§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
said, he had a few remarks to make relative to the Ordnance Vote. He hoped the Secretary for War would take care that in the future some substantial alterations were made in the magazine rifle (Mark I.) and not the miserable changes which he had indicated in answer to questions in June last. He was sorry the Secretary for War had no technical and practical knowledge of this work. If he had possessed that knowledge he certainly would not have described as alterations the miserable changes that had been made in the rifle, and he would have realised how necessary it was to reduce the friction now so marked a feature in some parts of the rifle. He questioned whether the magazine rifle was made as cheaply as it might be. The system of maintaining two factories, each only partially working, was extravagant. Irrespective of the double charges for establishment, rifles could be made more cheaply at Enfield than at Birmingham, and he therefore 897 suggested that the factory at Enfield should be kept in full operation, and that that at Sparkbrook should be used as a reserve factory. Why was the Spark-brook factory being maintained, and how was it that an order for 15,000 magazine rifles had recently been sent there? Was this a sop to Cerberus? Hitherto hon. and right hon. Members for Birmingham had been very loquacious in regard to the Sparkbrook factory? Was there now a. conspiracy of silence? People would have their opinion as to that, and would be asking, Were the Members for Birmingham masters of the situation? Was the War Office controlled by the Cabinet or by the Members for Birmingham? If by the Cabinet, then why were not the magazine rifles made at the factory where the expense was the least? They ought to have only one factory— that at Enfield. It might suit the Secretary for War to send the work to Birmingham, but it would not suit the tax-payers. It was not business; but he was not surprised at that, as the right, hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War had no commercial experience. Again, he hoped the Bagot Street repairing shop would be closed, and he must ask how it was that 54,000 rifles were to be sent there to be "browned." That, surely, was not the work of a repairing factory. Now he came to the Navy. He was glad to see present the Secretary to the Admiralty, who was about to engage an additional number of men for his Service. He wanted to impress upon him that he ought not to gather these men from the slums of our great cities. There were many men available for the Service who were, so to speak, "to the manor born"; they were men born on our sea coasts, and he thought it very regrettable that the Admiralty should lose sight of such a magnificent recruiting ground as was presented by the Island of Lewis. If they would only send training ships there they would get the best possible material for the Navy, and officers and men could do good work, instead of wasting their time at Sheerness or Chatham, or in some of the Mediterranean ports. It would be far better to send them North, where they would breathe, fresh air. The officers might not be invited to so many balls and tennis parties, but they would become very much healthier, and would be all the more fit for work if 898 ever required for active service. Now, he understood that the Marines had not yet been provided with the Martini-Henry rifle. Why was that? Surely they ought to have the best possible weapon, seeing that they formed part of our first line of defence. When our new ships were completed and sent out to show the greatness of this great Empire we hoped the crews would be properly armed, and that officers and men would not be allowed to spend their time in idleness. They were told that a certain personage was strolling about finding mischief for idle hands, and he was sure his right hon. Friend would not encourage that. Let him, then, see that the men did not waste their time in southern ports while their ships were rotting in harbour, and let him send them on cruises in the Northern Seas, which would keep them tit for work and the machinery of their ships in proper older. They might, too, be supplied with Maxim guns to deal with the sea thieves who so infested the Northern Seas.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
said, he had one or two observations to make. [Cries of "Oh!"] He should like to take this opportunity of congratulating Ministers on the improvement which he saw had taken place. He never saw so many Ministers attending Prayers before. This question between Sparkbrook and Enfield had been before the House previously, and it was found that the rifles could be manufactured at Enfield for much less than at Sparkbrook. That had been proved. He did hope that, after having gone to the expense of building most splendid works at Enfield, the Government would make the best and most use of them. In this £10,000,000 there was included part of a very large increase in the National Expenditure—between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000. They had not had any proper time to debate that, and he did not suppose they would have very much opportunity during the Session. He always noticed that when the Government had got the money there was not much time given for discussion. The Government had not actually got this money yet, and he hoped that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed means to produce it, he would take care that it was not to be dragged out of the pockets of the poorer classes of the United Kingdom, but that the incidence of taxation would he fairer in the future than in the past. This 899 was not a matter that he wanted to detain the House upon. [Cheers and cries of "Oh !"] It would be well for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to remember that those cheers were very much out of place. Hon. Members if they liked could take this opportunity of making their remarks. They had a right to take an opportunity which was given to them by the Constitution of the country, of the House, and of the Government, as the guardians of the ratepayers' money, to criticise the proposals of the Government.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN,) Stirling, &c.
The hon. Member for Ross-shire and the hon. Member for Peterborough have seized this opportunity, to the obvious inconvenience of Ministers and Members and the officials of the House, to bring up certain subjects for the discussion of which there has already been abundant opportunity during the week or 10 days that have elapsed since the beginning of the Session and for the discussion of which there will be ample opportunity hereafter. I cannot conceive anything loss convenient than the course which has been taken. I, of course, have had no definite answer at this moment that I can give to the hon. Member for Ross-shire that can be supported by facts and figures on the subjects which he has brought forward. With regard to the magazine rifle, the hon. Member has said that I have no technical knowledge. It is a very good thing that I have no technical knowledge, because this is a matter in which a little knowledge is a dangerous thing—as we sometimes see exemplified. All I can say of the new rifle is that, in the first instance, it has the whole approval of those skilled technical men who conduct the Government manufactories, and, in the next, that in practice it has been found to work well, and to answer all the necessary requirements in the hands of the soldiers who use it. I rely upon the opinion of these two classes of men who have technical knowledge in separate ways, and I am bound to say that, as they do not point out any serious faults, I am willing to accept the weapon as a satisfactory one. As to the matter of the Birmingham manufactory, we had that discussed only two or three days ago. My right hon. 900 Friend who sits behind the hon. Member knows what has happened with regard to it. There is a possibility of further discussion when the Army Estimates come on at a later period, and I do not think it necessary to delay the House upon it now. I may say the same with regard to the points raised in regard to subjects with which the Secretary to the Admiralty has to deal. He will be ready to answer any point at a proper time other than at the present. To-day we have mot to pass the Third Reading of this Bill, and Members having come here at great inconvenience—not Members of the Government only, but other Members—to discharge that duty, and being anxious to do that, and having the one desire to get away as soon as possible, I am sure I should be ill consulting their feelings if I said any more now.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.
§ Whereupon, in pursuance of the Order of the House of 22nd March, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House until Thursday 29th March without Question put.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before One o'clock, till Thursday, 29th March.