HC Deb 19 March 1894 vol 22 cc660-75
COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E. R., Holderness)

said, before referring to the condition of the Naval Reserve, he would say a few words upon Lord Spencer's Memorandum. It was a new departure for the Admiralty, which would have a great and lasting effect, in manning the Navy to introduce seamen from the Merchant Service for the Reserve. He was not one of those who clung to the superstition that no one could ever make a good seaman for the Navy who had not been brought up to it from a boy. It was now proposed to introduce 800 men from the Merchant Service, and what he wanted to know was on what terms they would enter the Service. Probably the right hon. Gentleman would tell them when he introduced the Estimates what he intended to do in that respect. Would they enter on the same terms and conditions as the men already in the Service, or would they be considered as short service men only passing through the Service, in a few years to form the nucleus of a further considerable and very valuable Reserve? In considering this question of the Naval Reserve, three questions arose: First, what number of men were enrolled for that purpose; secondly, what was the quality of the men when they were obtained; and, thirdly, were the men nominally in reserve really available? Nominally, the Reserve at present consisted of three portions: the first-class, 10,000 men; second-class, roughly, 10,000: and then the pensioners and firemen, about 6,000; in round numbers about 26,000, including boys. How many of these men could be counted upon in time of war? Sir George Tryon's Committee inquired into the subject some years ago, and came to the conclusion in their Report that 10,000 men might be obtained immediately, though it was rather difficult to judge upon what basis they formed their opinion. That estimate, of course, had reference to the early period of a war, and for ascertaining how many might be got as time went on, say in a year or so, no figures were available; but as far as he was able to see, discounting the pensioners, if out of the 26,000 men 20,000 could be got, we might consider ourselves lucky, say, after war had been going on for a year. Was the Royal Naval Reserve, then, sufficient for our requirements? That was a very difficult question, as the Committee he had just referred to had evidently found. His own rough estimate was that our seamen, including coastguards and men employed in harbour duties, would be enough to man the Fleet in ordinary times. But in time of war the ordinary strength would have to be increased by at least 10 per cent., or 6,000 men. Then the question of waste in war time arose. That, again, was extremely difficult to gauge, and the only way to arrive at it would be from the Admiralty's figures in former wars, assuming that the duties would be roughly the same. Taking 10 per cent., another 6,000 men would be required, leaving 8,000 men in the Reserve for the expansion of all kinds required to be provided for in time of war, which would be very large. We should probably find ourselves, after we had been at war for a year or so, in the old difficulty and straits from the want of men. After the last great war the strength of the Navy fell to 50,000, and in war time it had been rapidly raised to 120,000. It was obvious, therefore, that a much larger increase than the 8,000 he had given would be required. For both Army and Navy all soldiers and sailors must recognise the necessity of having a trained, or semi-trained, Reserve to fall back upon. Right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House had done a great deal to improve the condition of the Navy; but the attention of the Admiralty was still further required to increasing the Reserve, an important measure which could be carried out at very small cost. Theses 26,000 men cost something like £205,000, as against the cost of 50,000 men employed in the Fleet. If it was possible to got even a semi-trained body of men to fall back upon it was well worth the Admiralty's while to consider whether they should not extend the endeavours they had already made in that direction. The conclusion he had arrived at was that the nominal Reserve, at present numbering about 26,000 persons, in reality left only about 20,000 men available, a number hardly likely to supply the ordinary waste which would occur in time of war. That being so, it was necessary to cast about for possible fields from which to draw additional Reserves. There was, first of all, the Mercantile Marine; but the Committee to which he had referred thought we could hardly expect materially to increase the 10,000 men already drawn from that source. The second-class Reserve, also numbering approximately 10,000 men, were mainly drawn from the fishing population, and that seemed one of the most likely and desirable fields from which additional Reserves might be drawn. The conditions under which the second-class Reserve men were invited to join were not very favourable, but he hoped that certain changes in these conditions being made, a few thousand more men would be obtained from the fishing population. Probably firemen could not be obtained from any other source than the Mercantile Marine, but they might be recruited in considerably larger numbers. Another source whence men might be secured was to be found in the bluejackets and marines who had left the Service at the end of their first 10 years' engagement. Those men were, on an average, about 30 years of age when they left the Service, and he thought that about 5,000 of these men could be obtained for service, and that they would constitute one of the best classes of the Reserve obtainable. He should like to know what were the objections of the Admiralty to make an offer to these men for another 15 or 20 years of service? As far as the quality of these men was concerned, he thought every one would agree that it was good, but the system of drill was not very favourable for getting well-drilled men when the time came to call them out. Too much reliance should not be placed upon the pensioners. Many of them were men getting on in years, though of course they were nominally available for service. With regard to the 5,000 men who might be obtained on leaving the Service at the end of their first 10 years' engagement, many people objected to any proposal which would hold out inducements to men to leave the Service and become Reserve men at the end of 10 years—that we should be losing even more of our good men than we do at present. At the same time, predominant weight ought to be given to the consideration that we ought to have large and well-drilled Reserves, such as existed in all other Armies and Navies, formed by passing men more rapidly through the Service. He urged the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, to secure these valuable men, who would form the backbone of the Naval Reserve. The advantage in getting marines as well as bluejackets was that they also were well-drilled men, and used to ships. The system pursued at present was not calculated to obtain well-drilled men when the time came for calling them out. No doubt, a fair number of the men came up for their annual 28 days' drill. From a variety of causes, taking the whole Naval Reserve, they were by no means so proficient in their drill as the official Reports would lead people to suppose. The Admiralty deserved, he must say, much credit for the proposals in reference to the training of the men, which were very valuable, and he congratulated the right hon. Gentleman upon them. He should, however, like to have some assurance that the Admiralty felt the necessity of providing a large and full reserve—one upon which they could count, and that they should have it well drilled. If that were so, the country generally would feel much greater satisfaction. Having concluded this part of his remarks—and he must say that he had not hostilely criticised the Reserve—he would pass on to another question of reserves—not of men, but of ammunition. He was sorry to say that upon that point there was some reasonable fault to find. But he was in the difficulty that he could not very well give the details he might happen to know about the quantities of ammunition at disposal. As a matter of fact, he thought his right hon. Friend would admit that the reserve ammunition had been allowed to fall considerably below the mark at which it ought to stand. I believed that in the last year or 18 months some increase had been made in the stocks at Malta, Gibraltar, and other places, but a short time ago they were certainly below what they ought to be. He would not go into details upon this matter, but the Government could not expect them to pass over in silence so significant a matter. What did it mean? It meant that when action took place abroad, and ships went to get their stores, they would find nothing like the quantity they wanted. Let them, for goodness sake, whatever else they did, keep a good reserve of ammunition! The supplies of ammunition and of coals should alike be looked after. Ships were of no use without ammunition and coal. He would not pursue that question further, but cherished the hope that the Admiralty were fully alive to the urgency of the matter.

ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)

said, that at this hour of the night he did not intend to make any remarks at great length. He was quite willing to be amiable if the right hon. Gentleman would only meet him, and would be briefer than he intended if he would only listen to a logical argument. They had been for five hours listening to dockyard grievances and discussing dockyard matters. He ventured to think that the dockyards existed for the good of the Service, and not the Service for the good of the dockyard; but measuring their relative importance by the length of discussion, one would imagine that the dockyards were of paramount importance, and the Navy of very second-rate importance indeed. Why did the Government listen to dockyard grievances? Because there was a concentrated voting power. He and his brother officers had brought grievances before the House over and over again. Last year he did so, and had done so so often that he was sick of doing it any more. They had been given a hearing, and sometimes a smile from the Treasury Bench, but that was all. The next year came, and they went over the same process. Now if the right hon. Gentleman would say that these things should be referred to the Committee now sitting, presided over by the late Sea Lord, he would sit down at once, because he agreed that that was not the place to ventilate their grievances in detail. The men in the Coastguard complained that they were not given the 2d. per day re-engagement money after 10 years; officers of the Coastguard and chief boatmen were not given the sum to which they thought they were equitably entitled for new uniforms; to second-class leading stokers the 2d. per day re-engagement money was refused, nor did leading stokers got an increase of pay of 3d. per day at the end of four years; chief engine-room artificers claimed that a limited number amongst them ought certainly to have warrant rank; warrant officers wished to be granted the titles of fleet gunner, fleet boatswain, or fleet carpenter. These were all grievances which might all be referred to the Committee if the right hon. Gentleman would only say so. With regard to the transport service, a very delicate question had been asked by the right hon. Member for the Ormskirk Division. He knew what the right hon. Member was aiming after. It was to abolish the Indian troopships and to get the troops carried in hired transports, and he would tight the hon. Gentleman upon that by-and-bye. He would venture to suggest a solution of that difficulty. It was to take the man-of-warsmen out of troopships and fill up their places by Royal Naval Reserve men. Then they would have their Naval Reserve always available, and the best school for the training of stokers would still be kept going. The officers would also benefit, for the troopships were coming and going in bad weather, and there was plenty of experience to be gained on board of them. There was another point. He had asked for a Return of the waste of seamen of the Royal Navy at the end of 10 years, but he was told it would take up too much time to prepare. Therefore, he had to guess what became of them. One-third of them returned, one-third went into civil life, and they hoped the other third went into the Naval Reserve. He strongly impressed upon the right hon. Gentleman the necessity of looking after these men, so that they should not be lost. Whether it was 500 or 1,000 a year or less it was very necessary to look after them, for they were the most valuable men that they had leaving the Service at the end of 10 years. There was no reason why they should not be induced to enter the Fleet Reserve. It was very hard that the men whose grievances he had been ventilating should have a deaf ear turned to those grievances merely because they could not concentrate their votes in a dockyard town. On their behalf he ventured to appeal to Her Majesty's Government, and he hoped he would not appeal in vain.

MR. J. H. WILSON (Middlesbrough)

said, he spoke as a Naval Reserve man who had served his time in the Royal Naval Reserve and might claim to have some slight knowledge of the Reserve. He wanted to point out some reasons why British seamen would not enrol with the Reserve. They had been told of the necessity of building more ships, but his experience, as a practical seaman, was that before they built more ships they must have more men, and they must he practical men. Before they could begot to do so they would have to be convinced that in times of peace there would be a reasonable probability of their obtaining employment. So far from this being the case at present, the best men in the Mercantile Navy, which was the back-bone of the country, were being ousted by foreigners. Only last week he read of one patriotic British firm who had discharged 400 men and employed Lascars in their place simply because the Government tried to give them protection under the Employers' Liability Act. That was the case of Smith Bros., of Glasgow, who received a large subsidy from the Government under a mail contract; and by-and-bye he should have to say something as to why the Trades Union rate of wages were not paid to the Lascars they employed. In addition to these Lascars large numbers of foreigners were employed on board ship, and he wanted to know how dare the Government ask the British seamen and firemen to enrol in the Naval Reserve to protect their property in the time of war when they would not give them employment in times of peace, because they asked for a living wage? Of course, they were told that preference was given to the foreigner because he was more reliable and more steady. Then why did not they man the Navy with foreigners? There were plenty of unemployed Germans, Swedes, Italians, and Greeks who would be glad to take the place of the British seamen. He was surprised that any sailor or fireman could be induced to join the Reserve at all under the conditions imposed. The three months which must now be served at sea every year interfered with the good employment which the best men of the Mercantile Marine could obtain on land. A sailor would not lose his seamanlike qualities because he had not been to sea for a year or two. He would be prepared to go on board ship to-morrow and do his work as well as ever he did. The Admiralty had recently been enrolling a large number of stokers for the Reserve, and these were actually paid 3s. a week more than the able seamen who had gone through five years' training. The wages should be equal, though the stokers' wages should not be reduced. It was a miserable pittance enough for the men on whom the Government must rely in time of war, because they had not got enough men by 10,000 to man present ships if they were put into commission. They might make their ships in three years, but they could not make their men in that time. Therefore, they would require an additional 5,000 or 6,000, and he wanted to know where they would get them from if they were not drawn from the Mercantile Marine? We were not making sailors in the Mercantile Marine. Very few ships carried apprentices. He thought the Government could alter that state of affairs; they could pass a law compelling shipowners to carry a certain number of apprentices on board their ships. Probably there were not more than 5,000 apprentices in the whole of the Mercantile Marine drafted over or stolen from foreign ships by the aid of the crimps. There would not be enough men even to man the Mercantile Marine. Another reason which deterred men from entering the Reserve was that the privilege of pension was not ensured to them until they were 60 years of age and after 20 years of service, and the pension itself was a very small one. Few Reserve seamen lived to get the pension, and, at the present time, although the pension scheme had existed 26 years, not more than 100 men were now in the enjoyment of it. It was difficult for any man over 45 years of age to get employment on British ships at all. When he showed the sign of grey hairs he was told he was not wanted. The Government would not suffer much by the reduction of age, for, after all, it was only a question of £12 a year. He thought if the Government refused to enter into mail contracts with any company except they carried a certain number of apprentices it would be a useful step to take. He thought the Government might also give further encouragement to Naval Reserve officers, who would be very useful in case of war. Then, again, if they wanted to encourage seamen to join the Navy, they must improve the conditions existing in the Navy. If they compared the life of a sailor with that of a soldier, he ventured to say that the soldier's condition was much better than that of any seaman in the Royal Navy. There was not so much tyranny practised, for one thing, upon the soldier as upon the sailor. They would have to improve the condition of the men in the Navy all round before they would be able to induce the men to come from the Mercantile Marine into the Navy. The food supply also wanted to be improved, for now it is far from being satisfactory. He thought the question of promotion ought to be equally considered. The men in the Navy had not the same opportunities of promotion as in the Army, and he said it was about time that in this country it became possible for a man on board ship to go from the lowest rung of the ladder to the highest. He hoped the Government would do their best to bring about reforms with a view of encouraging employment for the British seamen in times of peace. The seamen for over 16 years bad been agitating outside the House of Commons for the pension age to be reduced from 60 to 50, but no attention had been paid by either Liberal or Tory Government to that demand. Now that they had a Liberal Government in power which was doing justice to Government employés, he was sure the claim of seamen would not go unheeded, and that what could be done would be done on their behalf.

* SIR G. BADEN-POWELL (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

said he, in common with many Members, had been much disappointed by the speech he had just heard, because he had hoped that from a practical seaman they would have had something better than a speech which was purely theoretical and in the clouds. The hon. Member had spoken of the employment of foreigners in the Mercantile Marine. He spoke in evident ignorance of the facts, and did not know that shipowners had stated over and over again that they were often obliged to employ foreigners, because strikes were fomented in this as in other industries, not in consequence of the industrial necessities of the situation but because professional agitators chose to interfere in order to make money for themselves. Alluding to other equally strange statements in the hon. Member's speech, he said, the fact, however, remained, that at the present moment more men were offering their services as seamen and firemen in the Royal Navy than could be taken on.


The seamen are not offering their services, but the superintendents in the Mercantile Marine offices are being paid so much for every man they can entrap into the Naval Reserve.


I am certain that is not the case.


I say it is true.


said, it was a very grave accusation to bring against any Government that they entrap men for any purpose whatever, and he would leave the Representative of the Government to deal with that accusation. What he wanted to come to was the actual condition of the Royal Naval Reserve, and he hoped they would pass from this cloudy discussion of theory to the facts of the case. For many years past he had taken an interest in the Royal Naval Reserve, and all his life he had had much to do with seamen. It was probably not very well known that in yachts there were employed something like 25,000 to 28,000 men who were capable seamen—a class not yet drawn upon as reserves, and who ought to be most useful in the Navy. There were certain grievances of the men which ought to be remedied. The present Administration had carried to a successful issue some reforms initiated by the previous Administration. There were one or two points in respect to the firemen now pressing for consideration. One was the question of certificates of discharge, which had to be signed by the engineer before the men could receive their retaining fee. He thought it would be a great improvement if these firemen could receive the fee on the Board of Trade certificate of discharge instead of having to wait for the engineer. Another point was that the firemen desired to become, as far as possible, on a level with the combatant men on board ship. They would also like in the different ports to have a representative appointed who should look after their interests, and look after both the registrations and applications and the money affairs of those already in the Service. Much observation and experience had strengthened him in the opinion that the Naval Reserve seamen were not so well treated as they ought to be. He ought to be put more on a par with the bluejackets of the Royal Navy. He had himself something to do with the fight for the retention for them of the uniform of the Royal Navy, and they managed to retain the jumpers. That might seem a small matter, but it had a considerable effect; and the more they could do to put the men on a level with the bluejackets the more grateful they would be. There was one great grievance this valuable Force had, and this was one which had been put by the hon. Member who last spoke, and that was the question of pensions. That affected them very seriously. Many a young man hesitated to join the Force because he knew his pension was very doubtful in the future. The one main point which militated against the present policy in regard to the Royal Naval Reserve was the total inadequacy of the numbers of the Reserve to meet the exigencies of the future. The Admiralty in their Memorandum said that the men came forward "in sufficient numbers," but this meant merely that the numbers were sufficient to reach an inadequate limit. Any Admiralty that wished to face the difficulties of the near future must create a larger Naval Reserve, and he trusted that the matter would receive the anxious consideration of the present Ministry. He himself would never let the question drop, and he had no doubt that he would be supported by many Members on both sides of the House. As to the officers of the Royal Naval Reserve, he had seen how much they benefited by going to sea for prolonged periods in men-of-war, and his experience was that the same remark applied to the men. Men who served a considerable time in a man-of-war acquired habits of discipline and got to understand the routine and the mechanism of a battleship. He was perfectly convinced that in the naval battles of the future the place where the nerve, the coolness and the courage would be most needed would be below decks, in the midst of a mass of machinery. The work must be properly carried on below decks during an engagement as it was carried on in the engine room of the Calliope during the celebrated hurricane at Samoa in which every vessel but she was driven ashore. When one remembered how largely it would be necessary to depend upon the men of the Royal Naval Reserve below decks one saw at once how necessary it was that they should serve for considerable periods on board men-of-war. He was convinced from what he had seen of the officers of the Royal Naval Reserve that if the officers of our Mercantile Marine were favourable to the Reserve the men would follow them into it. Some of the very best seamen now living were the officers of great merchant ships. These men if they would enter the Royal Naval Reserve would be followed by the very best class of seamen, and he thought that everything that was possible ought to be done to promote the popularity of the Reserve with the officers. He was sorry that the action which had recently been taken in giving precedence to the officers of the Indian Marine over those of the Royal Naval Reserve had produced a bad effect on the Reserve, and he hoped that the just grievance felt by the officers of the Reserve on the subject would be done away with. He would say no more at present, but intended to do all that lay in his power to promote the interests of that most necessary portion of our Naval Forces, the Royal Naval Reserve.

* MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)

said, he was entirely in accord with the hon. Member who had just sat down in regard to the pensions of the Royal Naval Reserve. He himself brought the matter forward last year, and strongly urged that the pensions should be given at an earlier age than 60. The suggestion was, however, airily and loftily dismissed, as probably it would be again dismissed to-night, by the Secretary to the Admiralty. An hon. Member had put to himself the question why seamen would not, join the Royal Naval Reserve; but none of the answers the hon. Member had given to the question wore of any service, because at the present moment seamen did join the Royal Naval Reserve, which was practically full. The same observation applied to the Navy. The Admiralty could always get more candidates for the Navy than they could get into it. His hon. and gallant Friend (Commander Bethell) had suggested that there would be a difficulty in filling up the Navy from the Mercantile Marine in time of war, inasmuch as the rate of wages in the Mercantile Marine would at such a time be considerably advanced. He (Mr. Bowles) believed that the contrary would be the case. Under the Declaration of Paris we should be bound in case of war to give up our carrying trade, and the whole of our trade would necessarily have to go into neutral bottoms. The result would be that our vessels would have to be laid up, and our seamen instead of getting more employment and higher wages would get none at all.


was understood to say that his hon. Friend had misunderstood his point.


went on to say that he should like some explanation as to how it was proposed to draft 800 seamen direct from the Mercantile Marine into the Royal Navy. He saw with some apprehension and dismay that it was proposed to commence seven battleships all of which, as he understood, were to follow the lines of the Magnificent and the Majestic. These were ships of 15,000 tons, 390 feet long, and having a draught of 27½ feet. These large ships were copied from the foreigners. The whole of our naval history showed that the best ship did not increase in power relatively to her size. A ship of 15,000 tons was not twice as good as a ship of 7,000 tons. In all probability two ships of 7,000 tons, if properly handled, would capture a ship of 15,000 tons. This was the history of the Spanish Armada, and of many a fight in which British seamen in small vessels had captured large ships. Another advantage of having small ships was that two ships could be in two places at the same time, whilst obviously one ship, however large, could not. Then as to the draught, 27½ feet were close upon five fathoms, and a ship of such draught would be unable to undertake a very large number of services that might be required of it. It would be prevented from approaching any shallow coast whatever, and it would be unable to go through the Suez Canal.


rising to Order, asked whether the question of ships or that of men was before the House?


called upon Mr. Bowles to proceed.


said, he was discussing the general question, which he had a right to do, as the hon. Member would learn when he had acquainted himself a little further with the Rules of the House. The hon. Member went on to say that the Secretary to the Admiralty had learnt from his predecessor the very bad habit of increasing the Contract Vote by something like £200,000 beyond the amount that was to be spent in order to apply it either to the relief of other Votes or to purposes for which no Vote was made by Parliament. He observed that it was proposed to obtain the sanction of Parliament to the commencement of several large works at Portland. He understood that what it was proposed to do was to build out a breakwater from the Weymouth side towards the end of the existing Portland breakwater, and that the works would last for 10 years and cost £1,000,000. [Sir U. KAY-SIIUTTLE-WORTH dissented.] He was glad to observe that his information was inaccurate, but the statement was published in The United Service Magazine, over which he understood the right hon. Gentleman exercised the supervision of a careful editor. At all events, the works were to be undertaken to protect vessels against torpedo attacks. There were three objections to the proposal. The first was that it would interfere with the mobility of the ships, which would be unable to get out of or into Portland Roads with the same ease as at present. They would be boxed up under the breakwater; and would form a splendid mark for a vessel which might he itself below the horizon. The second objection to the proposal was that if the breakwater were built up to high-water mark they would be unable at low water to fire their guns over the breakwater, as the tide fell 25 or 30 feet at Portland. Whilst the breakwater would act as a defence against attacks of the present torpedoes, it would give no defence against aerial torpedoes, which were now being developed in so extraordinary a manner. A third objection to the proposal was that it would necessitate land defences. Lord Spencer's Memorandum stated that the system was being further resorted to of putting seamen in barracks on shore. This was a very bad system indeed. A practised seaman who went ashore very soon lost the seaman's habit. His view was that seamen ought to live on ships and acquire and maintain seafaring habits. He admitted that the system of housing men in barracks was convenient, and that it was rather good for the health of the men; but, at the same time, the first thing that was required of a seaman was that he should be a seaman, and a seaman soon ceased to be one if he lived on shore. He was glad that the Government had recognised the necessity for increasing the naval armaments, but he agreed with the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. J. IT. Wilson) that their first object ought to be to get men, because the Admiralty could build ships more rapidly than they could obtain men. Unless they had men ready to man the ships when they were built they would be so much useless ironmongery on their hands. That being so, he trusted that the Secretary to the Admiralty would be able to tell the House that he had made some arrangement to provide men for the new vessels.


I wish to consult the convenience of the House as to the conduct of this Debate. I had hoped to get the Deputy Speaker out of the Chair to-night; but I, understand that it is not likely that that will be accomplished, and I want to come to some arrangement with reference to concluding (he Debate and taking the Vote tomorrow. It is essential that this should be done if we are to adjourn the House at the period named. If the House agrees with mo I shall not be disposed to press for the continuance of the Debate now.


The arrangement, as I understand, that was arrived at by mutual consent was that to-day and to-morrow were to be given to the discussion of these Estimates, and that to-morrow Vote A and Vote 1 were to be given to the Admiralty with such opportunity as may be required by the Admiralty for making a statement on those Votes. I do not think there will be any advantage in continuing the discussion now. I think we should consult the convenience of the House by adjourning now, on the distinct understanding that to-morrow the Deputy Speaker shall leave the Chair; that the two Votes I have mentioned shall be taken, and that the Admiralty shall be enabled to make a statement upon them; but that arrangement must be distinctly adhered to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Harland.)

Motion agreed to.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.