir, that you shall leave the Chair, in order to discuss the Navy Estimates for the coming year—Estimates which are intended to provide for the security of the sea interests of the whole of the Empire up to the end of March, 1892. What may happen before March, 1892, it is impossible to predict; but if war should by any chance break out before that date, we must stand or fall by the provision made by the Estimates now before the House, and the responsibility can only rest with the House of Commons. I wish, in the first place, to invite the attention of the House to the broad fact that if ever and whenever we are involved in war, and our naval sufficiency is put to the test, we shall find that our condition has entirely changed from what it was when we last fought upon the sea for our maritime supremacy. Then the population in these Islands was not dependent for food on the sea. Now that population is absolutely and entirely so dependent. Then British commerce, and, therefore, the area of danger of the commerce, was practically confined to European waters and the North Atlantic. Our trade with India was practically small, and its protection was confided to the care of the armed fleet belonging to the East India Company. The area of our maritime commerce now includes every ocean and every sea in the world, and our naval operations must include action not only in European waters and the North Western Atlantic, but over every sea and ocean. What we had to protect then was wholly and solely the commerce of the United Kingdom; but nowadays the commerce of the United Kingdom only forms a portion of British commerce which we have to protect. When the last gun was fired at Waterloo we had a Navy Estimate of £22,000,000, and we had only then the germs of a great Empire. The Navy Estimate now amounts to £14,000,000, and we have a gigantic oceanic Empire to protect. I will not trace the gradual growth of our Empire since that date, but I will mention one or two facts that have occurred during the reign of Her Majesty. The Revenue of the United Kingdom was £56,000,000 in 1837, and the annual sea commerce amounted to £155,000,000. The Revenue of the United Kingdom has now reached £89,000,000, and the annual sea commerce £744,000,000. The Revenue of our colonies and dependencies in 1837 was £23,000,000, it is now £105,000,000; and the sea commerce of our colonies and dependencies now amounts to £460,000,000. Consequently, although the Revenue of the United Kingdom has only increased by one and a half times, the Revenue of the outlying Empire has increased fivefold; and while the sea trade of the Mother Country which the Navy has to protect has in the same period increased only five times, the sea trade of the outlying Empire, which the Navy has also to protect, has increased 20 times. It is quite apparent from these figures that we are within a measurable distance of the time when the sea trade and commerce of the outlying Empire will equal, if not surpass, that of the United Kingdom. It is interesting to compare the commerce of the Federal States of America when attacked by the Alabama with the present commerce of our Empire beyond the sea. The Federal States had then a sea trade of about £153,000,000. The aggregate trade of our three great groups of self-governing colonies—British North America, British South Africa, and British Australia, now amounts to £198,000,000. Those colonies have therefore at this moment a sea trade far greater than the total sea trade of the Federal States of America at the outbreak of the Civil War, and at the time of the operations of the Alabama. If we add the trade of our dependencies, I find that it amounts to £260,000,000, not far short of double the sea trade of the Federal States at the time of the commencement of the operations of the Alabama—so that the sea trade of our colonies proper exceeds the sea trade attacked by the Alabama by about £45,000,000, while that of our dependencies exceeds it by about £110,000,000. I may add that the sea commerce of Australia is larger at this moment than that of the Federal States at that time. The commerce of the outlying Empire divides itself properly into two parts. There is the interchange with the United Kingdom and the sea trade, which is carried on entirely independent of the United Kingdom; and what I desire to draw the attention of the House to is the growth of that independent sea commerce, for the protection of which this House has to provide, and which neither goes from or comes to these islands. The value of the imports and exports of our outlying Empire is about £460,000,000, and of this amount only £187,000,000 is interchanged with the United Kingdom; therefore, the independent trade of the outlying Empire amounts to about £273,000,000. It amounts to 11 times the amount of the independent trade of the outlying Empire in 1837, and is one and three-quarters more than the total trade of the United Kingdom at the time of the commencement of Her Majesty's reign. That shows the increase of the naval responsibility incurred, not by the United Kingdom only, but by the communities which compose our colonies and dependencies beyond the seas. Let me take that independent trade, and compare it with the sea-borne trade of great Foreign Powers which possess large war Navies. I find that it is about four times as much as the sea-borne trade of all Russia; about equal to that of Germany; about three-fourths that of France; two and a half times that of Italy, and nearly half that of the United States. Every year the sea commerce of the outlying Empire, independent of the interchange with the United Kingdom, is increasing. It is not only overtaking the sea-borne commerce of the Mother Country, but in a short time it may eclipse all the sea-borne commerce of the great European countries. The net expenditure to be incurred by the United Kingdom on the Navy Estimates is £14,215,100, and the net naval expenditure by the outlying Empire, with its enormous trade, is only £381,546. It is interesting to consider for a moment the way in which this £381,546 is made up. India contributes for troopships and harbours £170,576, but for the sea-going force which has to protect her trade, independent and otherwise, she contributes only £84,200. Therefore, the total contributed by India for the defence of a trade greater than that of many first-class European Powers is £254,776. For the first time Australia appears as chief contributor to the expenses of the Fleet. It appears by the Estimates that Australia contributes £126,000; Jamaica £520 for a fresh water supply to the town of Port Royal; and Ascension £250 for pier dues. While last year Ceylon contributed £4,500 to the naval expenses, it disappears this year from the Estimates. The House will observe that out of every £1 spent for the naval protection of the Empire in 1891–92 the outlying Empire will spend about 6¼d., and the United Kingdom spend the balance, 19s. 5¾d. It is to be remembered that the larger part of the Revenue of the Empire is now raised outside these Islands, and that it is an increasing Revenue, while the Revenue of these Islands is almost stagnant. Looking at the outlying Empire by itself, and comparing it with the Revenues of the great first-class maritime Powers maintaining fleets for the protection of a smaller commerce, I find that the total Revenue of the outlying Empire, being about £105,000,000, is about 1⅛ times more than that of Russia, 2½ times that of Germany, more than three-quarters that of France, about 1½ times that of Italy, and 1½ times that of the United States. An interesting Return has been compiled by a distinguished member of the Foreign Office and is re-published in Whitaker this year, giving the average Annual Revenue and the average Naval and Military Expenditure of the Great Powers from 1882 to 1887. Taking on the one hand the Revenue and the independent sea commerce of the outlying Empire separately, and basing a comparison on those Returns, the following are the interesting results: If we take the percentage of Naval Expenditure to Revenue, for example, I find that while the Naval Expenditure of Russia is 5 per cent. of her total Revenue, of Germany 4 per cent., France 8 per cent., Italy 4 per cent., and the United States 3 per cent., the Naval Expenditure of the outlying Empire compared with Revenue is practically nil. If we take the percentage of Naval Expenditure of these nations and compare it with the Naval Expenditure of the outlying Empire in the ratio of Naval Expenditure to seaborne commerce it comes to this:—While the Naval Expenditure of Russia on every £1 value of her seaborne commerce is 1s. 9d., Germany 1d., and France 5d., and so on, that of the outlying Empire cannot be expressed in the appreciable fraction of a farthing. If we take the Naval Expenditure in proportion to the national shipping entered and cleared at national ports we find that Russia spends £5 10s. per ton, France £1 per ton, and the United States about 10s.; while our outlying Empire does not spend on protection the appreciable portion of a farthing on her tonnage. If we take the shipping owned it will be found that Russia is spending on her Fleet £11 3s. per ton of shipping owned; France, £10 13s.; and the outlying Empire 4s. 5d. I hope I have said enough to justify the importance of having Returns dealing with the matters specified in my Motion accompanying the Naval Estimates, so that the House may be placed in a proper position to discuss them from the only point of view from which they can be discussed—that is to say, the relation of their adequacy to the work to be done by the Fleet. It now only remains for me to deal with that part of the Motion which refers to ships in commission, in reserve, and building under the British and all other flags of Maritime Powers. The Navy, as we all know, is for the protection of maritime interests, and these interests, naturally, group themselves under two heads—the defence of seaboards and the defence of sea commerce. The relative national importance of the one or the other depends entirely upon several circumstances. For example, let us suppose Australia an independent State, and let us compare her with Russia, and see in what relation of importance a seaboard defence and sea commerce defence would apply to Australia and apply to Russia. Russia has an extensive seaboard, and so has Australia; but the sea commerce of Russia is not much more than half that of Australia. The sea commerce of Russia represents about 10s. a head for every Russian, while the sea commerce of Australia represents about £30 a head for every Australian—so that every Australian has 60 times the interest in the sea that the Russian has. Therefore, for purposes of pure defence, Russia could confine her naval preparations to harbour defence. But an independent Australia could do no such thing. An independent Australia, without a sea-going fleet, could be shut up in a few weeks like a telescope by the Fleet of China, Chili, or Japan, to say nothing of any European Fleet. The naval policy of a nation, therefore, can be sufficiently surmised from the number and class of her ships of war taken in relation to her real maritime necessities, and the necessities of her population as they appear by their enforced reliance upon the sea. If a nation with a small sea commerce developes a fleet of sea-keeping cruisers it is fair to assume, indeed, I think it must be assumed, that such development indicates a policy of attack rather than a policy of defence. And thus to measure our naval necessities, we are absolutely bound to consider carefully the naval programmes and the fleets of foreign nations—not in an abstract way, but in relation to their maritime interests, and the distribution of the commerce and the sea property they have to protect. Therefore, I think it is exceedingly important that the information for which I ask in my Motion should be attached to and accompany the Annual Navy Estimate, so that the House and the country responsible for the security of this gigantic Empire, and the safety of this gigantic sea business, will be able to judge whether the preparations are adequate, and whether the Government are taking the steps necessary to secure these interests. Another reason why it is important we should have information of the number of war ships in commission, in reserve, and building at home, and the number belonging to foreign nations is the modern practice—a very good one so far as this House is concerned—of having programmes of shipbuilding spread over a series of years. This practice commenced with what is known as the Northbrook programme which brought about an increase in the fleet that was to be completed by a specified time. Whilst that programme was being carried out there was a development of British trade and a development of foreign navies, ships were built conceivably for purposes of attack; and taking our present programme which is to expire in 1894, seeing that foreign nations know what it is and are aware that we restrict ourselves to it until 1894—and seeing that they are now increasing their fleets, especially in the direction of sea-keeping cruisers—I cannot see the justification of our present voluntarily restricted naval position. But I will reserve any remarks I may have to make on that subject to a future occasion. I trust the House will forgive me for having intervened, and having put, in this short way, certain broad facts before it to prove my contention—that certain specific information should be placed before us prior to our going into Committee on Navy Estimates. I think that information should accompany the Estimates, so that on broad grounds we may be able to see whether we are doing our duty—as we did it in the past, and whether we are facing our responsibilities and maintaining a force adequate to the naval wants of our Empire. It is also desirable that the House should be in a position to watch these developments, and that the communities under our flag should have it brought home to them year by year that they are not sharing the burdens with us—that they are piling up responsibilities on the United Kingdom, and that while they have increasing resources and revenue they are not fairly contributing or sufficiently helping the Old Country. It is a trite saying that the Navy is the first and chief line of defence of the Kingdom. Let us remember that we differ from all other States of the world in the fact that the internal communications of our Empire are sea communications, and that the sea being the commonage of the world, we cannot exist on sufferance, and must be prepared to maintain our water communications in the face of the world. Let us remember that it is the interest of every part of the Empire to assist in keeping the waterways free, and that it can only be done by a complete arrangement with all parts of the Empire and an adequate force established, not by abstract comparison with this or that Power, but with a due regard to all the facts and circumstances of the position as defined by geography and necessity. In the past we have gone wrong through making small abstract comparisons instead of calmly reviewing and working out the whole great problem, and deciding upon a comprehensive estimate of the amount and distribution of commerce to be protected, which is the only business-like way of arriving at the force necessary to prevent a collapse, not merely of the United Kingdom but of the whole Empire. I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "The growth of the sea commerce of the British Colonies and Dependencies and of the war fleets of Foreign Powers render it desirable that the annual Navy Estimates presented to this House should in future be accompanied by a Return showing the total number of war ships of each class in commission, in reserve, and building; the annual aggregate revenue; the annual naval expenditure; the aggregate tonnage of the mercantile marine; and the approximate annual aggregate value of the seaborne commerce of the British Empire and of each Foreign Power possessing war ships, and a further Return showing the annual naval expenditure on sea-going Forces, and the approximate annual value, exclusive of interchange with the United Kingdom, of the seaborne commerce of British North America, British South Africa, British Australasia, and British India respectively,"—(Sir John Colomb,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

(4.53.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)

We have heard the hon. and gallant Member state with ability and research most interesting facts with reference to the magnitude of the commerce of Great Britain. Well, that is a subject which we all contemplate with satisfaction and with pride, but the hon. and gallant Member's speech, from its tone, I consider one of the notes of alarm which hon. and gallant Gentlemen are constantly in the habit of sounding, and which are intended to induce people of this country to believe that there is some great danger threatening our commerce, and that the already enormous expenditure of the country upon naval and military defence is inadequate. I should think that that is not a view which is very satisfactory to Her Majesty's Government, because within the last two years Her Majesty's Government have in two measures, one called the Imperial Defence Act, and the other called the Naval Defence Act, provided for an expenditure of £24,000,000, and in that they have not merely made a present provision, but have really mortgaged the resources of the future. On that policy I will say nothing now as there will be other opportunities more appropriate for discussing it; but what was the object of the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman? He has pointed out that there is this gigantic commerce in which England and her dependencies are interested. We all admit the magnitude of that commerce. It is to he counted by hundreds of millions—but the whole object of the hon. and gallant Member's speech and Motion was to represent to the country and the Government that the growth of that commerce indicated that the provisions which have been made for its defence are altogether inadequate, and that they ought to be increased. I confess that having regard to the knowledge and ability of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I was extremely surprised that he did not refer to the position of that commerce in the event of a war. From the character of the attendance in the House this afternoon, there does not seem to be very much alarm in Parliament, and I hope there is not in the country. I do not see here a great collection of naval officers or, what is still more important, of the great merchants of England, who are trembling on account of the danger which threatens their commerce. The hon. and gallant Member has dealt not merely with the commerce of England but also with that of India and the colonies, and his great object seemed to be that India and the colonies should contribute much more largely than they do now to the defence of their commerce. If the hon. Member had been addressing the representatives of the various provinces of Australia, who are now gathered together for the purpose of uniting Australia, and had suggested a great scheme of taxation for raising an Australian Navy, I could have better seen the pertinence of his speech—or if he had been addressing the Government of India and saying, "You must contribute your millions towards the protection of this trade," that would have been intelligible, but he has not attempted to face the question of what will be the position of the commerce of England, or of any other country in a state of war. It is upon that point that I principally wish to make a remark. The hon. Member seems to imagine that in the event of war the commerce of this country would be at once threatened by a belligerent Power, and that we should then lose our exports and imports. That is a fair issue to take. I have seen alarmists and panic-mongers going about the country telling people who do not consider or understand the question—"Unless you have an overwhelming Navy which governs every sea, England will be ruined, because no corn will come here and your manufactures will stop because no cotton will be received, and you will have no export of your textile fabrics or hardware manufactures." Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman is sufficiently well informed to be aware that not one single ton of these imports or exports can be threatened by war. Surely the hon. Member is not going back to the defence of commerce of the last century or the beginning of the present century. He is surely aware that by the Declaration of Paris the whole trade of a belligerent is safe. I am not speaking of the carrying trade, with which I will deal presently. Not a hundredweight less corn would come into England if we were at war, and not a yard less cotton would be exported; but the imports and exports would be carried under neutral flags. Goods could not be prevented from coming into England. So far from the country being starved by reason of no corn coming into Liverpool, it would be brought in in perfect security under a neutral flag and in as great quantities as at present, and so with cotton; and so with goods going out of the country. Goods could go out in absolute security, and, therefore, as regards what I may call general trade, the Declaration of Paris makes it secure—and do not let there be any mistake about that. The hon. and gallant Member may reply, "But you will lose the great carrying trade of England." No doubt that would be a great loss. Let us measure the loss. It is not the loss of hundreds of millions of which the hon. Member speaks, the goods will remain and come and go as before, but you will lose no doubt the carrying trade of Great Britain. This is the greatest carrying trade in the world, and greater now than at any former period. I do not depreciate the amount of that loss, but let us look at it as men of business and measure it. Of course you may say the world, apart from Great Britain, has not the ships to carry on that trade. But that will happen which has happened before— there will be a transfer of ships from the British to neutral flags. During periods of war in old days, when belligerent Powers were most predominant in the world, they might have disputed this transfer as a legitimate transaction. But as time has passed the power of belligerents to give the law to the world has diminished, and the power of neutrals has increased; and there would be no difficulty in finding ships which would carry the commerce in absolute security. I do not believe for a moment that any multiplication of expenditure on the Navy could create such a cruising fleet as would enable belligerent commerce to be carried on in belligerent bottoms. I heard the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Giles) speak upon this subject last year, and he, speaking as a practical man, said it was impossible that this could be done. Take the case the hon. Member has referred to by way of illustration. In the American Civil War the Northern States had a great naval superiority over the Southern States, and were able to maintain an effective blockade of hundreds of miles of coast. Yet the presence of one single Southern cruiser was enough to prevent the North from carrying on trade in belligerent bottoms. With these there must always be some risk, which is not shared by neutral bottoms, and this will effect a difference in the insurance sufficient to give the trade to the neutral flag. Those things are perfectly well known to mercantile men and persons connected with shipping, and no amount of a cruising fleet you can get—unless you suppose you are going to have as in old days the assertion of the right to seize enemies goods in neutral vessels—will enable us to carry on trade in our vessels, we being belligerents. This is impossible under the operation of the modern law of nations since the Declaration of Paris. It is 75 years since England engaged in a maritime war in which this question could arise, for it did not arise in the Russian War. Therefore, in the whole of the dangers to which the hon. and gallant Member has directed his attention, he has omitted the main point in the consideration of the case. It is said that no food supplies would come to England in time of war unless our fleet practically covered the waters of the globe; but since the decision in the controversy between Great Britain and the United States, 100 years ago, on the subject of contraband of war—a controversy that is not likely to be renewed—since the decision of 1794 by which England paid compensation to America for treating food supplies to France as contraband of war—it is clear that no interference with food supplies conveyed in neutral bottoms can take place. To use the language of Lord Stowell, trade will fall into the lap of the neutral. There will be the loss of the carrying trade, no doubt a very considerable loss, but this is one of the recognisances which I confess I do not regard altogether with disfavour, one of the heavy recognisances under which a country is bound to keep the peace. The country need not be alarmed by stories of people being starved and factories closed in time of war. Truly this was the case of the Southern States in the American Civil War; but the Southern States were blockaded, and how can England be blockaded? This cannot be without an absolute defeat of our fighting fleet, such as the hon. and gallant Member does not contemplate. A country all seaboard cannot be blockaded. But if he considers that by any amount of exertion we can keep such a force in all quarters of the globe as will enable us to carry on our commerce in time of war, then I think the experience of all practical men will be against him. Stories are told of what will happen to the Suez Canal in time of war; but I do not believe that belligerent vessels will pass through the Canal, while neutral vessels can do so as in time of peace. There is no reason why they should not. A great fabric of panic has been reared, but let us apply to it the test of experience and the business-like way of regarding these transactions, and this is what I desire to do. My objections are not to the Return for which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has moved—they are rather addressed to the arguments that the Return is intended to reinforce. I do not wish it to be supposed that I seek to diminish the naval supremacy of Great Britain, and that I do not desire a fleet which would give perfect security to the great possessions of the Empire abroad. I desire Great Britain to have, and I believe that she always will have, a Navy competent to defend her great interests. But I cannot understand the argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman addressed to the inadequacy of our fighting fleet.


I never entered into the question of the adequacy or inadequacy of our Fleet. I stated the facts, and drew no such deduction.


I gave the hon. and gallant Gentleman credit for making his speech with some object, and that object it was perfectly easy to perceive. I thought it was intended to put pressure upon Her Majesty's Government in view of future Naval Estimates. I desire to see the Fleet of England maintain that supremacy it has always held. I desire to have a Fleet that shall give security to the country at home and all our great possessions, and this is the desire of the nation. But I protest against attempts to alarm the country with the idea that its foreign commerce will be stopped and its industry at home and abroad will be paralysed if its foreign trade cannot be carried on in belligerent vessels. All the money expended on the hypothesis that it is possible, in any circumstances, to keep alive a force which will enable trade to be carried on in belligerent vessels in time of war, will be money wasted. The idea is an utter delusion. The difference in the rate of insurance alone would be sufficient to throw the trade into the hands of neutrals. It would therefore, in my opinion, be a great mistake on the part of the Government to allow themselves to be embarked in any great expenditure for this purpose. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not think that I have done him injustice in my remarks upon his speech, or that I in any way wish to disparage or diminish our naval supremacy.

(5.17.) MR. O. V. MORGAN (Battersea)

I am prepared to support the Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, though certainly not as an alarmist. I have not had the advantage of listening to the earlier remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend, and I do not know what he may have said to cause alarm to the right hon. Gentleman, but certainly in the latter part of my hon. and gallant Friend's speech he said nothing that induced me to believe that his object was to bring about a large increase to our Naval Estimates. I am under the impression that our Navy is sufficiently strong for all the requirements of the Empire. It is equal to any two of the other maritime countries, and that seems sufficient to me. In addition we have those fine and powerful mail steamers which can be converted into war cruisers in case of war. My hon. and gallant Friend has referred to the growing sea commerce of the United Kingdom; but that of the colonies and dependencies is growing very much faster. The trade of our Australian Colonies is, per head of population, 25 times that of the Mother Country. Perhaps the most extraordinary increase in the whole world is to be found in Hong Kong and Singapore. I believe that the sea business of those two ports is greater to-day than was the commerce of the whole of the British Empire 50 years ago. Though I am not prepared to sustain this with the exact figures, I believe I am within bounds in making the statement. I think it very improbable that this country will ever be engaged in another great war. There is no country except Russia with which it is likely that we may go to war, and I believe that in 15 or 20 years' time public opinion will have become so strong in favour of peace that there will be no probability of war even with Russia. I am no alarmist, and believe we can defend our interests even on the North West Frontier of India against Russia. Neither do I think my hon. and gallant Friend can be called an alarmist. We have often discussed questions in relation to our colonial and foreign trade, and I have not found my hon. and gallant Friend under the influence of alarmist views; and I think it is unfair for the right hon. Gentleman to put into the mouth of my hon. and gallant Friend words which he did not use. It has been said that neutral ships would carry our commerce in time of war; but at present there are very few neutral ships. Nearly 75 or 80 per cent. of the steam shipping of the world is owned in this country. I do not think it would be possible for us to convert our own ships into neutral vessels, and I believe my hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere) has something to say as to difficulties under the Treaty of Paris upon the point. I do not believe that the information asked for by my hon. and gallant Friend, if given, would lead to an increase of the Navy; but it would tend to give confidence to Members of the House and to people outside.

(5.19.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Lord G. HAMILTON, Middlesex, Ealing)

The Motion of nay hon. and gallant Friend seems to be a very fair Motion, because it proposes to embody in a practical shape certain information which may be very useful, not only to Members of this House, but to other parts of the Empire. All that my hon. and gallant Friend proposes is that there should be put into a succinct form the annual revenue, the amount devoted to naval purposes, the amount of our sea-going commerce, together with the contributions from different colonies. So far as the Government are concerned, there will be no objection to the information asked for being given, though not exactly in the form in which it is asked for. We must be careful not so to earmark the contributions from the colonies as to imply that they are too small, without considering that local contributions are generally associated with control. Local control is incompatible with that mobility which our Fleet in war time should possess. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby has made a very interesting speech, in which lie laid down the proposition that, if this country went to war, not one quarter of wheat less would come into the country. Trade, he said, under the provisions of the Treaty of Paris, would be carried on under a neutral flag. I think the right hon. Gentleman was rather rash in saying that our commerce would enjoy in time of war under a neutral flag the same immunity it finds in time of peace. Does the right hon. Gentleman lay down the proposition that belligerents will always recognise a neutral flag, however colourable the transfer?


I did not say colourable.


The right hon. Gentleman says the transfer would be a real one; but how could there be a sudden real transfer of our enormous tonnage to a neutral flag? It is an impossibility. Certain conditions attach to the neutrality of the flag, and one is that a considerable portion of the crew should be of the nationality of the flag. It has been said that if the misfortune of war should ever occur, it will not be confined to one or two nations, but will involve the great nations of Europe. In that case, the commerce of one belligerent would be colourably transferred to a neutral flag of a small nation. Is it to be assumed that the commerce of a great nation can be transferred to the flag of a small nation alongside, and that such a transfer will be recognised by the belligerents? Such a transfer would never be recognised. No one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that all nations reserve to themselves the right of deciding what goods are contraband of war; and not long ago a great nation declared that rice was contraband of war. If that is so, what becomes of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that in time of war not a quarter less of wheat would come into this country? I cannot agree with the observation of my hon. and gallant Friend that an increase of commerce must necessarily entail an increase of naval danger. I differ altogether from that doctrine. Comparing the naval expenditure of the five great naval Powers of Europe, it appears that, out of a total gross revenue of £89,000,000, England spends £15,600,000 on its Navy, or 17 per cent. In France, out of a revenue of £123,000,000, the naval expenditure is £8,300,000, or 7 per cent, In Germany the total revenue is £60,000,000, of which £4,600,000 is devoted to the Navy, or 8 per cent.; while in Italy, out of £72,000,000, the Navy absorbs £5,000,000, or 7 per cent.; and in Russia, out of £94,000,000, the Navy receives £4,300,000, or 4½ per cent. It thus appears that our naval expenditure is in excess of that of any two other nations. These figures ought surely to be regarded as satisfactory. It is also interesting to compare the average annual cost of naval protection per ton of the seagoing mercantile marine of these different nations. In this country the average cost of naval protection per ton is £1 6s. 11d.; in France it is £7 19s. 11d.; in Italy, £6 4s. 6d.; in Germany, £2 19s. l0d.; and in Russia, £10 4s. Therefore, according to these figures, Russia ought to have a much more effective protection in time of war than we have. Therefore, I differ from the conclusion of my hon. Friend that in proportion to the increase of British commerce must be the increase of British naval expenditure. The greater cost of naval protection in other countries shows that the navies of those countries have not behind them the commercial reserves that we have. We ought to keep up our Navy, so that it may maintain in every part of the world its fighting supremacy, and for this duty the Navy could not rely on any system of merchant cruisers. But the Navy, besides maintaining its fighting supremacy, has to give all protection that is possible to our commerce throughout the world. And in the discharge of this duty it certainly could be greatly assisted by merchant cruisers. During the last two or three years accordingly the Admiralty has subsidised and encouraged the building of merchant vessels with the most modern armaments which may be available at a moment's notice. There has thus been developed a system which will be an important instrument in protecting our commerce in time of war. Therefore while I cannot agree with all the conclusions of my hon. and gallant Friend, still I agree with him more than with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and I shall be quite willing to grant the Return of which my hon. and gallant Friend has given notice, though, in order that such Return may be more useful and compact, I should like to confer with him as to the form such Return should take. My hon. and gallant Friend has referred to the enormous increase in our Mercantile Marine. That is certainly the case, and the most satisfactory feature of such increase has been the increase not in the number of ships built, but in the size of the individual vessels, for the larger the ships of our mercantile marine are the better will they be able to take care of themselves. Although the tonnage of our Mercantile Marine has so enormously increased, the number of our seagoing vessels at the present time is probably not greater than at the commencement of the century. The substitution of steam for sails and the facilities afforded by telegraphic communication have placed the commerce of the country at greater advantage in times of war; and, therefore, though we cannot hope that in any future war our merchant shipping will secure perfect immunity such as the right hon. Gentleman seems to anticipate, yet I believe that with the courage and resource which have always distinguished our Merchant Marine, it would fare much better than in the past.

(5.35.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

The noble Lord has gone into a statement with regard to which I may say that for my part I have not the slightest objection to offer to his figures. But the noble Lord said he agreed more with the conclusions come to by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Sir J. Colomb) than with those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt). I must say that I fail to understand in what the conclusions of the hon. and gallant Gentleman are to be preferred as opposed to the conclusions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby stated certain facts, and those facts have not been controverted in any way. The right hon. Gentleman said it was a matter of fact that if you go to war with any other nation, the rate of insurance will be so raised in British bottoms that commerce will go away from British bottoms to neutral bottoms. No one can deny this. We know that it occurred during the Crimean war, and also during the Secession War in the United States, and when persons talk very grandly and patriotically about giving a preference to British borne goods they are mainly actuated by their pockets; for no one likes to pay extra money in order that goods may be brought by British ships, when he knows ho can get them cheaper from neutral bottoms. Well, what does the noble Lord say? He says, in the first place, that all countries have not signed the Treaty of Paris giving free ships and free goods. The noble Lord, when he spoke of all countries not having signed the Declaration, of course alluded to the United States. But the noble Lord is somewhat ignorant of history, or he would have been aware that the United States had joined in many treaties with other countries recognising free ships and free goods long before the Treaty of Paris. One of the reasons why the United States Government did not sign the Declaration of Paris was that they did not think any Treaty or Declaration was required on the part of the different Powers in regard to this point, because goods carried by free ships were in their nature free goods, and because if any treaty or agreement of the kind were suggested, any country might say it would withdraw from such a proposal. But the noble Lord says the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby was wrong in saying that not a quarter of wheat less would come to this country if we went to war. I do not suppose that when the right hon. Gentleman said "one quarter of wheat" he meant only one quarter, or a dozen quarters, or a hundred quarters, or, even, thousands of quarters. What he really did mean was that the price of wheat would not be raised in any appreciable degree by our being at war, because it would be carried in neutral bottoms. But the noble Lord says belligerents would not allow the colourable transfer of British bottoms to a neutral flag. No one ever said they would, as the transfers would, of course, be bonâ fide. During the American Civil War a great part of the carrying trade of the United States was bonâ fide transferred to this country, and the result has been to place the United States in this difficulty, that having lost that trade they cannot recover it, and we have retained it ever since. Then the noble Lord asks, how do we know that if we had our ships placed under the flag of some weak neutral Power the belligerent with whom we might be at war would continue to recognise the principle? Well, Sir, the question is a very simple one. We should take care not to transfer our trade to a weak Power but to a strong Power. "Yes," says the noble Lord, "but three or four great belligerent Powers might be united in war against us," and that we should then have to transfer our trade to the United States. But I ask why should we transfer our trade to the United States? And do you think that the belligerent Powers of Europe wish to have the United States down upon them? The noble Lord says you cannot transfer to the States because they would insist upon certain conditions. But the United States are a very intelligent nation, and within three days they would alter the law. If they thought they could get our Mercantile Marine on the cheap, do you not think that they would run a law through enabling them to do it? The other objection of the noble Lord is that food is contraband of war. I should advise him to stick to his Navy, and not go into questions of International Law.


I did not say that food was contraband of war.


The rule is this, that if you consider a port is being blockaded, and the people can be starved out, then you make food contraband of war. There has never been a country which has more abused the International Law with regard to what is contraband of war than has this country, yet we have never made food contraband of war. You must remember that although this country goes to war other countries are left out, and those countries are anxious to get the benefit of the increased commerce which arises. Depend upon it these neutrals will never recognise for a moment that wheat or food is contraband of war in respect of a country like this. The United States have an enormous quantity of wheat and cotton, for which they want a market, and if any of the European Powers declared that their produce should not come over in neutral bottoms, they would soon have the United States down upon them. When any country is at war with a large and important Power like ourselves they are not anxious at the same time to be at war with the United States. Whenever a suggestion is made for the increase of the Navy we have these stories about being starved out—and hon. Gentlemen opposite are less careful about those stories outside the House than they are inside it. There is not the slightest danger of our being starved out. I am not in favour of great military expenditure, and I would limit the whole of it to what is necessary for defensive purposes. I think what we do spend is generally better spent on the Navy than on the Army. I wish naval Members opposite would begin by saying that we spend a great deal too much on both the Army and the Navy, that a great deal too much is wasted and frittered away in the Army, and that the money would be better expended on the Navy. If they would do that, I can assure them they would have the warmest support from me. But when the First Lord of the Admiralty tells us one year that the Navy is perfect, and the next that it must be increased so that we may have a Navy equal to that of any other two maritime Powers, I say he is contradicting himself, and that he does not know much of his subject; he is not a sure guide in this matter. I believe no greater mistake could be made than to say in this House that we must have a Navy equal to the combined Navies of any other two Powers. What is the consequence? Why, that other Powers seeing our policy, themselves build more ships, which necessitates our building more, and so this game of brag goes on. I want to see our coaling stations defended, I want to see a sufficient fleet to defend our shores against attack; but I do not want a fleet which shall be sufficient to protect our whole maritime commerce all over the world. I do not believe that would be possible. Sometimes simmering, and sometimes bursting into flames, this abominable Jingoism distinguishes our country. We have a Jingo Government in power—a Jingo Government afraid to do much, but still doing something when they have the chance. I believe if we had that Government in power for the next 10 years we should be at war with some Power or other. They are most dangerous. When they have got our Army and Navy increased they will try some abominable scheme of annexation, or some arrangement with Germany or some other Power, in order to test both our Army and Navy. We have been dragged in this way into numerous wars, and Parliament has been told that it was too late to remonstrate, and that in honour England must fight. I hope it will be made clear to the House that the noble Lord stands to the proposition, or that he does not, that our Navy is to be made sufficient; not merely to protect our coasts, but also to protect our carrying trade in such a way that there will be no possible risk of our ships being seized if we are at war with any one or two great Powers, with the effect that the rate of insurance on our ships as against the rate for neutrals will not go up.

(6.54.) ADMIRAL MAYNE (Pembroke and Haverfordwest)

Sir, the senior Member for Northampton remarked that if this Government were in office for 10 years we should be involved in war. The hon. Member seems to forget that it has been in office for five years without a war, while the Government of which the hon. Member was a supporter had a war every Session between 1880 and 1885. I see no reason for his deduction at all. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby and the hon. Member seem to suppose that it is an absolute impossibility to maintain our carrying trade in security during the time of war. If they have studied the history of the old wars they must know perfectly well that such was the action of the British Fleet, that British bottoms were considered safer in those wars than neutrals. There are two periods which should be considered—that when we had an adequate Fleet, and that when we had an inadequate Fleet. During the French War at the beginning of the century to 1815 British commerce largely increased because we had an adequate Fleet, but during the War of Independence with the United States, when we had an inadequate Fleet, our commerce largely decreased,


Of course, I quite appreciate the hon. and gallant Member's argument, but he must remember that at that time neutral vessels were just as liable to capture as belligerent vessels. The whole distinction is in what has happened since.


But I do not admit the absolute safety of neutral bottoms of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke, nor do I think any person, certainly any naval officer, would for a moment admit it. It is sufficient for the purpose of a naval officer that the cargo of a neutral should be detained, and sent into a neutral port, so as to prevent it being landed at the proper time at the port for which it was embarked. And I am afraid I must admit that the captain of a cruiser would have no scruple about sending vessels to a neutral port. I should not like to criticise in as strong language as I well might use what the hon. Member for Northampton said as to our shipowners transferring their ships to neutral flags rather than look to the proper protection of our Fleet. I do not believe the shipowning community of this country have yet fallen so low. But when he spoke of Jingoism and of the present Government increasing the Navy, I must remind the House that no one ever feels more offended or insulted than hon. Gentlemen opposite by the slightest suggestion that they had allowed the Navy to fall off in strength. We have had Lord Northbrook's programme, and other programmes continually brought up, to show that the Navy never was allowed to go below a certain point; in fact, it has been contended that my noble Friend the First Lord has merely been continuing the Northbrook programme. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of an "absolute convoy," and about the fleet "covering the waters of the globe." I do not know that we ever contemplated any such thing, and if the right hon. Gentleman had studied this subject he would have found that all, we aim at is the protection of certain fixed trade routes, which should be kept practically clear, and we believe that could be done for a very small amount in comparison with the enormous amount conveyed. I think that a great mistake is made when people talk about taking the fastest of our merchant vessels for war purposes; those are the vessels we shall in time of war want to carry the grain cargoes, and I believe shipowners will be able to run these vessels with comparative safety without transferring them to neutrals at all. With regard to this question of transfer, it must be remembered that not only is transfer to the United States impossible under the existing law, but also that France requires that a bonâ fide transfer shall be made; the captain and a large proportion of the crew in the latter case are to be Frenchmen; and they will not accept a transfer otherwise. So I do not hold with the right hon. Gentleman that it is an "utter delusion" that trade will be carried in belligerent bottoms. In the case of a European war our fleet, if only it is managed as it used to be, will carry by far the greater part of the trade of the whole world. As to the possibility of our being starved out, that is not worth arguing. We know the misery that Frarce suffered years ago was due not alone to our action in stopping her commerce on the seas, but largely to internal exhaustion. As to the question of insurance, that may be dealt with in various ways, and much has lately been written upon it. I do not propose to go into that subject now, but I must say that I was utterly surprised to hear the light tone in which the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the loss of our carrying power. Does the right hon. Gentleman know that it means a loss of £80,000,000 a year? It means four times our Defence Bill. To lose it means, in all probability, that we shall lose it for ever—at all events, for a considerable time. I maintain that, properly protected, belligerent bottoms could and would carry almost the whole trade of the world. As to panic, we can afford to laugh at those who sneer at us. We know that in case of war it would be our duty to protect the country while others are sitting quietly at home. We shall be the sufferers if it is found we cannot face the enemy in a proper way. All that we are urging upon the First Lord of the Admiralty and the country is, that they should fix upon an adequate standard, and that they should keep up to that standard and maintain our maritime supremacy, not only by cruisers but also by battleships. Try to imagine the feeling of the people of this country if they woke up to find that we had been beaten in a great battle in the Atlantic! We are not asking to have too great a Fleet, but an adequate one. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby has spoken of the emptiness of the House as showing that hon. Members do not feel alarmed at the state of the Navy. The right hon. Gentleman does not often honour us with his presence at naval discussions; if he had, he would have known that for the naval discussion this is rather a full House; we usually vote millions in the presence of very few Members on the opposite benches. I earnestly hope the House will not be led away by any such speeches as we have heard to-night from the paramount duty of making adequate provision for the Navy.

(6.11.) MR. H. J. ATKINSON (Boston)

If the present had been a meeting of the Chamber of Shipping We should not have heard the allusion we have to the sweeping away of the ships of the United States in the Civil War. The hon. Members who made those references seem to have forgotten that the vessels so swept away were sailing ships. The war in question broke out just at the time when a transition was taking place from, sailing to steaming, and therefore it was that a few small cruisers sent out by the Southern States of America were so successful in capturing the sailing ships of the Northern States. But at the present moment a steamship is a ship to be relied on, and England, in respect of such vessels, is far in advance of all other nations, simply because of her long purse. The increment of wealth of other nations, is not sufficient to enable them to keep pace with us. It is absolute nonsense to talk of our ships being transferred to other flags. I would point out that the shipowners would like to see their money before they transferred their ships, and what two or three nations combined could pay the sum required to buy the enormous steamship fleet of this country, even if we wished to sell it? They could not do it, and therefore it is a downright absurdity to tell us our ships are going to be transferred to other flags. There is no doubt we have the carrying power, we have the speed, we have the money, and we have the men. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby may laugh at that because it is a quotation from a music-hall song, but let me remind him it is a quotation which he has used in many of his political speeches. The hon. Member for Northampton called this a Jingo Government. He admits it will be 10 years hence before his Party get into power, and therefore I say his condemnation is like the curse of the Jackdaw of Rheims—;it cannot hurt us. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, because he wrote letters on historical law, wishes to be taken as an authority on shipping, but we cannot accept him as such. I have had 45 years' experience, mostly in connection with steam shipping, and I tell him that all experts in shipping must know that the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman are all fallacious. If there is a panic, it will be from what the right hon. Gentleman has said tonight, but I do not think that the people of this country will believe it. The country owes a great debt of gratitude to Her Majesty's Government for having taken the best steamers on to their list, and thus encouraged the companies to build more like them; those vessels would bring in wheat or anything else that we want in time of war. As to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks on the subject of insurance, it must be remembered that a great part of the insurance of the country is carried out on the mutual principle, and, as a matter of fact, the right hon. Gentleman's City friends will tell him that marine insurance premiums are getting lower and lower from day to day. The right hon. Gentleman's fine spirit of panic is only the outcome of political necessity. The fact is, he has been altogether at sea in his arguments, and, at the same time, he has not been to sea sufficiently to enable him to make and apply proper arguments. When those acquainted with shipping matters read the right hon. Gentleman's speech tomorrow morning they will probably have as much contempt for his views upon insurance as the right hon. Gentleman would have for my opinion as to how a case before a Select Committee upstairs should be conducted.

(6.18.) MR. GOURLEY (Sunderland)

With regard to the Declarations of the Treaty of Paris, I can remember that when this subject was discussed in this House years ago I urged that we ought to go beyond those Declarations, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby opposed that. I hold that, in the event of war, any Government in power, whether Liberal or Conservative, ought to endeavour to extend the limits of the Treaty so as to make all private property free from seizure. I would, therefore, urge Her Majesty's Government to enter into negotiations, with the American Government especially, and with other Governments, for the purpose of extending the Treaty of Paris, so that all private property shall be free from capture in time of war. Supposing we were at war with the United States; they could immediately buy and equip vessels as privateers for the capture of our ships in all navigable waters. No Power would suffer more with regard to war with the United States in its Mercantile Marine as this country. If we were at war with a European Power, our carrying trade would, I believe, be transferred to neutral bottoms. The insurances would prevent merchants shipping goods into belligerent bottoms. Although some of our steamers might and would outstrip the enemy's cruisers, we must not forget that an important part of our carrying trade is still conducted in sailing ships, which would be at the mercy of the enemy's cruisers. Therefore, that part, at least, must be transferred to neutral flags, and shipowners would be compelled to sell their vessels to foreigners. One great inducement to foreigners to purchase our ships would be the increase in freightage which would take place in the event of war. It would be an utter impossibility to convoy our merchant shipping in time of war. We failed to do so during the last French War, when private ersraked our very doors. Suppose, for instance, there should be starting on each of four or five trade routes 50 vessels simultaneously. How could we find convoys for them? And if we did, and an enemy's squadron were met and defeated, how could our warships chase them, unless the merchantmen accompanied them? I take it that the object of the hon. and gallant Member opposite in asking for these Returns is to show to what extent the colonies are protected by our Navy. Hence I say that if we are to give more protection to our colonies, which have become rich under Imperial protection, they ought to be made to pay the additional cost. India, a Crown colony, has already to pay her full share of the cost of the Army kept there for her defence. She requires no protection from the Navy. Bat if we make India pay for land defences, why should not the same rule apply to the colonies in regard to naval defence?

(6.26.) SIR E. J. REED (Cardiff)

As one who has always insisted on the importance of maintaining the greatness of our Navy, I should like to say a few words. I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby has administered to the House and the country a very necessary warning. It cannot be denied that for a long time past we have had comparisons made between our Mercantile Marine of to-day and the War Navy of to-day with the Mercantile Marine and War Navy of the past. I have seen assertions that there ought to be exact correspondence between the one and the other. Therefore, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was a valuable one, and it was supported by arguments which hon. Gentlemen opposite have not attempted to meet. I agree with him that it would not be possible to carry on trade in belligerent bottoms. One very sufficient and obvious reason is that those ships would furnish the enemy with the means of coaling in any part of the ocean. Every British steamer would be a coaling station for the Navy of the enemy, and thus relieve them of the greatest difficulty which has attended the efforts of hostile cruisers to prey upon our Mercantile Marine. Every captain of a privateer would at once look upon our merchantmen as coaling stations. I understand that the noble Lord offers no objection whatever to furnishing such a Return as the hon. and gallant Gentleman proposes. I desire to see such a Return, and for the reason that I do not believe the truth of this matter lies in any broad generalisation, but is to be found in a close study of all the facts and circumstances attendant upon a maritime war. We are very deficient of facts. Facts of the kind referred to in the Return proposed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman are generally brought forward by irresponsible persons and without sufficient care. I agree with the First Lord of the Admiralty that, while the form of it might perhaps be changed with some advantage, the Return would be very valuable. With respect to the question to which the proposed Return seems to point, I agree with the noble Lord that what we have to do is to secure our supremacy against the War Fleet of other nations with whom we are likely to come into conflict, and then to utilise, as far as we can, the constantly improving vessels of the Mercantile Marine in the protection of the commerce of the country. I think the present Government deserve very great credit for having taken steps to bring into relation, and that by simple and economic methods, the War Navy of the country and the powerful and fast steamers of the Mercantile Navy. My opinion is, that if we were brought into war to-morrow, we should not have in the Navy of the country any vessel built for the Navy proper so suitable for the protection of our commerce as the large transatlantic liners. Those vessels can be fitted with light armament, and they can carry a much larger supply of coal than vessels belonging to the Royal Navy. But whatever may have been the object of my hon. and gallant Friend in proposing this Motion, I am disposed to think we ought not to seek to use it for the purpose of goading the Admiralty into an increased naval expenditure, and I base that statement not so much upon the programme which the Admiralty brought before us a year or two ago, but upon the fact that the Government have realised the extreme importance of building ships quickly. I am sorry to say anything which in any way reflects upon my own Party, but I am obliged to say that for 17 years I have pleaded in vain in the House of Commons for the introduction of such a reform. I always regarded it almost as an outrage upon the commercial and business-like character of the country that we should vote money for ships which it was to be presumed were required for Her Majesty's Service, and then should linger for four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and ten years over the construction of the vessels, thus involving the country in an expenditure which could have no fruit in the event of a naval war. It is greatly to the credit of the present Government that they have insisted on ships being quickly constructed, because when the money which was asked for a year or two since has been expended it will have produced three or four times the increase of naval force which the same sum of money would have produced under the old system, inasmuch as under the old system it would be spent on ships which never could have been turned to any useful purpose during time of war. I shall never fail to speak in favour of a policy which I believe tends to give the country value for its money, and which will add to the Naval Force of the country enormously in itself and still more enormously when it is compared with the policy of slow construction pursued by the French. While the British Government have been going from bad to better the French Government have been going from bad to worse, with the result that in a couple of years' time the comparison of naval strength will be almost incredibly greater in our favour than it could possibly have been under the old system of slow construction adopted by our Admiralty. I am in favour of this Return being granted, but think it should not be embodied in the Naval Estimates. There it would do harm. There it would lead to a false impression. There it would lead many persons astray; but placed in the hands of hon. Members as an ordinary Parliamentary Return, it would afford very valuable information, which it is very desirable the House should possess.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question again proposed.

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