HC Deb 06 March 1893 vol 9 cc1180-97
MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)

said, he wished to trespass on the time of the House for a few minutes in order to draw attention to certain grievances under which warrant officers in the Navy suffered. First of all he should explain, for the benefit of those who might not be conversant with the details of the matter, that there were two classes of warrant officers, executive and non-executive. The former comprised gunners and boatswains; the latter carpenters and head schoolmasters. The executive warrant officers were drawn from the entire seaman class; but the non-executive were drawn from two classes only — carpenters from, naval shipwrights, and head schoolmasters from, of course, naval schoolmasters. None of the other non-executive ratings had access to the warrant rank, and, as they comprised in addition to shipwrights and schoolmasters—numbering only 2,000— 14,000 stokers and engine room artificers, and a remainder of 2,500 working at various trades, and clerical and domestic duties, it was felt an anomalous hardship that 16,500 of the rank and file were denied the possibility of aspiring to anything above a petty officer's rating. This, however, he merely mentioned in passing, for it was with regard to the existing warrant officers he wished to speak. Now, he would first of all refer to the duties and responsibilities of the warrant officers, and then endeavour to point out to the House the barren prospects that were open to them as a reward for the splendid services they rendered. Their duties were in every case most responsible ones. For instance, the whole of the munitions of war and stores on board Her Majesty's ships, with a few trifling exceptions, were in their charge, and for the safety and correct accounting of these they were held fully responsible. The qualifying examination for warrant rank was a tough one, and in the case of gunners entailed a course of mathematical study as well as practical gunnery which occupied some 18 months to prepare for. Beyond this, gunners, and likewise boatswains, had frequently to discharge, and they did so with the highest efficiency, all the practical duties of lieutenants who were trained at a high cost to the country. They took their turn at watch-keeping with lieutenants and sub-lieutenants, and whereas the commissioned officer, when he came off his watch, was free and at ease, the warrant officer had further onerous duties to perform, such as instructing in gunnery and seamanship, and certain clerical duties in connection with his store accounts. Of late years they had been frequently told off to take sole command of smaller vessels, in all of which duties no one, in discussing their demands for some higher recognition of their status, had ever ventured to question the high efficiency of their ability. What were their present prospects? The average age on promotion was 27; but a large number of men secured the rank from 24 years and upwards, and although the obtaining of it could only be accomplished by sheer hard work and constant study and application—to say nothing of the sine quâ non of a faultless character—there was absolutely no further step of promotion possible to gain until a man reached 50 years of age, when he secured the rank of chief of the particular class to which he belonged, which carried with it the barren honour, considering the late period at which it arrived, of an honorary commission ranking, however, after all other commissioned officers, including the sub-lieutenant of yesterday's creation, who was unborn at the time the "ranker" secured his warrant. He was told that at this moment there were grey-headed warrant officers serving who had during the last 20 years prepared for their gunnery and seamanship examinations necessary to the attainment of their commissions the captain, the commander, and some of the lieutenants under whom they were serving; and whereas the flow of promotion had been steady and continuous for the commissioned officers, the warrant officers had remained all these years limited to the warrant rank. Was it to be wondered at that those who had entered the warrant rank full of zeal and youthful energy sickened with mortification and despair at the class prejudice which denied them any stop in promotion for a quarter of a century? True, they received at intervals some increase of pay, but, at the best, a paltry pittance when compared to their valuable work, and these increments were in diminishing ratio to the period served, which amounted to this: that the longer the service, and, naturally, the greater the experience, the less recognition awarded by the Admiralty. The demands, as formulated by the warrant officers, were exceedingly modest—in his opinion quite too much so. They wanted it made possible for them to attain the honorary commissioned rank of chief, not when they were getting old and losing ambition, but at an average age of 35 to 37 years; that was to say, after 10 years' seniority as warrant officer, and then, after a further 10 years' service in the chiefs' rank, to be promoted to a higher rank, to be created and styled "Fleet" rank, carrying with it the honorary rank of lieutenant. Nor were they asking without reason or precedent, for in the Army there were several roads to the commission rank open. A noncommissioned officer in the Army may obtain a second lieutenancy in either a Foot or Cavalry regiment, and rise through every rank to that of general. Undoubtedly there was a good deal of jobbery in this line of promotion, as it was to this back door that the sons of well-to-do people went who, from lack of ability or application, had failed to enter the Army as commissioned officers through the Military Colleges or Militia. Then there was what, until recently, was called the Coast Brigade Royal Artillery, and also the Coast Battalion Royal Engineers, which were officered up to the rank of major exclusively by men who had risen by sheer merit from the ranks. And, lastly, there were the commissioned ranks of riding master and quarter- master, which were usually given to Army warrant officers or Staff sergeants at an average of 35 years, carrying with them the honorary rank of lieutenant—equal to that of naval sub-lieutenant, with pay commencing at 9s. to 10s. 6d. per day, according to regiment, and rising by quinquennial increments of 1s. 6d. per day until the maximum of 15s. to 16s. 6d. per day was reached. After serving 10 years with honorary lieutenant's rank, quartermasters and ridingmasters receive a further step of promotion, carrying with it the honorary rank of captain—equal to lieutenant in the Navy — and they finally retired with the honorary rank of major on a maximum pension of £200 per annum, which they nearly all were able to obtain at the age of 50. Quartermasters and ridingmasters formed the bulk of officers in the Army who obtained their commissions from the ranks by their own merit and ability, and it was to positions relative in rank and pay to these that the senior warrant officers of the Navy were now aspiring. Army men could reach these grades at the age of 35, after 19 years' service, whereas naval men could only reach a corresponding rank at 50, after 34 years' service; and whereas the Army man had further steps of promotion, securing increased pay and pension open to him, the naval man was at the summit of his possibilities. His duties, however, were more responsible, and warrant officers had been striving for the past 20 years to get redress, and the matter had been frequently before Parliament. He would just quote from the report of a speech on the subject by the late head of the Admiralty (Lord G. Hamilton) made about this time last year— There are what are called chief warrant officers, but the description is a misnomer, because those who occupy the position of chief warrant officers are commissioned officers.…. I think," added the noble Lord, "we might fairly consider whether we could not adopt some name to denote their position, and also whether we might not increase their number, and thus cause additional promotion. In addition to that, we ought to do our best in connection with the Ordnance Store Department and other Departments to comply with the warrant officers' request. There are a certain number of appointments held by commissioned officers at present which might fairly and legitimately be given to warrant officers of a certain standing. If, however, we cannot go so far as my hon. and gallant Friend would wish, he will see that we are prepared to look into this question in a kindly spirit, and to do our best to meet the wishes of this most respectable class of officers. This was not a question merely affecting the few who would be immediately benefited, but it would act indirectly on every rating in the Navy. An advance given would increase the attractions to men to join, and it would enable the Government to retain men longer in the Service. It would cause contentment, and last, not least, it would sweep away the great hardship which had been patiently borne by a deserving class for years. With regard to the chief petty officers whilst holding superior rating and receiving increased pay contrary to what was the practice in all other ratings they had held, they received on retirement no increment beneficial to their pension, but were pensioned on the scale that applied to the rank next beneath them. Their duties as chief petty officers were far more responsible than those of the rank next beneath them, and many men would not accept the rating because of this inducement being withheld. These men asked for a halfpenny per day increased pension for each year they held the rating of chief petty officer. The justice of their claim was admitted by many of the highest officers in the Service. He ventured to bring these subjects forward because, dry as they might appear, they seriously affected the efficiency of the Navy, and everyone sympathised with the Navy, and was anxious that the men should be thoroughly contented.

COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)

wished to support the observations of the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken as to the claims of the warrant officers, who were a highly meritorious class. Those who had any familiarity with the question knew that the position of the warrant officers had been greatly improved during the past 15 or 20 years, although he by no means wished to say they ought not to have all the benefits of promotion. The claims of these men were considered last year or the year before, although the Government of the day had not been able to give them all they wanted; and their case was still under consideration. Another question the bon. Member had referred to seemed to have in it an element of injustice—namely, the question of the chief petty officers, which had been raised two or three times in the House. The hon. Member had fairly stated the case. The chief petty officers, who had always been an important element in the personnel of the Navy, were an increasingly important element, and though they received slightly higher pay, they did not get higher retiring pensions than the ordinary petty officers. That was extremely unjust. Great demands wore made on the services of this class of officers as compared with ordinary petty officers in the Navy, and he should be glad to see their very modest demand, which would not cost over £20,000 a year, acceded to. A great deal of criticism had been offered to the policy of the noble Lord (Lord G. Hamilton) in the last Parliament, but while the Naval Defence Act was going through the House of Commons on the Second Reading nobody said a word against it. There was not a division against it, if he remembered rightly. Later on it was a great deal criticised, but it seemed to him that the course of events during the past five years had amply justified the policy of the Conservative Party with regard to the Naval Defence Act. The right hon. Gentleman the present First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had held that the Act would not place us in a bettor position relatively to other Powers, but would have the effect of making other Powers increase their Navies, to keep pace with us. Well, that opinion had not been verified, for no foreign country, certainly neither France nor Germany, had increased their fleets in a like proportion to ours. The policy of the late Government had been completely vindicated. Although they had increased the strength of the Navy so much in the past—a thing they were all glad to see—the present administration were also doing something in the direction of building new ships. He did not think, however, it would be convenient for them to discuss the ship-building policy of the Government on the general question of the condition of the Navy. It would be better to resume what they had to say to the ship-building Vote. With regard to the correspondence which had appeared in The Times and other papers during the autumn, he did not think it was fair to say that naval officers should not be allowed to communicate with one another in order to get an opportunity of collectively ventilating their grievances, though it was no doubt right that they should not write to the Press. In one case they had sent round a circular letter expressing some grievances, which afterwards found its way into the Press. He did not see any objection to the course then pursued. Although not in entire sympathy with the complaints made, he certainly thought a little more generosity might be displayed towards naval officers in the matter of leave. It was hard when officers, who had been for three or four years on foreign service, returned home they should only get six or seven weeks', or, at the outside, two months' leave. Captains and Commanders got no leave at all. He did not know that these officers made complaint on this score, but it was a fact that when they returned home they were promptly put on half pay. Officers generally got a week for each year of absence up to two months' leave. The meagre leave granted was felt most by the younger officers who had homes to go to. After being away for a long time very naturally they desired to spend some time with their friends. As they got on in years they were anxious to progress in the service and secure the emoluments that accrued, and leave was not so much an object with them. Another grievance was in regard to service in harbour ships. They were kept three years in those ships, and that counted for pension and promotion; but if they remained longer, although they might have little or nothing to do, it did not count in pension or promotion. That he considered very hard, and as it had never, to his knowledge, been brought before the Admiralty before, he hoped it would receive careful consideration. Then there was a question which had excited a great deal of interest—namely, the question of the two Courts Martial in regard to the stranding of the Howe. He would not inquire whether the verdicts were just or unjust; it would be presumption on his part to do so, but the fact was there was an acquittal in each case, and the Admiralty had thought fit to practically override the verdicts and censure the officers who were acquitted. There was no technicality in the case, and, he asked, was it fair that a man should be tried by his peers and acquitted, and then administratively censured by the Admiralty? He believed, though he was not quite certain about it, that there was no precedent for a Minute of this nature being published. He believed it had been the custom sometimes for a Minute to be issued and circulated to those officers who were immediately affected, but not as a punishment. Clearly, however, in the case in question the Minute was meant as a punishment. He could not say that the Admiralty had gone beyond their legal powers—he did not believe they had. No doubt they had a right to review sentences, but it was an extra legal right to reverse the decisions of Courts Martial as they had done in this case. The right hon. Gentleman opposite shook his head, but everyone who had read the Minute would know the effect it must have upon the reputation and career of the officers. What was the good of a Court Martial if its sentences were to be overriden? Surely the duty of the Admiralty was similar to the duty discharged by the Home Secretary in civil criminal cases—that of exercising the clemency of the Crown in lessening sentences if necessary. It was surely not the duty of the Admiralty to administer censure after officers had been acquitted. Without speaking for anyone who was connected with the unfortunate Howe disaster, he wished to say that there was another point on which the Admiralty had acted, he would not say illegally, but certainly in opposition to custom and extra legally. In the second Court Martial they had thought proper to take an officer from half-pay for the express purpose of sitting on the Court. The custom was quite clear. The Naval Discipline Act was not absolutely clear, but the unbroken custom of the Service was that a Court should consist of officers who were on active service. The officer appointed to be President summoned his juniors on the Court up to a certain number. It was manifest that if the Admiralty took on themselves to appoint a President from half-pay they might take every officer from half-pay and, to a certain extent, pack the Court. He did not pretend to say that the Admiralty had done any- thing which amounted to packing the Court, but he thought he was justified in pointing out how far a practice such as the Admiralty had adopted might conceivably go. In appointing a President on half-pay he was sure they had acted contrary to custom and extra legally. They would, he thought, have been wise to have followed the practice usually adopted in assembling these Courts. There had been no necessity for the Admiralty to act in the way they had done. There were four or five Admirals—one of them senior to the prisoner—sitting on the Court, and it would have been well to have adopted the usual practice, and so to have prevented criticisms of this nature. And now he wished to touch upon a subject which was not at all technical, but rather sentimental. It might be said that there was little in a name, but he maintained that there was a great deal in the name of a ship. The Admiralty for a great many years had adopted abominably bad names for ships. Sentiment seemed to be entirely banished from the counsels of the Admiralty.

An hon. MEMBER

They are all old names.


They were not by any means old. He was only attributing to old Admiralty Boards what he was now attributing to the present Admiralty. What he complained of was that the Admiralty did not do anything to evoke sentiment and patriotism in the breasts of sailors by calling our ships by the names of great events or of great people. If they looked at other Navies, they generally found that the names of great Kings and great revolutionaries usually found a place amongst the ships. Italy, France, and Russia always went back a long distance for names for their vessels in order to excite feelings of patriotism amongst the sailors. Even our School Boards were deaf to the pleadings of sentiment, and never did anything to excite patriotism in the breasts of the young they had to educate. Her Most Gracious Majesty had given her great name to one or two ships, but her illustrious predecessor, more closely connected, perhaps, than any other Sovereign with the Navy — Queen Elizabeth—had never, so far as he knew, given her name to a ship of the Royal Navy. He certainly thought that the name of that Sovereign ought to be borne by one of our ships. She starved the Navy, it was true: but, nevertheless, she was extremely solicitous for the good of the Navy. Then, again, some of the great deeds of this country might find a place in the names of our ships. The Battle of Sluys, which was a great victory, had never found such a place. One of the greatest Kings who ever sat on the Throne of this country, who also was connected with naval affairs — King Harold — might well lend his name to a ship; poor Rosamond might lend hers; and the Battle of Senlae—at once our greatest victory and defeat— might also give its name to a vessel. Instead of names of this kind we had the Magnificent, and names of that class, the English dictionary being ransacked for them. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman who represented the Admiralty whether he would rot be disposed to appoint a Committee to look into this matter. He knew it was hard to move the obdurate hearts of Admiralty officials; he knew that that heart was narrow and cribbed by the necessities of office; but surely it was as easy to find names for ships which carried some associations with them as it was to give the rubbishing names which were scattered through the Navy List. The name of the founder of the Royal House was borne by a horse—a stallion. Why not give that name to a ship? He hoped the Admiralty would expand their minds on this subject, so as to include within them a little sentiment. He would ask hon. Members who proposed to follow him to put a little pressure on the Admiralty in regard to this question. The reform he was anxious to see brought about would not be a great one. A Committee might be appointed to consider it—a small Committee, a departmental Committee. If the Prime Minister were present, he would be able confidently to appeal to him for a small Committee. At any rate, remembering that the House was not often troubled with naval questions, and that sentiment very rarely interposed in Debates which were, as a rule, devoted to the shape of a ship or the position of a gun, he hoped the Admiralty would give favourable consideration to the suggestion he threw out.

MR. E. J. C. MORTON (Devonport)

said, he wished to draw the attention of the House from matters of sentiment to two practical points. He wished to impress upon the Government the fact that the claim of the warrant officers was essentially a moderate one, as it at present amounted to no more than that they should be given the same privileges with regard to the receiving of commissions as were accorded to warrant officers in the Army. If there was any difference between the authority and responsibility of the warrant officer of the Army and the warrant officer of the Navy, that of the latter was unquestionably the greater of the two. He would ask the Civil Lord of the Admiralty to give them some hope that this question would be dealt with. His second point was the case of the engine-room artificers in the Royal Navy, who were at present not admitted even to warrant rank, though they—unlike the men generally entering the Navy—were skilled artizans, and therefore brought something to the Service which they had acquired without cost to the State.

MR. MILDMAY (Devon, Totnes)

wished to refer to a matter of considerable importance to the fishing population in the neighbourhood of Plymouth. The House would remember a disaster which occurred just outside Plymouth Sound more than a year ago, whereby a fisherman lost his life through the sinking of his boat by a shot from one of Her Majesty's gunboats. That disaster resulted in the appointment of the Commission on Target Practice Seawards. He should be out of Order in referring to the long delay which had occurred in the presentation of the Report of that Committee, because the matter was one which came under the purview of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, but what he wanted to ask was, what instructions had been given to Her Majesty's gunboats pending the issuing of the Report of the Commission? Were they at liberty to pursue their old tactics of firing over the old fishing grounds, or had special instructions been given to them pending the issue of the Report? It would seem that no instructions had been given, in view of a case which was brought before the Devon Sea Fishery Board in October last. The case was as follows:—The crab-boat Beatrice was sailing two miles out from Plymouth Sound, and the men in the boat were about to lower the sail in order to haul in their crab-pots, when the gunboat Bulldog came up, and, at a distance of half a mile from the Beatrice, commenced to fire over in the direction of the boat. The men on the crab-boat requested the officer in charge of the gunboat to go farther out, and subsequently that officer ordered the firing to cease and took his vessel away. When the matter was brought under the notice of the Admiralty the officer in charge of the gunboat justified his conduct by saying that he was on the fishing ground before the fishermen went there. The fishermen did not admit the accuracy of the officer's statement, but he (Mr. Mildmay) did not wish to argue that point. What he wanted to ask the Admiralty was whether they endorsed the view of the officer in question that because he was first on the fishing ground therefore he had a right to exclude the fishermen from hauling their crab-pots by firing over the fishing grounds? It must be remembered that these crab-pots could only be hauled during a certain time of the day in the slack tide. At other times the tide ran very strong and the corks were under water. He hoped the House would agree with him that it was a monstrous proposition that Her Majesty's gunboats should be allowed to go out from Plymouth and should be justified in preventing these fishermen earning their daily broad by firing over their fishing grounds. He hoped that an assurance would be given that the Government did not endorse the view of the officer, and the right hon. Gentleman would be able to state what instructions had been given to the gunboats with regard to firing pending the issue of the Report of the Commission on Target Practice Seawards, and the action that might be taken on that Report.

MR. PENN (Lewisham)

desired to draw the attention of the House to a reduction which took place last year in the engine-room complement of ships of war. He might have to go into some technical details, and he trusted the House would forgive him if he did so, seeing that the matter was one of considerable importance. The reduction to which he alluded was made on the advice of a Committee of Engineer Officers; but it was with that very advice that he ventured entirely to disagree. If the opinions of officers in charge of ships in the Navy at this moment were taken they would, he was sure, show that the reduction was viewed by them with considerable distrust. The numerical reduction was not a very great one; but in place of trained engine-room mechanics and engine-room artificers were substituted chief stokers. Chief stokers were excellent men, but they could not possibly carry out all the duties of skilled artificers. There was a wide-spread belief that engine-men were perpetually engaged in driving engines, but that was a mistake. A large part of their work consisted in repairing machinery and keeping it in order, not driving engines. The efficiency of a ship largely depended upon the due performance of these duties, that was to say on the efficiency of the machinery below. If the machinery below was not kept in proper order the men on deck could not possibly do their duty in time of emergency. The Royal Sovereign, which was one of the largest of our battle-ships, carried 19 skilled men, who had to perform the duty of superintending the whole of the machinery on board, the engine-room artificers having been reduced from 18 to 12. If 19 men could look after all the machinery on board the Royal Sovereign how was it that it took 20 skilled men to manage an Atlantic liner like the Teutonic? Such, however, was the case. In the case of the Teutonic, if any small defect became apparent in the machinery on the run from New York to Liverpool the moment the ship reached port there was a gang of men ready to go on board and put things right again. Nothing of the sort obtained in the case of a man-of-war. In time of war a battle-ship would necessarily be frquently cut off from the Dockyard, and, unless defects could be made good on board, the ship would be altogether and absolutely useless. This was a point which he thought ought to have the largest possible stress laid upon it. We spent enormous sums upon our men-of-war, and he thought we ought to spend a little more in keeping them in working order. To his mind it was a foolish policy to have an enormous mass of machinery on board a ship without having a sufficient number of men to attend to it. There was another point to be considered in this connection. A ship that was largely independent of the Dockyard would save money absolutely in this sense, that she would not have to run to a Dockyard to make good defects, whilst the wages that would otherwise be spent in the Dockyard would be spent on board, where a stitch in time, so to speak, would save nine. It must be remembered that the engine-room artificer had cost the country nothing for his education, having joined the Service a trained mechanic. The stoker, however, could not possibly have the knowledge that was requisite to enable men to make good defects. He admitted at once that one might frequently come across the most estimable men as chief stokers, and men who were equal to engine-room artificers in many respects, but the engine-room artificer had this advantage, that in the event of anything going wrong he could do what was necessary to remedy the defects, whilst the stoker could not possibly do so by reason of his want of training. We did not yet know how fast it was safe to drive our ships. The only light that had been thrown on the matter had been cast upon it by the Naval Manœuvres. As far as he could make out, there had been very little quick running in the Naval Manœuvres, and the defects which had made themselves manifest in the machinery had been, after all, very few, compared with those that would have made themselves apparent had the ships been driven at the top of their speed, as they would necessarily be in time of war. He thought it was a mistake for us to get into a fool's paradise in this matter. If we did not open our eyes to this grave danger we should, when the time came, find that the ships we had relied upon as being able to accomplish a certain speed were quite incapable of developing that speed. No doubt, in time of action, the chief engineer would do his best, and there would be plenty of emulation. He sincerely hoped that vessels would be always running after the enemy's ships, but he could conceive a case in which it was the proper thing to run away, Under these circumstances, the engine-room staff should know the capability of their ships. He should like to see a bolder experiment tried by having instructions given at the forthcoming Naval Manœuvres that full practicable speed was to be largely used throughout the fleet. If this course were adopted, he believed that a good many fallacies would be exploded, that a good many ships that were looked upon as greyhounds would turn out to be tortoises, whilst a good many of the slower ships that now had a good reputation would prove to be practically valueless. It was idle to keep all this knowledge back from the country. It might be a Machiavellian policy to prevent other nations from knowing the speed of our ships; but it would be better that we should know ourselves. He strongly urged that in future Naval Manœuvres there should be trials at the full natural draught - speed of our warships. The vessels ought to be driven at a much higher speed. He had made these criticisms because officers of the Navy were prevented, and properly prevented, from expressing their views on the subject. But he did propose to read extracts from a letter written by Chief Inspector Williams, who had served his country as an engineer officer in every part of the globe, and who had finished 40 years' service as Chief Engineer Inspector of Her Majesty's Fleet. This officer spoke with the greatest fear of the possible effects of the alterations. He expressed the opinion that the reduction in the number and the lowering of the quality of the engine-room staff was a most serious step to take, and was calculated to impair the efficiency of the fleet. The efficiency of a fleet in these days depended absolutely upon the engine-room officers, and if anything were done to weaken their strength the fleet must suffer. He hoped the Board would see their way to make further inquiries to ascertain whether there were not in the pigeon-holes at Whitehall Reports of such value as to override the opinions of the engineers on whose Report the reductions wore made, and, in the event of such Reports being discovered, that they would revoke the decision at which they had arrived, and not delay one moment longer than was necessary in re-instating the engine-room staff in their former position. He trusted that the remarks he had made would induce the Admiralty authorities to deal at once with this burning question.


We have already passed the hour of midnight; I shall therefore only very briefly assure the hon. Member who has just spoken that the subject to which he refers has lately been under the consideration of an exceedingly competent and influential Committee. A Committee was appointed by the late Board of Admiralty, consisting of three Naval Lords and two experienced Secretaries, who have inquired into the whole question of the manning of the Fleet; and in making my statement in Committee I propose to tell the House some of the recommendations of that Committee on the question raised by the hon. Gentleman. Every precaution has been taken for meeting the case which he has brought before the House. I cannot now explain what has been done, indeed it would be more proper to do so when we reach the Vote in Committee of Supply. I quite recognise the especial right of the hon. Gentleman to call attention to questions connected with the engines of ships. It is a most important point, and it is one that has not escaped the careful attention both of the late and the present Board of Admiralty. I will not follow the hon. Gentleman in the remarks he made as to the speed of ships; but I will tell him that the recent trials of all the ships built under the Naval Defence Act have passed off satisfactorily, as have also the trials of certain boilers that have been ferruled. The hon. Member for the Totnes Division of Devonshire has drawn attention to the deplorable accident resulting from the firing of gnus over fishing grounds. I can only tell him that the whole subject of target practice seawards bars been under the consideration of a Committee appointed by the Board of Trade, and the Report of that Committee has not yet reached the Admiralty. Meanwhile every precaution has been taken at the various ports to avoid the recurrence of mishaps. As to the particular case brought before the House by the hon. Member for Totnes I had not heard of it before, but I certainly will inquire carefully into it if my hon. Friend will furnish me with the particulars. In regard to the questions brought forward by my hon. Friends the Members for Devonport, I can only say that the case of the warrant officers has been engaging the most attentive consideration of the Admiralty for some months past. I cannot now announce any decision upon it, but if a little more time is given us we shall be able to arrive at a conclusion. As it is past 12 o'clock, I do not think I can follow my hon. and gallant Friend opposite into the point he has raised as to the naming of ships. It is no doubt a very interesting subject, but I think the matter may very well be left in the hands of the officials at the Admiralty.


They have done it so badly for centuries that I was bound to draw attention to it.


I cannot be held responsible for centuries. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will give us a little more time perhaps we shall be able to satisfy him. Still, I will report to the First Lord what my hon. and gallant Friend has said upon the subject. The other subject my hon. and gallant Friend referred to was that of the Howe Courts Martial. I will not attempt at this moment to enter into that matter, but I will make an appeal to the House. An hon. Member has moved for the Minutes of these two Courts Martial. Those Minutes are of a bulky character, and pressure has been put upon the printers by the Admiralty, but they are not ready yet, and will not be ready for a week or 10 days. For myself I decline to enter into the matter until it is fully before the House, when the House will have an opportunity of judging how it came about that the Admiralty thought it their duty to interfere.


I especially said I would not go into the evidence.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman passed some strictures upon the Admiralty for inserting certain things in a Minute. He has had no opportunity of reading the Minutes of the proceedings of the Court Martial, or the letter to the Admiralty upon those proceedings from Admiral Fairfax (which has never yet been published), nor has he read the evidence given before the second Court Martial. Therefore I appeal to the House not now to pursue this matter further. I hope that now the House will consent to go into Committee. There is no intention on the part of the Government to ask the House to proceed further than that. If the Speaker is allowed to leave the Chair and we get into Committee of Supply, then at 2 o'clock this day I hope I may be allowed to bring forward the Estimates.

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

said, he had no wish to delay the House getting into Committee, but he desired in as few words as possible to ask the right hon. Gentleman to take into his careful consideration the question of the accommodation provided for the engine department men on board Her Majesty's ships. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman had personally examined the messing and sleeping accommodation set apart for the engine-room artificers, but he himself bad, and he could only say it was devoid of decency and ordinary comfort. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would do his best not only to improve matters on existing ships, but to provide better accommodation on new vessels, for under the existing condition of things respectable men could hardly be expected to do their duty and conform to the rules of the Service.

Question put, and agreed to.

SUPPLY—considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)