§ LORD G. HAMILTON
I beg to move—That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary for the maintenance of the security of the Country and the continued protection of British interests and commerce, that a considerable addition should at once be made to the Navy. This House, therefore, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to make before the Christmas Recess a statement of their intentions in order that immediate action may be taken thereon.This Resolution which I place before the House contains but two very simple propositions, that the strength of our Navy should be increased, and that that increase should take place at once. Now, Sir, if these two propositions were submitted on their merits to any assembly of representative men outside this House they would meet with almost their unanimous ap- 1772 proval; and if any Member of the Government were to submit the same proposals to this House they would be assented to by an overwhelming majority of this House. Therefore, it is clear that whatever objection may be offered to my Resolution, it is not against the substance of it, but against the quarter from which its emanates. I quite admit it is an unusual Motion, and it is a Motion which ought not to be made unless there exist very special circumstances to justify it, but I will show before I sit down that the most exceptional circumstances do now exist. Of all questions which concern this House there is not one in which we can take a greater interest than that which affects the efficiency of the Navy or our command of the sea, for our command of the sea is the source and mainspring of our national prosperity and existence, and if we by any misfortune were to lose that command of the sea it is impossible for anybody to see the end of the series of calamities which would be inflicted upon this country. I assert deliberately that our command of the sea at; the present moment is in jeopardy. I do not say the danger is immediate. It is prospective, but on that account not the less urgent; and I assert that the only means by which this danger can be avoided is by prompt and decisive action. I will further show that I and those of my friends who have been working with me before I placed the Resolution on the Paper have exhausted every means at our disposal, both inside and outside this House, in endeavouring to obtain some recognition from the Government of this impending danger. It is not merely that our Fleet, so far as our future wants are concerned, is not strong enough—that is not the reason why I make this Resolution—but my reason is that the danger which threatens the future naval supremacy of this country is of so insidious a character that neither the Government nor the House can control or counteract it. Time is the master of the situation at the present moment, and the difficulty with which we have to contend is not the provision of money for the future, but it is the loss of time in the past. Now, Sir, the statement I will make will be very short and clear. I in no way whatever wish to raise any past controversies. I have no intention whatever of either apportioning blame or 1773 praise to those who at the present moment or in the past have been intrusted with the administration of the Admiralty. I wish to avoid all contentious matters. My great desire is to place before you in as plain and simple a manner as possible the nature of the danger, so that we need not waste our time in controversy, but devote our time as best we can to meet this common danger. I do not propose to raise questions which have been discussed at considerable length in the Press, either as regards the quality of our Fleet or its disposition. I am perfectly satisfied with the quality of the materiel of the Fleet. I believe, both as regards the design and construction of our guns and ships, they will hold their own with any other nation in the world. I go further. I am satisfied, so far as our expenditure is concerned", we get a better return for every pound spent on our Navy than any other foreign nation. Neither am I disposed to discuss the disposition of our ships abroad, whether in the Mediterranean or elsewhere, because upon the disposition of ships in time of peace depend the measures for their centralisation in times of emergency and war. In placing my case before the House it will be necessary for me to recapitulate, roughly, certain self-evident truisms, for my case is so simple and clear that its mere statement demonstrates the impossibility of refuting it. It is an admitted naval axiom that when anybody, be he a private Member or a Minister, speaks of the maintenance of the strength of the Fleet, he speaks not only of the effective forces of the Fleet at the time of speaking, but also of the prospective effective force of the ships which may be in course of construction, and which will soon be completed and added to the strength of that Fleet. It is admitted by all who have made any study of naval history or of naval strategy that the supremacy of our command of the sea can be obtained and maintained by big ships alone, and big ships take a long time to build, even with the rapid processes of construction which have been considerably expedited in the past few years in this country. I doubt whether we can rely on building any considerable number of big ships in a period of less than three years. I must also make clear to the House the 1774 very distinctive character of Naval Expenditure as compared with Army Expenditure. Naval Expenditure is very slow in its return; Army Expenditure is quick, because the great mass of Army Expenditure is devoted to personnel, and the great mass of Naval Expenditure to materiel. It is easy by a sudden expenditure to rapidly raise the Establishment of the Army, and in a few months to put the recruits who have thus been added to the Establishment through an effective course of training so as to render them adequately capable of discharging their duties in the ranks; but, as I say, the great bulk of Naval Expenditure is on materiel, and gives no return whatever until it takes the shape of a ship armed and completed for war. And, lastly, I will lay down one further proposition as self-evident as these others, and that is that it is admitted to be a cardinal part of the policy of this country that the minimum standard of security which the country demands and expects is that our Fleet should be equal to the combination of the two next strongest Navies in Europe. Having thus cleared the ground, it is just to make a comparison between our Fleet and the Fleets of the two strongest Naval Powers in Europe— namely, France and Russia. When the late Government introduced the Naval Defence Act, 1889, they undertook that, if a certain sum of money was placed at their disposal, in the year 1894 the British Fleet would be equal to the combined forces of any two Navies in Europe. We shall arrive at that date shortly; and I contend that when we do the English Fleet will be the match, but not more than the match, for the combined forces of any two Navies of Europe; and if that is so I am bound to say that I think the credit is due to the present Board of Admiralty for the celerity with which they have completed the construction of the many ships handed over to them. If we be equal—and I am taking the opinion of a good many persons that this is a sound estimate— if we be equal, as I believe we are equal, to the combined Naval Forces of France and Russia, we have very little as a margin to spare. Having thus, then, disposed of the vessels, I must say that in this comparison I include all the battleships which were included in the Naval 1775 Defence Act, and which would practically be ready for commission—more or less— by April 1 next. Having disposed of our vessels on the Effective List, we have got to look a little ahead. When the Naval Defence Act was introduced it was never intended that it should be a mere spurt. The object of that measure was that we should, as rapidly as possible, get the lead of the Navies of any two nations, but it was intended when we had got that lead we should keep and maintain it. Now, Sir, if we have got the lead, let us see how far it is likely to be maintained. I take the number of large vessels which will be in the course of construction at the commencement of the next financial year. As hon. Members are aware, the Navy Estimates of other nations run with the calendar year; and our Estimates begin on April 1. Therefore, there is a little over-lapping; but in the figures which I am about to lay before the House I include the proposed additions to the French and Russian Navies which are contained in the Navy Estimates for the year 1894. Of course, we are not in possession yet of the proposals of the Admiralty for next year; and to this extent England has the advantage. Taking the big ships—and it is by big ships alone the command of the sea is decided—at the commencement of the next financial year France will have six battleships building, and three more will be commenced in that year. That is a total of nine, with a displacement of 106,000 tons. Russia will have six battleships building—in various stages of construction—and two will be commenced next year. That is a total of eight, with a displacement of 90,000 tons. Adding these two together, we get a total of 17 battleships, with an aggregate tonnage of 196,000 tons. I now turn to the ships which England at the time will have building. We shall have three ships building, representing a tonnage of 42,000 tons. I may add that two of those three have only been commenced in the last fortnight. As to coast vessels, which are so heavily armed and heavily armoured that they are competent to take part in any engagement with battleships, France, has two building, with a tonnage of 13,000 tons, and Russia has two, with a tonnage of 8,000 tons, making a total of 21,000 tons. England has none of these ships. But I am not blaming the Admiralty 1776 for not building them. I think they are right; but the fact that foreign countries have these vessels cannot be ignored. Of first-rate cruisers, France will have five building, with a tonnage of 30,000 tons; Russia will have two building, representing a displacement of 23,000; and England will have only one building, representing a displacement of 14,000 tons; and that vessel is not yet begun. Summing up these totals, we get this result—that the two Navies of Europe, to be equal with which is the cardinal maxim of the naval policy of this country, will have at the commencement of the next financial year 28 ships in various courses of construction, representing a displacement of 270,000 tons; and England will have four ships building, representing a displacement of 56,000 tons. I say I believe these figures of mine are absolutely correct. The Chancellor of the Exchequer shakes his head. Will he show me where I am wrong? I have perhaps included in my list ships which are completed, but they support my argument, for they are much more formidable than ships which are not completed. If these figures are wrong, show where they are wrong. They in themselves tell their tale; but when they are analysed, the result is even more serious than the impression which they at first convey. England has a great fleet of battleships, and we have spent 30 years in constructing them. At the commencement of the next financial year, including every single battleship that we shall have on our Effective Lists—vessels nearly 30 years old, and every one of those included in the Naval Defence Act —the total number available will be 46, with a total displacement of 440,000 tons. That represents the shipbuilding work in this country of nearly 30 years. But so enormous are the Naval Programmes in France and Russia that in the course of next year those two countries will have no less than 21 armoured ships in various stages of construction, with a total displacement of 217,000 tons. Or, in other words, France and Russia in the course of next year will have in their dockyards a tonnage of new armoured ships building equal to half the total number of battleships available for the Navy of Great Britain. Now, that statement seems to me to be one of the most serious character. It may be said—and I am going to say it—that, after all, England is able to 1777 build so much faster than other countries that we need not take much notice of this start which foreign countries have gained. But I have made a very careful calculation, and all the calculations I have given and shall presently give I have submitted to the best experts, and their only comment has been that I have, if anything, rather understated than overstated the case. I have made a most careful calculation of the number of battleships which in the course of the next three years will be added to the Navies of France and Russia. I calculate that at least 13 ships, with a total displacement of 135,000 tons, will be added to those Navies during that period. And do what we like, and lay down what number of ships we like, I do not believe it would be possible for those ships to be completed before the close of 1896. There have, of course, been many opinions expressed on the naval strength of this country as compared with other countries. Some of these opinions are worth considering, and some are not. But I observe that a very distinguished naval expert (General Tracy), who was for years Secretary to the Admiralty of the United States—the other day spoke freely on the present situation. He took exactly the same view of the situation at present as I do—that our strength is now equal to the combined Naval Forces of France and Russia. But he went on to say that if we wished to remain equal it would be necessary for us to build 19 battleships in two years. Every great shipbuilder in this House will agree that to build 19 big battleships in two years is a task which is beyond our strength. I do not take so pessimistic a view as General Tracy. I should be content with half that number of ships, but the fact that so competent a Naval expert can give so gloomy a view of our prospects shows that this is a question demanding the immediate and earnest attention of the House. How have we got into this position? For two reasons: During the past 18 months astonishing activity has been developed in the foreign dockyards, and during the same time, as far as the commencement of new ships in this country is concerned, great inactivity has prevailed. I make that statement in no way wishing to censure the gentleman who succeeded me at the Admiralty. It will be said that I should, when at the Admiralty, have taken stronger views 1778 than I did, and I am not going to attempt to exonerate myself from any blame or criticisms that may be put upon me. I only want to make a perfectly clear and indisputable statement in order that we may fully realise the dimensions of the undoubted danger which is ahead of us. At this present moment, while building is proceeding with this marvellous activity abroad, what is the position in our private yards and in our dockyards as regards new construction? Under the Naval Defence Act the private yards were assigned a large amount of work; and they did it admirably. On all sides I heard praise of the quality of their workmanship. Prices are low now—at no time could the Government more advantageously make contracts with private yards. How many ships are building now in the great private yards for Her Majesty's Navy? With the exception of a few torpedo-boats, not a single, solitary vessel. One is to be placed, but the tenders are not yet accepted. In the dockyards at the commencement of next year, with the exception of a few vessels which belong to the Naval Defence Act, and which are in the last stages of completion, we shall only have eight vessels building, and seven of those have been begun in the last few weeks. To give an idea of the bareness of the dockyards in the way of naval construction, I may say that when I introduced the Naval Defence Act, which was the largest scheme of new construction of recent years, there were at the very date of the financial year on which that Act came into operation no fewer than 41 ships in the dockyards and private yards in various stages of construction. The loss of time during these last 18 months cannot be made good; but my sole and only object in making this Motion is to press upon the House the urgent necessity of utilising the time that is still left. Of course, it may be said that, occupying as I did the post of First Lord of the Admiralty, I have not spoken sufficiently strong during the present year, and have not warned my successors. But I admit that during the early part of the financial year I did not realise the great advance which had been made by Foreign Navies. But I did subsequently warn the Government that the expenditure was in-adequate, and that it was absolutely necessary, if they wished to keep up the standard of strength, which they declared 1779 it their policy to maintain, that they should bring in a Supplementary Estimate or spend more money on the regular Estimates. On the Dockyard Vote coming on on August 9, I put a question to the Government on the subject, and this was the reply that I received from the Secretary to the Admiralty:—The noble Lord has suggested that insufficient Estimates have been brought in. He has made that suggestion before, but the more the experience of the year goes on the more satisfied we are that our Estimates are sufficient for the year's work.Then the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed his opinion on the subject, not in a haphazard way, but as the result of careful study. The right hon. Gentleman said—I have always made it a special subject of interest to inquire what are the relations of the British Navy to the other Navies of the world, and I would undertake to say that the superiority of the British Navy was never so great as it is now.Will the right hon. Gentleman make that assertion now when it is disproved by facts with regard to the prospective strength of our Navy as compared with other Navies? Finding that I could make no impression whatever on the Admiralty, we endeavoured, as soon as the House met in November, by putting a question with regard to the inadequacy of the proposed construction, to expedite matters a little, and to induce the Government to take a broader and wider view of the situation; but we utterly failed. We then endeavoured to induce the Prime Minister to take no unusual course, but to follow the precedent that he himself established in 1884, and I will very briefly describe what that course was. In the commencement of 1884 some complaints were made as to the inadequacy of the proposed Estimates, and identically the same replies were received from the Admiralty as we have heard recently. An agitation was commenced, and gained strength, and on the 2nd November the Government authorised the Secretary to the Admiralty to make a statement in advance of the Navy Estimates, which met with the preliminary approval of the House. It mainly referred to the amount of new work proposed to be put in private yards; and the result of that was that when the House met in February, and the Navy Estimates were brought forward for the next year, 1780 and the representative of the Admiralty had had the satisfaction of informing the House that the work in the private dockyards had begun, I asked the Prime Minister if he would not consider the desirability, under the special circumstances of this year, to adopt that course of proceeding, but he replied that he saw no analogy between the two cases, the only possible difference being that, whereas in 1884 there was apprehension outside which was ultimately shared by the Government, now there was apprehension outside which the Government did not share. The right hon. Gentleman went on to use these remarkable words:—I think I may venture to assure the House, on the responsibility of the Government, that neither the House nor the country need entertain in the existing circumstances the slightest apprehension as to the maintenance of the distinct naval supremacy of Great Britain.I believe that to-night the Prime Minister will defend those words with the same confidence as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and will say that they only refer to now. Then I say, is it right for Ministers to sit there deliberately neglecting to lay down new ships, when they know that three years hence their successors will be in a position of risk and apprehension? I have no wish to indulge in controversial matter, but that answer of the Prime Minister was misleading, and ought not to have been made. I regret to have said anything controversial, but I think I have a right to complain of that answer, because no human being could suppose that when so great a master of English speaks of the maintenance of the distinct Naval supremacy of Great Britain he was only referring to the day on which he spoke.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
I will take it—or the year in which he spoke. Having failed with the Prime Minister, I consulted my friends, and we thought that possibly the Government was occupied with a multiplicity of other business, and that they had not time to look thoroughly into this matter. I thought that if a perfectly clear and dispassionate statement of the question were laid before them by someone speaking with authority in the Press they might be induced to look at this question from a 1781 somewhat different point of view, and take that action which we so earnestly pressed upon them. Therefore I wrote an article relating to the subject, which was published in one of the monthly periodicals, and from that article I should like, with the permission of the House, to read a single sentence. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister described the Notice I have placed upon the Paper as a Motion to displace the Government from Office. May I, therefore, call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the concluding words of my article as an indication of the spirit and tone in which I wish to speak? I said—In drawing the attention of the country to this all-important question, I have only dealt with hard unpalatable facts, and have purposely abstained from any rhetorical generalities or imaginative pictures. I have no desire whatever to cavil at or censure the present Admiralty, for. I know and appreciate their difficulties; but time is slipping away; we are arriving at the eleventh hour; and unless prompt, vigorous, and sustained action be at once taken, 'Too late' may be the epitaph of our next great scheme of naval outlay.The right hon. Gentleman holds that my Motion is an attempt to displace the Government. I especially wish to call the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister's attention to these words which I used—Let the Government now face resolutely and deal adequately with the grave national danger forced upon their notice; by such action they will obtain from their political opponents nothing but support and praise.And that is the sense and tone in which I desire to address myself to this question on the present occasion. I think that I might almost be content to sit down now, because I believe that I have proved my case. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, however, has placed upon the Paper a most remarkable Amendment, and if the House will kindly give me their attention for a few minutes I should like to direct attention to it. The right hon. Gentleman, during his long and distinguished career in this House, has won eminence in every field and in every branch of Parliamentary speech and controversy. I can quite understand that one who has won so many laurels on the battlefields of Debate is anxious for new fields to conquer. The Prime Minister to-night is about to undertake a task which no Minister has ever undertaken before. He is going to move a Vote of Confidence in himself. 1782 I have heard many Votes of Confidence and many Votes of Censure moved in this House, but all of them have been initiated by an individual expressing his opinions as regards the merits or demerits of others. The Prime Minister to-night is going to express the opinions of others as regards the merits of himself and his Colleagues. No doubt that task will be performed with all the charm of manner and wealth of language that distinguish him, but at the same time I sincerely trust that the performance will not divert the House from the really serious business it has to consider, that business being the condition of our Navy. Now, Sir, the first part of the Amendment of the Prime Minister asserts that it isA primary duty of the responsible Ministers of the Crown to make adequate provision for the Naval defence of the Empire.Sir, that would be a platitude except for the one word "adequate," which governs the whole sentence. The Government have had only one opportunity of discharging the primary duty of making adequate provision for Naval defence, and that is in the Naval Estimates of this year. Do I understand the Prime Minister to contend that the provision then made was adequate? If it was not adequate. I doubt whether any single man in any part of the House, even upon the Treasury Bench, will venture to make that assertion, and it consequently follows that the Motion of the Prime Minister, from that point of view, is nothing more or less, if strictly interpreted, than a Vote of Censure upon himself. Were the Estimates of this year adequate? If it is asserted that they were, I will do the best in my power to traverse the assertion, because I have over and over again in this House asserted and proved that they were inadequate. Now, Sir, let me just state to the House what has occurred during the last 16 months. I do not wish to say one single word of disparagement of my distinguished successor, Lord Spencer, because upon his assumption of Office he had to encounter a number of most serious difficulties, difficulties which the late Government would have had to face if they had remained in Office. It was always foreseen that as the Naval Defence Act approached its termination it would be the duty of whatever Government came into Office to propose a fresh scheme of new construction, and that the particular year in 1783 which that scheme would have to he considered was the year 1892—just after the date at which the General Election took place. Lord Spencer had, therefore, to master all the details of a most difficult and complicated subject. But that was by no means the only difficulty he had to encounter. He had, unfortunately, to deal with a falling Revenue. He had, in the next place, the knowledge that the expenditure of foreign nations on their Navies was rising, and he further had this great difficulty: that the particular form of new construction which he had initiated was one which always causes the Estimates to rise. Those who are familiar with shipbuilding are aware that the early stages of the construction of ships are always the most expensive. Therefore, if any Government has to start a large new scheme of construction, the Estimates are bound to go up in the earlier part of that scheme, and to go down in the latter part. I commend that observation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer has over and over again, on occasions when I have not had the opportunity of replying to him, accused me of cutting down the Estimates wholesale in my first two years. The main cause of the reduction was that the Estimates reduced themselves. I had inherited a gigantic amount of construction on ships which were, to a certain extent, advanced, and as those ships approached completion so did expenditure upon them naturally go back. Just in the same way the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who will next year have to provide funds for the commencement of a new scheme of shipbuilding, will find that his Estimates must go up largely in that year. That was a difficulty Lord Spencer had to encounter, but we cannot forget that he was one of a body who had lost no opportunity when in Opposition of denouncing and decrying our Naval Expenditure. [Ministerial cries of "No, no!"] Unquestionably a very large number of the then Opposition objected not only to the financial arrangements of the Naval Defence Act, but to the expenditure itself. Let me remind those who contradict me what were the words of the Prime Minister himself. The Prime Minister himself said in Midlothian that our expenditure on the Army and Navy had " passed the bounds of prudence and 1784 propriety." I do not wish to make this Debate controversial, but I never understood it was in any way disputed that a certain number of Members of the present Government did object to our expenditure on the ground that it was excessive. It is my belief—and I think I could almost prove—that they entered Office under that idea. They believed the late Government had made preparation in excess of what was required, and I think we can give very good proof that that was the prevailing idea even of the present Cabinet, because when the Estimates for this year were laid on the Table of the House they showed this remarkable state of things—that the Navy Estimates went down, and the Army Estimates went up. It is true the reduction in the Navy Estimates was not very large. It was only£100. [Laughter.] Yes, but gentlemen who laugh do not remember that there was a large increase in the personnel, and that there was an actual decrease of £45,000 in the Estimates for shipbuilding.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
I cannot accept that statement, because I go on the Estimates as published and laid on the Table of the House. But I am not making that a charge against the Government. I say the Government were under the impression that the provision we made was excessive, else why did they reduce the Navy Estimates and increase the Army Estimates? The Navy is the first line of defence and the Army is the second. The actual expenditure for this year as regards new construction is about £1,500,000 less than it was last year. The House will quite understand that if a National policy be laid down, by which our Navy is to be made equal to the Navies of any two Foreign Powers, the only method by which effect can he given to that policy is by providing year by year sums of money equivalent to those which are spent on the Foreign Navies. The sum spent on new construction by us for the two years preceding the year 1892 exceeded the total spent by France and Russia, and the last year in which we were in Office the sums spent were practically the same; but this year' the sum spent is £1,500,000 less, and consequently we must have gone back since. This is due to two causes: 1785 In the first place, there is a slight reduction in the Estimates, and, in the second place, there is much less expenditure out of the Consolidated Fund. I am not blaming the Government; I am only pointing out that we have during the present year gone back, and having gone back, I think we must all admit, as sensible men, that we must make a resolute effort to make up for lost time and go forward more rapidly. I feel bound to say that these Estimates have once more brought before my mind the great advantage of proceeding periodically by Act of Parliament prescribing, defining, and laying down a shipbuilding programme for a certain number of years. The system of simply looking, at the wants of the year never can be satisfactory in a growing concern like the Navy, and the only system by which ample preparation can be made for future wants for a number of years is to take a complete and thorough survey of the situation, both as regards our own Navy and Foreign Navies, and then to embody the results in an Act of Parliament to which the House gives its assent, the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so far as Naval Expenditure is concerned, thus being simply to provide the amount of money required under the Act. I cannot help thinking that if at the commencement of last year that procedure had been adopted, very much larger provision would have been made than is to be found in the Estimates of this year. I have detained the House longer than I had intended, and I have very little more to say. I have endeavoured, except on one point, to argue the question in no Party sense. Before I sit down I hope the House will allow me briefly to put before them the reasons why I believe that we have practically no alternative but to consent to a large increase of expenditure on the Navy. I had the honour to hold the position of the First Lord of the Admiralty, I believe, for a longer period than anybody else had held it during the present century, and it is almost impossible to be long in that Office without becoming more and more impressed with the tremendous responsibility placed upon the shoulders of the Admiralty and the First Lord. Englishmen are apt to look upon the Naval supremacy of this country as a sort of inherent and hereditary right which the 1786 country has enjoyed for many centuries, and to forget the conditions under which it has been acquired and those under which it can be maintained. We have been masters of the sea for 83 years, but it must be recollected that in the last century the dominion of the sea was evenly divided between ourselves and our neighbours the French, and that one of the reasons why we obtained so complete and absolute a mastery over the sea in the great French War was due to the utter disorganisation of the French Navy consequent upon the Revolution. That contributed as much to our success as even the genius and value of Nelson and the officers of the British Navy. Now, those are conditions which are not likely to arise again. On the contrary, the conditions under which we shall have to maintain our supremacy will be somewhat adverse to us, for steam and electricity have entirely revolutionised Naval warfare, and combinations are nowadays possible between nations at the different ends of the world which before were unheard of. It must be remembered that we are trade monopolists. We monopolise the sea-carrying trade of the world, and monopolists never are popular, and always must be prepared for a sudden and unexpected combination against themselves. That which impressed me more than anything else when I was at the Admiralty was the great growth of the expenditure of foreign nations on their Navies. On looking at their expenditure one cannot help being much impressed by the great disproportion between the amount so spent and the interests which have to be protected. A great proportion of the expenditure of foreign nations upon their Fleets is not upon cruisers or vessels to protect their commerce, but rather upon battleships which can be intended for one purpose, and one purpose alone—that is, to challenge the Naval supremacy of this country. It is impossible, further, to ignore the fact that the more insight one gets into Naval plans and Naval operations of foreign nations, the more it becomes apparent that they have but one object— and that is, to act against us. We cannot ignore, also, the enormous disparity of the interests involved between us and foreign nations with respect to commerce. If any nation, or any combination of nations, were to attempt to deprive us of 1787 the command of the sea and fail, the consequences to them might be inconvenient, but nothing more. If, on the other hand, they succeeded in their attempt, the result to us would be national and Imperial ruin. We have made a very good use of our time since we became masters of the sea. We have built up at the other end of the world the largest and most populous Empire of which history, I think, has record; we have planted Colonies in all parts of the world, and we have monopolised the sea-carrying trade of the world. We have done something more. Possessing the command of the sea, we have built up here at home the largest and most compact system of industrial employment that this world has ever seen; and if we lose the command of the sea we not only lose empire over the sea, we not only lose our connection with the Colonies beyond the sea, and our commerce upon the sea, but undoubtedly a very large portion of the great system and structure of our industrial employment at home would come tumbling down upon our heads. I know there are gentlemen in this House who are so impressed with the social problems and labour problems which the density of the population of this country suggest that they have no time to think about external matters or about such a simple affair as the supremacy of the British Navy. But I would ask any one of them, from their own standpoint, what would be the position of any one of the questions in which they are interested if we lost the command of the sea? If there be any social question or any industrial problem which, now that we have command of the sea, baffles solution, would it not become, if we lost command of the sea, ten times more difficult of solution? Therefore, I say, no man can be long at the Admiralty and look into this question without being impressed by the immense, the almost infinite importance of the Imperial interests which depend for their defence upon the British Navy alone. It is in no Party interest that I venture to raise this question. I would not have put this proposition on the Paper if it had not been for the fact that time is master of the situation. I should have been perfectly content, in other circumstances, to have waited until the Navy Estimates were produced in the course of 1788 next year and to discuss them on their merits; but it must be clear to everyone who has followed my statement that a less expenditure now will be much more productive three years hence than a large expenditure a few months later. We have drifted and drifted during the last 18 months until we are landed in this position: that I do not believe—do what we like—we can prevent this country, for some period during the next three years, passing through a time of insecurity, from the fact that the Naval Forces of the country will be below the minimum standard fixed as necessary for the security of our interests. It rests upon the Government, and the Government alone, whether this period of risk and apprehension in the future shall be shortened or prolonged by three months. If they will now make the statement, or part of the statement, for which I have been pressing them during the last few weeks, they can limit this future period of anxiety and of danger. If they decline, then they deliberately prolong the period by three months. I am informed that the Prime Minister (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) is going to seize the opportunity to snatch a Party victory. Well, I can hardly believe it, and until I hear the Prime Minister's speech I will not believe it; but I shall hope that the Prime Minister will reply to this Resolution in the tone in which it has been proposed, and that he will take this opportunity of making a statement adequate in itself, effective in its procedure, and operative at once to remove the danger to which I have called attention. If the Prime Minister adopts that course he will gain far more than Party triumph, for his proposals will meet with unanimous approval from every section and Party in the House, and the House will have the satisfaction of knowing that out of this dreary, weary Autumn Session we have well spent one day in showing, however much we may differ as regards minor questions, on this question of the maintenance of our Naval supremacy, the House of Commons stands together as one man. I move the Resolution of which I have given notice.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary for the maintenance of the security of the Country and the continued protection of British interests and commerce, that a considerable addition should at once be made to the Navy. This House, therefore, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to make before the Christmas Recess a statement of their intentions in order that immediate action may be taken thereon.''—(Lord G. Hamilton.)
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE, Edinburgh, Midlothian)
I beg to move the following Amendment:—That, in the opinion of this House, it is a primary duty of the responsible Ministers of the Crown to make adequate provision for the Naval defence of the Empire and the protection of its interests, and this House relies on Her Majesty's Advisers to submit to Parliament fitting proposals in due time and measure to secure that end.Mr. Deputy Speaker, the noble Lord was, I think, ill-advised in the taunting, I might almost say sneering, remark which he bestowed at the close of his speech upon the legislative work of the present Session. Out of this dreary, weary Autumn Session he has endeavoured to rescue, and he thinks he has rescued, a single day. I may say on behalf of this dreary Autumn Session that, heavy as has been the burden of it upon many—and I think upon many of us a good deal heavier than upon the noble Lord—
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
Yet that Autumn Session has been devoted to purposes which we deem to be essential to the well-being, and which are deeply associated with the wishes and the convictions, of the great majority of the population of this country. I will pass to the more serious allegations of the speech of the noble Lord. I must say I think it must have carried astonishment to the minds of most of those who hear me when the noble Lord calmly and quietly described his Motion as the Motion of a private Member, aiming at nothing but national defence and administrative improvement, having no connection with the relation of Parties, and standing entirely apart from the character of a 1790 Vote of Want of Confidence in the Ministry. It requires no long argument to show how entirely and absolutely baseless are these allegations. A Motion by which the House of Commons is asked to take out of the hands of the Executive Government, in opposition, of course, to the convictions of that Government, one of its primary duties is of itself a Vote of Want of Confidence. But the noble Lord did not rest satisfied with that. He made his arrangement beforehand, and deliberately, for the purpose of stamping upon this Motion the character—a character perfectly legitimate, and do not let it be supposed for a moment that I am finding fault with him on that account—of a Vote of Want of Confidence. There is one proceeding stereo-tpyed in this House, when a Motion of this kind is to be brought forward, which fixes upon it its distinctive note, and it is this—that it is brought forward with the distinct and formal approval of the Leader of the Opposition. When a Motion is intended to be brought forward as a Party Motion, the Leader of the Opposition habitually makes that request which he is entitled to make—namely, to request that a day may be found for it. Why was it that, without a moment's hesitation, not as conferring a favour, but in the fulfilment of an obvious duty, upon the raising of the question by the Leader of the Opposition, we at once consented —we who had declined over and over again to give days for the purpose of discussing questions which were admitted to be of the highest interest and importance? We at once agreed to give this day because we knew, what could not for a moment be denied, that this was the Motion of the Opposition against the Government; and it is in vain for the noble Lord now—it is far too late, when these arrangements have been made, after he had chosen the words of his Motion— to endeavour to shrink from the acceptance of the character which alone it can bear. From one point of view that Motion may be regarded as a vote by the noble Lord not only of censure upon the Government, but of censure upon himself and his Colleagues. It appears from what he now says that the proposal made in 1888 was not an exceptional proposal intended to make up the arrears of the past and intended to make a large provision for the future, but it was 1791 a measure that would have to he followed by other similar measures—an exemplification of a general rule of providing by Acts of Parliament for large schemes of construction, and thereby securing the relative naval strength of the country. I will not say whether this is right or wrong, but I will say that the noble Lord, in so treating it, is pronouncing a sentence of condemnation upon himself and his colleagues, and especially upon the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen), because when that right hon. Gentleman in 1889 made his financial provision for the plan of the late Government he said—In this effort we both make up for arrears and forestall the efforts of the future; it is an exceptional effort we make.Now the noble Lord says it was no exception, at all—it was simply the first of several measures to be taken from time to time; and it appears to be the intention of the noble Lord that we are to depart from the ancient system of the country, the practice of the Constitution, from year to year, and each year to each year, to see that provision has been made according to the circumstances of the day for what may appear to be the public wants. Instead of that, we are to wait for periods when some excitement or apprehension takes hold of the mind of some portion of the community—then a great party is to be mustered in order to turn that apprehension to account, in order to disturb and overturn all the established and settled arrangements of the country for its financial administration; and for this system of finance we are to substitute that proposed by the noble Lord. I do not complain of the language of the noble Lord towards the Government. He found it to be part of his duty to hold that the Government since its accession to Office had not made adequate provision for the naval defence of the country. That was the opinion which he gave, with the authority of an old First Lord of the Admiralty—that we had sinned to this purpose, and that time was master of the situation. These were the two columns on which his speech was built. He says that we approach the defences of the country during the present year with an inadequate sense of what they ought to be. What was his language when the Estimates were before the country? His language was this—it was used on the 17th of Mafch— 1792The Estimates presented by the Government ought to have been £200,000 higher than they were.£200,000! He now speaks, apparently, of millions—I know not how many. He then spoke of £200,000, about the one-fifth part of the cost of the construction of a single iron vessel. But what is now the apology of the noble Lord for breaking up the whole of our system on which the Estimates are first elaborately considered in the Department, and then deliberately adopted by the Cabinet, and then solemnly presented to the House year by year— what is his authority for breaking up that valuable system and not suffering us to go forward to that time of year when, with patience, he will know in full the intentions of the Government with respect to the Navy of the future? His apology is that time is master of the situation, and that by adopting this Motion you will gain three months. You will gain three months by interrupting the Department in their progress with those details to which at this period of the year the whole of their strength is addressed! You will gain three months by forcing the Government to make a part of their Naval statement, and that part he wants to be submitted to the House of Commons in order to gain those three months! He seems to think that by breaking up the whole order of Public Business, by taking people from their appointed business— [Cries of " No, no! "]—I was not referring to my colleagues or myself, but to those in the Departments—compelling the officials of those Departments to supply partial statements on subjects which should not be partially considered, but which should be considered comprehensively. Such is the mode in which the noble Lord desires to gain his three months. This is one of the steps which he proposes to take for the advantage of the country, as "a private Member"; he has not the remotest notion of a Party affair! The noble Lord was severe upon the Estimates of this year. He referred to the sum applicable to the work of construction. He has himself described the work of construction as a great work. He enlightened the House very properly as to the enormous importance of the question of matériel in his speech on the Navy Estimates, and he said we had diminished the sum applicable to construction. He was immediately answered 1793 by my right hon. Friend near me, the Secretary to the Admiralty (Sir U. Kay-Shuttleworth), who said that, instead of diminishing the sum, we had increased it by £81,000. I am not sure that he did not make special reference to the security of the country, and the total absence of any action on our part. I shall revert to this point later on; but there is one other point to which the noble Lord with his experience might have adverted. It is a matter of the greatest consequence. He says—and he truly says—that the building of great ships takes a long time. Yes, Sir, they do take a long time to build; but, happily, they take a much shorter time to build in this country than in foreign countries. If I am rightly informed, the difference between the time necessary from the laying down to the completion of a great ship is for England three years and for France four and a half years. Moreover, the present Board of Admiralty has with the greatest wisdom addressed itself to the inquiry how far that term of three years can be shortened. Our means of construction are overwhelming compared with foreign countries. If we have superiority of means, what about our methods of construction? Happily, they are already far more rapid. My hope is—and I must say my anticipations are—that we shall further gain in that business of despatch, and if we do it is an element of most vital consideration in the question which is now before us. We have, as has been said by the noble Lord, a Motion and an Amendment. He affects that the Motion is a simple matter, and that the Amendment is far-fetched and peculiar. It is not unnatural that my view is directly the reverse of his. He says we take upon ourselves to pronounce a eulogy upon ourselves by my appearing as the Mover of the Amendment. Well, this Amendment is a peculiar Amendment, and I think that what he says is true as to general Votes of Want of Confidence. It is true that in those cases where the whole conduct of the Government is impugned it is usual that the Motion should be made by some independent Member of the House, but this is a totally different matter. Here is a case where we are in Office. Our existence has not been challenged; we are in full and active discharge of the duties of government, and at that moment the noble Lord proposes to take out 1794 of our hands one of the primary and most important among those duties. Considering these circumstances, is it not far better that we should ourselves take up the glove that has been thrown down? To show the true character of the proceedings—to which he has attached so mild a description, and with respect to which I shall show that this proceeding has out-Heroded, according to an ancient phrase, all the measures which have been adopted by Parties in opposition to the Government of the country. I shall refer to the Motion and to the Amendment. The issue raised is broad. The noble Lord asks us to assert something, and we, in reply, asks you to assert something. He asks us to assert that the Navy of the country ought to be largely, to be considerably, increased, and considerably increased at once—that is to say, not in the regular annual force which you will have an opportunity of considering in February next, and doing, if you think proper, that which you are asked now to do on the verge of Christmas. To do that you will have to begin with a change of Government, and somewhere in the month of February you will have four or five weeks taken out of the three months for the purpose of the change. I affirm that that proposition, if it be true—which I will not discuss, on which I will give no opinion at the present moment—is altogether premature. It is not to be raised on a chance Debate; it is not to be raised now on a speech which does not embrace the whole subject and which does not enable the House to pass judgment upon it. It would be premature, dangerous, and irregular to pass that judgment. And then the noble Lord calls upon the House to require the Government before Christmas—that is, upon a notice of a few days—to make this partial statement of its views upon the vast and important question of the British Navy which the noble Lord thinks would be of so much utility. Let the House of Commons displace us if it pleases; but to call upon us at such a notice to make a partial statement of our proposals as to the Navy, which ought to be, above all subjects, comprehensively given, is like reducing the proceedings of this House to a farce on a most solemn subject. We ask that things shall be allowed to proceed in their accustomed order, and I will ask whether there is 1795 any ground for taking them out of their accustomed order? We point out, what cannot be denied, that the capital duty of the Government, or the primary duty, is to make adequate proposals for the defence of the country, and we ask the House to assert its expectations of these adequate proposals. We ask the House to say that it relies upon the Government to provide them, and that it contemplates the continuance of the course of Public Business as we even now propose. I think there is little doubt which is the proper mode in dealing with the questions at issue. But with regard to this question of the noble Lord, if it were simply a Vote of Want of Confidence I should look upon it as a very secondary matter. I, however, affirm these charges against him. I say, in the first place, that a Motion of this kind, used as it has been, aims to transfer the responsibility of the Government to the House of Commons. I say that it breaks up the whole regular, legitimate, and solid action of the Public Departments concerned in preparation of the Estimates; I say that it is most detrimental, that it tends even to be fatal, to the control of Parliament over the Executive, because a very long experience has convinced me that there is nothing more important to the efficiency of Parliamentary control than that all Estimates for Expenditure, and all Estimates especially for the great Departments, should be regularly and periodically submitted, and should not be made the subject of partial declarations upon the consideration of any one subject. But above all I object to this Motion, and I respectfully call upon the House to recognise the validity of that objection, when I say that, were it affirmed, for the first time the House of Commons would have adopted a Motion which brings the great question of Imperial defence within the common lines of Party action, and thereby degrades that question from the high pedestal on which it stands, and which it has always been allowed to occupy, and which I hope by the failure of this Motion it will continue to occupy. Now, the noble Lord says we have got something in the nature of precedents, and, in my opinion, the precedents I am prepared to quote are precedents which are entirely against him. There are two of them, and I rejoice to say that one of them, which he was too modest to notice, was a precedent set by himself. In 1884, 1796 after Mr. Smith had asked a question with regard to the intentions of the Government on Naval Expenditure, I, as Prime Minister, replied, and promised a statement on the subject. That statement was made by Lord Northbrook in the House of Lords, and by Mr. Brassey in this House. Lord Northbrook on that occasion observed that such a statement was unusual. It was made because the Government of that day, whether rightly or wrongly, recognised that there was enough of solidity and substance in the demand which was being loudly made on the Government to make it their duty to take certain steps in anticipation of the Navy Estimates. On that account the statement was made. [Opposition cheers.] Yes; but we were not called upon to bring forward our plans. We did not bring them forward; we did not attempt, to save the three months; and we were not asked to save the three months.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I know that certain arrangements were made with contractors, but they were made in anticipation of the coming financial year, and were not deviating in any respect from the accustomed course. The Naval Expenditure was opposed to Parliament in the regular manner, and it was accepted by Parliament in the regular manner and at the regular time, which, in my view, and according to my conviction, is a matter of the utmost importance for maintaining Parliamentary control and the solidity of our administrative and financial system. Then came the precedent of 1888; and on that occasion I think I am right in saying that at the dinner at the Guildhall the noble Lord, then First Lord of the Admiralty, signified the intention of the Government to make a proposed additional expenditure for naval purposes. On November 9 the noble Lord said that; but he gave no plan. In consequence of the noble Lord having stated that, and in consequence of the fact that the Navy Estimates for the year were then before the House of Commons, which, having been detained to a date unusually late, my right hon. Friend near me, the Secretary for War, asked the noble Lord for an explanation, and the noble Lord refused to give it.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON
I said that the Navy Estimates had not passed; that it was competent for any question 1797 to be raised on them; that I would answer any question put to me, but that I would not make any special statement.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
The noble Lord ought to have thought of that before he went to the Guildhall dinner. It was at the Guildhall dinner that he made the separate statement that the Government contemplated an increased expenditure, and it was after that he declined to make a statement to the House of Commons. Notwithstanding that time is the master of the situation, he withheld his statement resolutely and deliberately until the usual time for the Navy Estimates to be brought forward; and this is the gentleman who, when he had in contemplation a scheme which involved the expenditure of some £20,000,000 of money, would not then give the House of Commons a ray of daylight on the subject; and now, in circumstances which he does not at all pretend to be as urgent as those of that period, even from his point of view, he wishes to press us into making a statement altogether premature, partial, and therefore delusive and dangerous. So much for the precedents. Now our position is this. We rest on the principle of annual account, annual proposition, annual approval by the House of Commons, which we say is the only way of maintaining regularity, and that regularity is the only talisman which will secure Parliamentary control. If you resort to irregular periods, irregular proposals in moments of chance excitement without real danger, you destroy all powers which the House of Commons, pressed as it is by business from day to day, can possibly possess, of exercising efficient control over the Executive Government. The noble Lord asks you to pronounce now upon the strength of his speech, which is to stand in place of the Navy Estimates and everything else. He asks you to pronounce and to pledge yourselves upon a question which you have not had any opportunity of examining, what we and you should do, and what additions ought to be made to the establishments of the British Navy. We, on our part, ask you for no counter-assertion. I do not know whether there is any gentleman whose views are as pessimistic as Mr. Tracey's, whom the noble Lord quoted—I do not know why —for it is a no more sacred name in my eyes than any other name, although I 1798 saw the article of that gentleman, which the noble Lord not unnaturally turned to his account. But what means that gentleman has of examining the case I do not know.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
Then it seems to me that he corresponds a little with the noble Lord, only he is not quite so good. I do not suppose that Mr. Tracey has acquired such a knowledge that the whole of this Parliament has to defer to the opinion which he has sent us across the Atlantic. I say that those gentlemen who hold the strongest opinions about the increase of the Navy, however far they may go, whether reasonable or unreasonable, ought still to vote with us to maintain the established finance and administration of this country. There is nothing to gain by breaking up-all rules and precedents, and in resorting to a system of sheer irregularity. There is one thing I admit, and one thing only, that would justify voting for the present Motion, and that is the existence of a real state of present danger and emergency. The noble Lord says that we have spoken, and that I have spoken, of the adequacy of the Navy to perform its duties, and of our power to meet all contingencies in a manner adequate to the wants of the country. So I have, and I repeat the words. When I spoke of the adequacy of the Navy I spoke of the Navy of the year, and I did not anticipate the Navy of the coming year or the years after. Those hon. Gentlemen opposite who now seem to amuse themselves add strong testimony to the value of the irregularity of these proceedings, because there is not the smallest pretext for maintaining that we are in a state of present emergency and danger. I contend, therefore, that whatever the opinion of those two gentlemen maybe—and I have profound respect for them—there is no pretext for such an allegation. To maintain that the situation in which we stand to-day is a situation of emergency and danger is to pronounce an opinion that is irrational and even absurd. My contention is that nothing but that opinion and the soundness of that opinion can possibly justify the extraordinary course which the noble Lord requires us to pursue. I wish to add a very few words on the state of the Navy but I wish to draw a distinction between 1799 the present Navy, by which I mean the present Navy which Parliamentary usage fixes, the Navy of 1893–94 and the Navy of the coming year. With regard, Sir, to the Navy of the present, how does the case stand? It stands thus. We are singularly advanced in all that preparation for future contingencies which is the most difficult because it requires the longest time. These great ships, these vast floating fortresses, have under the plans of recent years been multiplied and advanced to such a point that we are far before the strength of any other country, and not only before the strength of any other country, but before the strength of any two countries—of course, taking the two to which the noble Lord has referred. And here I will say—and I am sure he will agree with me—that in referring to those countries, in naming France and Russia, we do it, not because there is anything that distinguishes their peaceful and friendly relations with us from those of other countries, but simply in deference to the fact that for a long time they have been supposed to rank as the second and third Naval Powers in the world. On that account the noble Lord included them, and very properly, and I, following his example, will refer for a moment to the case of France and Russia. Well, Sir, in that description of preparation I say we are extraordinarily advanced, and advanced to such a point that we are at the present time far beyond the point of security described by the noble Lord. The point of security described by him is that the Navy of this country should be equal to the Navies of any two Powers—that is, of course, equal to the Navies of the two greatest Naval Powers. It is beyond contention, first of all, that the first-class battleships of Great Britain are at this moment 19 in number; and, secondly, that the first-class battleships of France and Russia are not 19 when added together, but are 14 in number. That is rather discouraging to the noble Lord at the beginning, who relied upon this point in order to prove his ease of alarmism, and in order to excite and inflame the mind of this House into taking steps which are imprudent in themselves and by no means to be recommended on the ground of immediate and practical emergency. My right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty 1800 will deal more particularly with the statements of the noble Lord, but what I observe is that those statements were entirely partial, and did not present the whole case. I have referred to the case of the first-class battleships. What we affirm is that the noble Lord having said, and perhaps having said truly, that the question is to be decided by big ships, I go beyond the question of first-class battleships, and say this—that we hold, and believe it to be incontestable, that in battleships of all classes taken together we have at this moment a numerical majority over the united fleets of France and Russia. But that is not all, because there are battleships and battleships. There is a class of battleships which we had at one time—namely, wooden ships made of material comparatively weak and carrying iron walls of enormous weight. We have got rid of these ships, and we have substituted for them what are more costly and far superior and far more effective. Yes, but if the Fleets of France are examined it will be found that among these battleships which are made to do duty for the purpose of stating the case of danger to this country—among these battleships there are, I think, no less than eight of these wooden ships which we have discarded. ["No!"] Well, I think so. I am speaking on information from the Admiralty. I am pretty sure the number is eight, and these are made to do duty to make up the case of alarm raised by the noble Lord. We meet that by the statement that there is no cause for alarm, and that the time is near at hand when it will be for us upon our responsibility, and for you upon your responsibility, to consider what are the demands of the future. There is one other subject on which I believe I am accurate, but if I am a little short of accuracy in such large figures I am sure I am substantially accurate when I venture to speak of the tonnage which was referred to by the noble Lord. I do not speak of tonnage as implying in every case the superiority of a couple of thousand tons in one ship over another implying an increase to that extent of fighting, power, because there are other purposes for which tonnage is used, such as providing accommodation for coal. But still, upon the whole, and with rare exceptions, these two things may be asserted—first of all, that in all these 1801 classes the numerical method of statement is the one most unfavourable to England, and that in every one of the classes the English ships are larger ships of heavier material than the foreign ships set in the table against them. Finally, if I look at the tonnage in the rough, and speak of the present Navy, I believe the House will be correct in accepting this statement, that we have in battleships at the moment 527,000 tons of fighting material, and that France and Russia together have at this moment but 383,000 tons. I say, then, that while nothing but a state of danger and emergency can for a moment justify this Motion there is no state of danger and emergency in the present. But you tell me there is a different case in the future. I do not think the noble Lord at all intended to censure the Admiralty in that respect; On the contrary, I believe he commended them for having made it an object of special attention to get finished the ships of the greatest power and importance which were far advanced, and that probably has been a wiser policy than laying down a number of ships with a view to the future. Let us take the case as it stands. It seems to me to be fallacious to present it to the House of Commons, as the noble Lord did, in the merest fraction, and to show how much has been built in this country and in that country in one year and another year. Let us look at the whole case comprehensively, and see what is being done in Europe with regard to ships now commenced and not completed, some of them hardly commenced, and let us see what, when the worst comes to the worst, will be the actual state of things as regards the future condition of the Navy of this country. I may say, in passing, that I have not referred to a very important subject—namely, the subject of cruisers. While big ships may be one element of naval strength, cruisers are the second, and I beg the House to take it as a fact incontestable that, while we are asserting our present superiority and our present faculty for maintaining that superiority in the future in respect of battleships, we also assert that in respect of the important element of cruisers our superiority is even far greater, and that there is not the smallest appearance of its being in any way interfered with. I believe that the best way of doing 1802 justice to the case is to go at once to the year 1897–8. I imagine that year is taken because it is the year in which the ships now laid down in foreign countries will be completed. It is the natural horizon for us in regard to a question of this character. We show at the present moment a considerable superiority in battleships of all classes, a considerable superiority in numbers of all classes, and a very large superiority indeed in their tonnage and fighting power. But in 1897–8, as I understand the matter, proceeding upon the best information I have been able to get from the Admiralty — in 1897–8 — presuming we lay down no new ships — it has already been stated in this House that the Admiralty intend to lay them down, but presuming we lay down no new ships— presuming, I would almost say, that you have no Navy Estimates for the next five years, presuming you do nothing in the constructive Department as regards battleships, I believe that France and Russia taken together would then have a majority of battleships in number of eight, and, even with that majority of eight, a minority of tonnage, for our battleships, as far as can be judged in 1897-8, though with a small inferiority of numbers, would be a greater fighting power—but take them as equal, they would be as great a fighting power as the whole fleet of Russia and France when reinforced by all the fresh means they have adopted. Well, that being the case for the future, have we ever said that the future is to have no provision made for it? No, Sir; that is the duty which the Department are now engaged in considering, on which the Cabinet will have to decide, on which its judgment will come before the House, and on which you will pronounce as to its adequacy, or reasonableness, or otherwise. That difference is the very thing —that difference which I represent as between the Navy of the present and the fleets of the future is the very thing which we have principally to weigh and examine in the interval between this middle of December and the period when the Navy Estimates ought to be presented, and upon that decision, undoubtedly, important results depend. I hope I have made it intelligible that my objection is not to a manly and straightforward way of dealing with the Government. But gentlemen do not contribute any- 1803 thing to the dignity and efficacy of their attacks when, having taken all the steps to place them most formally in the position of a Vote of Censure, they show a disposition to turn round on their own offspring, and degrade them from a first-rate to a fourth or fifth-rate importance. My main proposition will be this. If the House desires to change the Government —and I do not say that such a desire would be in any manner blamable—it ought to be done without disturbing the established rule and system of government. You ought not, for the sake of changing the Government, to break up the methods under which these vast expenditures are provided for your people. You ought not to affirm by a formal vote, when you cannot possibly have the necessary means of judging, that at this moment the Navy requires a large addition. If the noble Lord had chosen to adapt his Motion to the reason of the case, it would have been a Motion to this effect—that the measures already taken in other countries tended to show the likelihood of change in the relative strength of the greatest naval Powers in the world, and that change required the close attention of the Government. I do not say that that ought to be asserted by a vote of the House of Commons; but I say that that is a rational position, and it is one that we should show no disposition to shirk. But I must say that the worst way of displacing the Government is to proceed so as to take directly out of its hands a function which, if it be a Government at all, it must in honour and decency continue to retain. Finally, I hope that the House will not on this occasion give countenance or sanction in any shape to a Motion which, whatever be the intentions of the noble Lord—and I do not say a word against them or question the truthfulness of his account of them—for the first time aims at employing the instruments and marshalling the forces of a political Party upon the great question of Imperial defence. That is a bad example; and I confidently hope and truly believe that to that bad example the House will give no countenance whatever.
To leave out from the word " House," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words
"it is a primary duty of the responsible Ministers of the Grown to make adequate provision for the Naval defence of the Empire and the protection of its interests, and this House relies on Her Majesty's advisers to submit to Parliament fitting proposals in due time and measure to secure that end."—(Mr. W. E. Gladstone.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that hon. Gentlemen opposite may probably be divided into two classes, on the relative magnitude of which I pronounce no opinion. There are those supporters of the Government who came down to the House anxious to hear a vehement and an effective attack upon the Opposition by the Prime Minister, and there are those who came down to the House in. the hope of hearing from the Prime Minister some adequate defence of the naval policy, or the want of naval policy, of which the Government is accused. It is hard to imagine which of these classes must have been most disappointed fey the speech to which we have just listened. To that part of it which was, at any rate nominally devoted, proving that the naval preparations of the Government are such as we have a right to demand from any Government entrusted with the destinies of the Empire, and which is the main point I shall come to directly. But let me say a word upon the endeavour of the right hon. Gentleman to fasten upon my noble Friend the intention of turning this Motion into a Party manœuvre. Why, the right hon. Gentleman, up to the present moment, has been the only man who has done anything whatever to degrade the level of the Debate. [Ministerial cries of "Withdraw!"] I do not know which expression hon. Gentlemen desire me to withdraw. Is it to degrade? [Cries of "Yes!"] I borrow it from the Prime Minister. [Opposition cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman has attacked my noble Friend for the crime—and it would have been a crime—of trying to turn to some of the petty purposes of Party manœuvring the machinery of the House in dealing with a question of a national character. What course could have been pursued by the Opposition other than that which has been pursued? We have treated 1805 this subject with long-drawn patience. From the moment when we first discovered into what national difficulties we were drifting, we have dealt with the question with a patience without example in previous Parliamentary history. It was before August that my noble Friend drew attention on the Estimates to that which he had just come to realise, and which he could not well have realised before. The building programmes of other nations were of a character that must place us in a position of great peril. My noble Friend begged the Admiralty to increase their shipbuilding programme. Not once, but many times, he made the same appeal. It was not listened to during the part of the Session which terminated in September; and the only way of calling attention to the question in November was to put questions in the House, or to show by speeches in the country, as Lord Salisbury did, how grave was the situation and how anxious we were that the Government should not only make a declaration of policy, but should do something to remedy the state of things which even the Prime Minister, on his own figures, must admit to be serious. Appeals, questions, speeches, all these methods were tried, and tried ineffectively. What other resource was there open for the Opposition? What more could they have done than they had done? If the Government had shown the slightest sign that they really appreciated the gravity of the situation, and were setting their shoulder to the wheel to remedy it, I can assure the Prime Minister and the House that my noble Friend would not have thought of bringing forward his Resolution, nor should I have done anything to support it. But what else could we do? The Prime Minister was asked to make a statement, and he refused. If any gentleman behind me or on the other side, qualified by his position to speak on naval affairs—such, for instance, as the hon. Member for Belfast, who has devoted immense attention to the subject—if any such gentleman had asked for a day for the discussion of naval affairs, we know what answer would have been given from the answer given by the Prime Minister to-day. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government were bombarded with requests for days to discuss questions 1806 which they thought of vastly more importance than the Navy.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Very well; urgent questions. If the Member for West Belfast had got up as a private Member interested in the Navy, and qualified to speak about it, and had asked for a day he would have been refused. There is no question about that. Every possible means of getting at the policy of the Government or of urging them to a better policy had been tried and had failed, and at last, most reluctantly, when driven to it by the breakdown of every other scheme, and when on the very verge of what I suppose we must call the Christmas holidays, we bring forward this question, what is our reward for so much patience? We are taunted with the desire to put Party above country, and to make election capital out of the subject. We have no desire nearer to our hearts than that this subject should be placed in a category where no Party interest can touch it, and where every Englishman can feel that the interests of the Empire are secure in the keeping of the Government, from whichever side the Government may be drawn. My noble Friend comes down to the House to move his Resolution. He makes a speech, which I venture to say is a model of moderation. Never was he betrayed—except, perhaps, once by an interruption from the other side—into a single expression which can be described as of a Party or controversial character, or as calculated to wound any gentleman on the Treasury Bench or behind it. Whatever may be our views of the responsibility—I will not say the political guilt—of the Government in this matter, not a syllable dropped from my noble Friend which could envenom the Debate or lower it to the level of a Party controversy, or which could suggest to even the most malevolent that he desired to turn his speech or Motion to some petty or temporary account. The Prime Minister was evidently much embarrassed by that procedure. He evidently came down prepared to reply to a Party attack, and the result was that he had to assume that my noble Friend's speech had qualities which were certainly not to be found in that 1807 speech, but, in a fragmentary and incoherent shape, were to be found in the speech in reply. My noble Friend was told that he shrank from his own Resolution—that he ran away from the responsibilities of his own conduct. Is it to run away from your own conduct to state the case temperately in favour of the policy which you advocate and then vote for it? Is that running away? [Sir W. HARCOURT: Hear, hear!] The conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who cheers that, is certainly of a, different character. He makes the blustering speech, and then does not vote. This is a moderate statement, backed by every means we have at our disposal to give it practical effect. Having thus briefly gone over the attack upon the speech which was never made, I now come to the attack on the speech which was made, and I come to the mode in which the Government have tried to turn what was a grave statement of national danger into some small controversy about the Forms of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has a great many criticisms founded upon his view of the Forms of the House. He complains, for example, that in March last the noble Lord came down to this House and suggested that the expenditure upon the Navy proposed by the Government only fell short of that he himself advocated by some £200,000. But my noble Friend has admitted that in March last he was not acquainted with the great development that had occurred in the French and Russian shipbuilding programmes. But my noble Friend had found out all about it in August last. Why is it that Her Majesty's Government had not found out all about it by that time as well? Had the Government given proper consideration to the statements of my noble Friend in August last six months' invaluable time would have been saved which I fear has been irretrievably lost. Then, said the right hon. Gentleman, a Motion of this kind is an interference with the ordinary procedure of Parliament and the Departments which it is fatal to depart from. Sir, the Government are breaking precedents every day; they are revolutionising our procedure from tap to bottom in questions which do not matter. Why cannot the Government show a little less dependence upon the ordinary procedure which is relied upon in the 1808 right hon. Gentleman's Amendment when the interests of the Empire are at stake? But that is not all. The right hon. Gentleman took the precedent of 1884, which is the one really relevant precedent, though I could not understand the account he gave of it. In 1884 the public uneasiness arose out of circumstances which, in our opinion, were far less pressing than those of the present case. Members of the Opposition then begged the Government to make some statement on the subject of their Naval programme, with a view to allay public anxiety. The Government came down and gave an account, not of the Naval Estimates for the coming year—that they could not and were not asked to do —but of their programme so far as it concerned the building of first-class battleships. That is the precedent with which the right hon. Gentleman did not deal.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
How does that bear upon the wonderful argument about the convenience of Departments? If the Admiralty cannot do their work if they make a statement, how is it that they did their work in 1884, when they did make a statement? That is a perfectly plain question, on which I trust the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give us some information when he speaks. The truth is, that when the right hon. Gentleman talks of these small trifles of Parliamentary procedure, and tries to put them forward as insurmountable obstacles to our dealing with the great issue before us, he appeared to show what I cannot refrain from calling an incapacity for understanding his opponents' position, or understanding the gravity of the case. Then, what was the right hon. Gentleman's next argument? It was to deal with the present strength of the Fleet, and to repeat the extraordinary argument that the only emergency to be taken into account is an emergency relevant to the present requirements of our Fleet. He said, and rightly so, that any emergency which the Fleet can at present be called upon to deal with would be an emergency that our Fleet should be amply adequate to meet. Who denied that? That is part of our case. My noble Friend stated as a fundamental element of the situation that our Fleet was at present adequate, 1809 but that at the rate of shipbuilding in other countries it would not, without building, remain adequate. "Then," say the Government, "there is no emergency." When can an emergency arise? Can it arise only when you discover that your Fleet is inadequate? In other words, the emergency arises when it cannot be met. There never is an emergency until it is too late to repair it. That is the foresight of gentlemen to whom we have entrusted our destinies. None of the questions we have addressed to the Government, none of the anxiety we feel, relates to the present moment. Our fears relate to the future, whose character is determined by the present moment, and depends upon present policy. If by a mere Vote of £10,000,000 or of £100,000,000 you could fill up in a moment the lacunœ in your Fleet, the emergency would, of course, be only the emergency contemplated by the Government; but, unfortunately, under modern conditions, the period we have to survey cannot be less than the three years necessary to build a ship. Every month, every week, you waste now cannot be repaired by any expenditure or by any hurry. Now is the appointed time—now, and not later. If the Government think that the gap created by the two years in which there has been no shipbuilding outside the programme of the late Government can be filled up by any efforts of their own or their successors, they utterly misunderstand the conditions of modern naval shipbuilding. Towards the end of his speech the right hon. Gentleman deigned to touch upon the relative strength of British and Foreign Fleets in 1897–8. 1896–7 would have been better; but I take his figures. In 1897 we shall be inferior by eight battleships to the combined forces of France and Russia.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
English ships must have a larger tonnage, because they must carry more coal, so that tonnage is necessarily a misleading guide. But the right hon. Gentleman did not state the whole case of our inferiority. Eight battleships is surely a tolerably serious matter; but the right hon. Gentleman forgot the coast defence vessels which France and Russia are building in a 1810 manner which makes them formidable opponents in a contest between first-class battleships. If you add these coast defence vessels, how do we stand in 1897–8? My noble Friend informs me that the superiority to France and Russia at that date will be 10. Add this to the eight battleships, and you have an inferiority on the part of Great Britain, as compared with the combined forces of Russia and France, of 18 ships.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Does the right hon. Gentleman dissent from that proposition, or does he merely misunderstand it? If, as is possible, the right hon. Gentleman merely misunderstands, I will repeat my statement. The French and Russians are now building a class of ship which is incapable of taking long cruises, which cannot, as our battleships, go any long distance from their base of supplies, but which, nevertheless, from their construction, armour, and armament, are capable of taking place in a battle in which first-class battleships are engaged. That is my proposition. If the right hon. Gentleman will do me the honour to listen to my statement— from which I believe no naval expert will dissent—he will be forced to the conclusion that we are forced to, namely, that in the year chosen by the right hon. Gentleman, 1897–8, the inferiority of Great Britain, to Russia and France combined, will be that of 18 ships capable of taking part in that kind of conflict which I have described. But, Sir, I do not believe that 1897–8 is the most critical year for this country; I believe that 1896 will prove to be even more critical. The right hon. Gentleman in part of his speech dilated at great length upon the great facilities which we have for rapid shipbuilding as compared with any one of our possible rivals. We may have some superiority in that way, but I do not believe that we have a superiority at all as great as is asserted by the right hon. Gentleman. I will ask a plain question. Russia and France will in 1896 have 13 new battleships and coast defence ships. Can you by 1896, with all your boasted expedition, produce 13 new battleships and coast defence ships equal to those of France and Russia? Will the responsible officials of the Admiralty assert that you can? And if you cannot, do what you will, have 1811 your 13 ships ready by 1896, are you not criminal in putting off even for a week the commencement of the ships of which we may been such dire need when the time of difficulty comes? It appears to me that the right hon. Gentleman proved conclusively by his speech that he did not understand the strength of our case. We have never asserted or pretended that at the present moment we are inferior to France and Russia. Our contention is this—that we shall be inferior, and that it will be impossible to prevent that inferiority by any amount of Votes in this House or any efforts that you may make unless you begin those efforts at once, and that even now it may be perhaps too late. That; is our contention, and the right hon. Gentleman did not meet it. Not a word fell from him which could convince anybody that he understood the nature of the danger, or that the Government of which he is the head intends to meet it. I am aware that in this country those who try to rouse public attention to the inadequacy of our national armaments labour under disadvantages which, fortunately for them, French statesmen or German statesmen never labour under. Every German and every Frenchman knows exactly what is meant for him, for his country, by an inferiority to the force that may be brought against him; he votes his Army and Navy Bills with a pistol at his head. He knows that if he relaxes his attention under the strain for one moment it may mean national annihilation, it may mean that his country will be overrun by a hostile force, and that the incidents and horrors of invasion may fall upon him and his. But our fortunate position prevents us from having present to our minds dangers which are, believe me, as real although they may not be as obvious. I do not suppose that it is within the bounds of any reasonable probability that we shall see a foreign force land upon these shores, but we have an Empire which is in some respects more difficult to defend than any Empire the world has ever seen, and it is impossible for us to foresee, as a French General or a German Chief of the Staff can, exactly whence the danger may come, what point it will menace,, and how it will have to be dealt with. It therefore behoves every Government and every Opposition to see that, so far as in them lies, the difficulty under which the 1812 public necessarily labour in presenting to their minds the dangers which menace them, shall not lull them into a false security. What is at issue is no mere question of national vanity or national grandeur. My noble Friend did not go beyond the truth when he said that in the next naval warfare we shall be pitted against opponents who will themselves stake comparatively nothing, whilst we shall stake our all. Such a thought should surely raise us above the petty squabbles and mean details to which the Prime Minister has attempted to direct our attention. He seems to be of opinion that the gentlemen upon this Bench and behind us are animated by no more noble or elevated views than a desire to transfer themselves to the other side of the House. It does not enter into his imagination that we could be animated by a more patriotic motive. I can assure him, and if he does not believe me the country will—I can assure him that we consider it a very small matter who governs this Empire as compared with the question whether there shall be an Empire to govern, and that there is no question of domestic policy, however deeply we may think upon it, however profoundly it may move us, which we for one moment place in comparison with the tremendous issue raised by this Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman has chosen to treat this as a Party Motion. I presume, therefore, that all those gentlemen who support him will think it necessary to vote with him tonight, whatever their views may be upon the merits of the question. I shall not regret their action if they will take such means as are in the power of the supporters of a Government to let the Government know that, although they are prepared to support them upon a, public issue of this kind, they do it only on the condition that the policy of those against whom they vote shall become the policy of the Government. If the Government will do what we want, it matters nothing to us how they set about it. Let the Government but carry out the policy which my noble Friend recommends, and we shall not regret the issue of this night's Debate, be it what it may. The country, too, will recognise that we have not betrayed the trust that has been reposed in us as Members of this House, in whose guardianship are placed 1813 interests far above those even of the historic Parties into which we are divided.
§ SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
After the three powerful speeches which the House has listened to it may not be altogether disagreeable to the House to hear some few remarks from one who will dissociate himself altogether from the Party recriminations which have been indulged in between the two sides. This subject, as the right hon. Gentleman has just said in his speech, is one so great in itself that it appears to me we ought to regard it as the first necessity that it should be dissociated from Party, and I trust in what I say in these opening words I may arouse no heat from either side if I suggest that the very form of the Resolution and of the Amendment has tended to introduce unduly Party complications into this national issue. Suppose, for the sake of argument, the noble Lord, who certainly made a moderate speech, has proposed an immoderate Resolution, and let us suppose the Government are right in meeting that Motion as one of Want of Confidence, at all events let us, on this occasion, which is the only occasion we have of discussing this subject during the present year, deeply regret that a Party issue, by whomsoever the fault, has been brought into the consideration, and while regretting it, do not let us try to apportion the blame as between the two sides. The result of Party considerations being brought into the Debate may be to make it, to some extent, sterile, and the Division meaningless. It will be a Division on strict Party lines, and will mean very little at all. It is obvious there may be many who may feel deeply upon this question, who may believe that there is reason for public anxiety with regard to it, and who, nevertheless, may be unwilling to associate themselves with either the Motion or the Amendment. What is the answer of the Government to the Motion? The Government in their Amendment and in the speech of the Prime Minister tell us that it is in January, February, and March alone that this subject must be considered. [Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE: Apart from emergency.] That in January the Estimates are prepared according to ordinary form, in February they are printed and presented to the House, and in March they 1814 are, on the first Vote, discussed by the House. The precedent of 1884 has been quoted on one side and rebutted on the other in strong language. The Prime Minister has said that to propose now to anticipate the discussion of next spring would be premature, partial, delusive, dangerous. But, Sir, the precedent of 1884 is quoted against that contention, and although twice quoted has been left unanswered. The words used in 1884 are so strong, and bear so closely on the present occasion, that I should like to bring them to the recollection of the House. It is the case, as has been said on both sides, that the Leader of the Opposition at that time pressed the Government for a statement to relieve public anxiety on the matter, and the Government made that statement in both Houses on the 2nd of December. What were the grounds which the Government gave? They have not been quoted. In the House of Lords Lord Northbrook said that it was a convenient thing that Parliament should be sitting at that period, and in the Lower House the words used were—And in the present anxiety out of doors it is the bounden duty of the Government to make a statement in this House.Those were the statements made. The reason was a bad one, but the policy, perhaps, was a wise one. It was wise to allay public anxiety, although a little unworthy to put that anxiety forward alone as the reason for taking this course. The Prime Minister suggested that there was an overwhelming case at that time on the strength of which the Government themselves would rely; that something sudden and unexpected happened which had led them to concur in the position, and that there were grounds then existing which do not exist now. They said nothing of the kind at the time. There was no suggestion of it in the speeches in either House. Lord Northbrook said the promise to make a statement had been made when he was out of England, but it was the natural outcome of the general public anxiety that had been expressed on that subject. Lord Northbrook used these words—There was no extraordinary activity in regard to construction in the French Navy,to show that there was no sufficient ground for public alarm and anxiety, which he admitted, nevertheless, existed. 1815 The Prime Minister is, to some extent, in the same position as the Mover of the Resolution with regard to the prospective character of the alarm on this occasion. I hold the view—which may have no other adherent in this House—that the alarm is present and not prospective; and at the last Election I ventured to criticise the policy of the late Government in regard to shipbuilding as insufficient to the needs of the country. There are some in this country who never accepted the test accepted by the two Front Benches as giving us a sufficient Navy, and there is scientific ground for believing that the alarm is present, that it concerns present facts, and not prospective facts alone, as is the view of the two Front Benches. In 1884 we were told that it was the obvious duty of the Government to make a statement in December on account of the anxiety out of doors. I remember that time in 1884, and I confess I think there is as much anxiety out of doors now as then, though I do not myself attach—and did not then—so much importance to the anxiety as to the facts which cause that alarm and anxiety. There are grounds for thinking that the anxiety now is at least as well founded, I should say far better founded, than it was in 1884. In 1884 our Mediterranean and Channel Fleets were not outnumbered by the French Mediterranean Fleet, as is the case at the present time. That is one remarkable change for the worse. Again, our relations with France were better in 1884 than they are at the present moment. It is not necessary to go into detail in such matters, but I think the language used in this House on behalf of the Government towards France regarding Siam is language not used towards a friendly Power. That fact is sufficient to show that the relations between the two Powers are less friendly than in 1884, and undoubtedly they have worsened, because the Prime Minister has not been allowed to carry out his policy with regard to the evacuation of Egypt, which it was expected in 1884 he would be able to carry out. France is spending enormous sums upon her Land Forces, and her Land Army of four, and a half millions of men is within a fortnight's mobilisation, most of it within four days. Yet, in spite of the overwhelming necessity which must always bear upon her to have an Army superior 1816 to the Germans to place in the field, she has doubled her expenditure upon new naval constructions since that date in 1884. It has been shown to-night that this new naval construction on the part of France has been mainly a construction of ironclads capable of breaking a blockade, and capable of sailing as far as Gibraltar and taking part in an engagement there. That France is spending twice as much now on new constructions as she spent in 1884, and that our relations with France are not so friendly now as they were then, are facts to make us pause before we assert there is less ground for anxiety now than there was in 1884. I daresay the form of the Motion of the noble Lord may be unusual, and possibly unwise. It would have been better if the noble Lord had made a Motion such as has been accepted in the House before now, assuring the Government of the desire of the House to strengthen their hands in any proposal they might make to the House. But, whatever may be the ground of the Prime Minister's objection to the form of the Motion and the taunts of the noble Lord—and I concur with the Prime Minister as to the present Sittings of the House being for a most useful purpose— there would have been no need to interfere with the progress of the Business in this House. There was no such interference in 1884. No time was consumed by the matter, but the statement of the Government tended to allay irritation and to facilitate the progress of Business rather than produce a waste of time. We do not ask the President of the Local Government Board, the Vice President of Council on Education, and those who are conducting legislation through this House, to charge themselves with the conduct of this question. We ask the Prime Minister, Lord Spencer, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to charge themselves with this question, and they are not so actively concerned with legislation now going on here as are other Ministers. Now, I say the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because I hope whenever the Liberal Party takes up this question, as they must, we shall pay our way honestly like men, and shall not have any policy of a Naval Defence Act which leads to spasmodic fits and starts, disquiets foreign Powers, and has less effect than a steady permanent policy such as 1817 is necessitated by the needs from year to year. The reason why I cannot help thinking that the Leaders of both Parties are inclined to under-rate rather than exaggerate the gravity of the situation in connection with our Navy may be stated in very few words. There is no scientific authority for the arrangement between the two Parties in the State that we should have a fleet just superior to those of France and Russia. All naval experts . who have been consulted on the subject have always laid it down that for safety you must have a supremacy of five to three in battleships; that you require that supremacy for the purpose of blockade, and even for the alternative policy to blockade, of masking your enemy's fleet. If we ever engage in a war, by no fault of our own, but by any conceivable set of circumstances coming upon us, it is a necessity of the position of this country and the Empire that our frontier should be at the enemy's ports, and if that is not accomplished by means of a blockade, then it will have to be accomplished by the masking of their fleet by our ships being placed at a certain distance to keep the enemy's ships in. I know this is not a popular policy, but the existence of the Empire depends upon it, because the moment your enemy's fleet are able to issue from their ports we lose the advantage of our insular situation and become a Continental Power. But we have no Continental Army. We have no Army at all in the modern sense, we have no rapidity of mobilization, no security against invasion, for the protection of our trade and for our colonies, except that which an overwhelming fleet can give. And when the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary make most reassuring declarations in general terms with regard to "an overwhelming supremacy " and " an all-powerful fleet," we want to know what is meant by an overwhelming supremacy and an all-powerful fleet? It does not mean a majority of one over the fleets of certain possible enemies, but it means a superiority of strength sufficient to be able to make your frontier at the enemy's ports, or a short distance off if you prefer it. I quite admit that there is much to be said by the Government with regard to the Opposition not having spoken earlier upon this question. I quite admit they 1818 did speak in August, but still I am bound to say their own policy and programme were not sufficient. If they had watched what was building abroad they ought to have been prepared at an earlier date. But, Sir, it is the case that when the present Government came in and proposed their Estimates with two battleships the situation was not quite so bad as it was now. They were told they were running things fine by that policy of only two battleships for the present year, and that such a sparse programme was not one which could be looked upon as very safe. But they made certain general promises with regard to next year. We were told they had not been long in, and if the situation is worse it is partly so because these two battleships were begun much later than the House of Commons-believed they would be begun. When money was taken for two large battleships as the main portion of the programme for the year we did not think all the work upon them would have been postponed until Christmas. But not only were the two battleships begun late, but one battleship was lost, and although we ought not to run things so fine that the loss of one ought to make a great difference, still the beginning of these two ships late, and the loss of one ship made a great difference. The loss of one great battleship, as has been said, is the same thing as the loss of an Army Corps to the German Army. It is the loss of the twentieth part of the active force in the field and is a very serious matter. Our position in Europe has also been somewhat worsened since the statement was made at the beginning of the year. I am not so much alluding to the alliance which has been concluded, I understand, between two Powers who might possibly be our enemies, because that has always been an inevitable political event, but there has been a greatly increased irritation on the part of one of these Powers; and anyone who reads the newspapers of that country cannot fail to be struck by the fact that even the greatest commercial newspapers depending largely on advertisements from this country, and representing the trading opinions of towns doing business with this country, yet even in such a case as that, so strong is the feeling of what I must admit is a one-sided irritation not shared by those on this side of the water, 1819 that threats of war are to be found in newspapers which really one would have thought would have been the last in the world to advocate such a policy. I am bound to say I am not satisfied with the declaration that has been made that the precedent as to 1884 does not apply. I do not want to blame anybody or to suggest anything of either Party. This is not anyone's fault—it is everybody's fault. But surely there is ground for an appeal to both parties? The Liberal Party, however, is in at the present moment, and it is their duty to take up a defence policy. I know there are some Liberals to whom the subject is hateful. But it ought not to be so. They might be content to follow Mr. Cobden, who put our Naval strength in the position of first importance. The expenditure of the Empire, upon defence is estimated for the year 1892–93 at £52,500,000, and it has been as high as £56,000,000 during the past few years. That alone is a reason why the Liberal Party should give fair consideration to the question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks the supremacy of the British Navy unquestioned. But that is not the view of the naval officers of foreign countries. It is not the opinion held by the Intelligence Department of the American Navy, which is admitted to be one of the best authorities in the world. Sailors of those nations which are generally alluded to as possible enemies are by no means prepared to admit that the supremacy of . the British Navy is unquestioned. No one can deny that the French are equal to us in their officers and men, and in Naval tactics their ships are as much at sea. [Laughter.] I mean that they are as skilled as we are. In gunnery they are admittedly our equals, and in some departments our superiors; they have resorted to high explosives which we have been unable to use—and in that fact alone many of their officers see a fair chance of victory in any future war; and in ship construction they have shown their power by carrying off orders from our shipbuilders in different parts of the world in spite of very heavy disadvantages. The French are undoubtedly our superior on one point—perhaps the most vital in modern war — in rapidity of mobilisation, and, in the event of a single-handed war, we should be in this position—that our Mediterranean 1820 Fleet must immediately evacuate that sea. We are told that the Channel Fleet is intended to reinforce the Mediterranean Fleet; but the French Mediterranean Squadron is more powerful than these combined fleets. These are facts which ought to make us pause in reference to the defence of the Empire. As matters stand there are all the elements of a National catastrophe. It is urged by many that we should not hold the Mediterranean in time of war. Then it is all the more necessary that we should improve the accommodation at Gibraltar. Both the late and the present Government have, each of them, proposed only a small sum for the works there. They seem only to have grasped the fact that we are holding the Mediterranean in time of peace. I know a great many hon. Gentlemen on this side do not take the trouble to look at this side of the question. What about a time of war? If my hon. Friends think they will get off cheaper by masking the Mediterranean than by holding it, they will find no naval opinion to support that view. There is no ground for believing that either upon a masking policy or upon a blockading policy can we hope to contend against our enemy in time of war with a less supremacy than five battleships to three. A great many think on this matter that in time of war we shall not stand alone, but should have friends and allies. There are such things as dangerous illusions, and the most dangerous illusion that any inhabitant of the United Kingdom can have is that we are a popular Power. We are probably the most unpopular of the Great Powers, and I think the most unpopular of all the Powers, great and small, with the possible exception of China. Looking to the shifting nature of the policy of those Powers which are presented to us as possible allies, it would be most unsafe for any Englishman to count upon help in time of war except the help of his own strong arm. This country has deliberately rejected the policy of alliance, and if we are to stand alone we must be prepared to make the sacrifice which that position involves. When the late Government proposed to enter into an alliance such a course was objected to, not merely by the supporters of the present Government. I have spoken to Liberal Members with regard to the amount of our expenditure on de- 1821 fence. How is that expenditure distributed between the two Services? Last year the cost of the Laud Forces at home and in India was exactly double the expenditure on the Navy. Can any one say that we get as much value for our money from the Land Forces as we get from the Naval branch of the Service? Except so far as it provides at a cost of £14,000,000 or £15,000,000 for the security of India, it is difficult to see what benefit we derive from the great bulk of our expenditure on Land Forces. There is some ground for thinking that . a distribution of expenditure between the two Services might possibly be arranged, which, while enabling us to save upon our Laud Forces at home, might allow an increased outlay on the Navy without adding to the burdens of the country. I think I have said enough to suggest some reasons why Liberals should give up thinking of this subject of national defence as a hateful one, and as one against which they ought to close their eyes and ears. I have tried to raise the question above a mere fight between the two Front Benches, and to put some national considerations before the House. I have one word more to say to my Liberal friends. I know that in these days of great armaments upon the Continent, the old tradition of the Liberal Party, that they should look to the possibility of using the forces of this country on behalf of Continental freedom, has become a dream of the past. They must remember that our liberties at home depend upon the efficiency of our Fleet, and that beyond this the very existence of our Empire is concerned in the question which the House is at this moment discussing.
ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
said, he found himself in a difficult position by having to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, for whose speech the whole Naval Service would be grateful. He shared the right hon. Gentleman's view in desiring to lift this question out of the region of Party strife, and he regretted that the Prime Minister, if he really believed that the Motion proceeded from a Party point of view, should have accentuated the situation. Some time ago he was invited by several friends to move the Adjournment of the House in order to discuss this question, and he was 1822 told that many hon. Gentlemen behind the Government would support him as a non-Party man; but he declined to take that course, because he believed that Lord Spencer and the Admiralty were doing their duty. Naval men did' not desire to embark in any Party conflict on. this subject; but the Prime Minister did not appear to realise the strength of feeling which existed outside the House on the question, owing, no doubt, to the fact that he had been so much occupied with other subjects as to be unable to pay attention to this subject. Here in the City of London he (Admiral Field) had addressed several meetings, or altogether some 2,000 people; and he did not know that the Prime Minister understood the feeling exhibited at the recent meeting in the Cannon Street Hotel—the largest he had even seen in that place, at which two leading Radical Members spoke in favour of the policy which the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex and his friends were advocating. The recent alliance between France and Russia had entirely altered the condition of things, and the people of this country were deeply moved by this alliance, which had been cemented with kisses from French ladies to Russian officers. Governments were always slow to move in matters affecting the defence of the country. During their first two years of Office, the late Government were just as supine on this subject as was the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government at the present time; and the noble Lord who had addressed the House actually once proposed to reduce the Navy Estimates by £900,000. He only mentioned that fact to show that all Governments were alike; but whereas the late Government acted upon public opinion, the right hon. Gentleman scorned public opinion, and declined to act upon it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, had said enough to make the most thoughtless man think gravely of the position in which this country was placed by the Franco-Russian alliance. To say that their position in the Mediterranean was compromised was to state a very serious fact; and when the right hon. Gentleman said that their only remedy would be to withdraw from the Mediterranean, he asked the Government whether they were prepared to adopt that 1823 policy? It would be disgraceful to this country if such, a policy were pursued. It was a new doctrine which ought to be taken notice of by responsible Ministers of the day. To say that they were to abandon their trade in the Mediterranean, to leave the Suez Canal and Egypt too, he supposed, to take care of themselves, was a new doctrine for Her Majesty's Ministers to preach. France and Russia were spending nearly £6,000,000 on new shipbuilding; and they were spending £3,000,000, while some of the ships which had been laid down in this country existed only on paper. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. E. Robertson) said the other day that Liberals would not yield to Tories one jot in their determination to maintain the Navy in the position in which it ought to stand. He wished some of his friends near him- shared his earnest views on the question of naval supremacy. He was grateful for the words the Civil Lord had used, and he was willing to believe that the right hon. Gentleman knew the views of Lord Spencer and his Naval colleagues, and that they were pursuing a policy which would give satisfaction; but what a pity it was that the Prime Minister did not take the House into his confidence and say the position had somewhat changed and that the Government would be alive to their duty to make all necessary provision to meet the necessities of the case! He did not, however, blame the right hon. Gentleman for the answer which he gave to the question put to him the other day on this subject. God forbid that the right hon. Gentleman should stand up and tell foreign countries the position of the British Navy! Even if the right hon. Gentleman did not believe all the words he himself uttered, he was almost bound as a public duty to utter them. [Cries of " Oh!"] He had said "almost." It certainly was not his duty to cry stinking fish. He had heard a little of what was going on at the Admiralty, and he understood a programme was being prepared for next year. He could not agree with the Prime Minister as to the taking up of the time of the House by this discussion. He was not sorry the time of the House was being occupied in this way; they should be allowed to enjoy themselves for one night, and to divert their minds away 1824 from the Parish Councils Bill. He was grateful that their attention was directed to another and more important subject. A great deal too much had been said by speakers that the policy of this country should be such as to maintain a Naval Force equal to a combination of two other Powers. That was only a figure of speech, and not the measure of our naval necessities, and he was glad the right hon. Gentleman had attacked that view. The measure of our naval necessities was the work we had to do, and the amount of work we had to do was such as to make our naval strength appear ridiculous. Why did he lay stress upon the point that the work our Navy had to do was the only consideration which should weigh in the minds of gentlemen who had to do with naval matters? It never occurred to the Prime Minister—or, at all events, he had not alluded to it—that our policy was one of dispersion, while the policy of other Powers was one of concentration. British commerce extended all over the world. It was not fair to count our battleships and cruisers without remembering that we must always maintain foreign squadrons. All these squadrons were undermanned, and, in the event of war, would have to be augmented, which was a point that wanted consideration. It would not do to re-echo the cuckoo cry that our Navy should equal the Navies of any two other Powers. In the event of war certain strategic points would have to be occupied, as, for instance, the mouth of the Channel. In olden times 30 or 40 frigates, in addition to some 60 other vessels, were deemed requisite for this purpose. Our cruisers were not adequate to our necessities in the Channel and in other parts of the world. It would be necessary to maintain a large force off Cape Finisterre to meet British homeward-bound vessels, and another force off Cape St. Vincent, Cape Verde Isles, and on the Line. Sir Geoffrey Hornby had clearly pointed out these necessities. The difficulty as to coaling stations had to be considered, and it was to be borne in mind that there was a new danger menacing our Cape route to India—namely, the fact that a strong naval station was being made at Madagascar. He complained that the Government, above all things, failed to realise the enormous importance 1825 of the naval defence of the Empire. He believed the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had never applied his powerful intellect to this burning question. If he had there could be no doubt that those with whom he was associated in the administration of the affairs of the country would be compelled to do all that was necessary to satisfy the demands of the country. He might on these matters quote the opinion of Sir Spencer Robinson—who was dead, but whose authority would not die for many years—as well as Sir Thomas Simons and other naval experts, who wrote letters and articles and attended public meetings and made speeches. It would not do for the Government to say that naval men were creating alarms in order to get more money spent on the Navy. The alarm was created because naval men appreciated the tremendous risks of the situation, and because the Government appeared not to appreciate them, and would not find time to study these great questions. That was why naval men did their level best to agitate the public mind. It must be remembered that in attempting blockades a larger force was required outside than inside. In 1803 Lord St. Vincent sent Nelson with 14 sail of the Line to meet the French with 10 sail of the Line at Toulon. A much larger force would now be required on account of the difficulty of coaling. New dangers had to be faced which did not exist in years gone by. The important naval port being created by France in Tunis was one source of great danger, as it would give us, in the event of war with France, a hostile port on our flank. France, as a French writer of great authority told us, was keeping up what she termed a large mobile force in her Channel ports to play upon our commerce. We had made no such preparations. He did not think we required as many torpedo boats as France, for our policy at sea had always been an offensive one, and it ought always to continue so. If we entered upon a policy of defence we should ultimately sustain defeat, our true policy always being to make the enemy's coast line our frontier. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had interrupted the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex with the statement that the British Fleet was never so powerful as it was now; but the right hon. Gentleman 1826 was mistaken. It was well we should remember the tremendous sacrifices our forefathers made to maintain our naval supremacy. The sacrifices required of us were not one-tenth as great. After the battle of Trafalgar they continued to make sacrifices, the Navy Estimates being increased. Even after the great battle of Waterloo the Navy Estimates were increased to £22,000,000. In 1807 we had 200 line of battleships and the French 60. It was true we had sunk a great many French vessels, still we were always stronger than the French by more than two to one. In 1837 we had 91 battleships and the French 49; in 1850 we had 86 and the French 45. In 1889 England had 32 battleships and the French and Russians together 23, and whilst, since then, we had built 14 extra, the French and Russians had built 13, so that they had nearly caught us up. He desired to see the same answer given by every British Admiral as was given by Nelson to George III. at the time of the scare in reference to an invasion of England from Boulogne. The King asked—"Do you think the French will come? " and the answer was, " I cannot say, your Majesty; but I can answer for it that they will not come by sea." That was a reply every Admiral ought now to be able to give to a similar question. The country should not only be safe, but should feel that it was safe. The Government would begin to realise the importance of this subject if sufficient pressure were brought to bear upon them from below—if their supporters would take the matter in hand. He believed that Lord Spencer and the Naval Lords were carefully considering the naval situation, but their doubts were that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not let the Admiralty have what they knew to be necessary for the country. He was quite willing to leave the matter in the hands of the First Lord and the Naval Lords, and he was thankful that during the Autumn Sitting the First Lord or the Admiralty had been in the House of Lords free from all the Debates in the House of Commons, and devoting his time and attention exclusively to this most important matter of naval defence.
§ MR. MACFARLANE (Argyll)
wished to say a few words, because he had taken a small part in what might be called the agitation on the naval question. He had 1827 acted in the matter from a conviction of the necessities of the country, and hoping that an expression of opinion on their own side of the House might convey to the Government an idea of the general public belief of the necessity of this country being an overwhelming Naval Power. We did not enter on this question on even terms with other nations. It would matter but little to any of the great nations of the Continent if their fleets were sunk in the Bay of Biscay to-morrow. It would not affect their position among the nations, whereas if disaster occurred to our Navy we should be left absolutely helpless as a nation. Impressed with that belief he was induced to go to the great meeting in the City a week ago—a meeting which he thought represented more Income Tax than he ever saw in one room before. That meeting assembled, as he understood it, with the view of inviting Her Majesty's Government to impose fresh taxes upon them for purposes of naval defence, and to assure the Government that any money they might think it necessary to spend would meet with the approval of the commercial community. It was not always that the Government was fortunate enough to have the approval of the taxpayers in advance. But for himself he desired to say, in as few words as possible, that while he agreed with gentlemen, on the Opposition side as well as on his own, that we should have a preponderating Navy, he was willing to leave that question to the responsibility of the Government for the time. [Mr. W. E.GLADSTONE: Hear, hear!] The Government must recognise the importance of the matter as clearly as anyone else. It was premature to move a Motion of this kind; a Motion for the Adjournment of the House would have served the purpose of bringing the question before the country. He yielded to no one in his patriotism, but could not lend himself to vote to displace the Government on a question that was not absolutely ripe. The discussions which were going on would have their influence with the Government, and when the time came when the Navy Estimates were put before the House, if then he believed their proposals were inadequate for the defence of the country, it would be time enough to vote against the Government. There was no difference on this question between hon. Gentlemen 1828 opposite and many hon. Gentlemen on that (the Ministerial) side. ["Yes! "] He was speaking for himself and some others. Of course, they all recognised the position of the hon. Member for Northampton—
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, no doubt there were some on that side who held strong opinions as to the necessity for increasing the strength of the Navy. But he did not speak for everyone on that side; therefore, the hon. Member need not have interrupted him. If it had pleased the Prime Minister to make a statement as to naval policy just now, he (Mr. Macfarlane) should have been glad; but the right hon. Gentleman was a far better judge than he or any of them could pretend to be as to what was best for the interests of the country. He did not say the interests of the Government, because on this question he was anxious that there should be no distinction made as between one Government and another. The question was one of national defence and national existence. The discussion would have convinced the Government that there was nothing in this country so unpopular as starving the Navy. On the technical question of what class of vessels should be built, and how many of them, he would not speak. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down was able to speak with authority. But we should have a Navy, he would not say equal to a combination of any two Powers, because that would be manifestly inadequate. It might be enough if we had only the English Channel to defend, but we had the whole Empire from here to Australia, and we would be compelled in the case of war, even if we abandoned the Mediterranean, to keep squadrons so strong in those distant parts that they could not be suddenly assailed and overwhelmed. So that it was no use talking about being equal to the Navy Lists of France and Russia combined—and he was sorry to have to name a neighbouring friendly country as a possible enemy—but we had been obliged to be at war with that country before. He said that the surest way to keep a permanent and happy peace between this country and France was to make 1829 it too dangerous for France or any others to attack us.
§ SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, that as he had the honour to represent the Associated Chambers of Commerce, a meeting of which Body had been held in Plymouth to consider the matter, and also the London Chamber of Commerce, over whose recent great meeting in the City he had presided, he ventured to take part in the Debate in order to give expression to the feeling of the commercial community. The feeling of that community was that this question transcended in importance all others that could possibly be brought before the House. The significance of it, and the vital interest of Britain in regaining the command of the sea, could best be indicated by one or two comparative figures. Take first the tonnage of our merchant ships. As compared with France, our tonnage was as 12 was to 1, and it was as 12 was to a half in the case of Russia. Next, the value of our seaborne commerce was £1,000,000,000, whilst that of France was only a quarter as much, and that of Russia was only £500,000. He need hardly add that the feeling of the commercial community was, that not only security, but a continuous sense of security, was essential to the conduct of our commerce, and that if a want of confidence should exist the cost directly and indirectly to the country would be infinitely greater than anything which could arise under any of the Estimates of Naval Expenditure put forward at the present time. He had hoped that some indication not only of the magnitude of the question, but of the best and most prudent and reasonable means of meeting it, would have emanated from the Front Bench opposite. If that had been the case, he was satisfied that there were many men on both sides of the House who would gladly have availed themselves of the opportunity of giving support to the Government rather than treating them with distrust or offering opposition. For, there was another point which was very emphatically insisted upon at the meetings he had Referred to, and that was, that the commercial community would in no sense have anything to do with Party controversies in connection with the Navy. Commerce was cosmopolitan 1830 and represented all shades of feeling, and the opinion of commercial men was that in this matter they would do the best for their Party who did best for the State. As the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had said, those who realised the gravity of the matter and met it in the most reasonable and practicable form would best deserve the thanks of the country, and would have done the best both for the State and for their Party. There was no need for panic or even alarm, but there was some demand for reassurances. To a great extent the Prime Minister had met what was not alleged. It was not a question of present danger. In that respect they were on common ground. The danger was prospective, but somewhat immediately prospective, and Britain must not be treated as a hulk moored in the stream and serving only to show the strength of the current which was passing it. He took the fact that on January 1 France and Russia would be building 23 ships with a total tonnage of 210,000 tons, as against our own construction of four ships with an aggregate tonnage of 56,000 tons.
§ SIR A. ROLLIT
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer denied the statement, but he (Sir A. Rollit) made it on the authority of the late First Lord of the Admiralty, and till the published figures had been tested and disproved he was justified in resting upon that authority. The right hon. Gentleman conceded that in 1896 we should have a deficiency of ships.
§ SIR A. ROLLIT
said, that that condition was inevitable owing to our inevitable construction of capacity for coal. Yet the right hon. Gentleman made this statement, so full of gravity, unaccompanied by any assurance that steps would be taken to meet the deficiency, and though three years were necessary to build a battleship, which might have to be done hereafter amid costly panic. He regretted that the Prime Minister had not seen his way to make such a statement and so get rid of a Motion the terms of which he (Sir A. Rollit) admitted were not 1831 altogether satisfactory to himself, but which in the absence of assurances became almost necessary. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had supported his assertion of even present danger by indicating a source that could not be overlooked—namely, the Mediterranean. It was admitted that, there, France was both readier and stronger than we were at the present moment. Her arsenals were unassailable, the coast was fringed with torpedo stations which, if not in perfect condition according to French criticism, were, at any rate, strong. They had many more torpedo vessels than we possessed, and our torpedo catchers were useless, their speed being only 16 or 17 knots, as compared with torpedo boats that were capable of running 25 or 26 knots; and here he gladly gave credit to the Government for expediting the completion of the torpedo gunboats and some other craft. But what was the result of this state of affairs in the Mediterranean? A distinguished naval officer, Lord Charles Beresford, had publicly told the London Chamber of Commerce that if we had war we must abandon not only the Mediterranean, but the Channel and our East Coast ports; in other words, that our commerce must be concentrated in the Western ports of our own country. In addition, the noble Lord said that the Cape route would have to be substituted for the Mediterranean and Suez Canal route to our Indian and other Possessions. Even if it were possible from a political point of view to revert to the Cape route, which was surrounded with difficulties, there being French torpedo stations in the Mozambique Channel and in Madagascar, it would be impossible that commerce could return to the old routes in days when speed was everything in the transaction of business. It would only result in the transfer of our trade to a neutral flag, as was the case of the United States, which had never recovered their shipping trade. It would be as impossible to do that as to resort to convoys for the conduct of trade. And there were other considerations of equal importance to that respecting our ships. For example, 53 per cent. of our guns were said to be more or less obsolete. There was also the question of harbour and coast defences, in regard to which even the mine fields were not pro- 1832 tected by quick-firing guns, which were absolutely essential to their utility. Again, the small arms on board our ships were not magazine rifles, although France, Germany, and Russia had repeating weapons. What was of even more importance was, that we should want 10,000 seamen in case of war, and if they were taken from the Royal Naval Reserve the Mercantile Marine would be depleted. The figures respecting our supply of seamen generally were of vast importance in this connection, and they showed that, whilst in 1845 there were 16,000 apprentices in the sea service, there were in 1892 only 2,000; Another circumstance of equal importance was that, whereas in 1851 we had only 4.2 per cent. of foreign seamen on board our ships, the percentage in 1892 was 16.6. Then there was the question of the training of our youths. It had been denied that there was overcrowding on board Her Majesty's ship Impregnable, which had led to illness. He himself, however, had personal experience of the condition of that ship, and of the death of one boy: a most promising seaman, whose disease was accounted for in official letters in two or three different ways, all of which were wrong. He now ventured to attribute the death to some of the causes mentioned in connection with the sanitary condition of the ship.
THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Sir U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH, Lancashire, Clitheroe)
How long was that ago?
§ SIR A. ROLLIT
said, it was three or four months ago. One word as to the remedy for all this. It had been suggested that we should make our Navy equal to the combined Fleets of any two-Powers. But though this was the principle of the Naval Defence Act, he heartily re-echoed what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke), that this was an arbitrary rule, and one which would not be accepted and was not accepted by the commercial community. The work of the Navy lay all over the world, and the Navy must be made equal to the work it had to do. From this point of view the figures quoted during the Debate were scarcely applicable. Steps should be taken to indicate what would be the work of the Navy in time of war, and to make it 1833 thoroughly efficient to perform that work. He hoped that the time might come when, if we had not a permanent Naval Council which would settle these matters with less reference than at present to Party feeling, there would at least be some opportunity of consultation on the part of representatives of commerce with the Lords of the Admiralty, so that, it might, at all events, be made clear that such impracticable suggestions as those of the abandonment of the Mediterranean, the adoption of the Cape route, and resort to the system of convoys were utterly behind the times. There ought to be no delay in this matter. If it came to a question of attributing delay, he was bound to say that he could not acquit the late Government. If the renewal of the Naval Defence Act was the right policy, the proper time for contemplating its renewal was early in 1892. He conceded, too, that the delay was attributable subsequently to many causes which, to a great extent, exculpated the present Government. The General Election, the coming into Office of a new Board of Admiralty, the unfortunate losses of ships, were all contributory causes of the delay. There ought, however, to be no more delay. The period of three months had been mentioned. If there was a delay until the Estimates were produced, say in February or March, it must be borne in mind that after the Estimates had been approved contracts had to be made, and it would be May, June, or July before the work could be put in hand. If any disaster occurred in consequence of such a delay it would form a serious ground for reflection upon the Ministry, a reflection from which they could yet, he hoped, completely escape. He did not rest the argument against delay entirely on the ground of the possibility of war. Delay would place constant obstacles in the way of our diplomatic action. Our naval position in the early future had had an adverse influence on the results achieved by recent negotiations, as in Siam, such results not having been altogether in accordance with the wishes and expectations of the nation. Whilst, therefore, everybody wished for peace it was desirable that diplomatic action should be reinforced by the knowledge that Great Britain had both the force and the spirit to assert 1834 the interests of the Empire if they should ever be attacked. Cromwell said that there were cases in which the best ambassador was a man-of-war. He (Sir A. Rollit) hoped such a case would never occur, but it was well to provide for the emergency. He felt bound to reluctantly concur in what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke), as to the terms both of the Resolution and the Amendment. The Resolution, he thought, was too exacting, and its language was too arbitrary. If it had been more moderately worded in such a manner as to elicit an expression of feeling from the Government, that would have been the best means of achieving the great object which the Chambers of Commerce and, he believed, the House had in view. On the other hand, to ask the House to give a full declaration of confidence unaccompanied by any indication as to future policy was too great a demand to make upon those who were sincerely and gravely anxious as to the position of our Fleet. The feeling was general that that position was not so secure as it might be, and for his own part he trusted that the delay which would now occur in allaying that feeling would not result in creating a parallel to what once happened in the previous history of the country. Two centuries ago Admiral Lord Torrington urged on the Admiralty the necessity of strengthening the Fleet. The Lords of the Admiralty replied to him—"You will be strong enough for France," and his answer was —and may such an answer never come from a British Admiral again—My Lords, I know my business, and I will do my best with what I have; but pray remember it is not my fault that the Fleet is not stronger. I own I am afraid now in winter whilst the danger may be remedied, and you will be afraid in summer when it is past remedy.There was no fear, there was no panic, at the present moment, but the country was anxious that we should be provided with those armaments which might be essential to our safety, and even to our Imperial existence, in the future. But, even if they were obliged to differ tonight, and if some of them were obliged to vote for a Motion which they could have wished to see framed in different terms, whilst others voted their confidence in the Government though they could have wished that the Prime Minister's state- 1835 ment had been of a different character, the Debate at least would indicate the strong sense of the country that in present circumstances there were duties great and grave devolving upon the Admiralty, and that means ought to be taken to adequately fulfil them.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said, that whatever might be the course of the discussion and of the Division with which it would end, it showed the undoubted necessity for calling attention to the state of the British Navy as compared with the Navies of Foreign Powers and with the necessities of the country, and it certainly was desirable that the public anxiety on this subject—whether well-founded or not—should be reflected by a discussion in Parliament. Both the House and the country would not fail to be struck by the fact that of all the hon. Members who had spoken from either side of the House the Prime Minister was the only one who doubted the necessity for increasing the British Navy, and that it was left to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean to raise to the proper heights of statesmanship and patriotism a national question which the Prime Minister had gone out of his way to sink to the level of a faction fight. He confessed he would have been better pleased if the second paragraph of the Resolution had been omitted, and if the increase of the Navy had alone been referred to. But he was bound to add that the Amendment of the Prime Minister begged the whole question. The question raised by the Resolution was whether the Navy was good enough for the requirements of the country, but the Amendment raised the totally different question whether the Government was good enough for the country. He had no particular complaint to make against the Government. They had given hon. Members a long and interesting Session, and they had not yet succeeded in achieving any legislative earthquake. But when it became a question whether the Government were good enough to do anything to improve the condition of the Navy, and when it became a question whether the Navy was good enough for our national necessities, then he had no hesitation in voting for the Resolution as it stood. He was quite content to rest 1836 upon the promise which the First Lord of the Admiralty had given at the beginning of the Session, thatships would be laid down in order to maintain the supremacy of the Navy with due regard to the ships in course of construction by other Naval Powers and to the actual waste going on in our own ships.It was extremely inconvenient that the responsible head of the Navy, who was the one person who knew everything, and who was in the secrets of the Cabinet, had not a seat in the House of Commons instead of being relegated to that Assembly which the Prime Minister, or at any rate some of his friends, pro-posed almost immediately to abolish. The Prime Minister, as well as hon. Members themselves, had suffered from the absence of the noble Earl from that House, because, if he had been present, no such speech as that to which the House had listened would have been made by the right hon. Gentleman; and hon. Members also suffered, inasmuch as they had the Secretary to the Admiralty, who addressed them with pompous disdain, who rose in his majesty and answered their modest questions with the air of a superior Belgrave Square butler moving on a crossing sweeper. On the 21st February this year the First Lord of the Admiralty laid down the principle which ought to govern our naval policy, and he announced that in 1893–4 it was proposed to lay down new ships in order to maintain the strength of the Navy, due regard being had to the ships in course of construction by other Naval Powers, and to the actual waste which went on in our own ships. They knew very well that since that time there had been a large number of ships commenced by other Powers, France and Russia especially having considerably increased their shipbuilding programme. If the First Lord of the Admiralty had been allowed to carry out his promise, he must undoubtedly have proposed an increase in the ships corresponding with the increase in other Foreign Navies, which had advanced more than they had been expected to advance. But what took place? The Prime Minister, when his attention was drawn to the increasing inadequacy of the English Fleet as compared with other Fleets—and the complaint was that we had stood still while other nations had been advancing, said that the Government were perfectly 1837 satisfied that the Navy was adequate to perform all the duties for which it existed. But the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean had stated that the danger arising from the inadequacy of the Navy was not even a future danger; it was, in fact, a present danger. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet; it was a danger which could only be met by immediate action on the part of the Government. The right hon. Baronet had described their position in the Mediterranean, and his views had been affirmed again and again at public meetings by men who were interested in the matter, and who asserted that our Navy was deplorably weak as compared with the Navies of other countries. Yet they were told that the Government were perfectly satisfied! If the House wanted information, or if it pressed for an increase in the Navy, the reply made was that that was the business of Her Majesty's responsible advisers, and that they were perfectly satisfied. No doubt it was not necessary to attach too much importance to recent Franco-Russian demonstrations, about which there had been a great air of unreality. It was probable that when the pinch came the French would again find, as they did in 1870–71, their Russian friends deserting them and passing over to the enemy. The gravity of the French preparations, coupled with the quasi-alliance with Russia, lay in this—that it. was undoubtedly an attempt by French statesmen to divert the attention of the people of France from Alsace and Lorraine, so that if they could not get these Provinces returned by Germany they might, through the alliance with Russia, get from another quarter some colony or some trade or some prestige. But if any of our trade were, through such action of such an alliance, taken from us it would go, not to France but to Germany; if any of our prestige or power in the East were taken from us it would go, not to France but to Russia, and France would find that she was being used merely as a catspaw for one or both of those two Powers.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said, that was a mistake so grave as to make one doubt that a statesman existed in France. 1838 If a statesman should arise in France like Gambetta, who understood that the true interest of his country lay in a good understanding with England, this quasi-alliance with Russia would disappear. As the Mediterranean has been the scene of the hysterics between France and Russia, the first effect of any show of weakness on our part will be felt in that quarter. Undoubtedly England had lost much in the Mediterranean during the last, year — much positively and much more relatively. We had lost the Victoria there, and that vessel has not yet been replaced. The Government, instead of replacing the Victoria, had pushed forward the vessels which were partly completed. In that respect the Government had done well; but we required not only those vessels, but also another Victoria. There was another matter that had changed the situation in the Mediterranean; that was, the serious development of that port of shelter for the French Navy—Biserta. He was not, however, going to exaggerate the importance of Biserta. It never could be another Toulon. The rich country of France was behind Toulon, but behind Biserta was only Africa. It was also said on serious authority that France intended to hand over to Russia Ajaccio, a port in the northern end of Corsica, for use as a naval station. It was from the southern end of Corsica that Nelson always watched Toulon; it was there that Nelson found the most useful and effective anchorage, and if a port in the northern end was going to be made over to Russia the English position in the Mediterranean would be still more seriously impaired than it was at present. And yet the Government were perfectly satisfied. The command of the Mediterranean had been an object for which the country had spent its best men and its best treasure. Was it less valuable to England now than it was 90 years ago? On the contrary, it was far more necessary. Thanks to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, who never came into Office without seizing some foreign possession and lauding us in a foreign war, we had got Egypt on our shoulders. He agreed with the Member for the Forest of Dean—and was probably the only Member of the Conservative Party who did so—that Egypt was a damnosa hæreditas, and one which we should seek to get rid of. But we had it, and that was an additional reason for 1839 keeping the command of the Mediterranean, which meant also the keeping of our whole trade with India, China, and Japan —with the far East as well as the near East —and yet we were lamentably weak and entirely overmatched in the Mediterranean. He made bold to say that the Government would not find a single man of authority to dispute the fact. Indeed, he undertook to say that if the First Lord of the Admiralty were sitting on the Treasury Bench he would not venture to dispute it. Therefore, steps should be immediately taken to redress the balance and give us such a force in the Mediterranean as would secure for us the command of the sea, which was more necessary now than ever in our previous history. It was said that there was no | danger of our losing the command of that sea, because the Channel Fleet would cooperate with the Mediterranean Fleet. Was the Channel Fleet, then, going to be taken away from the Channel? That was a course which no one would seriously propose. Another reason why the command of the Mediterranean was still more important to us than it was before was that up to 1870 Russia had not a port which was not closed by ice in winter. But at that time Russia denounced the clause in the Treaty of Paris which prohibited her from maintaining a Fleet in the Black Sea, and now she had a Fleet there, and the only thing between her and the Mediterranean were the miserable degraded remnants of the Treaty of Paris. Under these circumstances the man who would hand over the command of the Mediterranean to any other Power was a traitor to his country.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said, he well understood the persistent attempts to get rid of a discussion so inconvenient to Her Majesty's Ministers. It was a sad thing that the House of Commons should have come to such a point that three attempts should have been made within a few minutes to count out a discussion on such an important subject. He repeated that the man who proposed to abandon the Mediterranean was a traitor to the country. But it might be said that if we went out of the Mediterranean we would still have Gibraltar. But Gibraltar was not in an efficient con- 1840 dition. It was absolutely necessary that a dock should be made at Gibraltar where our crippled ships could be repaired without having to come home. That work had been objected to because the dock would be open to fire from Spain. We would require to be at war with Spain before that danger came within the bounds of practical possibility; and he did not think much damage could be done by guns at Algeciras or on the Queen of Spain's Chair, even if we failed to reply to their fire, which he did not suppose would occur even under the present Prime Minister. As to the actual situation of the Navy in general, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean that it was not sufficient to say that England required a Fleet equal to the Fleets of two other countries. The work which our Fleet had to do was far greater than that of any other two Fleets. Our possessions were scattered all over the globe, and if war broke out we should be forced to leave a considerable portion of our Fleet at the other side of the world to defend our colonies. The Fleet must, first of all, be equal to the defence of the Colonies. Only after that duty had been provided for could the comparison with the strength of Foreign Navies be properly made. The Fleet ought to be able to beat the Fleets not merely of two other Powers, but of the whole world. We did it before. When the whole of Europe was against us we beat them, and we should be prepared to do it again. He would give the House some startling figures which were taken from an entirely unsuspected source—from a Report issued by the Intelligence Department of the United States from their naval attaches in Europe. There was no Party bias attached to that source. He found there facts which, even if it were true that our Navy was at present adequate, would be extremely disquieting. He found that the amount spent during the current year for the Budget of 1894 by France in the construction of new battleships was £3,050,000, and by Russia £3,300,000, or a total of £6,350,000. What were we spending in new construction? This American Report said £4,404,000, which agreed with the sum stated in the preamble of the Navy Estimates. Therefore, while England was spending £4,000,000, Russia and France together were spending over 1841 £6,000,000. In other words, France and Russia were spending half as much again on new construction during the current year as this country, which relied entirely on the Navy for its defence. But that was not all. Take the men. The same Report stated that with regard to men, either actually afloat or available for immediate service afloat—but not the Reserves—there were in France this year 62,870 men, showing an increase of 2,500, and in Russia 32,386, making a total of 95,256. How did England stand in that respect? We had 70,493 men afloat or immediately available, so that France and Russia between them had 24,763 more men available for naval service than we had. Thus, in shipbuilding France and Russia were rapidly going ahead of us, and in men were already enormously ahead of us. Yet, in spite of all these facts, the Prime Minister was perfectly satisfied. He, at any rate, was not perfectly satisfied. We had had recently an object-lesson which made clear the present situation in naval affairs. At Menam a short time since the British ships were ordered outside the limits of a pretended blockade the operations of which the French vessels were conducting. It was true that the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had changed the word "ordered " and substituted " requested." But when they said "ordered" in plain English they used "requested" in official answers. The British vessels were ordered outside the lines of the blockade. [Ministerial cries of "No!"] The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had admitted it, and that was good enough for him. A generation ago at Piraeus, when the English and French Fleets were there together, the French Admiral complained that the harbour was a small one—that there were too many ships in it, and asked the English Admiral to order one of the English ships out to make room for one of the French. What did the English Admiral do? He hoisted a signal for two other English ships to come into the harbour directly, and they did come in. The object-lesson of these two occurrences was very direct, and yet the Prime Minister was perfectly satisfied. There was one other point. No doubt, on land we were the weakest of Powers, but on sea we had been, and were still, the strongest of all Powers. The fact that our people had the sea in their blood; the fact that so many of them 1842 gained their living by traversing the seas, was sufficient to show that; and yet it was not merely this Government, but many preceding Governments, had adopted the policy of neglecting to the utmost where our strength lay, and cultivating to the utmost where our weakness lay. The Navy had always been neglected in comparison with the Army. Even in the matters of pecuniary rewards, social gratification, or recognition of any kind, the Navy had always taken second place when it should have been first; and the Army, like Jacob, had taken the birthright of its elder brother and sold it for a mess of pottage in the shape of prancing steeds, glittering uniforms, and waving feathers for Generals who dreamt of an impossible Waterloo. There was a great statesman, De Witt, who wrote of Holland—Never in time of peace and from fear of a rupture will they take resolutions strong enough to lead them to pecuniary sacrifices beforehand. The character of the Dutch is such that unless danger stares them in the face they are indisposed to lay out money for their own defence. I have to do with a people who, liberal to profusion where they ought to economise, are often sparing to avarice where they ought to spend.Mutato nomine de te fabula narratur. The story of Holland was told to the Government, and the Government should take it to heart, or the story would be told of England one of these days. The Navy Estimates of this year were £14,240,000, and the First Lord of the Admiralty took credit to himself for having reduced them, as compared with last year, by £100. The Army Estimates for this year were £17,802,800, which showed an increase of £171,000. So that this naval country —this maritime country—this island, which relied upon the Navy, and the Navy alone, for its defence could only afford to spend £14,000,000 on the Navy, while it lavished £18,000,000 on the Army. It ought to be the other way about. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer had any difficulty in providing the money necessary to increase the Navy, let him boldly take £5,000,000 from the Army and give it to the Navy. The Opposition would not quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman if he took that course. No man of patriotic feelings, who understood the position of England, would quarrel with him. The day for European campaigns was passed. What was the good of our 50,000 men, even if 1843 we could send that number, against the armed millions of the Continent? Why, they would disappear like a drop of water in the ocean. The day was passed for another Waterloo. We had to trust to the Navy, and the Navy alone, not to seek to enter into the internal parts of foreign countries, but rather to flay them alive on their coasts. No wonder the Navy was not up to its proper strength when so much attention was given to the Army. He had been amazed to find that among the non-effectives in the Army were five Field Marshals and 335 Generals. The Navy had not so many Admirals of the Fleet or Admirals. All the rewards and all the prancing reviews were kept for the soldiers. But even though that was so, the British people knew who were their true servants; they knew that, although the Navy was absent and out of sight, and consequently out of mind, it was to the Navy they must look for their defence. What had we to defend our frontier but the Navy? And what were the frontiers of England? They were the five-fathom line on the coast of every country in the world. That was the frontier we had to defend, and a very large, and a very able, and a very sufficient force was required to defend it. Every naval strategist, from Clerk to St. Vincent, and from St. Vincent to Mahan, had told us that we must have complete supremacy at sea, or we could have none at all. We must have command of the whole sea up to the five-fathom line of every foreign coast, or we had no command at all. Then what were we doing with regard to the Navy? He was afraid that in every respect we were allowing it very seriously to deteriorate not merely in numbers, but in quality. Look at the ironclads! They were so constructed that their normal method of flotation was bottom up. That was so in consequence of the enormous quantity of armour on their top sides and decks, and their thin plating below water. And yet this system of construction gave the war vessels no defence against the engines of destruction which were most dreaded, though, as he thought, wrongly—the ram and the torpedo, which struck below the water line. In addition to that, he held that much had been done to impair the splendid traditions of the Navy. The principle of the undivided responsibility and complete power of the Captain, which 1844 was the one principle on which the British Navy had been conducted hitherto, he feared was being seriously impaired. He feared, too, from the unsatisfactory reply given by the Secretary to the Admiralty, that they were adopting a wholly mistaken policy with regard to the defence of the Navy from torpedo attack. It appeared to him they were going to spend millions of money in building breakwaters as defences against torpedoes, and that the effect would be to hamper the mobility of our vessels, while they would not protect them from the attack of aërial torpedoes like the Linsky shell. The suggestion that they should have to give up the Mediterranean, the action taken in impairing the mobility of the Fleet and the traditions of the Navy, all these things made him, and not him alone but the whole country, very anxious indeed. But Her Majesty's Government were perfectly satisfied. It occurred to him how was it and why was it Her Majesty's Government were perfectly satisfied? He thought he had the answer. On the 19th June Lord Play-fair, speaking in another place, said—Great Britain, at least in modern days, wants no supremacy of the sea.He did not know that Lord Playfair was a great naval authority, but at any rate he was a Peer created by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, and would be allowed to remain such until the time was ripe for abolishing him. The noble Lord said that England wanted no supremacy of the sea. But they did want supremacy of the sea, and they meant to have it, and would have it in spite of any Minister who ever sat or would sit on that Bench. They had no choice; those who lived on an island with the sea as their road and their barrier, who could only be approached by the sea, must have supreme control of the sea, or become the victims of the sea. He believed this House was convinced—he was sure the country was convinced—that without the control and supreme command of the sea they must perish; therefore, they were determined to have it. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite might struggle to make out a case, but they knew very well the necessities of the case dictated to them that supremacy of the sea was a necessity beyond all question. If they had that he should be content whatever Ministry might sit on those Benches; if they had it not they 1845 would work and agitate until they obtained that supremacy without which England could not continue to exist.
§ MR. FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)
I feel, Sir, that no words are necessary frem me to justify the action of my noble Friend in bringing forward the great and important question he has submitted to the House to-night; and if I refer to a precedent that has been alluded to for bringing a matter of this kind before the House at this season of the year it is not for the purpose of justifying the action of my noble Friend, but for the purpose of proving the necessity for taking such an opportunity by the proposals of the Prime Minister himself. The Prime Minister, in reply to a question of my noble Friend some few weeks ago, said—Speaking of 1884, there was an apprehension, whether just or not, in the public mind, an apprehension which was created by the then Board of Admiralty and the Government that there was occasion for special measures, which special measures were sanctioned and adopted.He goes on—But we do not think there is any analogy between the present state of things and the state of things then existing.Now, Sir, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is no, or that there is little, analogy between the state of things in 1884 and the state of things today, because the state of things in 1884 was comparatively satisfactory as judged by the state of matters to-day. Now, the First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1884, in bringing before the House of Lords the extraordinary proposals that the Government of that day intended to bring up in the Naval Budget the following April, stated this—There was no rapid progress, no great expenditure on the French Navy or on armour-plated ships; our expenditure had been much greater; that we had ready 30 English ships as against 19 French dealing with armoured ships. As regards ships completing, we were similar.But, he added—The French have two more constructing.Now, Sir, we have, on the acknowledgment of the Prime Minister himself, that so far from the state of things being at all approximate to that which Lord Northbrook detailed to the country at that date, the Prime Minister says—In 1897–98 if no new ships are laid down we shall be eight battleships less than the combine;] Navies of Russia and France.1846 Now, the idea of the Prime Minister as to what is the measure of our wants at the present time can be measured by the expression he used in 1884—that he had this question brought before the House of Commons out of the ordinary course because they had it under their consideration in a somewhat larger way, with reference to the annual Estimates, than the Estimates of the year. What was that somewhat larger way? It simply amounted to an extra expenditure of £3,100,000. If I am to reason by analogy, the extra expenditure of £3,100,000 was considered sufficient to take the question out of the ordinary course before the House of Commons. Therefore, I must imagine that in his mind at present there is no necessity for an extra expenditure of anything like £3,100,000. I venture to say, therefore, that evidently in the mind of the Prime Minister the necessity of our present case has not been adequately grasped. Much has been said about this Debate having been met as a Vote of Censure on this side of the House for political purposes. I join with all that has been said by my hon. Friend, that the question of the Navy is a matter beyond and outside any Party consideration and ought to be kept there, and that the question has been brought before this House not. from any political consideration, but from a conscientious belief that the necessity of the case demanded the consideration of the subject. I wish that the feeling that was expressed by Lord Northbrook and Sir Thomas Brassey in 1884 had been the feeling with which the question had been met to-day by the Prime Minister. What does Lord Northbrook say?—The natural question which would occur is why it should be necessary in the Autumn Session to make such a statement, as they very naturally made when the Estimates were laid before Parliament.He went on to say he hadNo hesitation in saying that it was the outcome of the general public interest which had been expressed upon questions in connection with the Navy which had arisen in the course of the Recess.Then he went on—I am sure it is right that the Government should take an opportunity, as Parliament is now sitting, to lay before the two Houses what their view of the subject is, and what proposals they have to make in anticipation of the ordinary Estimates of the year.1847 He further went on to say—In that opinion the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs and Sir Thomas Brassey have never expressed the least objection.Now here we have, in 1884, the Government, under the present Prime Minister, accepting an inquiry and answering an inquiry to allay the anxiety of the country when the state of matters was far less urgent than it is at the present time, even by his own showing to-day. Then Lord Northbrook proceeded to say—That was a question above all others vitally concerning the interest of every one in the country, and one on which public discussion was right and proper. He hoped no one would be able to say he made the question a Party or political question.I am afraid that cannot be said as regards our Debate to-night, as, by his speech, the Prime -Minister attempted to drag it into Party lines. In any remarks I shall have to make, though I may have to draw comparisons between one period and another, I shall endeavour to follow the footsteps of my noble Friend, and not lift this matter out of the consideration of non-Party lines. At that time the proposal laid down by Lord Northbrook, as the mouthpiece of the Liberal Party of that day, was this: he told us thatDuring the last four years England had commenced two armour-plated ships for every one France had commenced.And he also added this—That if they were to spend money on the increase of the Navy it was desirable, in consequence of the great stagnation in the shipbuilding yards of the country, not to add to the dockyard staff, but to build in private yards.I quote that last remark for this purpose: to show that the state of things is now, as then, great stagnation in the private yards of the country, and that work now given can be put out at more economical rates than it could have been a short time back, and, what is still more important, that employment would be found for thousands of the unemployed workmen at the present time. Then, in the course of that Debate, Lord Carnarvon added—There had been for about 100 years a tacit understanding with France, whereby the naval strength of this country should be at least double that of France.And in this House the present Lord 1848 Brassey, who was then Secretary to the Admiralty, stated—The opportunity for discussing naval matters was not less welcome to the Admiralty than the most impatient of their critics.He said—It had been the policy of the Board to maintain a high rate of construction by laying down two ships for the British Navy for every ship laid down in France.He said—At that time a French ironclad took 10 years to build.In passing, I may say that so far have matters changed, and so much has dockyard administration improved in France that no longer can it be said an ironclad will take 10 years; nay, I think, so far have they accelerated their work, that they would rival us very closely in completing an ironclad. I will ask the House to bear with me a moment while I ask them to look at the position of matters in 1888, when the Naval Defence Act was submitted to the House. That Act and that programme were based upon a review by naval officers of the comparative strength of the vessels of this country—ready, building, and completed—with the strength of the vessels of the two Naval Powers of France and Russia—ready, completing, and building. That programme did not profess to have reference to that which was in the womb of the future, the question of further and additional construction that might be pushed on by France and Russia. As to any comparison of figures that I may give to the House, I want to offer one word of warning. As regards naval figures, there is an immense difficulty in regard to the classification of armoured ships and armoured cruisers; it is difficult to get two naval officers to form the same opinion as to the relative offensive and defensive powers of any armoured battleship. That difficulty was very well expressed by Lord North-brook when he said—These comparisons puzzle very much persons who are not acquainted with the technical details of this interesting question. I am sure that if our best naval officers were asked what should be called a first-class ship they would not agree. That places us in a great difficulty, and I came to the conclusion it would be better to take the best ships of France and England for the next year, to submit them to my naval colleagues and place them ship by ship.The difficulty of classifying vessels has 1849 increased since that date. A first-class battleship built 10 or 12 years ago might be relegated to the second or even the third class; therefore, in any figures that may be taken, it is possible one vessel, according to one person, is entitled to be placed in a higher class than another gentleman would consider it entitled to for offensive or defensive purposes; consequently, in dealing with this question, I feel a great difficulty in following the figures given to us by the Prime Minister. He dealt simply with first-class battleships. We have not the names of those which are designated as first-class as distinguished from those that may be designated second-class, and, therefore, it is practically impossible to attempt to follow the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman; and if I adhere strictly, in the figures I am giving, to Parliamentary Returns, it merely arises from the want of the fuller information necessary not being laid before the House by the Board of Admiralty. At the time the Naval Defence Act was proposed by my noble Friend in this House in 1888, when the Naval Lords laid down the extent of shipbuilding they recommended the then Board to pursue, England had at that time classed as battleships, 49; France and Russia combined had 39 — 30 France, 9 Russia—so that we were 10 more than the two Powers combined. As regards armoured coast defence vessels of over 2,000 tons, England had 10, France and Russia 21. But I would say, as regards coast defence vessels of that date, it must not be forgotten there has been a marvellous change in these ships in the last 10 years. Formerly they were simply armoured batteries, capable of being moved about in the harbour, but not going to sea. Now, coast defence vessels are, more properly, vessels that can move from harbour to harbour, make short excursions to sea, and are vessels to be looked upon as important in any naval war, especially one we might have to undertake, where I should hope we assumed the offensive. I am not going to deal at any length to-night with cruisers, except to answer a remark of the Prime Minister. At that date England had of protected cruisers 87, France and Russia 92. But this observation must be made: that at that time France had an abnormally large number of 1850 vessels, armoured on wooden walls, while England had very few, and since that date I find no less than 12 of these so-called armoured cruisers belonging to France have disappeared, as against five of the English; therefore, relatively France has improved and increased her strength by substituting the more modern iron vessels for these 12 wooden vessels that had become obsolete. Therefore, we had in 1888, when the naval officers considered it necessary to go forward with a large programme, 10 more battleships than the combined forces of France and Russia. I now take the year 1891, and I take it for two reasons. It was on the aspect of affairs in 1891 that the Estimates for 1892–3 were prepared under the orders and instructions of my noble Friend, and this is the position in which foreign naval affairs appeared to the Admiralty at the time those Estimates were prepared. Of battleships under the classification of the Return laid before this House, England had at that time building, constructing, or completing 55, as against the combined number of Franco and Russia of 44; so that in 1891, when we prepared our last Estimate, we were 11 battleships ahead of the combined forces of France and Russia. Then, of coast defence vessels we appeared to have only 10; France and Russia numbered 46. But the increase of France and Russia is more apparent than real, and arises from a re-classification adopted in 1891 in accordance with the change in naval construction adopted by the Admiralty, and in that classification the naval officers class the foreign ships from the same point of view, and with the same regard to their offensive and defensive powers as they had with regard to our English ships. We have a Return in 1893, which was presented to the House in August of this year. That Return gives these figures, that as regards battleships built, building, or completing, instead of England, as in 1891, having 11 more, we have four less than France and Russia combined. Now, the Prime Minister says that in 1897–8 we shall be eight first-class battleships beyond France and Russia combined— that is, supposing he is correct in his prognostication as to the time it takes to build an ironclad in France and Russia. If the calculation of the Prime Minister 1851 has any regard to what is in the Parliamentary Return it would appear that since the Return in August France has has laid down additional battleships to those then contemplated. I believe that is so. I believe France has laid down four battleships of something like 11,000 tons displacement each. That Return shows that at the date it was prepared we had four less battleships than France and Russia combined, either ready, completing, or constructing; in other words, it shows that in 1893 England had 43 battleships, France 32, and Russia 15, making 47 to England's 43. Therefore, it seems that Return did not include the large ships which quite recently France has laid down. Now, putting this matter to the test of figures, taking it into the pounds, shillings, and pence point of view, which is really, I always think, a better test of what the navies of the respective countries are doing than an attempt to classify the ships—I assume France will build such vessels as best suit her purpose, and that Russia will take care to build those vessels best adapted to the wants of her Empire—I find that since 1889, the date of the Naval Defence Act, France has laid down ironclads at a cost of £7,000,000, which was not then contemplated, and Russia has laid down of the same class and tonnage vessels that are to cost £8,000,000. Several millions not contemplated at the time of the passing of the Naval Defence Act have since been expended by France and Russia. That considerable importance is to be attached to this matter is admitted by the Russian Official Journal, in which I find the following quotation:—In view of the systematic opposition of England to the Russian advance, a full development of a force of cruisers to act against the British commercial fleet has become an object of primary importance.The cruisers there referred to are, no doubt, such vessels as the Rurik, a class of vessel as formidable as some of our battleships. That the present Board of Admiralty think the Rurik type a formidable class of vessel may be gathered from the fact that they propose to proceed with the construction of two ships, the Terrible and another, to meet the two vessels building by Russia. I now turn to what I think is the slow progress that is being made in pushing on with 1852 the construction of the additional vessels presented in our Naval Estimates of this year. The Secretary to the Admiralty, in reply to questions from this side of the House, has assured hon. Members that all the money taken for new naval construction this year would, it was expected, be expended this year. I have no reason to doubt or question that, but there is a very important point involved in it. If that money which was taken in the Estimates for the construction of battleships, which are the great want of the country and which will take at least three years to build, is going to the aid of the rapid construction of torpedo-destroyers, I venture to say that that is an erroneous policy. A torpedo boat destroyer can be built in a comparatively short time, whereas an ironclad cannot be built under at least three years. Therefore, I feel very jealous about the money intended for these large battleships being diverted to the construction of torpedo vessels. Build them both, but do not rob one class of construction in order to push forward another. In the Estimates of the late Government for 1892–3 £30,000 approximately were taken for the Magnificent to be built at Chatham, £14,000 to commence a battleship at Pembroke, and £10,000 to commence a third by contract. Of these three only the Renown has made any progress whatever. Although £27,000 was taken for the Magnificent last year, and £164,000 this year up to December 2, this year only £3,700 had been expended on the vessel. If the policy of the late Administration had been followed, and progress made last year upon this ship, I venture to say that instead of only £3,700 worth of work having been done up to the present time, something approaching £250,000 would have been expended on that vessel; and in the same way a considerable sum would have been expended on the vessel placed out on contract. These are very important matters in view of the fact of this wonderful development and increase in the naval expenditure for battleships of France and Russia—an expenditure largely developed in the last 12 or 18 months. Instead of there being a delay in pushing on these battleships and other smaller craft pushed on at their expense, the policy of the Admiralty would have been decidedly better had they pushed on the construction of battleships. I think 1853 I am not overstating the case when I say that two out of these three battleships will have been delayed in construction by fully 12 months; and if we accept the Prime Minister's statement that our position, if we do not build other ships, will be eight behind France and Russia in 1897–8, I venture to think that even on that estimate and with that knowledge before them it would have been wiser had the Board of Admiralty pushed on with the construction of these battleships. It seemed to me that the Prime Minister rested his whole case upon the fact that to-day we were equal, nay, superior, to the combined Fleets of France and Russia. I say there is no question about that, but I think the right hon. Gentleman took an over-sanguine estimate of the time required to construct an ironclad in this country, as compared with the time it took in France. In this country an ironclad cannot be constructed in less than three years. It is true the Royal Sovereign was built in two years and eight months. Why? Because overtime was worked and an extra number of hands put on. Yet if you want to push on a large number of ships at the present time it is impossible to get any large number done, and I doubt whether even three years would be sufficient. At any rate, I do not think the naval policy of this country ought to be predicated upon the supposition that France might go on in a dilatory style completing her ships while we could build ours at the rate at which the Royal Sovereign was built. I venture, in conclusion, to suggest most strongly that the circumstances under which my noble Friend brought forward this Resolution to-day were much more urgent, more important, and required much more the immediate attention of the country than did the circumstances under which the additional Naval Programme of 1884 was brought forward. But, Sir, putting all these matters aside, I do think the country looks to its Navy being maintained, without the possibility of risk, in a position of supremacy over the Navies of any two Foreign Powers; and there is no justification for withholding from the House and the country the information on that subject to which they are entitled.
THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Sir U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH, Lancashire, Clitheroe)
The remarks of 1854 the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down have been characterised by a moderation of tone, which I desire to acknowledge, but I think many of the remarks which have fallen from him, like those made earlier in the evening by the noble Lord the late First Lord of the Admiralty, were singularly inappropriate, considering the responsibility which they must take upon their own shoulders for the present position, and for certain elements in the present policy of the Admiralty. I will deal one by one with a few of the points made by my right hon. Friend who has just sat down, and by the noble Lord, not only in the speech he has made this evening, but also in an article he has published in The National Review of this month. I will not follow the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down into the precedent of 1884. That matter was fully dealt with by my right hon. Friend at the bead of the Government, and it is unnecessary, therefore, that I should again re-open that question. But I will say this: Whatever may be held in respect of the precedent of 1884, and whatever may be the views of those who say that it is the duty of the Government at the present time, or at some time which may be chosen for them by gentlemen sitting on the Benches opposite, to bring forward statements, whatever may be said of that kind the answer is clear: Every Government must choose its own time for making statements of this important character; and the present Government, on their own responsibility, have decided that the present was not the time at which to bring forward in a fragmentary form proposals which they believed ought to be submitted in a complete form in connection with the actual figures of the Estimates. These will in due time be laid before the House with the full confidence that they will receive the support not only of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, but of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who, acting according to the old traditions of Parliament, will lay aside Party for the national interests, and support a Government which is prepared to do its duty in proposing adequate measures—and adequate measures have been promised in the name of the Prime. Minister—for maintaining the relative strength of the Navy of this country as compared with foreign countries. My right hon. 1855 Friend at the head of the Government not only made the answer to which reference has been made this evening, in which he referred to the present, but he made a subsequent answer, in which he extended to the future the responsibility and duty of the Government 1o maintain an adequate relative strength of Naval Forces in this country compared with foreign countries; and any Government worthy of the name will always, if the necessity arises, be under the obligation of proposing to this House adequate measures for the maintenance of that relative strength. We accept what was said by the hon. Member for Argyllshire—and I wish there had been more present to hear him—that either the Government deserves confidence or it does not. If we cannot be trusted to bring forward adequate measures to maintain the accepted policy of this country then by all means turn us out, and send us about our business as being unfit to hold Office for a moment. But if we are in any degree worthy of confidence surely we can be trusted at the proper time to bring forward measures to carry out the principles laid down in the answers given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman opposite went into the question of why 1898 was taken in stating the comparison for the future. My right hon. Friend at the head of the Government explained why. The Government, with the knowledge which they have of the time when certain ships will be finished in. France and Russia, know that it is in 1898, if we ceased building, that the serious disparity which was described by my right hon. Friend would exist. We should, in that event, be behind these two Powers to the extent he mentioned, or, at all events, to the extent of seven or eight battleships. My right hon. Friend gave the number as eight, but, with the knowledge which the Admiralty possess, I am inclined to put it at seven. But that is on a calculation which entirely leaves out what this country may dc during the coming year, while it takes fully into account what France and Russia propose to do in that time, although we cannot be absolutely certain that they will fully carry out these proposals. I prefer not carrying these figures any further. It is perfectly clear what our position is now. Our position now is one of superiority in first-class 1856 battleships, and in April, 1894—thanks partly to the efforts made by the late Government in laying down ships, and thanks partly, I must claim, to the present Board of Admiralty for the celerity with which they have pressed forward the completion of the battleships, which I was glad to hear the noble Lord acknowledge this evening in fitting terms—thanks partly to one Government and partly to the other, we shall have 19 battleships against 14 possessed by France and Russia combined. The noble Lord has stated that the real contest is between the big ships of the one Power and the big ships of the other, and upon that test we stand well in the present year. We stand still better if you add in the smaller class of battleships, which, however, I do not. I rest on the big ships, and in them we have a superiority; and if we do our duty, as the House may have confidence we shall do, we shall not be behind in the year 1898. Now, the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex admitted that the danger was not immediate, but prospective. He went, in his article in The National Review, into a number of small points, into which I am afraid I must presently enter. But on the main point we agree with him. We agree with him that the minimum standard strength of the Navy is equality with the Navies of the two next Powers, France and Russia. I think that statement taken by itself is open to objection, and I fully admit what was stated by other hon. Gentlemen in this House—I think rather over-stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean—namely, that we have special duties to perform. We have also great duties in respect of a far larger commerce than any other country, and, therefore, in respect of cruisers the demands are greater upon us than upon other nations. Therefore, thus far I am perfectly willing to qualify the statement made by the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex, that the minimum standard of strength is equality with the two next Powers—of France and Russia. I go further than the noble Lord, and I say we have special duties, and we have the duty of protecting our commerce. Hence it is necessary that we should in cruisers rank even more strongly than any combination of Powers. The other points, I think, I need not go through. My right 1857 hon. Friend alluded to what the noble Lord said about a great American authority, whom he quoted with becoming respect, but I think he scarcely called attention to the way in which that authority was overthrown by the noble Lord himself, who no sooner quoted the extravagant statement of this gentleman that we ought to build 19 battleships at once than he expressed disagreement with him.
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
The noble Lord has differed from it in Office and differed from it strongly in the recommendations he made in The National Review article. I must say the noble Lord laid great restraint upon himself even in his article; but I am afraid, when he comes to quoting the concluding words of that article to show that he has no animus against the present Admiralty, we cannot entirely accept that statement, especially in view of the present Motion. I will turn to a few statements made at the expense of the present Board of Admiralty, and I make no apology for doing so, because the Board of Admiralty is not able to write review articles or letters to the newspapers, or to pursue courses which become dignified a few months after Office is quitted, but which are eminently undignified, and would not be justified in Ministers holding responsible positions. A great deal has been said in the article, and something has been said to-night by the right hon. Member for the Ormskirk Division as to the commencement of certain battleships being postponed. I have a little story to tell on that subject which I think will throw an absolutely new light upon it. It might be imagined, from what the noble Lord has stated, that this was entirely the act of the present Board of Admiralty. [Lord G. HAMILTON: Hear, hear!] I would remind the noble Lord that in April, 1892, the Board of which he was the head deliberately came to the conclusion to concentrate considerable efforts on the completion of battleships then in progress under the Naval Defence Act—to spend .£90,000 more on certain battleships and one cruiser than had been contemplated in his Estimates. The money for that purpose was to be derived from certain sources, partly through postponing the commencement of two 1858 new battleships. [Lord G. HAMILTON: No, no!] I can prove it to the noble Lord from the official facts which are before us. If the noble Lord challenges me, I am afraid I must carry the matter a little further. The Board of Admiralty came to the decision to approve a certain amended programme for new construction on the 29th April, 1892. This programme included additional expenditure of something like £90,000 upon the battleships and cruisers then in hand under the Naval Defence Act. Against this were set certain savings. These included a reduction on the new first-class battleship which was proposed to be built at Chatham, and on the new ship which was to be built by contract. There was a reduction of £5,000 on each ship during the term of the late Government. I do not find fault with that. It has been our wish also to push on the battleships, so that we shall have as effective a Fleet as possible by April, 1894, when they will be ready, instead of remaining unfinished for a longer time. When we succeeded the noble Lord we succeeded to exactly the same naval advisers as the noble Lord, and, acting on their advice according to the best light we could obtain, we still further pushed on the battleships then building under the Naval Defence Act. The provision made for two new battleships not under that Act—now known as the Majestic and Magnificent—had been reduced to £22,500 and £5,000—mere paper sums. The present Board of Admiralty determined that these paper sums should be spent on the completion of the Naval Defence Act ships; while, in the Estimates for 1893–4, they proposed much larger sums for the Majestic and Magnificent. The noble Lord complains that the Government do not propose the construction of two more battleships; but, acting on the advice of our naval advisers—the best advice obtainable— we came to the conclusion, in view of what a certain Foreign Power was doing, to construct the two largest cruisers ever yet built.
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
The Government fully explained to the House last August what was being done this year.
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
I am coming to the question of this year. Since the Estimates were brought in, in the course of the year, it was strongly pressed on us by our naval advisers that, in place of one of these two cruisers, we should push on the construction of a number of torpedo-boat destroyers, that class of boat being the only weapon with which we can meet the great swarm of torpedo-boats congregated in the ports of our neighbour. To such an extent has the present Board pushed on that class of boat that we have in hand or ordered—and will have in hand by the close of the present financial year—no less than 42 of these torpedo-boat destroyers. I think and hope the House will feel this to be a very fair equivalent; as it is, in the opinion of the greatest naval experts, a more pressing requirement than a new great ship.
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
The hon. Member doubtless thinks a torpedo-boat destroyer can be built in two or three weeks or months. Well, Sir, the Board have in hand by April, 1894, four of the great ships contemplated by the noble Lord, while, in regard to the fifth, we have a real, substantial, necessary, and useful equivalent in the 42 torpedo-boat destroyers. I was asked just now why the Majestic and Magnificent were delayed. I may inform the House, in passing, that, in spite of that delay, the Government anticipate that they will be able to spend all the money voted for new construction. Some delay has been due to pushing to completion Naval Defence Act ships. We are of opinion that the time taken up in construction should be shortened in the dockyards as much as possible. Another cause of delay is that when the terrible disaster happened to the Victoria the Board of Admiralty determined to suspend temporarily the commencement of the Magnificent and Majestic in order to satisfy themselves 1860 whether there was faulty construction in ships of that nature. Supposing that had been found to be the case, and supposing it had been too late to remedy any defect, how foolish the Board would have appeared in the eyes of the House and the country! Therefore, they waited not until the issuing of the Board Minute on the loss of the Victoria, and not until they had gone into every detail of the matter, but until they could confidently say that it was not owing to her construction that the misfortune happened to the Victoria. The commencement of the Majestic and Magnificent was then at once proceeded with. I have now disposed of a good many of the statements made against the present Board by the noble Lord in his article and by my right hon. Friend in the speech he has just delivered. But I repudiate entirely the statement that the Estimates of the present Board consist mainly of proposals postponed from the preceding year, or that we have made smaller provision in our Estimates for new construction. Let the noble Lord go home and study the facts in his private room—let him lay aside that feeling of Party which animates him so strongly this evening, and try to do justice to the present Board by looking further into their Estimates, and he will then find there is not a title of foundation, beyond what I have stated, for that part of his article.
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
Yes, Sir; if the noble Lord will look at page 164 of the Estimates, and will apply a little correction to them with regard to the stores, &c, he will find I am perfectly right, and that he is not right. It is not necessary to go through all the other points raised, but there is one more point to which I would draw attention. The noble Lord refers in his article to some entirely new intelligence which would seem to have reached him since he has been out of Office with respect to French and Russian shipbuilding. I have seen the noble Lord in this House with that valuable handbook before him—Lord Brassey's Naval Annual. Turning to page 412 he will find that the great increase in French expenditure on naval construction took place between 1890 and 1891, when he himself was in Office. Of that 1861 fact, of course, he has been aware from that time till now; but since that rise, which amounted to £400,000, there has been one more rise of £100,000, and then a prospective rise of a little more than £100,000, making together a rise of about £250,000 spread over four years between 1891 and 1894, so that there is really no very new fact with respect to French shipbuilding. Of course the Board are aware that the French have a 10 years' programme. They know what it amounts to in annual expenditure. They know that the expenditure of Russia has also been increased in a similar way by about £200,000. They know that that is a very formidable expenditure; and they are face to face with it. I turn from these petty aspersions. [Cheers.] Does the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen), and those who join him in cheering, imagine that when petty faults are found with the Government in magazine articles and in speeches in this House they are not to be publicly answered by the responsible Minister?
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
It was not the statement, but the manner of stating it.
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
If there was any defect in my manner I apologise. I am sorry if I have offended the acute sensibilities of the right hon. Gentleman; but when people are held up to public reprobation in articles and speeches they must defend themselves. Englishmen naturally do that; and I have, perhaps, caught some of the fighting spirit of the Admiralty. Well, Sir, I turn from that to the speech of the hon. Member for South Islington. That was a speech which, though it was exaggerated, in my opinion, on certain points, was worthy of a Member of the Opposition. I agree entirely with the hon. Member's view that this country must keep pace with foreign nations in the matter of shipbuilding. The Government are fully alive to it, and, in conclusion, I have only to say that the preparation of our Estimates, with a view to meeting those requirements of the country, is now far advanced; that a scheme of shipbuilding has been for some months, before even all this outcry arose —and not in the least in consequence of it—in preparation by the Board of Admiralty, which, if not quite complete, is yet in a stage which enables us to 1862 consider how to adjust it to dockyard and other requirements.
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
The First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord Spencer) and I have both stated in Parliament that we are bound to look forward, and to go on building ships in view of what is being done in the Navies of other countries; and the strongest assurance that that will be done may be drawn from the speech of the Prime Minister. Nor are the present Admiralty neglecting the question of manning the Navy. This was left to us as a legacy by our predecessors, and it has obliged us to make large additions to the Estimates that are now being prepared, over and above the current year's additions, for the manning of the new ships. With regard to the Works Vote, it is one that requires special attention now, and provision is being made for works of great importance. The House may rely that the Government will not neglect the duty devolving upon them; that they will maintain the strength of the Navy, as, indeed, any Government must do unless it is absolutely unfit for the position it occupies.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, we have listened, I am sure with great interest, to what I will call a characteristic speech, and one which is extremely creditable to my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty. It is a speech which I should describe as Departmental, and I think hereafter it may remain as a model of its class. The duty of a Member of the Government, who is not in the Cabinet, and who represents his Department, is to fill a certain part on an occasion of this kind. He is permitted—he is even encouraged—in the first place, to indulge in generalities, provided none of them commit the Department to which he belongs. He may say, for example, that "It is impossible to consider this great question until the Estimates are before the House in a complete form." He may say that the Government of which he has the honour to be a Member is "Deeply sensible of its responsibilities and will always fulfil them." He may go on to observe that "The Government is either worthy of confidence or it is not;" and he may wind up by a statement that the Department to which 1863 he belongs, and every member of it down to the lowest official, will do his duty if he dies for it. And then he will sit down. My right hon. Friend has made a speech of about half an hour.
§ An hon. MEMBER: An hour.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Really? I did not know it was so long—in which he has not touched a single vital point in the whole controversy. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lockwood) is a great authority upon law, especially upon the Law of Pickwick, and I think he will bear me out that, according to the law of Pickwick, the duty of a junior counsel is so to deal with his case that when he sits down nobody shall understand anything about it. That is very much the condition in which the matter has been left by my right hop. Friend. I have derived only two clear admissions or statements from it. For a considerable time he quoted figures which must have had a very confusing effect on the House, by which he appeared to take credit for the action of the present Government in the extreme energy they have displayed in reference to six battleships and cruisers now upon the stocks. But when you get to the kernel of the whole matter, what does it amount to? It amounts to this—that of the six battleships and cruisers not a single one was proceeded with up to the present month. Up to the present date, I think, only £12,000 has been spent in wages by the Admiralty upon new construction. That may be right or it may be wrong. Acting, I suppose, upon the information in their possession, the Government have made a great gap in the work of Naval construction, and for 12 months they have practically done absolutely nothing. If there were any charge against the Government—I do not understand that the object of the Debate is to make any charge against the Government—it would be that, having regard to the exigencies of the situation, they had not been sufficiently active. The answer of the right hon. Gentleman is that during the whole of 12 months, although they have known of the progress that was being made in other Navies, they have spent £12,000 in wages upon new construction. I turn from the speech of the Secretary to the Admiralty to a speech of much greater importance—to a speech which, if it had 1864 been the only speech, would have made the evening memorable—I mean the speech of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean Division. That was not a Party speech; but it was a speech admirable in tone and in knowledge, moderate as no one can deny, but, at the same time, if I may judge by the impression which it made upon the House, a most important and epoch-marking speech. My right hon. Friend has an advantage in this Debate, which I may claim to share with him—we are both independent in this sense—that we do not belong to the present Government, and we did not belong to the last; and, accordingly, we can look upon him as possessing impartiality in a greater degree than it is possessed by any of those who in either the present or the last Government have been responsible for the defences and administration of the country. Well, Sir, speaking from that independent position, what did the right hon. Gentleman say? He pointed out to the House in language which is incontrovertible, in arguments which cannot be disputed, that the present situation is altogether unsatisfactory to those who desire to see unquestioned the supremacy of the British Navy. The position of the Government is that our present state is not only satisfactory—I forget the adjective used by the Prime Minister—but I think he said supremely satisfactory. ["No, no!"] Well, I do not recollect the second adjective, but it meant that the position was more than satisfactory—more than could be reasonably demanded of the Government. I admit that my noble Friend the late First Lord of the Admiralty so far concurs in that expression of opinion by the Prime Minister as to declare that the present position, at any rate, was sufficiently provided for. That is not the opinion of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, and it is not the opinion of any single man who is recognised as an authority upon the defences of the country. I am not speaking of officials on either side. I am speaking of experts. [A laugh.] There is an inclination in some quarters to despise the opinion of experts. I have received a document from an extremely well-intentioned but most mischievous body—the Peace Society— in which those who are responsible for the Society, like all persons who claim to be 1865 "unco guid," impute the most evil motives to those from whom they differ. In this document it was stated that this was an agitation got up for political purposes and to serve personal interests. Now, as to the first of these statements I shall not dwell upon it. I will only say that the agitation is strictly an outside agitation, and in the first instance, at any rate, had no political support from one side more than from another; but I do attach some importance to the second charge, that the agitation is brought forward to serve personal interests. I say that is am unworthy imputation and the height of folly. What would you say if an invalid down with influenza or the scarlet fever said to his doctor, "Oh, I am not going to believe you or attend to your prescriptions; you have personal interests in keeping me in bed?" In what way does the present situation differ? The only persons to whom we can appeal are persons of experience and knowledge. How are we to obtain information? Is it supposed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Prime Minister himself, with all his great qualities and capacities, is able to decide what battleship of the British Navy is to be pitted against a Russian, a French, or an Italian ship? How are we to deal with these scientific and technical questions if we have no expert knowledge at all? We must go to someone who has life-long experience to see that the security of the country is fully guaranteed. I say that if you go to any such authorities you will not take the optimistic views of the Treasury Bench. We are told that we are to preserve unquestioned the supremacy of the British Navy. Will it be questioned that if war were declared to-morrow the British Navy in the Mediterranean would have to cut and run—if it could run? ["Oh!"] Will that be denied? It is absurd for anyone nowadays to attempt to throw dust in the public eyes. [Murmurs of dissent.] I hear murmurs of reprobation. I, forsooth, am disclosing State secrets. Does anyone imagine that the French, or the Italian, or the Russian Government is not perfectly acquainted with our situation? Does anyone suppose that in the present disparity between our forces and the forces of other Powers in the Mediterranean we could possibly hold our own there? ["Yes!"] Well, I say that this is disputed by every naval 1866 authority. And I say more than that: I say, as my right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean said, that you cannot at the present moment count with absolute certainty upon masking and blockading the vessels of Foreign Powers in their own ports if there was a naval combination against us. Does the House realise what that means? If you cannot do that, and if you are obliged to retire within your own ports, I do not say that you may not be able to protect this country from invasion—though there may be some doubt about that—but you cannot protect the great lines of commerce and supply. A Member of the Cabinet, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) says that we should leave the Mediterranean. That right hon. Gentleman, a Member of an Administration which is pledged to the maintenance of the unquestioned supremacy of the British Navy, openly publishes his opinion that in case of war we are to leave the Mediterranean. I am supposing that such a movement were practicable, for with regard to it our adversaries in that part of the world would have something to say. Supposing it would be practicable, what would be the consequences? The consequences would be that the Suez Canal would be closed to us, and that we should lose the whole trade of the Levant and Mediterranean. But a much more serious consequence might ensue from any such inferiority as is alleged by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean, and which has not been controverted by anybody speaking on behalf of the Government. We might have one of those great routes of commerce threatened, unprotected, and abandoned to attack—one of those routes on which we absolutely depend for our supplies of food and raw material. It is an immense supposition to suppose that in time of war we are to be cut off from our supplies of food. It is conceivable, given a certain amount of time, we might at great cost supply the want, but we could not supply the want of raw material, and the majority of our most important industries would languish and perish in the case I have supposed, and which my right hon. Friend has stated to be the certain result of the present condition of the British Navy. I say that the Government themselves will 1867 not pretend that the present state of things is satisfactory. Even if they allege that we have enough ships, I do not think they will say we have enough docks; I do not think they will say we have enough men; and I am very doubtful that we have enough or the right sort of guns. So far as the great majority of the House are concerned—and I include myself—we are ignorant persons, and we do not know these things until they are brought to our knowledge by the experts; but is it conceivable, when they are brought to our knowledge and when these facts cannot be denied, that we are going to rest satisfied with the platitudes of the Secretary to the Admiralty that the Government knows its duty and will be prepared to do it some day or another? That is the state of the case at present. Now, what is the state of the case as to the future? To put it in the simplest form, according to Lord Brassey, who is a good anthority, Russia has undertaken an annual expenditure, which is certain to continue for some years, of £2,000,000 a year; France has undertaken an expenditure of £2,800,000 a year—together £5,400,000 for new construction alone. At the present time our expenditure on new construction is a little over £3,000,000 a year—that is to say, these two Great Powers are going to spend for the next few years £2,500,000 per annum more than we do with regard to new construction. We are putting our national life at the mercy of this combination. Let there be no mistake, no technicalities. I defy the Chancellor of the Exchequer to deny the fact, which I state on the authority of Lord Brassey, that if these Powers are going to make this increased expenditure above ours without our making a corresponding effort, whatever may be our present position, in a short time the supremacy of the sea will have gone from us, and we shall be unable, except in a lengthened period which we may not have the opportunity of using, to retrieve the situation. I am not going to charge the Government in this matter. I have been unable to follow the Prime Minister—who appears to have determined to treat this matter as a Party question—in his estimate of the meaning and importance of the Resolution moved by the noble Lord. If the Government had said when Notice was given of that 1868 Resolution, and when they were asked whether they would give a day for the discussion, that it was their intention at the beginning of Business to-day to make a similar statement to that made by Lord North brook under the Premiership of the same person who now governs—who is now responsible for the government of the country—it is certain that the Motion would have been withdrawn; that, much time would have been saved, and we might have gone on to the consideration of that business of Parish Councils which the Prime Minister has now told us is, in his opinion, of equal, if it be not of greater, importance than the security of the nation. I do not pretend, to suppose that the Government are not aware of the facts which have been laid before the House to-night. I have no-doubt that they are well aware that our supremacy is imperilled, and it is their duty to take the necessary steps to secure it. Then, Sir, under these circumstances,, why on earth should they refuse to give —I will not say to the Opposition, I will not even say to the House of Commons, but to the country—an assurance of their intentions? Sir, instead of that, they treat the matter as a Party question, and they meet the Resolution by demanding: from the House what is nothing more nor less than an absolute Vote of Confidence. Our object is to get information-[Laughter.] I know that hon. Members-on this side of the House are disposed to disbelieve every statement which a Member of the Opposition makes, but for my life I cannot see what cause they have to question that statement. I say our object was to get information, and it must be perfectly clear to the House that if we had succeeded in obtaining from the Government definite assurances of the kind which were given nine years ago under similar circumstances, it must be perfectly clear to hon. Members who have their suspicions of us that our object would have been defeated and we should not have made any Party capital out of the information which we had then obtained. If now we are able to obtain any Party advantage whatsoever, it is not owing to our superior tactics, but it is owing to the very false tactics pursued by the Government. This Government, appears to adopt a singular and exceptional course. It evades great questions such as that now put. It asks for con- 1869 fidence, but never shows it. Now, when I said that the Government asked for a Vote of Confidence there were cheers from hon. Members behind me. They think nothing can be more natural than that the Government should, from time to time, come to them, their faithful followers, and ask for what they are well assured beforehand they will always get. But, in spite of that assurance, I ask hon. Members to consider whether they are not setting up a very dangerous precedent? It is all very easy to ask, as the Government does ask, when a question is raised of national defence and national security, that no questions shall be put to them and that they shall have a blank cheque. Of course they can get it. Any Government can get it under similar circumstances; but is it really wise to put this confidence in any Government? I treat it absolutely apart from any Party question. I say any Government, and I ask for assent according or not as my observations will apply to all Governments. If they apply only to the present Government, hon. Members are right in receiving my observations with suspicion; but what I say is this: It cannot be for the good of the country; it cannot be satisfactory to hon. Members, that periodically we should have these panics as to the condition of national security. In the last 15 years we have had three separate occasions on which there has been outside pressure, outside demand for great precautions to be taken and great additions to be made to the means of national defence; and mark this, that in every case these demands came from outside. They were not initiated by the Government of the day, and yet the Government of the day in two of these cases, and I fancy in the third also, will admit that the demand is justifiable, and will be induced by the demand to make further exertions. Whatever Government you have in power it is well that there should be a certain amount of responsibility vested in the House of Commons as well as in the Government, and that there should be a little pressure to overcome the apathy of the Government Department and to overcome the permanent, persistent, and active opposition of the Treasury. I do not care what Government is in power, every Government has to struggle with the opposition of the Treasury to any expenditure of 1870 this kind. The idea of the Treasury is to save money in time of peace. Yes; and the result is the waste of money like water in time of war. After all, there might be some justification for such a policy in old days, when you would have full and sufficient warning and time, though at very heavy cost, to make up for the neglect of previous years; but now that time will be denied to you. Now, it is perfectly certain that if war breaks out it will be short and sharp, and if you are not ready at the moment of its declaration no money that you can spend, not tens of millions or hundreds of millions, will secure you from defeat and disaster. My argument, therefore, is that it is not desirable to give a blank cheque in this matter to the present or any other Government. Suppose, at the time of the Northbrook Programme or of the Naval Defence Act, the Government had made the increase of the Fleet a Party question, and asked their Party to give them a Party Vote of Confidence, do you, who happen to be in an accidental majority, now imagine that what you are ready to do for your Government, this majority, much larger than yours, would not have done for theirs? If they had done as you are doing, what would have been the result? They would have strengthened the resistance of the Party in the Government and the Party outside that is always opposed to all expenditure of this kind even for purposes of national defence, and I do not believe we should now have any Northbrook Programme or Naval Defence Act. If the position be now satisfactory, as you say it is, it is only because of the exertions which the Government have made, and the exertions which the Admiralty have made in obedience to popular pressure. If we are now going to give an unquestioning Vote of Confidence to the present Government, as the majority seems prepared to do, when it is quite unnecessary to ask for it, and when the Resolution might have been met by a simple form of explanation, I think they will find that they have induced apathy in regard to this matter of vital concern. If they do so they will have only themselves to blame, and (he responsibility will rest upon their shoulders if this programme which is promised and the Estimates which are shortly to be con- 1871 sidered should prove to be altogether inadequate and insufficient. I have great fear that they will prove to be inadequate and insufficient. Nothing which has been said to-night gives me any confidence that even now the Government will see the gravity of the situation in which the country has been placed. I am not blaming them in the slightest in this matter—I do not say by their fault, but by the action of other Powers and the general circumstances in which we find ourselves. What was it that the Prime Minister said—when we put aside all of his speech which was taken up with Party recrimination and technical complaints of the unprecedented character of the Resolution—what do we find? We find in his speech a most optimistic view of the present situation and even of the future. The Prime Minister said that in 1884 the Government met similar demands from the Opposition by making an immediate explanation and a declaration in a general form of their intentions. These were accepted by the Opposition of that day as perfectly satisfactory. When asked why he does not do the same thing today he says because the circumstances are totally different, because then there was a solidity and substance in the anxiety which prevailed, because then there was an emergency, and now there is nothing of the kind. But let hon. Members who support the Government remember what it is they are supporting. Interpreting the language of the Prime Minister as I do, it means that at the present time there is no emergency, not even the substantial and solid ground for the request for information which there was in 1884. That is not our view. Our view, for reasons which were given with admirable force and cogency by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean, is that the crisis is at our very doors, and that it may be a question of a very short time whether the danger will not be imminent of our losing our position as a nation. That is our opinion; at all events, it is the opinion, I believe, of many of the supporters of the Government. We are told that the Fleet is at present adequate to every emergency. As I .have already spoken on that subject, I will say nothing more now than that such an opinion is entirely contrary to the view which is, I believe, held not only by experts in this country, but by every 1872 authority on naval strategy, by every Naval Power in the civilised world. That is not all. There is the optimism of the right hon. Gentleman, not merely as to the present, but as to the future. He tells the House that in 1897–98 the British Nary, if not a single additional ship were built, would be in a majority so far as tonnage is concerned over the Navies of France and Russia. My right hon. Friend laid great stress upon tonnage; he admitted that numerically we should be inferior, but he pointed out that we should consider weight as well as numbers, and that so far as tonnage is concerned we should be superior. How can a Government which believes that four years hence, without adding a single ton to the British Navy, we shall be in tonnage in a position of superiority— how can they come before the House at the time of the Estimates and ask for a large sum, not merely to continue, but to increase the normal shipbuilding?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, and I am not going to suppose for one moment that the Government would dare to say that they were not going to build any new ships for four years. The line of my argument is that if they can now get up and say that even if they did not build any ships they would still be in a majority of tonnage; it is not likely that they will propose to build as many ships as we think to be necessary. [Ministerial cries of "We!"] I used the word "We." I see at once that that raises a Party contention. Whatever we think must be wrong in the opinion of hon. Members. I will not say "we,"—I will say that they will not build such a number of ships as, in the opinion of a great number of their supporters, is necessary. Now, will anyone deny that? An inquisitive friend of mine (Mr. Roby) asks, what is the evidence. For, I suppose, a quarter of an hour I have been endeavouring to show what the evidence is. I have pointed out that the Prime Minister, whom my hon. Friend follows, has stated that four years hence, if no ships are built, we shall still be in a position of superiority.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
If I have made myself clear to the House, I think I have shown that under existing circumstances either the Prime Minister or his supporters must be inconsistent. Either the Prime Minister will build more ships than he thinks necessary in order to satisfy his supporters—[Cries of "Oh!"] —I am stating a mathematical problem —or else his supporters must follow his lead and accept a less number of ships being built than they think to be necessary. What the supporters of the Government to whom I have referred think to be necessary as the minimum is that we shall have as many ships as Russia and France combined. That was admitted by the Secretary to the Admiralty (Sir U. Kay-Shuttleworth), and I suppose he is sufficiently official for my hon. Friend. I have pointed out that at the present time the Russian and French Navies are building at the rate of £2,500,000 a year more than we are. Therefore, in order to equal them, we shall have to spend £2,500,000 a year more than at present. Is it conceivable that if the Prime Minister is convinced that without building a single ship we shall be superior in tonnage to France and Russia four years hence—is it conceivable that he is going to spend £2,500,000 a year more than the present expenditure? It appears to me that, to say the least of it, that statement of my right hon. Friend is a very unfortunate preface to a policy of naval extension such as I believe the great majority of the country expect. Whatever justification there may be for criticism upon the part of the Government as to the manner in which this subject has been brought before the House, that does not afford any reason for a refusal of the information we are pressing for. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made great fun of the noble Lord opposite because he bad said he would not ask for details. He seemed to think it was absolutely ridiculous to suppose that the Government could state anything in the nature of general intentions or general principles without interfering with the labours of all the officials in all the Departments con- 1874 cerned. Surely the answer to that is that what we ask for now is exactly the information that was given in 1884. In that year Lord Northbrook made a statement, giving to the House not details of the whole programme of the Government, but particulars of the immediate intentions of the Government with regard to the building of the great battleships which form so important an element in our discussion. Not only so; but as a result of that declaration and the action of the House of Commons the Government was enabled, without waiting for the Estimates, at once to put out contracts and to secure immediate action. Surely it is not an unfriendly thing to the Government to ask them to make a similar statement with a similar purpose. If they are prepared to bring forward a programme that will satisfy their own supporters they may rest assured that, so far as it goes, it will have all possible support from the Members of the Opposition. We may think it insufficient, but certainly we shall not put any obstacles in the way of its realisation. Well, Sir, the Government refuse absolutely to give the information asked for, not merely by the Opposition but by the country. As I understand, the answer of the Government is that to do so would be to transfer their responsibility to the House of Commons. It seems that the Government forgets that the House of Commons has a joint responsibility with the Government in all matters that affect the security of the station, and we cannot divest ourselves of it. It is not enough to assure us that at some time which the Government think fitting they will make some proposals which they think will be adequate. We have a right, the moment a situation of proved danger is established, to ask what their intentions are, in order that we may criticise, approve, or condemn them. I think that although unfortunately this Debate will terminate in a Party division, it will not have been altogether useless if we have brought to the mind of the House, and in any way to the mind of the country, what are the necessities of the situation. I suppose we may hope that about February or March some kind of programme will be brought forward. What I beg to urge on the Government is that it shall not be, as previous programmes have been, directed merely to the temporary emergency. It 1875 is not enough, I think, in view of our past experience, to rest upon a programme which is to be spasmodically introduced once in every five years. We ought to have established some kind of principle which is independent of any change of Government which shall be accepted, if you like, by a Resolution of the whole House, which shall be satisfactory to the country, and which will make the country absolutely safe in regard to any future emergency. I do not think it is too much to ask for the declaration of such a principle by the Government. I will not do them the injustice to suppose that they are going to deal with this matter in any haphazard way. They must have their own ideas of what is necessary in regard to foreign nations and to the work of the British Navy. I do not care what the formula is, provided that it is universally accepted after sufficient discussion and criticism. It may be, as has been stated by some, that the British Navy should at all times be at least equal to the Navies of any other two Powers, and I do not prejudge the discussion on such a proposal. That may be, as to my right hon. Friend (Sir C. Dilke) it seems to be, altogether inadequate for the duties which the British Navy is called upon to do. It may be that a better formula would be, as my right hon. Friend suggested, that for any three battleships built by any naval combination against this country we should build five, and that for every cruiser built by the same combination we should build two. There is no doubt that if that formula were adopted the Admiralty would have a duty cast upon it which even the Treasury itself could not prevent it from performing; the country would be satisfied and at rest, and we should cease to be disturbed by these continued panics. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might say that would involve the country in great expense. I honestly believe it would be the most economical course the country could follow. What is the object of this continual competition between nations regarding Naval expenditure? If it were absolutely certain that we were going to build on a fixed principle, and that every expenditure of £1,000,000 by any combination against us would be met by a similar expenditure of £1,000,000 or more by this country, all object for aggressive expenditure by other nations would be 1876 taken away. They would feel then that whatever they did, however much they spent they could not obtain their object; they could not dispute our supremacy of the sea, and under these circumstances I believe they would soon give up what must be a barren and a hopeless undertaking. Remember that when other nations build ships it cannot be said that their primary object is the defence of their existence. When other nations build ships they may be instruments by the use of which they may use to the best advantage their incontestible supremacy in Land Forces. Do bear in mind how completely the conditions of this country in regard to other countries have been altered. Owing to the conscription abroad and to the enormous forces which under it are collected by the great Military Powers of the world, we have to all intents and purposes ceased to be a Military Power. We are bound to have an Army, and that Army may be sufficient to deal with any chance invasion by any small body of troops which may slip through the Fleets, and effect a landing on these shores. It may also be fully sufficient to protect our possessions abroad if we have the mastery of the sea. But even with the mastery of the sea we could not if we wished use our troops for any aggressive purposes, and without the mastery of the sea we cannot maintain our hold over our Colonies and possessions or maintain the supplies and stores which are requisite to the very existence of this country or even protect the country against invasion and against all the consequences which would follow. Well, I say that under circumstances and conditions like these, which must be admitted by every impartial and patriotic man, the issues are so tremendous, and the consequences of any false step or neglect or inefficiency on our part would be so disastrous, that we might be excused for pressing the Government to relieve our minds, and to give us more information than they have yet given us. I think we might urge them to make us absolutely safe without being accused of being advocates of bloated armaments, and of being aggressive or desirous of quarrelling with our neighbours, or of being spoken of as Party politicians anxious to advantage our side by a petty and unworthy manœuvre.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT, Derby)
I do not know whether the object of the speech to which we have just listened was to persuade us that this is not a Party Debate. It was hardly necessary that the right hon. Gentleman should have taken an hour in persuading the House and the country that he has the worst possible opinion of Her Majesty's present Government. But that is not the subject as I conceive which interests either the House or the country, and therefore I will pass by the greater part—I will say almost the whole—of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and come to a statement of facts which do concern the House and the country, and which, I think, it is their interest to know. This subject has been treated, I think, with a good deal of ignorance and with some misrepresentation, which has led to a total misconception of the present and the future condition of things. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, not content with condemning the Government for saying that the present condition of the British Navy is satisfactory, and that its supremacy is secured at present at least, condemns the noble Lord opposite for having made the same assertion. He knows that we are wrong.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
He knows that the noble Lord is wrong. But the noble Lord and we have the advantage, at all events, of having the information from the people who know best—namely, the professional advisers of the Admiralty, and when we say that the existing condition of things with respect to the British Navy is satisfactory, we and the noble Lord speak the opinion of the responsible professional advisers of the British Admiralty. I will tell you exactly how these things stand. The right hon. Gentleman talks of experts. Well, who are the experts if they are not the professional sailors who advise one Government and another? My right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean referred to a statement which I had made and which I would not have made unless I had believed that I had satisfied myself of its absolute truth, the statement, namely, that the supremacy of the British Navy is at this moment 1878 absolute. I will now state, upon the authority of the Admiralty, in what degree that supremacy is secured. I cannot reproach myself with not having taken the pains to obtain information from the best experts whom we have. I have spent several days at the Admiralty in examining this question with the assistance of the First Lord of the Admiralty and of his naval advisers. They were good enough to draw up for me, at my special request—because I fully admit that it is the responsibility of the Treasury to provide the means for the unquestioned supremacy of the British Navy, and therefore it was my duty to satisfy myself as to the actual facts of the case—a paper which I hold in my hand stating what is the relative position of the British Navy with reference to those of other countries. Now, I am not going through all the classes of ships, for that would take too much of the time of the House, nor is it necessary. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said, "What is the use of the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressing opinions on this subject." I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I am giving the opinions of those whose opinions ought to be respected by the House, and will be respected by the country. The right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary to the Admiralty said there was a. great difficulty about classification, that the only safe method to adopt was to take and put ship for ship.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Yes, and I quite believe it. Therefore, what I did ask of the Admiralty was to put ship for ship, according to their judgment in the matter, and these are the facts which I am going to give to the House. I take what has been said by the noble Lord opposite, that the supremacy of the sea —I am not speaking now of distant waters, but of home waters, and the Mediterranean—depends upon first-class battleships. I have a list of the first-class battleships of England and France and Russia, the authentic list as supplied to me by the Admiralty. I will now tell the House what the ships are that England has at present in home waters. The right hon. Gentleman said, or some other Member in the course of the Debate said, 1879 that it depended a good deal upon what the names of these ships were. I will give the names. That is interesting and important. The ships that England has at this moment in home waters are the Collingwood, the Rodney, the Howe, the Camperdown, the Benbow, the Anson, the Trafalgar, the Sans Pareil, the Nile, the Royal Sovereign, the Empress of India, the Hood, the Ramillies, the Centurion, the Resolution, and the Barfleur. The Repulse, the Revenge, and the Royal Oak are to be completed in this financial year under the completion of the Naval Defence Act, and those three ships, with the others I have mentioned, make up the number of 19 at the close of the financial year. That is the strength of the battleships of England. Now I have a list given to me by the Admiralty of the battleships of France. They are the Duperré, the Formidable, the Dévastation, the Hoche, the Marceau, the Neptune, the Courbet, the Magenta, the Baudin, and the Brennus. The situation, then, as between English and French Fleets, is as 19 to 10, and, but for the loss of the Victoria, would have been 20 to 10. The hon. and gallant Admiral, looking back to the days of Nelson, said, "In former days you had two to one of the great battleships of England against the battleships of France." You have two to one now, and yet in the face of that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham says, "If war broke out tomorrow you would have to cut and run from the Mediterranean." I suppose the persons who instructed the right hon. Gentleman have reversed the old saying that one Englishman was a match for two of any other country, and now one of any other country is worth two Englishmen. That is the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman. You are to cut and run from the Mediterranean. Why, if you have got 19 ships, are you to cut and run? [Cries of "Russia! "] Wait a minute, I am coming to Russia.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
As the right hon. Gentleman is commenting on my speech I would remind him that I spoke of a combination of Fleets. I did not say we should have to cut and run from France alone.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I will go on directly to Russia. [Interruption.] 1880 Surely, this is a matter you might listen to quietly. I am endeavouring to tell you what is the condition of the British Navy. Why should we have these Party jeers while I make the statement? I have told you that is the condition in numbers. More than that, the greater proportion of these British ships are new ships of about 14,000 tons, as against, French ships of which the average is 10,000 tons. I am not laying too much weight upon that; but, cæteris paribus, 14,000 tons is stronger than 10,000 tons. There is another thing which is not unimportant in that matter. Upon an average the English ships are more than a knot superior in speed to the French. That is the present relative condition of the Navies of England and France, or rather it is what it will be at the end of the current financial year. What is the state of the Russian Navy? How many first-class battleships has Russia at the present time in European waters? I will give you the reason for drawing a distinction between European waters and what I may call Asiatic waters—I refer, of course, to the Black Sea. Russia has at present in the Baltic, whence it could be moved to the Mediterranean, one battleship, the Navarin; and on the recent visit of the Russian Fleet to the Mediterranean I am told she had not a single fighting ship there—not one that could be put in the line of battle. Therefore, the present force of the combined Navies of Russia and France, as far as the Channel and the Mediterranean are concerned, is 11 as against 19 British. It is said that Russia has other ships in the Black Sea; and that is true. But how are those ships coming into the Mediterranean? They must break the ban of Europe; for the Russian Fleet cannot come through the Bosphorus into the Mediterranean without, in the first place, I suppose, capturing Constantinople, and at any rate arraying against itself the Powers of Europe. In the Black Sea at the present time there are three first-class Russian battleships. If you add those to the others you will then have 14 ships of the combined Navies against 19 British ships. I say that, in my opinion, that is a satisfactory condition of a present superiority of the British over the combined 1881 Fleets of Russia and of France. These are facts which cannot be denied. They are the actual facts as regards the present relative position. The noble Lord, as the Minister responsible for the Naval Defence Act, who expended £20,000,000 in order to put the British Navy in a satisfactory condition, could hardly be expected to get up, before the term of the building had expired, and say that that Act had not produced a satisfactory result in respect of the present supremacy of the British Navy. What a condemnation that would have been of the Government of which the noble Lord was a Member and of the Act which he brought forward! That is the actual condition of things. And now for the future. Here, again, I am going to take all the ships that are now in process of construction—that is to say, of which the keels are already laid, and which we know are being built. I have had to ask the same authorities what are the dates at which these ships will be built, because one of the fallacies by which the public mind has been a bused is the lumping together of ships which will not be finished for four years, and treating them as on a par with ships that will be finished in three months. The year 1898 has been taken by my right hon. Friend, because it is the year in which it is expected that all the ships now in process of construction by all countries will be completed. Of the English, there are the Renown, which will be finished in 1896–7; the Majestic and the Magnificent, which are only just begun, and which we expect to finish in 1896–7; and therefore these, added to the others, will before 1898 give England 22 first-class battleships. In France there will be added in 1895–6 —about a year and a half hence—three French ships, raising the number of the French first-class battleships to 13. In the year 1897–8 there will be added two more, making the total 15. So that in the year 1898 the relative strength of the French and English Navies will be 15 first-class battleships to 22. That is the position in respect of the ships now in process of building. As to the Russians, they have one battleship in European waters and three in the Black Sea. Two more are building in the Black Sea, and will be completed in 1895–6, and there are three 1882 others building which will be completed in 1897–8. These will make altogether four Russian battleships in European waters and five in the Black Sea. That is the real condition of the future; so that the House may now see what the actual condition of things is and what it will be in 1898. That is a statement which I believe, if it had been known to the British public, would have removed a great part of the alarm which has been created, and we should not have had tonight the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that if war were now declared against us we should have to cut and run from the Mediterranean. How many battleships are the French going to have in the Mediterranean on the hypothesis of the right hon. Gentleman that we should have to cut and run from these waters? If they put eight there they will have only two in the Channel against our seven. It is only a question of distribution. But, whatever way you arrange the distribution, you will always be able to put two battleships to one of the French. Well, that is an arithmetical proposition.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The Blake, as I should have thought the hon. Member would have known, is not a first-class battleship. She is a first-class cruiser; and I am speaking of first-class line of battleships in European waters. At present there is, in my opinion, a perfectly satisfactory supremacy of the English Navy. Anybody who doubts that 19 to 11 is a satisfactory supremacy must be a person holding different opinions from mine. The question is as to the future. There is no doubt that France and Russia are completing ships more rapidly than we are. I confess I do not adopt the economical doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. He says that if you only build to a greater and faster degree, the other Powers will not think it worth while to go on building. That is not my experience; neither is it the experience of the Military Powers of Europe. In my belief, the more you build ships or increase your Army, the more will the other side be led to do the same; and I believe that the more rapid building of the French and Russians is due to the example we set in the Naval Defence 1883 Act. As regards the future, do not for a moment doubt that we mean to maintain the supremacy of the British Navy; we claim to watch and examine and keep pace with the Navies of the world. We hold as strongly as you do— as any man in this House can hold—that the greatness, the might, and the existence of England depends upon her Navy and its supremacy. We hold that the Government are bound in the interests of this country to satisfy themselves of- the facts with reference to the supremacy, and not to be led away by the wild talk and misrepresentation which, in my opinion, has for some weeks very much abused the mind of the British public. I have stated to the House the facts as I have ascertained them. I have spared no pains in informing myself upon that subject. I believe that the facts I have laid before the House are facts which cannot be disputed. At all events, they come from the highest authority from which either the House or the Government could derive them. When was it discovered this great peril was upon us? The noble Lord frankly told us he had not discovered it in March last. Aye! but he had not discovered it in August last. On August 28 this was his opinion of the situation:—At the beginning of 1892 I was urged by several of my naval friends to try and elaborate a fresh scheme of naval shipbuilding for the purpose of gradually taking the place of that which was then lapsing. I felt, however, it would hardly be proper to undertake such a task on the eve of a General Election. If it had gone favourably to the Government of the day we should have been able to elaborate our own scheme and push it on; but if, on the other hand, the Election had gone against us, and a great scheme had been left for our successors to deal with, they might fairly and legitimately have said that they could hardly make themselves responsible for a scheme as to which they had not been consulted, but the whole responsibility of which they would have to bear. Yet, although I abstained from laying before the House any large scheme, I made the most careful investigation as to what was necessary, and I laid before the House a modest programme for the purpose of making good for one year only the wear and tear of the Fleet.Now, you have heard of these gigantic projects of ships and millions of money, but this is what in August last was the view of the noble Lord: He said the intentions of the late Board were to lay down three battleships in the year just ter- 1884 minated, and to lay down two in the present year.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
That was in 1893, so that there was no symptom throughout the whole of that speech of this terrible alarm, created by the shipbuilding of foreign countries. What he did was to advise the Admiralty to repair the Howe and to supply the place of the Victoria. That was the practical advice he gave in the month of August, 1893. This sudden alarm has arisen during the last three or four months. It seems to me it has been founded upon a complete misapprehension of the existing state of affairs. Our position is that the care of the British Fleet has not been neglected, either by our predecessors or by ourselves, and the consequence of that is that we have at this moment the supremacy the British Fleet ought to have. In the future we are prepared to see that that supremacy is maintained. We have some right to ask of this House and of the country, until we have failed in the performance of that duty, that they shall give us their confidence that we shall do in the future, as we have done in the present and in the past, what is necessary to secure the supremacy of the Navy of England.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square), who was received with cries of "Divide!" said: I have got some title to speak. What I was going to say, when I was interrupted by a not too courteous exclamation, was that at this hour it was impossible to make a speech. I simply want to call attention to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has now given us a certain list. He said that list had been prepared three weeks ago; and it would have been more satisfactory for the conduct of this Debate if at its beginning, instead of at its close, we had had this list before us. I wish also to call attention to this: that there are other ships besides the battleships which will take their place in the line of battle. The right hon. Gentleman has left out the whole of those powerful coast-defence ships whose armour and whose guns are perfectly strong enough to enable them to tackle a line of battleship. Therefore, although the right hon. Gentleman had no intention of misleading the House, it would not be safe to 1885 rely upon that list which the right hon. Gentleman has placed before us without examining these second-class battleships and the coast-defence ships, the neglect of which may plunge us in the very greatest danger. I will only add that, while the Government asks the House to rely upon their exertions, no one single supporter of the Government has got up to express his concurrence with the Government or his belief in the safety of our shores. Only one Member spoke on behalf of the Government, and he was a Member who attended the meeting in the City to express his belief that our armaments were at present inefficient. That | is the position of the Debate, and I think the proper deductions may be drawn from it.
§ MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
said, he would not have risen at that late hour had not the right hon. Member, for West Birmingham sneered at the Peace Society. It was not the first time that he had sneered at the Peace Society and at him (Mr. Cremer), whose name he persistently coupled with it, although he (Mr. Cremer) had before stated that he was not connected with that respectable Body. The right hon. Member had also stated that the Motion had been brought forward because of outside pressure; but there was no public evidence of anything of the kind, or of public alarm as to the state of the Navy? He had watched very carefully the way in which the scare had been manufactured during the last two months. It began with some alarmist articles in magazines and reviews; then it was taken up by certain gentlemen who were supposed to have something to do with the City, and finally it was re-echoed by journals which supported the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and these were the grounds on which they were asked to believe that alarm existed in the public mind. Only one public meeting had been held in favour of the pro- 1886 posal. Not a single Petition had been presented to the House in favour of the Resolution, and he challenged hon. Members opposite to elicit from any bonâfide working class Organisation an expression of opinion in favour of wasting more millions of money on the Navy. It was no doubt true that France and Russia had increased their Naval Forces; but whose fault was it? Hon. Members opposite were responsible for it. Five years ago, when they asked for £21,000,000 for increasing the Navy, he warned them that their example would be followed by other nations. It had been, and the result was that money was again being demanded to build more ships. This mad race for rivalry in armaments was no cure for the evil, but an aggravation of the disease; and on the part of a number of Members in the House who had not been afforded an opportunity of speaking during the Debate, and also on behalf of a large section of people out-of-doors, he entered his most emphatic protest against it.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 204; Noes 240.—(Division List, No. 388.)
§ Words added.
Main Question put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, it is a primary duty of the responsible Ministers of the Crown to make adequate provision for the Naval defence of the Empire and the protection of its interests, and this House relies on Her Majesty's Advisers to submit to Parliament fitting proposals in due time and measure to secure that end.—(Mr. Gladstone.)