§ On the Order for the Second Reading of this Bill,
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
said, the Bill that they had in their hands dealt entirely with the great works which were being carried out in connection with the needs of the Navy. They were concerned with the new works at Gibraltar and Portland, and also a certain number of important matters of another character, such as the alteration of some of the larger dockyards. He thought that, so far as the works at home were concerned, the judgment of the Admiralty was sound in what they proposed to do. He thought the alterations and additions to Portland were of greater importance than the proposals as to the harbour at Dover. It was not necessary to enter into the question as to whether these strategical matters were desirable; no one who had given any attention to the matter would dispute that we must have large harbours for our men of war equipped against the attack of torpedo boats, and that was at the bottom of these proposals. He could not help thinking that Portland, excellent harbour as it was, lay a long way to the east, and experience seemed to show that it would be very essential to have some harbour westward of it. Plymouth Harbour was, of course, largely closed in by the Breakwater; but the entrances to Plymouth Sound were now extremely large, and would, he thought, constitute a danger in time of war. The distance 1309 between the north end of Plymouth Breakwater and the nearest point of the shore was nearly half a mile, and the distance was nearly the same on the south side; and although this considerable entrance was not available to large ships, it was available to torpedo boats, and he would very much like to know from the Civil Lord if this matter had been under consideration at the Admiralty, and whether the necessity of a harbour secure against torpedo boats further westward than Portland had been considered. In regard to Gibraltar, during past years two schemes had been proposed very like that now unfolded to them, and one of these was, that a harbour should be made on the east side of the rock. It was fair to assume that the Admiralty had come to their present conclusion after careful consideration. He pointed out, however, that during recent years the range of guns had enormously increased, and a distance of four or five miles could be covered by every modern gun. The consequence was, that if two or three guns were put up on the hills at a distance of four miles, undoubtedly they could throw shells into the harbour that was to be constructed at Gibraltar. Such guns, of course, might be dislodged by land forces, but it appeared to him to be very doubtful whether they were right in spending this large amount of money upon a part of Gibraltar which was within the range of guns. He could not help thinking that to incur the greater expense of establishing a harbour on the east side of Gibraltar might, perhaps, be the wiser policy. He should be glad to hear that this subject was being carefully considered by the Government. He believed there was no possible chance of our being at war with Spain, but the history of the past two centuries showed that whenever we had been at war, either with France or Spain, the other country had been dragged in. He did not propose to criticise the financial proposals of the Government, and he did not think it really mattered two straws whether amounts of money of this sort should be voted in the Estimates or by a Bill. It had a little startled hon. Members on that side of the House at first to find that Gentlemen who had criticised their action some years ago, should after such a short lapse of time propose practically 1310 the same method of raising their money, and he could only say that their action now certainly did not harmonise with their criticism of some years ago.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON (Middlesex, Ealing)
said, he did not desire to enter into any detailed examination of the works proposed to be constructed, but to examine the principle which underlies this Bill, and the method by which the Government proposed to give effect to it. On the Conservative side of the House they had given the Government hearty support in increasing the strength of the Navy. But when they understood that the Government proposed to take a certain portion of the expenditure which had hitherto fallen on the Annual Estimates out of the Estimates, and to expedite the work by raising money on loan, they were surprised, and now wished to examine the methods and principles on which the money was to be raised and continuously applied. This question of finance was really not an Admiralty, but a Treasury question, and therefore any criticism of his would not be directed against the Admiralty or the Naval Lords. Whenever any large expenditure was taken out of the Annual Estimates, and the Government of the day had recourse to loans or terminal annuities to defray it, they did so on one plea only, urgency. The first condition which should underlie a Bill such as this was that if it was worth while to construct works out of loan, there should be a time limit within which works so commenced should be finished. Then, when the House was asked to adopt exceptional procedure, it should be in possession of the total cost of the work which the Government proposed to take in hand. Another condition, quite as important as the other two, was that if the Bill was an annual Bill, and only met a portion of the expenditure, a statutory injunction should be imposed on future Chancellors of the Exchequer that when the money was exhausted another Bill would be brought in to provide more. Every one of these conditions was wanting in this Bill. He believed that no Bill to commence works out of loan in which these three conditions were wanting had been successful. He believed the Bill was based on the Fortifications Act of 1860 1311 and subsequent Acts of Lord Palmerston's Government. Under no series of Acts had there been so much waste of expenditure. The history of those Acts was remarkable. The works proposed were in excess of what were proposed now. But Lord Palmerston had great advantages in floating his policy. He had just come into office with a large majority, and the relations between England and France were strained. The Volunteer Movement, which had attained such proportions, sprung up, and great pressure was put on the Government to devise an adequate scheme of fortifications. Lord Palmerston stated that the expenditure he wished to incur was 11 millions, and that the expenditure had been examined by experts. He asked the House to vote two millions in the first year, and the remaining nine millions in subsequent years. The plea under which Lord Palmerston induced the House of Commons to adopt his proposals was that all expenditure necessary would be found in three or four years, and the works would be completed. In the first Bill Lord Palmerston produced all the conditions he had alluded to as necessary were wanting. A year after that Bill was introduced Lord Palmerston was asked whether he intended to bring in another Bill. Another Bill was brought in in 1862, but the proposed expenditure was reduced to £6,900,000. The House of Commons objected to the Bill. There were many divisions. The Government were nearly defeated, and they had to insert in the schedule full details of expenditure up to date, the amount spent in the year, and other sums required. This schedule the House of Commons forced on the Government, and substituted it for the schedule in the Bill. A year after a Bill continuing these fortifications was introduced. Things went on until 1869, when Lord Cardwell brought in a final Bill. Nine years after Lord Palmerston brought in his Bills the fortifications were in no way completed, and Lord Cardwell's Bill was to provide:—The final sum necessary to be raised on loan for carrying on the work now in course of construction for the protection of the Royal Arsenal and Dockyard, and authorising the abandonment of that portion of the work already sanctioned by Parliament which has not been commenced.Lord Cardwell further explained that his 1312 Bill was founded on this principle, that the loan works should be brought to a final close not exceeding the estimate contained in the last Act of Parliament, that all works not already commenced, as far as loans were concerned, should be abandoned; and the works begun were to be utilised as much as possible, and completed as economically as possible. For 20 years the forts intended to be erected were useless, until the late Mr. Stanhope took the matter up in earnest, and brought in an Act by which funds were found necessary to arm these forts. After the waste of money incurred by the procedure adopted over the Fortifications Bill, the House would be much to blame if it adopted a similar Measure now. His object was to suggest certain alterations which the Government should make. Let the exact dimensions of the scheme be thought out and put into an Act of Parliament; let them ensure that the works necessary should be pushed on with expedition, and let the expenditure as far as those works were concerned be final. The late Government, in the cases of the Imperial Defence Act, the Barracks Act, and the Naval Defence Act, gave a full schedule of the total expenditure; in the Naval Defence Act they put a time limit; and each Defence Act they contrived so that it was complete in itself, and it was not necessary to come to Parliament for more money for the completion of the scheme. What were the statements in connection with this Bill? Last year the Government very properly undertook a much larger expenditure in connection with works than they incurred in the preceding year. At the time he pointed out that the sum put upon the Estimates was quite insufficient to meet the proposed expenditure; and the Civil Lord gave him a return by which it was shown that there would be a large increase in connection with the works over and above the Estimates. Since then, however, the Government had adopted fresh proposals. Last year's proposals involved an expenditure of £4,266,000, and the new proposals of this year a further expenditure of £4,315,000, making a total of £8,581,000. It was shown, however, by the return that only £1,300,000 of the expenditure was for works that were in any way included in this Bill, so that there remained a sum of £3,000,000 for works 1313 that were not touched by this Bill, these being Dover Harbour, Hongkong Dockyard extension, and Portsmouth Barracks. The first question that arose therefore was—Are those works part of the Government scheme or are they not? They had all known that the Navy Estimates must be largely added to, and he had calculated the increase at £2,000,000, but he doubted whether the revenue would stand it. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer found that it would, he increased the expenditure which the proposals of last year entailed and determined to meet a portion of it by means of a loan. Therefore it was necessary to have a clear and definite statement whether the new proposals mentioned in the return were part and parcel of the Government scheme, and, if they were, why they were not included in this Bill. A Bill of this kind, unless the House dealt very carefully with it, practically took away from the House all control over the works which were included in it, save by vote of censure, whilst, if they were charged upon the annual Estimates, they were subject every year to criticism in Committee of Supply. The way to secure a continuous naval and military policy was to get the consent of Parliament to a scheme to be continuously prosecuted; and the danger was that it was possible in a time of pressure for one determined Minister or Department to thwart the deliberate intention of the country, for which there was no redress but moving a Vote of Censure. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be ready to meet objections and to insert a clause which would make it imperative on the Government next year and in subsequent years to go on voting money until the works were completed. Then there ought to be a full schedule of all the expenditure as in the Fortification Act of 1862, showing the character of the work, the expenditure already incurred, the outlay to be incurred within the year, and an estimate of the remaining outlay. Lastly, they ought to have, if possible, some time limit. He did not know whether it would be necessary to pass an Instruction to the Committee in order to bring the Amendments he suggested within the scope of the Bill. His only desire was to adopt the best method of procedure, associated with the best safeguards ex 1314 perience could suggest, and then to pass a Bill the operation of which should be automatic, progressive and final, and should not result in another of those fiascoes which had characterised their procedure in the past.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he desired to acknowledge the courtesy and fairness with which the noble Lord had dealt with the matter; but as regarded the form of the Bill there was a fundamental difference between the noble Lord and the Government. The noble Lord assumed that the only justification for a loan depended upon the urgency of the expenditure; whereas the Government thought that the true distinction between loans and votes should be whether the expenditure was permanent or temporary in character. That was why he drew a clear distinction between the Barracks Act and the Naval Defence Act. Their contention always had been that it was not proper to resort to loans for things that perished in the using, and that they should be reserved for permanent works. He had always held the doctrine that you might equalise annual expenditure in respect of public buildings and their sites by a well-regulated system of loans, and therefore he had never raised any objection to loans for permanent works. The Reports of the Debates would show that they on that side of the House did not offer any opposition to loans for barracks; but they did object to loans not being limited to such expenditure. Therefore he was not at one with the noble Lord as to the matter of urgency being the ground of discrimination. There was no pretence for saying that the fortifications, localisation, and barracks building schemes were regarded as matters of urgency, to be done in a short time, but the Naval Defence Act did rest upon urgency; and they did not object to resorting to loans for the permanent works. The Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time himself took the distinction; he said that he drew a clear distinction between works that were of a permanent character and those that were not. Speaking on the Imperial Defence Act on May 15, 1888, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer said—He was glad the hon. and learned Gentleman had called attention to the subject, because 1315 it enabled him to say once more and most clearly, that the present proposal of the Government could not be drawn into a precedent for building ships by means of loans. He should himself very much deplore the fact if this were in any way turned into a precedent for meeting the needs of the year by means of a loan. He should always adhere to the principle that the needs of the year should be met out of the revenue of the year.The reason why he thought it was desirable to have a loan in the case was not on account of urgency, but on account of the permanent character of the work. Then, as to the question of a time limit, there was no time limit in the Barracks Act; there was certainly no time limit in the Localisation of Forces Act, which extended over a great number of years; there was no time limit in the Fortifications Bill; and even in the Naval Defence Bill of the noble Lord the time limit did not answer its purpose, and he had to introduce Bills to extend the time. Therefore, he did not think the argument for a time limit was a strong argument. There was one other point the noble Lord took, and that was, that the House should be informed of the total cost. No doubt the House ought to be informed of the total cost of works on which they embarked; but the question was, whether the total cost of the works was to be put in a Bill. The ground the noble Lord took was, that it would bind future Governments and future Parties. That was exactly the very thing to which he had always objected, and always should object. It was not right to bind future Governments and Parties in these matters. What right had the House to bind future Governments? That was the very question which was fought out in the year 1862, when the Fortifications Bill was brought in. The strict limitation in the Bill of the expenditure for the particular year was the doing of a Conservative Opposition. Those fortifications, at that time, were thought to be very valuable, and everybody now admitted them to be practically of no use whatever; therefore, if any obligation had been imposed on future Governments, they would have been compelled to spend millions on works which would have been totally useless. He wished to point out what was the principle for which Sir Stafford Northcote and Sir George Lewis con 1316 tended on that occasion, and on which the Bill was framed. Sir Stafford Northcote, in 1862, introduced a Schedule into the Bill. What was the object of that Schedule? It was to confine the Government in the strictest possible way to the expenditure for that year, and to prevent the Government from spending one single farthing beyond the necessities of the cost incurred in that year, on the very ground that no future Parliament and no future Government should be bound by anything beyond that done during the current year. Sir Stafford Northcote, on July 10th, 1862, in moving his Amendment, said:—It provided that it should not be lawful to apply to any work any greater sum than that set down in the Schedule as the total estimated cost of the work. He then wished to provide that the Government should not be at liberty to make any contract involving a greater expenditure than the sum set down for the first year, for the works in the same district.The Government had not gone so far. Stafford Northcote went on:—There were two objects in view. One was to limit the expenditure to the present year, by insisting on a correct and real appropriation of the money; and secondly, to limit the power of the Government to bind the House by contract, so as to put it out of the power of the House in the next year to act freely in the matter.Then again:—All the reasons which prevailed on the House in 1860, not only to sanction a considerable expenditure, but to sanction the objectionable practice of meeting the expenditure by borrowing money, were now crumbling to dust. The main object in his proviso was this, to recover the control with which the House of Commons ought never to have parted.That was the object of the framework of the Fortifications Bill in the year 1862. What the noble Lord asked was, that they should say to future Parliaments that they were bound by the decisions of this Parliament.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
No; what I want to prevent is, that any Minister shall upset a policy without bringing in a Bill.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he had another very great objection to that. The moment expenditure of this kind was put into a Statute, they removed from the House of Commons the control over expenditure. There might be an enormous majority in the House of Commons differing from a former policy, and 1317 desiring to stop the expenditure upon it, but if the suggestion of the noble Lord were adopted, they might be giving a veto over the authority of the House of Commons, with reference to public expenditure, to the House of Lords. That was, to his mind, a fundamental objection to a policy of this character. It would be a matter of really vital importance to bind any future Parliament on a question of this kind; and to leave the question whether the House of Commons in a future Parliament was to deal with it or not to the House of Lords was, in his opinion, not a sound policy. That was the reason why the Government had adopted the course they had taken. It was dictated by Mr. Disraeli and Sir Stafford Northcote in 1862. It was followed on that occasion, and they were very careful to maintain the control of the House of Commons over the expenditure of the country, whether it were in the form of a loan or in the form of Annual Estimates. Therefore, he could not accept the principle of the noble Lord that the Bill ought to be framed so as to oust the financial jurisdiction of the House of Commons in future years. He did not think the House need be in the least alarmed lest there should be any danger of the House of Commons being unwilling to support the necessities of the Navy.
ADMIRAL FIELD (Surrey, Eastbourne)
We are not afraid of the House of Commons. It is the Government we are afraid of.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
asked, what need was there to be afraid of the Government. After all, the Government had to be afraid of House of Commons. Therefore, any alarm on that ground was, to his mind, chimerical. Accordingly, he could not agree to the principle of the noble Lord that a loan was founded on urgency, and not on the permanency of the works. He could not agree to the time limit because, in his opinion, works were much more necessary at one time than at others, and, therefore, to bind themselves to time, showed a distrust of the House of Commons and a distrust of the Government of the day—a distrust that they would not be always ready to keep works of this kind going at times when they considered it necessary for the advantage and protection of the country. 1318 If the noble Lord thought that the more elaborate schedule proposed in 1862 by Sir Stafford Northcote would be more satisfactory, he did not think that much objection would be raised to it; but this would be a question to discuss in Committee. The noble Lord asked whether the Government considered that they were binding themselves to these new works. Certainly the intention of the Government was to carry out these works. He had always held a very strong opinion that Dover, commanding both the North Sea and the Channel, was of all places in the world the place where there ought to be a harbour. He was now anxious, and always had been anxious, to see a Government harbour at Dover; and therefore he was willing to say that the Government were as much in earnest about Dover as any other part of the scheme. That was the view of the Government, and he hoped the noble Lord would consider it to be a satisfactory statement. The Government would be willing to enter into a fair discussion on any alteration of the Bill in Committee; but at present he must state the reasons why he could not accept some of the canons which had been laid down by the noble Lord.
§ CAPTAIN DONELAN (Cork, E.)
said, that in view of the very unfair and shabby treatment accorded to Haulbowline in the present Bill, he thought that he would be neglecting his duty as representing the constituency in which that neglected dockyard was situated if he failed to take this opportunity to press for some definite statement as to the precise proportion of the money to be voted by the Bill which it was intended to expend there. He greatly feared, judging from past experience, that the Irish share of the grant would be an exceedingly small one, because he regretted to say that it appeared to be the settled policy of the Admiralty to ignore the claims of their only Irish dockyard. He considered that he was justified in making the assertion because, although since the present Government had been in office the Annual Naval Expenditure had increased by about £4,500,000, Haulbowline had reaped little or no benefit from this additional expenditure, while vast sums had been, or were about to be, expended on British 1319 dockyards. It was an undeniable fact, almost a shameful one, that of each £100 contributed by the unfortunate Irish taxpayers towards the maintenance of the Imperial Navy, the handsome proportion of about half a sovereign was considered to be sufficient to meet the requirements of the only Government dockyard in the country. In addition to the £1,000,000 which it was proposed to expend, no less than £4,465,000 was to be spent on dockyard work during the current financial year, and of this sum the magnificent total of £7,163 was to be devoted to the needs of Haulbowline, or considerably less than a six-hundredth part of the outlay, towards which Ireland would be called upon to contribute about one-twelfth. When he asked the Civil Lord a question on the subject the other day, he was referred to the Navy Estimates, and those were the facts which the Estimates told—facts of which every Englishman ought to feel ashamed. He challenged the Civil Lord to say that such a division of Imperial expenditure between an impoverished country and a wealthy one was either equitable or just. It could only be defended on the principle that might was right, and that was not the spirit in which Liberal statesmen desired to act towards Ireland any longer. Not one of the important works recommended by the naval officials at Haulbowline towards the proper equipment of this dockyard, even for repairing purposes, had been adopted by the Admiralty. Was it not an absurdity as well as a scandalous waste of public money to maintain a staff of officials for the mere purposes of calculating abstruse specifications and drawing up elaborate plans of works which it was apparently never intended to construct? There was a suspicion also—he feared a well-founded one—that even the miserable sums voted for Haulbowline were not all expended there; and he asked for a specific assurance on that point. It was a curious circumstance that when he visited this dockyard shortly before last Christmas there was little or no appearance even of a beginning having been made with either of the important works towards which £1,000 had been voted last year; and when he asked a question on this subject 1320 two months ago, he was told that those buildings had not been hurried during the summer on purpose to avoid the necessity of discharging the workmen in the autumn and the winter. But he found it exceedingly difficult to reconcile that statement with the information furnished to him by the naval officials at Haulbowline on the occasion of the visit referred to. It was to the effect that over 100 men had been discharged from Haulbowline since the summer. Why? Because there was no money to pay them; and many of these men were dismissed at a time when very severe distress prevailed at Queens-town. He regretted to say that he unavailingly brought the painful circumstance to the notice of the Civil Lord. One of the strongest motives that impelled him to press the claims of Haulbowline to a fair and reasonable share of this grant was because it would give employment to those deserving and hardly-treated men. He hardly thought that in the present condition of this dockyard it was possible for the Admiralty to adhere to the undertaking given by them last year that ships on the Irish station should in future be repaired there. He feared from what he had heard that this promise had not been very strictly carried out, and he would press the Civil Lord to give some satisfactory undertaking on that point. The attitude which successive Boards of Admiralty had adopted towards Haulbowline was a mystery and puzzle to every Irishman. The Naval Authorities did not appear to realise that they possessed in Queens-town the finest harbour in Europe, and the only port of refuge for ships disabled in the Bay of Biscay, or for ships injured during the Autumn Naval Manœuvres on the Irish coast. The basins had been constructed at a cost of nearly three-quarters of a million and only required a slight outlay to render them serviceable and efficient. No doubt there were certain difficulties in the way of converting Haulbowline into a building yard, but from an Imperial standpoint it would be an inestimable advantage if it could be properly equipped as a first-rate repairing yard. The Admiralty would never wake up to the importance of this question 1321 until some battleship went to the bottom in attempting to cross the Channel in a leaky condition. The standing excuse for neglecting Haulbowline was that there was already more dockyard accommodation than was required; but the contents of this Bill shattered that excuse to atoms. He earnestly appealed to the Admiralty to follow no longer the old bad and dishonest policy of their predecessors in this matter, and to rise superior to the temptation to purchase English dockyard votes with money properly belonging to Ireland, Finally, he desired to express his acknowledgments and thanks for the benefit conferred on the south of Ireland by the decision to establish a training ship on that coast.
§ MR. H. O. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
said that, thanks to the courtesy of the Civil Lord, he had had an opportunity, along with other Members interested in the matter, of inspecting the plans which were the subject of discussion. He could not but observe with immense satisfaction the great progress of public opinion which must have taken place in order that so magnificent and far-reaching a scheme as was specified in those plans should be now within measurable distance of accomplishment. He had not to look back very far to a time when the most sanguine would hardly have dared to hope for such a realisation of their wishes. Only two Sessions ago it was ruled out of order to discuss the question of the Gibraltar Dock on the Dockyard Vote. That state of things was now entirely changed, and it was now realised that a dockyard without a dock was a waste of public money. The speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the noble Lord on the Front Opposition Bench, although of great interest, would not interest in the highest degree those who regarded this question purely from a Naval and Military point of view. Though it was important that the two sides should adjust their differences as to the financial methods to be employed, that was, not the essential part of the question. The weak point in these proposals was, that there was absolutely no guarantee as to the speed with which the works would be carried out, or as to their initiation at all. The Chancellor of the Exchequer laid down the doctrine that it was not 1322 advisable or customary for one Parliament to bind another, or for the Vote of one Session to determine the Vote of another. That doctrine was hardly in accordance with well-known facts. He had seen the Chancellor of the Exchequer a party to votes which violated that doctrine. The work of shipbuilding must be considered from Session to Session, and even from Parliament to Parliament. The House had a right to ask for some guarantee that this great programme, which had been everywhere hailed as adequate to the necessities of the present time, at any rate, would be translated into reality. In the two most important points—the Hongkong and Dover works—there was no guarantee that they would ever be undertaken. Why should there be any delay? The Chancellor of the Exchequer went back to the bad old argument founded on the statement that works undertaken in Lord Palmerston's time were now useless, and that it was a great pity they were undertaken. He might as well say "Do not insure your house; because my insurance last year and the year before was wasted, my house not having been burnt down." This argument was often used and always to throw dust in the eyes of the people, and to burke the true problem. If these works had to be done, the sooner they were begun and finished the better. Nine millions would be required; and the country wanted value for the money. Surely authority could be given to the responsible Department to go on with the works as fast as possible, with the assurance that the money would be provided as it was wanted. Why should the Hong Kong works wait? Was the outlook so peaceful and satisfactory in the East that the country could afford to let these works slide? No advantage was to be gained by delay either there or at Dover, where a previous survey had accumulated a vast amount of information for the engineering operations. A date had been given for the completion of the Gibraltar works, but he hoped that that was not a fixed and final date. The period, first announced as seven years, had now been reduced to five. If the Civil Lord declared that according to the advice of the most experienced contractors, five years was the shortest period possible for the completion of the 1323 works, the House would accept the assurance. But he believed that that period was too long. The works could be begun at, at least, six different points simultaneously; and with regard to the dock, a great portion of it would be blasting work. The great Alpine tunnels afforded some experience of the work of rock excavation by modern appliances. A few weeks on the works of these great tunnels represented the amount of rock excavation which would have to be undertaken above the water-level at Gibraltar in the construction of the dock. He understood that the Government were going to employ their own engineers on the work, and he thought that might be desirable; but he should like to hear the opinion of some great contractor, accustomed to executing works on a large scale, as to whether so long a period as five years was necessary for the completion of the work. At any rate, the works might be initiated more quickly. He hoped that the noble Lord would press for some definite statement of time; and he could assure the Civil Lord that he would meet with nothing but support, both in and out of the House, if he would abandon the plan of making this a matter of dole from year to year. Could the Civil Lord tell them he was absolutely certain that this million sterling would be expended on the works within the time specified, because if he could not, pro tanto, they would waste the money? Until they were completed, the works were of no use at all, and therefore, true economy was either to have the money in our pockets or have the works finished. He was anxious the contractors should be instructed to go on full steam and not be checked for one day till they had done the work and turned it over to the satisfaction of the Government Inspectors.
§ MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, the financial part of the matter was that which interested him the least, nevertheless, it was undoubtedly most interesting. The Bill provided for the expenditure of 1,000,000 sterling, but the House would, on reference to the statement of the proposed naval works which the Bill was intended to initiate, see that what was proposed was an expenditure of 9,000,000 sterling. One point he wished to make quite clear, and it was that after to-day it would be 1324 impossible for the House to discuss the matters connected with one sovereign of the expenditure. When a supplementary Vote was presented, they were always told they could not discuss the principle upon which the original Vote was founded. This was an original Vote, an original vote which involved the expenditure of £9,000,000 sterling. Last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer was extremely virtuous as to the method by which this money was to be obtained; he was not going to raise money by borrowing. To-night he said: "I am not borrowing in the sense in which I used the term, because I am going to borrow for permanent works." And he distinguished between breakwaters, fortifications, dredging—a less permanent work than dredging he (Mr. T. G. Bowles) really did not know—and ships. Ironclads, the right hon. Gentleman said, were like ladies' bonnets, always getting out of fashion. But were fortifications in any different case? Had not the original fortifications at Portsmouth and Plymouth and Alderney gone entirely out of fashion? Did not breakwaters go out of fashion? All these permanent works were as little permanent as a lady's bonnet. They were, indeed, like a lady's watch, always out of repair and always requiring expenditure. "But," said the Chancellor of the Exchequer: "I am not going to make a loan in the ordinary way; I am going to give you an opportunity every year of controlling this expenditure, and of stopping it if you please, because I am going to submit an Annual Loan Bill." And the First Lord told them in his statement that in this way "the control of Parliament would be effectively maintained over the expenditure." Could it be pretended that the House was to be asked to begin to build to the extent of £9,000,000 sterling, and then, when it had spent £1,000,000 sterling that it could stop the works? On that ground alone, he said that if once they accepted this Bill, they were practically pledged to the whole of the works. It might be that as the works progressed they might not approve of some of them, and when they, the Opposition, had crossed the floor of the House, if ever they did, he might find it necessary to move some reduction of the Vote. He might be told by the 1325 right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover square, or possibly by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, that he must resist the Motion, and the right hon. Gentleman would closure him in the name of keeping faith with the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. Last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer's motto was: "Pay as you go;" but this year it was: "Borrow as you go." Of course they knew how the tremendous change had been brought about. The First Lord of the Admiralty went to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and told him he must have the money. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he had not got it, whereupon the First Lord said: "Then borrow it." Then the usual scene ensued. The Chancellor of the Exchequer recalled his marriage vows in which he swore he would never borrow; Don Juan of the Admiralty pressed a little more, and Donna Julia of the Treasury,A little still she strove, and much repented,And whispering, 'I will ne'er consent'—consented.And having consented she came to the House, renewed her vestal vows, and swore she was no worse than she ought to be, and indeed, a great deal better than the financial prudes who sat on the Front Opposition Bench. Of course they were sorry the Chancellor of the Exchequer had lost his financial virtue, but it mitigated their sorrow that he had lost it in the cause of the British Navy. As he had said £9,000,000 sterling was to be spent, £4,000,000 on docks and dredging, £1,000,000 on barracks, and £4,000,000 on torpedo defences. As to the docks and dredging his belief was they were all necesary and proper works to be made, especially the dock at Gibraltar. A great deal of rubbish had been talked about the danger to which that dock would be exposed in time of war. War was an exceptional state, and however open to attack in time of war the dock would always serve its uses in time of peace; and in time of peace, as everybody knew, Gibraltar was filled with cripples from the Mediteranean and Atlantic, and up to this time it had never been able to do any repairs. But the dock would be I equally safe in time of war unless we were at war with Spain. The gallant captain behind him had said that if we 1326 went to war with France we should probably get to war with Spain. [Captain BETHELL: "We always have been."] No; the gallant Gentleman forgot the Peninsular campaign, when, together with Spaniards, we drove France out of Spain and contributed so much to the final defeat of Napoleon. It was unlikely we should ever be at war with Spain; but if we were, he doubted whether Spain would be able to do damage to the dock at Gibraltar. The dangers to the dock from hostile attack even from Spanish territory, had beer enormously exaggerated; but even if they existed, he would rather have the dock with all its danger than have no dock at all.
§ Mr. T. G. BOWLES
said, he now came to the question of barracks, He was at variance with the policy of putting seamen into barracks. He admitted that in these days we did not want so large a proportion of seamen no our men-of-war—he himself was an advocate for replacing a considerable portion of seamen by blue and red marines—but he maintained that the seamen we have must be even more finished seamen than those of old. The whole tendency of this barrack policy was to put an end to seamanship, and to substitute in its place what he would call landsmanship. He, therefore, thought it was a mistaken policy. The next important matter was the torpedo attack works. It was proposed to spend close on four millions on such works——1,000,000 at Gibraltar; £650,000 at Portland; and £2,000,000 at Dover. In saying it he might be thought a shocking naval heretic, but he did not believe in torpedo boats or in torpedo attacks; because, in his opinion, they never could succeed except there was gross carelessness on the part of those attacked, and that was a position in which he hoped our fleet would never be found. He thought those very works would have a tendency to produce that want of vigilance which, in his judgment, was the one condition of success in a torpedo attack. The best policy was to meet torpedo boats with torpedo boats. It was said that the strain on the men would be great if they were exposed to attack by torpedo boats. That was 1327 true; but our business was to teach our men to stand that strain. There was a terrible strain on our seamen during the blockade of Toulon for two years; but the men went through it unflinchingly, and at the end proved themselves to be the finest seamen in Europe. It was nonsense at this time of day to propose to remove all strain on our seamen by boxing their ships up inside breakwaters, so that the men could turn in and go to sleep without any apprehension or anxiety. His first objection to this scheme of torpedo defence by the construction of breakwaters at Gibraltar, Portland and Dover was that it meant crowding our ships into places from which it would be difficult for them to get out again. It would, to a large extent, destroy the mobility of the ships. The mobility of a ship was its great virtue. There was no more, helpless thing in the world than a ship at anchor; and the more they tried to keep the torpedo out, the more they would keep the ships in. They would box up the ships, and, therefore, render them the more helpless. His second objection to the scheme was that by gathering the vessels into those places they invited attack. The enemy could fire into the crown of our ships at any of those three places from two or three miles out in the open sea, and the fleet being huddled up together could not return the fire. It should be remembered that at Dover there was a rise and fall of the tide of from 18 to 20 feet, which meant that at low water every vessel would have, between her and the attacking ships outside, a wall of breakwater 20 feet high close to her and masking her guns. That he thought was a most serious matter. His next objection was that whatever defence those breakwaters might be against the present torpedo, they would be no defence at all against the aerial torpedo, which he believed would he greatly developed in time. A further objection was that those places would each require land works and a small army to defend them. In fact, the scheme amounted to this—that breakwater and land forces should do work that would be far better done by the fleet if the fleet were properly handled. The worst thing that could happen to war-vessels was to keep them 1328 in a secure place doing nothing or next to nothing. Lord St. Vincent, when in the Tagus in 1796 said, "Inactivity in the Tagus will make cowards of us all." He believed that would be the tendency of those torpedo works, and therefore he considered them mistaken. He hoped the House would bear with him while he proceeded to consider the general question of naval strategy to which he had devoted much time and attention. No one could belittle the importance of the subject. It meant that disposition of our fleet and our stations over all the seas which would enable us to retain our supremacy over all the world; and if mistakes were made in time of peace, dearly would she rue it when the stress of war came upon us. He thought mistakes were being made which would diminish the natural advantages which the kingdom possessed as the centre of naval operations. Those natural advantages were stupendous. Like Tyre, these islands might be said to be seated "in the seat of God in the midst of the sea." We had all the habitable lands—Europe, Asia, Africa, and America—grouped around us, and we stood in the centre of all the naval routes, at the crossing of all the roads, and on eternally interior lines. Our islands were so placed in regard to Europe that we divided North Europe from South Europe; and, as history showed, if both North and South Europe were against us we could prevent them meeting, because in the Straits of Dover we commanded the gate. Yet while thus preventing the junction of our enemies we could maintain free intercourse with out friends, for the western ports of our kingdom must remain open, and could never be blockaded, even though the whole navies of the world joined in the attack. This then brought him to the question of the relative importance of positions for arsenals and dockyards as stations for the main forces of our fleet. As to Gibraltar, he thought it a priceles possession. He, therefore, approved of everything which had been done there with the single exception of the torpedo defences, whose utility he doubted. Here he might say that he marvelled how any man with the slightest pretence to be a student of naval 1329 history and naval strategy, could ever recommend the voluntary surrender of the Mediterranean. In the event of war we could not, would not, and should not give it up without a struggle. In that fight we should probably win, but win or lose, fight for it we must. But he was not so confident as to the importance of Dover and Portland. These places were within torpedo-striking distances of the coast of a country which might in conceivable circumstances be hostile to us. But his main objection to them was that they were not places from which our fleet could make the greatest effect upon our enemies. He never contemplated for our fleet a policy of defence. As Blake had said, "Those who would command the sea must always attack," and for attack Dover and Portland were not suitable. Far better places, for all strategical purposes, were Chatham and Plymouth—Chatham to command North Europe, Plymouth to command South Europe, and both combined together, like forceps, to defend the south coast, to close their forces on any attack that might take place between them. Indeed, a better position than even Plymouth, for Naval action, would be (as Lord St. Vincent long ago pointed out as the result of his practical experience) the Scilly Isles, which offered the most splendid position, either for assemblage of convoys, for defence of Ireland, or for attack upon any part of South Europe. For a quarter of the sum the Government proposed to spend on Dover, they could convert those isles into the safest and most ideal strategical position in all Europe. History had shown them that in time, of war it was not at Dover or Portland that their positions must be. As for a harbour of refuge, every seaman must know that Dover was not the right place for it. If they were to have a harbour of refuge, it must be at Dungeness, where they were considerably removed from the Downs. As for a strategic position, he thought that works at Dover, or a naval position which involved the keeping of a great force at Dover, would be not only useless, but positively mischievous. Dover, of course, commended itself to naval landsmen who wanted to have their defences close to them, but it was the greatest mistake to suppose that the naval defence should be, close to the 1330 country that required to be defended. They had not forgotten those hosts assembled at Boulogne to invade this country. And how was this country protected from them? Not by anything at Dover or Portland, but it was saved by the fleets which blockaded Brest, Rochfort, Ferrol, and Toulon. It was the action which took place 1,500 miles away at the ports of the enemy which prevented the hosts who, from Boulogne, could look upon the cliffs of Dover, from ever landing upon them. It was not at Dover they wanted their defence, but it was at the ports of the enemy they required their ships. He had ventured to lay these criticisms and considerations before the House. He thought it would be recognised that they were not light criticisms, nor should they be lightly passed over. He might have strengthened them, but, for many reasons, he preferred to remain on general grounds, and to confine them rather to general suggestions. He believed those who considered the subject would agree with him that the true principles of strategy were the same now as they were in Lord St. Vincent's time, with the sole difference that we had a greater advantage than was possessed in Lord Vincent's time in acting on interior lines. These criticisms were serious; he had learned them from the works of great seamen and great masters, and from the lessons taught by their last naval war. He submitted them with all diffidence to the House, and he trusted they would receive from the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, and from the First Lord, that attention which undoubtedly they deserved.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
wished to direct the attention of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty to practical points concerning Dover and Gibraltar. As to Dover, he should not follow the hon. Member for King's Lynn into the strategic considerations, but he would assume that the advisers of the Admiralty were right in what they had recommended as to these works being proceeded with. Having made this assumption then, he must agree with what had been said as to the unwisdom of postponing the works. He desired to know why there was to be such postponement? He rather understood from the Chancellor 1331 of the Exchequer that convict labour was to be utilised.
§ SIR C. DILKE
was glad to hear that, and observed that in the original scheme of some years ago it was intended to make strong endeavours to have convicts employed there. But the situation had wholly changed in recent years with regard to convict labour, whilst the machinery employed in making breakwaters was of so delicate a nature that to employ convicts on the work would be waste of time and money. He left that aside, merely asking the ground for the delay in commencing these works at Dover, which he assumed, for the purpose of this discussion, to be necessary works. Whilst the hon. Member for King's Lynn had greatly questioned the wisdom of the works at Dover, he had agreed with every other speaker in admitting the importance of the works at Gibraltar, except as to that relating to the torpedoes, in which he differed from every naval authority. At Gibraltar there was only one dock to be built. The House would remember the patriotic endeavours made by the hon. Member for West Belfast and Sir George Chesney, whose death they all lamented, to bring this question of dock accommodation at Gibraltar before the country and the Government, and they must all be glad at the partial success with which they had met, and which was recognised in this Bill. The importance of the position at Gibraltar—entirely independent of the question of the command of the Mediterranean—could not be overrated, and to have only one dock there was altogether insufficient. In time of war they would need more than one dock, and they must always have war in mind when discussing a Bill of this sort. One dock was a very small provision to make against the chances, or, indeed, the certainties, of future war. The Minister of the French Marine, in the recent debates on the Estimates, recognised the probability that, in the naval engagements of the future, ships on both sides would be crippled, and that the Power which was able to kept a certain number of ships out of the first engagement would be the Power to command the seas after the first day's operations. If British ships, therefore, were fighting at a great 1332 distance from home, and probably from Malta, how were they to bring their crippled ships to port for repairs and continue to hold the seas unless they had adequate dock accommodation? It had been said that it would be costly to construct docks on the east side of Gibraltar; but on the western side, even within the limits of the present scheme, there was room not for one dock only but for three, and three docks could be built as fast as one. Even if the larger and more costly and difficult scheme on the east side was not pressed, he urged that the provision of dock accommodation at Gibraltar, which was so urgently needed, should be pushed forward with the greatest possible speed, there being, as he had pointed out, ample space for three docks on the western side, and within the limits of the present scheme.
§ MR. G. WYNDHAM (Dover)
, alluding to the criticisms of the hon. Member for Lynn Regis, observed that for very many years all men of light and leading in naval matters had regarded Dover as the place at which a national harbour of refuge should be constructed. But he was content, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, to shelter himself behind the assumption that the Government had been well advised in this matter, and to accept the recognition of the necessity for this harbour which had been given so fully and frankly by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that Debate. He had a number of arguments and statistics in favour of the importance and urgency of making at Dover a harbour of refuge, but he would discard them and take the admission of the Government. All he asked was, that they would take the next logical step upon those admissions. He had but one point to make—he made it with brevity and with considerable hope. It was that Hong Kong and Dover ought to be mentioned in the schedule of the Bill. Accepting the whole of the Government plan as it stood, he asked them to complete it by filling up the schedule, so that the House should be associated with them in inaugurating a policy which was popular throughout the whole country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had defended his pedantic finance on the ground that he wished to show the greatest reverence 1333 for the House of Commons. How could he better show his reverence than by making the House of Commons his colleagues in the inauguration of his great scheme? He knew it had been urged that to publish details about battleships was injurious, but here the Government had published the whole scheme, and yet they would not ask the House to vote the money for it. The House of Commons resented the practice of the spending Departments of taking money allocated to one item and spending it on another, but here the Government deliberately, and of set purpose, went into this scheme meaning to spend the money and yet refused to the House of Commons the right which they claimed of associating themselves with them in this great scheme for defending the British Empire.
ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
, knew that the hon. Member for Dover was not speaking on behalf of his constituents alone, but also having thought out these questions for years on behalf of the Naval Service. For his own part he wished to speak purely from the Naval view. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman opposite, Sir C. Dilke, for his admirable speech, and the first-class suggestion he had made that the Government ought not to limit their action to the one dock at Gibraltar. He was afraid the hon. Member for King's Lynn represented but a small portion of Naval opinion in the views he had put before the House. The hon. Member forgot the changed conditions of naval warfare. In former days officers and men had no fear of a submarine enemy. It was well-known on the part of everybody that, even in the summer manœuvres, the wear and tear on the part of officers and men was almost more than they could endure, and if, during the anxieties and responsibilities of war they could not have a decent night's rest when in harbour, coaling or victualling their ships, they would fill our madhouses—for that was the short and long of it. He wished to emphasise the opinion of the hon. Member for Dover as to the serious mistake of the Government in omitting to include the harbour at Dover. It must have been done intentionally, and it was very strange that, apparently according to Clause 4 of the Bill, the Treasury were to be furnished with a full estimate of the details, but the 1334 House of Commons not. He still ventured to hope there would be a proper schedule annexed to the Bill, not necessarily stating that the cost should be confined to the specified amount, but giving the estimated cost of every work contracted for. He thought the Naval barracks might very well wait if there was any financial difficulty to encounter; but he could not see any reason why Hong Kong and Dover should be omitted. So long ago as May 1886 the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that thematter [Dover] had been carefully considered by a Committee of the Cabinet, consisting of the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, and the Secretary of State for foreign Affairs; and they had come to the conclusion that the first works that ought to be undertaken were those at Dover.Surely the necessity had not become less by the effluxion of time. By the tremendous importance of torpedo warfare, this work indeed had become one of extreme urgency. Unless he heard that the Naval advisers were in favour of the exclusion of Dover from the programme, he would not believe that this had been done with their approval, but rather that it had been done in spite of their disapproval. It was madness to waste time and to hesitate about incurring expenditure when they could readily get the money. Naval men were never afraid of the House of Commons but of the Government, and this was true whichever Government was in power. All Governments were more or less alike in this matter, unless they were heavily squeezed by public opinion pressing on their heels. He did not trouble his head about the manner in which the money was to be found. He did not care about that so long as it was found, but surely in that Bill they should find the probable estimated cost. It might be that the Government of the day would be slack in carrying out that which the previous Government were sincerely desirous of accomplishing. He should not accuse Government of not acting in good faith, but it looked as if they were acting under abnormal pressure, and if that abnormal pressure were removed they might not be so earnest in carrying out that great schemes to maintain their sea power. Why keep form them all the 1335 estimated cost of all these works? He thought his noble Friend was justified in all the observations he had made, and particularly as to the "cold fit" which might come on again. They should take steps to make it almost obligatory on the successors of a Government to spend the necessary money, but that was not to be realised, he feared, judging from the remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Nothing had been said justifying the omission of the important works connected with Dover. He hoped everyone who spoke would enforce that contention. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the House were the masters. No they were not; they were slaves, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be the first to fall foul of any hon. Member who proposed any increase. He, however, should move to put Dover in the Bill and take a Division upon it.
§ DR. COMMINS (Cork Co., S.E.)
hoped that defects in regard to the conveyance of workmen to Haulbowline would be made good. He thought there was inadequate accommodation in this respect.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
expressed, in the first place, his acknowledgments of the unanimity with which the proposals in the Bill had been received by the House. There had been nothing challenged, and even so few questions had been asked that he had very little to say on behalf of the Admiralty. With regard to Dover, the hon. Member and also the gallant Admiral had left the House, but his hon. Friend was still present, and all he had to say practically was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had already marked the limits within which he must be guided. It was not for him to go beyond the lines laid down by his right hon. Friend, but he was sure the spirit of his remarks had been correctly interpreted. As to Dover, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not pledge himself as to the employment of convicts, and his own belief was that it would not be found convenient to employ them. As to the million covered by the Resolution, it would be competent for any Member to introduce a new item by taking an amount from one or more items in the Bill. That, he believed, would be perfectly in order. As to Hong Kong, that was a pure question 1336 for Committee. The only dissentient note struck was by the Member for Lynn Regis, who was no longer in his place, and he challenged the barrack policy. They only continued that policy, and it was better from all points of view of discipline and even seamanship that the men should be housed in suitable buildings on shore instead of in hulks, which took up space now wanted. That was the policy of the late and the present Board. As to the financial provisions of the Bill, they had already been dealt with. The hon. Member for East Cork had broached the question of Haulbowline, but the point raised was scarcely germane to the Bill.
§ MR. W. O'BRIEN (Cork)
said, surely they had a right to know in what proportion the money was to be spent?
§ MR. ROBERTSON
said, the question referred to was the general administration of Haulbowline. The dredging of Hawlbowline meant the cutting of a new channel, and could, therefore, be properly described as permanent works. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean suggested that, instead of one dock, two or even three docks should be made at Gibraltar. The disposition of the House towards the Bill was that of "asking for more," and his right hon. Friend's suggestion would be taken into consideration. The hon. Member for the Holderness Division expressed the opinion that the harbour at Gibraltar should have been made on the east side. But the proposal now made had been carefully considered, and it was the unanimous opinion of the Board of Admiralty that the wiser course was to proceed with the extension of the present dockyard accommodation.
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL
asked whether the Admiralty had considered the dangers that might arise on that side of Gibraltar in time of war.
§ MR. ROBERTSON
said, the best naval and military opinion was that the desirability of these works counterbalanced any dangers that might exist. The question of a more westerly harbour than Portland had not been considered, and he could not, therefore, express any 1337 opinion upon it. He concluded by asking the House to allow the Second Reading to be taken now, and said that if they did so they might be able to get rid of certain other Bills to-night, and thus give on the first Monday after Easter an opportuntiy for discussing Vote 8 of the Navy Estimates, on which a great many questions were likely to be raised.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
said, it was rarely that the House had before it questions of greater moment to the country than those involved in this Bill. The majority of hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House were rejoiced at finding that the Government were alive to the necessity and importance of the great works of defence and of naval construction provided for in the measure, and for this reason they were disposed to pass over lightly the inconsistency and paradox which were involved in the present proposals of the Government. For his own part he regarded the Bill as a triumph of the Imperial idea. It marked the complete overthrow of the Party which had been known under various names, as peace-at-any-price men, Little Englanders, and so forth. The fact that a Radical Government were proposing such a measure marked the practical end of that party which so long dominated the military and naval and Imperial policy of the country. They could not shut their eyes altogether to the fact, too, that the Bill was a practical condemnation by the Government themselves of the attitude which they adopted when in opposition in regard to the Naval Defence Act seven years ago. The then Government proposed to spend £21,000,000 to bring the Navy up to the necessary state of efficiency, and the repayment of that money was spread over periods of five and seven years. The right hon. Gentlemen who now composed the present Government then strongly opposed the principle of any postponement of repayment and of any loan; yet they now proposed to the House to expend £8,500,000 on works which they all admitted to be necessary, and to spread the repayment over a period, not of five or seven years, but of 30 years. The inconsistency of the Government in this was obvious. Still, he was glad to get the works promised and provided for, 1338 and therefore he would not dwell further on that point. There were features in the Bill, however, which were open to objection, especially in respect to its vagueness. There was no provision in it to ensure that the money should be spent on the works within any given period, no restriction that would prevent the present or any future Government from delaying the works and spreading the expenditure of the money over 20 or 30 years, or abandoning the works altogether except for the inherent absurdity of such a course. The financial part of the present scheme was open to the serious objection, therefore, that the works might, under stress of Party influence, Treasury pressure, or financial difficulties, be greatly restricted during the coming year, and no practical answer had been given to this criticism. It would be open to future Governments, or Treasuries, to cut down and delay the works as they pleased. Under the Naval Defence Act the works provided for could not possibly be restricted or postponed except by a new Act of Parliament. Mere pressure from the Treasury would not be sufficient to delay the work under that Act, but in the present case the Government could say that only a million or half a million of the money should be spent in a given year. For this reason he thought it was a misfortune that the whole scheme was not clearly and definitely put in the Bill, and in such a way that it would require an act of the Legislature to restrict or delay the works. The hon. Member for King's Lynn had made some criticisms upon the Bill, but they were effectually answered by the hon. and gallant Member for the Eastbourne Division, who pointed out that the hon. Member had overlooked the great changes that had taken place in modern warfare. It was pointed out that in his criticisms as to the proposed harbour for Dover and the rendezvous and harbour of Portland, the hon. Member for King's Lynn had overlooked the great revolution which the torpedo and the torpedo boat had effected in modern naval strategy and warfare. Anyone, however much of a layman he might be, who had studied the annual manœuvres, and had heard the opinions of distinguished officers who had taken part in them, must know that the stress placed on the whole 1339 complement of a ship by the liability to torpedo attacks was so terrible that it could only be borne for a limited period. The hon. Member said something about the Downs being a safe anchorage for a British fleet. It would be impossible for such a fleet to anchor safely there in the case of war with France. The torpedo boat could now steam 18 or 20 miles an hour, and therefore in one short hour the enemy would be able to launch a crowd of such boats upon the fleet. Dover was a place of great importance for both defensive and offensive purposes, and it was necessary that our Fleet should have safe anchorage and harbour there. He regarded a protected harbour at Dover as one of the most important proposals of the Government. Such a harbour should be torpedo-proof. It was true the hon. Gentleman pointed out certain advantages that Dungeness possessed, but he did not prove that that place was in any way superior to Dover. It was almost incredible that we should have no safe harbour for our Fleet on the whole of the east coast. He regretted that both Dover and Hong Kong were not scheduled in the Bill, and he hoped an Amendment would be moved, and accepted by the Government, which should include both those great works formally in the Bill. In view of the great development of naval strength among the Indo-China races of the East, and the naval power which Japan possessed now, and was likely to possess in a still greater degree in future, Hong Kong was of very great value. He did not regard Japan in any way as an enemy, she was a natural of this country, but still the great development of naval power rendered it necessary that Hong Kong should not be neglected. He welcomed the proposals of the Government in regard to Gibraltar in a most cordial spirit. Perhaps the House would allow him a small amount of congratulation upon the fact that the present proposals of the Government in regard to Gibraltar were in almost every detail the same as those recommended by the Committee over which ho had had the honour of presiding at the Admiralty some six years ago. He very much regretted that these years, in the smaller portion of which the Conservative Party were in power, 1340 should have passed so far without any thing having been done. [An HON MEMBER: "1886 to 1892."] The hon. Member was in the wrong; the Report was not issued till 1889, he believed.
§ SIR D. MACFARLANE (Argyll)
asked if the appointment of the Committee had not been a proof of public opinion on the subject.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, it would be unfair to charge the late Government with the delay. The hon. Gentleman and the House would recollect that other works of the very greatest importance to our naval interests existed at that time; our Fleet was exceedingly deficient, and the first necessity was to re-establish the naval supremacy of the country. There was a very considerable opposition made to the financial proposals of the Government with regard to the Fleet at the time, and that was an excuse for some of the delay. As the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean pointed out, whether we held the Mediterranean or not, Gibraltar was of first-class importance as a naval station, and the value of Gibraltar was undeniable. It was almost certain that if we should be involved in a struggle with our great naval rival the decisive sea-fight would be fought within the waters of Gibraltar, and the importance of a suitable dockyard could not therefore be over-estimated. He thought there would be many disadvantages in having a great naval station at the Scilly Islands, which would be open to bombardment from every part of the sea. The value of Portland Harbour was also very great, as a fleet stationed there would be in the best position for commanding both the great Channel harbours, Brest and Cherbourg; and with our outpost at Alderney we should be in a position to intercept any movement of our rivals. He regretted that more had not been done to place that important outpost in a position of effectual defence. He concurred in thinking the west side of Gibraltar the best place for a dock. He had had the opportunity of hearing the views of the most distinguished sailors in the British Navy on this question, and their opinion was the same. He expressed his regret that the Bill was not more definite in regard to the future, and thought the whole programme of the Government as to these 1341 works should have been set forth. No definite time had been fixed, as far as possible, for their construction. It would have been more satisfactory if the Government had had the courage to directly acknowledge that their attitude in 1889 was a mistaken one.
§ MR. J. C. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
congratulated the hon. Gentleman, and the Members of the Opposition generally on their view of the importance of the Bill. He pointed out, however, that the Bill would have gone through on two or three nights had it not been for the importance attached by hon. Members to the proposal as to one of the dockyards. He contended that the sum of £2,500 for the dockyard at Haulbowline was either too little or too much. It was extraordinary on the part of the Admiralty, whoever their advisers might be, that Haulbowline Dockyard, which cost the country £750,000, should at the present moment be practically useless as far as the Naval defences of the country went. The Admiralty should either close the place altogether or utilise it in the Naval defence of the country. They had had two or three object lessons within the past few years of the importance of maintaining Haulbowline as a dockyard repairing station. During the Naval Manœuvres of 1893, off the Irish coast, the Apollo and another warship were seriously damaged. They could not be repaired at Haulbowline and had to be removed to Devonport. If a hostile fleet had been off the coast this could not have been done. The ships would have been put out of action, and all because the Admiralty, with something worse than cheeseparing policy, would not recognise the value of Haulbowline as a repairing station. The first stone of the dockyard was laid 20 years ago by the present First Lord of the Admiralty, but the original specifications had never been carried out. If the Admiralty persisted in their neglect, it would be the duty of Irish Members on every available occasion to call attention to their neglect. Lord Spencer, four years ago, and since, had said the Government intended to make Haulbowline of real value and support to the Navy as a repairing and refitting station in the time of war, and to repair vessels in time of peace. In view of the repeated declarations of the First Lord of the 1342 Admiralty, and the fact that £750,000 had been expended on the dockyard, the Admiralty should either frankly acknowledge that they did not intend to maintain Haulbowline Dockyard or show their readiness to make it useful in the Naval defence of the country.
§ SIR E. HARLAND (Belfast, N.)
asked, what sized graving dock it was proposed to construct at Gibraltar? The Civil Lord of the Admiralty would appreciate the great importance of the matter in view of the enormous ships—war transports and armed cruisers—which no doubt would be called into use in the next Naval war. As to the works proposed at Dover, from the plan he had seen, he was afraid there would be nothing like sufficient room for modern warships to swing at anchor with any degree of safety or convenience. It was almost impossible to form harbours too large in view of the enormous number of vessels which would probably in future form our Channel Fleet, and which might be passing at a time. He would be glad if the Admiralty would give the House an opportunity of seeing the plans for the proposed completion at Dover Harbour.
§ MR. H. E. KEARLEY (Devonport)
supported the case put forward for Haulbowline Dockyard. Haulbowline was admirably situated for a Naval Station, and considering the large sum of money that had been spent on the dockyard he could not understand why the Admiralty had not kept it up in a state of efficiency. With regard to the harbour works at Dover, the Civil Lord of the Admiralty must have convinced himself of the fact that both sides of the House were determined that the works should be proceeded with forthwith. There was a strong feeling in that direction on the Mnisterial side of the House, and he believed on the other side also. He was much gratified the other day when inspecting the Gibraltar plans, to find that the director of the works had pencilled on the plans two additional docks. It was essential that Gibraltar should become a real naval base; but it could not be what it ought to be until it had a more effective equipment. By this Bill, the Government proposed to take such land and execute such works as they might deem expedient. A large part of the expenditure under the Bill would be 1343 incurred on Devonport, and the work would involve a permanent increase of the population. Owing to the system of land tenure that prevailed, there was a fearful amount of overcrowding, and the responsibility rested upon the Government to see that the people whom they brought there were properly housed. At present there were no workmen's houses, but the tenement system prevailed. The Government of the country were practically responsible for the creation of Devonport, where they occupied 200 acres of land; and they were morally bound to take cognisance of any conditions of land tenure which prevented the proper housing of the people. When they were taking powers to acquire land they ought to have in view the providing of a remedy for the evils of overcrowding that already existed, and would be aggravated by an increase of the population. Since it had become known that the Government works were to be extended, the local authorities had instituted an inquiry as to the evils that must result from further overcrowding, and if he were permitted in Committee he would state some of the results with the object of forcing the Government to recognise their responsibility.
§ MR. EUGÈNE CREAN (Queen's County, Ossory)
, said that the thirty years of procrastination which had occurred in the development of Haulbowline was a disgrace to the Government of this country. The dockyard was started in 1865, and £150,000 was to have been spent upon it in six years, but now, thirty years afterwards, the docks were not finished. There had been great loss from bad management in Cork Harbour. The sill of a dock had to be deepened, and, when the gates came to be put in position, they were found to be worthless. This involved a loss of £12,500, and this sort of thing had been going on for thirty years. Irish Members had been silent, or they had simply asked questions to which they had received scant replies. Yet the question was one that deeply touched the Empire at large. The suitability of the place as a harbour was not disputed; it offered safety to vessels from stress of weather or from an attacking force. Boats could be protected by a line of forts so that no shots from the sea could touch them. There was no safer port in the Empire, 1344 yet the place had been boycotted to such an extent that the Irish people felt indignant: and it was possible Irish Members might come to think that the boycott was being carried a little too far. They felt it difficult to support the Government on measures for the advancement of England. They would see this Bill through, but they certainly would expect more satisfaction on this point than they had hitherto received.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)
, said no doubt that Irish Members were right in insisting that the British Government ought to make up its mind whether Haulbowline was wanted or not; but he was afraid that, if the matter were to be so decided, the decision would be that, in the present condition of naval arrangements, it was not wanted. No doubt it was a first-rate geographical position, and it was a lovely situation; but it certainly seemed that Haulbowline was superfluous, and if that were the case, he put it to the Government,—what was the good of keeping it up when there was no real intention of making it effective? Before the days of machinery it was no doubt a valuable position, but in these days he doubted very much whether it was. Therefore, hon. Members below the Gangway were quite right in saying that the Government must make up their minds in the matter. Was it to be or not to be? That was the question. He thought the House was especially inclined to meet the hon. Gentleman the Civil Lord—that night, because of the bright, courteous, and satisfactory manner in which he had given his explanation. He had been struck with the generous latitude that had been allowed to hon. Members to discuss works that were not in the Schedule of the Bill, such as the works at Hong Kong and Dover. Of all questions that came before the House, Naval questions were the most important. They affected not merely the wealth and welfare, but the very life of the nation. He would not, however, labour the question of Hong Kong. It had been pointed out by the late Civil Lord that the development of the power of Japan augmented the importance of Hong Kong Nor need he labour the Dover question. He believed the true reason for these works at Dover had not quite been taken in the Debate. He believed the reason 1345 was that Dover was the nearest point to the French coast in which several torpedo stations were being organised in a most effective manner, and therefore it was important that Dover should be rendered impregnable to a torpedo attack. He contended that the Schedule ought to have included these two important places, so that the whole scheme of the works might have been set forth. If Hong Kong and Dover were included, the expenditure would be some £9,000,000; and he contended that there ought to be set out in the Schedule—(1) the total cost of the works, and (2) the amount of money that was wanted for each work in the present year, to follow with the total for the present year. He had asked the Civil Lord whether any one of these works had been sanctioned by the House.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
Then the other half have not. He wanted to know, as a matter of financial regularity, whether that was correct?
§ MR. ROBERTSON
About one half of the expenditure was sanctioned last year for works which were approved of for the first time in the Estimates of last year.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
The question I want to press is, has each one of these works been sanctioned by this House before being included in the Schedule?
§ MR. ROBERTSON
No; I think that only those included in last year's Estimates can be said to have been sanctioned The rest will be sanctioned to-night.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
said, that was very important. Some of the works had been put into the Bill without having been previously sanctioned by the House, and it was a question whether that was regular or not. He should have thought that, before any expenditure took place, there must be a Resolution of the House, and each one of the works ought to have been sanctioned by the House. He would not, however, labour the point, and would simply submit that it was a great question whether it was not a financial irregularity. Of course, he had listened with due attention to what fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the principle of one Parliament not binding another. That was a principle on which all would agree 1346 to some extent, but there must be limitations of it. It could not apply to limitation for a short period of time. If the Government would kindly consider that, the House having undertaken any one of the works, its progress would have to be spread over so many years before completion was arrived at. The work having once begun with the sanction of this Parliament, that did bind the next Parliament to complete it. There was no more effective mode of making an obligation binding than by beginning the work. Therefore, it was all nonsense to say that one Parliament could not bind another. It was essential that there should be some such obligation, otherwise the work might not be properly completed. The argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it was objectionable to prevent a Minister from altering a policy except by Act of Parliament, because the House of Lords would have a veto on the House of Commons, did not really touch this matter. The House of Lords might veto the House of Commons to some extent, but they never vetoed a money Bill. The House of Commons might pass an Act to bind themselves, they might release themselves from that obligation and from that binding by Act of Parliament, but there would be no danger of the House of Lords vetoing them, because they never interfered on matters relating to finance and money. He might, perhaps, be allowed to make a few remarks about Gibraltar. He wished first of all to join in the chorus of congratulation to the Government for having taken this work in hand. Undoubtedly, the next Trafalgar would be fought in the waters under the Rock, and it was necessary that there should be an effective dock at Gibraltar to receive the wounded ironclads. That was plainly and absolutely necessary. Then the strategic importance of Gibraltar must also be considered. As to the idea of abandoning the Mediterranean, it was not to be thought of. We might as well abandon our Eastern Empire altogether. No man who knew India would think of abandoning Gibraltar. He was sure that his hon. friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Arnold-Forster), who had led this agitation in connection with the works at 1347 Gibraltar, was to be especially congratulated; and he wished that his gallant friend Sir George Chesney had been alive to see the result. He could not, however, join with the hon. Member for the Holderness Division of Yorkshire (Capt. Bethell) in his views about the Spanish position. He could not conceive any one getting big guns up those hills; and the idea of being afraid of the Spanish artillery was not a little ridiculous. Besides Spain was a friendly Power towards Great Britain. He listened with interest to the remarks made by the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) who spoke on these subjects with great authority; and he was thankful to hear the right hon. Gentleman lend his great authority on the question of Gibraltar. The right hon. Gentleman said that though much had been done still more remained to be done; and as he knew the Rock of Gibraltar well the right hon. Gentleman had informed the House that those plans which were good as far as they went were not enough. But the Civil Lord said that if the House wanted more the Government would be glad to consider the recommendations; and this so far was satisfactory. The House, indeed, wanted to see Gibraltar put in the position of a real harbour of refuge and centre for our ironclads. No doubt the Admiralty were well advised by naval experts in determining to devote their efforts to the west side of the rock rather than to the east. In the meantime let the west side be completed and the east side would come hereafter. Civilians without official information could not of course offer any conclusive criticism on details; and no doubt the Government would take what had been said into consideration. What they could do, however, was to encourage the Government in doing right as regarded all naval affairs. They could assure the Government of their support in the performance of that duty, and the support of public opinion in the constituencies. Thus they would be able to give the Government that national encouragement in making our Navy supreme, and all our naval stations impregnable from one end of the globe to the other.
§ MR. R. W. HANBURY (Preston)
said, that with regard to Haulbowline he 1348 thought the Irish members, as well as the British taxpayer, had a fair cause for complaint. Either the Admiralty ought to make Haulbowline a serviceable yard or abolish it altogether. At present they were doing neither the one thing nor the other. It was a yard of all others where half-measures had done the most misehief, and the result ought to be a serious warning as to delaying works in the future. It was indeed an object-lesson as to the necessity of beginning works at once and of finishing them within a definite time. He heartily congratulated the Government on their naval policy this Session. The Government, at any rate, had this Session taken the Navy out of the lines of mere party policy, and any party which adopted the line they had now pursued were adopting a thoroughly popular policy. Speaking for a manufacturing town in Lancashire he said that his constituents and others interested in our commerce would take the deepest interest in the welfare of our Navy. As to the mode in which the money was to be provided, he did not much care. His concern was that the money was to be spent on these definite objects. But although he was heartily glad that the money was being spent, he did not think that the Government had taken sufficient security against waste and delay. The Government were especially to be commended for undertaking a class of expenditure—works which had been too much neglected by the Governments of the last 10 or 15 years. The tonnage of the Fleet had doubled in the last 15 years, and the number of men had increased 50 per cent.; but within the same period the annual expenditure on works had hardly increased at all. The average expenditure had not been £500,000 a year. It was no good looking after only a portion of the needs of the Navy. Ships, men, and works must be carried on side by side, and for the first time these three essentials were likely to proceed abreast. As to the particular mode of raising the money, no doubt the Government, in proposing a loan, were acting quite properly. The works to which the money was to be devoted had been neglected by previous Governments; and therefore there was some claim to throw a portion of the burden on future years. Moreover, permanent works 1349 such as these differed largely in their character from the mere building of ships. But he wished that the House were not legislating so much in the dark, and that they had more details of the expenditure. The Government were not following precedent in this matter, for in the Act of 1860 the schedule not only gave such useful details as the station, district, and name of the work, and the estimated cost of the whole, but it also gave year by year the amount expended up to date, the amount to be spent in the current year, and the further sum required. If such particulars were supplied in the present case, they would go far to satisfy the requirements of hon. Members. He hoped that it would be possible to introduce some limit of time into the Bill; for the last few years had shown that the work which was done quickly was as a rule done most economically and efficiently. That was the reason of the great advance which this country had made over foreign nations in regard to ships. If these works were allowed to hang on year after year, they would cost two or three times as much as if they were proceeded with steadily and finished within a definite time. He did not quite agree with what had been said as to not binding future Parliaments to carry on the works. The commencement of works threw on any future Parliament, which did not wish to go on with the works, the onus of wasting all the money which had been spent; and, as no Parliament would be foolish enough to do that, practically the initiation of the works did bind future Parliaments. But in respect of a portion only of the work was such an obligation on the future imposed. The total sum required was £9,000,000, but this Bill only referred to £4,500,000, to which Parliament had already pledged itself in the Estimates of last year. With regard to the other £4,500,000 which concerned some of the most important of the works, there was absolutely no guarantee but the bare promise of the Government. On Hong Kong, Dover, and the Portsmouth Barracks not a single shilling was being spent this year, to pledge their continuance. The Government, no doubt, intended to carry out their provision, but it would have 1350 been satisfactory if, either in the Estimates or in this Bill, certain small sums had been expended to bind Parliament to go on with the works. The opinion expressed on all sides of the House had been that this Bill was not large enough, but that all these important works ought to be carried out at once. He knew that the Civil Lord had made certain promises, and hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House recognised in the Civil Lord a patriotic Minister, who in his position had done as much as most Civil Lords for a long time. They did not grudge him his meed of praise, but they hoped that he would do his best in the very important Bill not to let these works hang on. The Civil Lord said that all these works were of urgent importance. Then why should some be taken and others left? Why should they not all be included in the present Bill and be begun this year? The Civil Lord had suggested that it would be possible to introduce Amendments into the Bill suggesting that the works at Dover and Hong Kong should be proceeded with at once. But the House could not increase the total sum of £1,000,000 provided by the Bill, except on the proposition of the responsible Government; and if further works were to be undertaken at once, the sum available would have to be considerably increased, unless the works already provided for were neglected, and that was not desired. They did not want to substitute these works for anything else; they wanted to add them to the works proposed in the Bill, and surely they were works of very considerable importance. He was particularly astonished that the work at Dover should be postponed, because the question of its construction had been before the country so long. In 1886 the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was anxious the work should be proceeded with, and he (Mr. Hanbury) confessed he did not understand the reasons the Civil Lord had given for postponing the works. The first reason was that in all the other places where works had to be carried on there were works already in progress, but at Hong Kong and at Dover there were no works going on at present. He did not see how that bore on the question. Inasmuch as the works at Dover had been under consideration so long, 1351 sufficient surveys must have been taken to permit of operations being begun at once. Aware as he was that great works were being constructed upon the northern coast of France, he was convinced that no more important work could be taken in hand than that suggested at Dover. As to Hong Kong, surely, in view of what had happened in that part of the Pacific within the last few months, it was unwise not to hurry on as best we could with the naval works. A great change of power was taking place in those regions, Japan was becoming a great naval Power, and we did not know whether she would be our friend or enemy. He also wished to impress on the Government what was so well said by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, namely, the importance of the dock accommodation at Gibraltar being a thorough work. If there were a great naval engagement near Gibraltar, one dock there would be of no practical use. Sir William White and other authorities had shown that with our great ironclads we were making a great experiment; that the first battle between two great Powers would be an experiment on a great scale. They had also expressed the opinion that most of the ships would be so damaged that they would have to go into dock. Would it not be monstrous if our ironclads had to come all the way to England for repairs? Surely the Government who had already shown their patriotism would not refuse to listen to the practically unanimous appeal which had been made to them to undertake work in the directions he had specified. He believed that in putting pressure on the Government in this matter hon. Members were representing the opinions of the constituencies in every part of the country. He hoped the Government would make this Bill, which was a very good one, a thorough Bill, and one which would meet all the requirements of the case.
§ MR. A. B. FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)
said, the nominal expenditure under the Bill would be £5,000,000 sterling, but according to the estimates before the House the proposed works would cost something over £8,000,000 sterling. Members of the House who had had any experience of great harbour works in the country were thoroughly 1352 aware of the constant under-estimates that were made in such hydraulic works. Only recently one undertaking was estimated to cost £7,000,000 sterling, but before it was completed—and it was not completed yet—upwards of £15,000,000 sterling would have been spent. Before the House engaged in these great works with a light heart they ought to have from the Government fuller information than they now had as to how the plans had been drawn, as to who had been consulted, and as to what the estimates for the construction of the works were. He had a very high opinion of the abilities of the professional adviser of the Admiralty; but in this instance barracks were to be erected in one direction, dry docks, docks and breakwaters were to be constructed in other directions, and he did not think it possible for one gentleman situated as the Director of Works was to give the care and attention to such works which were really requisite if the nation were to get value for their money. Therefore, he would be glad to have an assurance from the Civil Lord that the Admiralty, before undertaking the construction of all those works, would call in the assistance of some engineer of eminence, who would, at any rate, relieve the Director of Works of some of the overseeing of those undertakings. There was another point in connection with this matter upon which he would like to have a word from the Civil Lord. It was of importance that the House, before parting with the Bill, should know how the proposed works were going to be constructed. Were the works to be undertaken by the Department, as in times past, with the assistance of convict labour—which experience had shown to be the most costly of all labour—or were tenders to be invited for their construction? His own hope was that as large a portion as possible of those works would be carried out by contract. He did not think the House fully realised the magnitude of the works the Government were about to commence. Take, for example, the extension of the docks at Keyham. The outer-sea wall of that basin—1,800 feet, or 600 yards long—would be, from the foundation to the coping, something like 80 feet. That illustration would give the House some 1353 idea of the character, extent, and importance of the works. Attached to that basin there were large graving-docks, which, as the Civil Lord had said, would, so far as the Admiralty could look ahead, suit all future warships. But between the graving-docks proposed to be constructed and the existing basin, there was what was called a tidal basin of eight acres; and he would like to suggest that these eight acres should be added to the proposed basin where war vessels were to be moored, which, in addition to providing additional accommodation for the war vessels, would save something like 700 feet of walling, which was an expensive item in the construction of docks. The next point was in connection with the Bill itself. The Bill provided for £1,000,000 being voted for those works; but only £100,000 of that amount might be spent this year. There was no provision in the Bill as to the time within which the money should be spent. If there was one object more than another that ought to be aimed at in connection with the system of borrowing money for constructing works out of capital, it was the acceleration of the completion of the works. It was a most unfortunate procedure on the part of the Government, whenever they undertook a big work, that the amount voted year after year was not regulated, as it ought to be regulated, by what would push on the work most quickly and in the most economical manner, but was regulated solely by what the Treasury could spare for the work. The result was, that the completion of great public works undertaken by Departments, was protracted for an indefinite time. For instance, the works at Chatham on which £2,000,000 were spent were commenced as far back as 1855, and were not completed until 1885, or 30 years afterwards. The works at Portsmouth, which cost £2,250,000, also took 30 years, or from 1864 to 1894, to complete. He had not the slightest doubt that had those works been left to contractors 1354 they would have taken, not 30 years, but at the utmost seven years. He believed the policy of introducing this Bill and constructing works under the system of loans produced an improvement upon the old rate of progress, but he should have liked to have seen some time limit, and some security given to the House that when it voted the money every effort should be made to expend the sum so voted and the works rapidly pushed on to completion. This would ensure that they should not have a vast amount of capital lying dormant because the works were in a slow state of progression. Allusion had been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the supposed fact that by the introduction of this Bill a control was afforded to Parliament over the expenditure, whilst the right hon. Gentleman stated that it did not bind future Parliaments. But if those works were to be carried out by contract—and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that contracts were not prohibited—and contracts were entered into for the construction of works like those, say at Keyham, he should like to know what control Parliament could have in that case. It was mere pedantry to suggest that Parliament would have control over the expenditure once it had entered into a contract for the construction of any of these large works. Another practical point to which he desired to call attention was the importance of estimates. All they had set out in the schedule of the Bill was a sum of money allocated for the first expenditure on each of these works. There was no allusion made to the estimated full cost of the works. He thought he was right in saying that all well-organised railway undertakings, which had great works to carry out before they would consent to a single sixpence being expended, required their engineer to table his estimated cost; and once he had given in that estimate of cost he could not obtain one sixpence more for expenditure over the estimate 1355 without giving full particulars and bringing the matter up from the special authority of his board of directors. They wanted in connection with these great naval works something analogous to such a system as he had described, so that Parliament might have a real control over the work as it went on. There were certain omissions from this Bill to which allusion had already been made in the course of the Debate. With regard to the proposed harbour at Dover, whilst there had been no absolute promise, enough had been said to lead to the belief that it was likely to be included in the Bill. It was important that a prompt conclusion should be come to as to whether a harbour was to be constructed at Dover or not, and for this reason: some four years ago one of the great railway companies having its terminus at that port inquired whether the Admiralty had any intention of carrying out the harbour proposed some 50 years ago, stating that if there was not such intention it would be necessary for them to do something to improve it for the purpose of their cross-channel traffic. Not receiving the assurance they desired, certain railway companies obtained a Bill for the construction of a pier for their own purposes. If the large harbour scheme was to be carried out by the Government the work proposed by the railway companies would be unnecessary, and there might be an opportunity of entering into negotiations with the companies by which they might pay the money which they had contemplated expending to the Government in aid of the great harbour work. It was, therefore, important that this question should be promptly considered. Of course, if the Dover Harbour were included in the Bill it would have to be looked at from a different point of view from that taken 50 years ago—the system of navigation, the size of ships, and all arrangements for naval warfare being perfectly different now from what they were half-a-century since. He was quite 1356 sure that when the matter came to be taken up that regard would be had to the exposure of the site, to the tremendous gales and heavy seas, and to the great silting that took place all along the coast around Dover. He thought it was a pity that the improvements were not made at Hong Kong. There was no doubt they were very much required, and would have been put in hand long ago had the new system of capitalising the cost of new works been adopted at an earlier date. Disagreeing with the hon. Member for King's Lynn, he regretted the omission of any provision for further barrack accommodation at Portsmouth. He could not think we did anything to improve the morale or the seamanship of our sailors by having them living in old wooden huts in the harbour at Portsmouth, and alike in the interests of the men and of the public service, the men should be housed in barracks on shore. He hoped the Civil Lord would not leave out this question of barrack accommodation at Portsmouth. The last omission was the Dockyard at Pembroke. It was a dockyard where work was done economically and well, but, unfortunately, vessels had to be towed round to Devon-port to complete, and this was disadvantageous and not economical. If £100,000 could be found out of the large expenditure proposed for the improvement of Pembroke Dockyard, there would be a considerable economy effected in the completing and fitting up of ships at that port. They were embarking in an unknown expenditure, and no Member need be surprised if it ran up to £13,000,000 or £15,000,000; but, having put their hand to the plough, there must be no turning back. By carrying on the works at the most rapid rate they would ensure the truest economy.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
protested against the financial arrangements of the Bill, the real explanation of which was the incautious declarations made by the Government when in 1357 opposition. It was quite clear that the plan which had been adopted had taken the control of Parliament practically away. The system on which the money was to be spent, as between contractors and the Admiralty itself, was an important condition. The House should know, roughly speaking, how much of the money was to be expended by contractors and how much by the Admiralty, and, considering that the expenditure was to go to all parts of the world, surely it was reasonable some scheme should be submitted showing the principle on which the money was to be expended. The Bill was not in any sense a general scheme which the Government could be regarded as placing before the House. They heard of great works, but no details were given as to how these works were to be carried out and completed. There was no definite programme with a settled principle which would enable the House to know that these measures would be carried out. They were all agreed that their Navy had been strengthened, but he would ask, if the Government were opposed so strongly to the Naval Defences Act, why had they not put before the House their whole plan? The fact was, they felt they had no guarantee that the scheme would ever be carried out. Why did not the Government carry the scheme out in a straightforward manner? The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, "What right have you to bind a future Government?" That sounded very well as a statement on a platform when they wanted to delude those they were talking to. But if this idea were carried out of never pledging their predecessors it would be impossible for a Government to enter into a contract beyond twelve months. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" was a sound principle, but they could not act on it in Government. According to this principle they could not build a ship or a barracks unless it was finished in the twelve months. It was a fiction and a delusion on which no sound finance or 1358 business could be done. It was, as an hon. Member had said, a pedantic system of finance. As to the contention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that the House might change its mind and refuse to sanction the expenditure which a previous Government had approved of—that was possible, but it was improbable. The country had made up its mind to a certain Naval programme, and to the expenditure of a large sum of money, and was it to be supposed it would suddenly change its mind? Therefore he held that the Government should openly face the position. The Bill provided no time limit of any kind; and it depended upon the future whether the proposed works would ever be carried out at all. There was nothing in the Bill to prevent the Government postponing any one of the items, and possibly them all. The Government had themselves pointed to the works at Dover and Hong Kong as urgent and necessary, but they were not included in this programme, simply because the Government thought they could put them off as they had done before. And even if an amendment to include these works were moved in Committee, they would only be robbing Peter to pay Paul. From the financial standpoint, and as a matter of serious business, the provisions of the Bill were not satisfactory. With regard to Haulbowline Dock, if it was not wanted the sooner they stopped spending money on it the better. Under the present Bill it was proposed to expend £2,500, out of an expenditure of a million, on that dock.
§ MR. BARTLEY
said, that if all that was required was £2,500, that could have come out of the ordinary Estimates; but it had been put into the Bill in order to satisfy Irish votes. To spend £2,500 on dredging was really not doing anything for the dock at all. He did not see why the House should go on spending this money on this dock. If 1359 expenditure was necessary, let the House face the question boldly, and grant whatever was necessary. The whole muddle in the financial arrangements of the Bill was due to the obstinacy of the Government in declining to adopt the system which the late Government adopted in the Naval Defence Act. He was sure that when the Accounts came before the Public Accounts Committee, there would be an infinite number of questions raised upon this system. All this could have been avoided if they only had had some systematic arrangement for the whole Programme of the Government. The country had determined that the Navy should be fully equipped, and the Government had accepted that position. Why could they not have the courage of their opinions, and put the whole thing in one Bill, so that they might be tied down, not only to begin, but to finish the different works? If that were done he was sure that the Government would carry the country with them; but as it was, this sort of piecemeal work would always be unsatisfactory, and he believed that the Government only stuck to it because they wished to have a back-door to escape, in case of urgency, from the scheme which they had adopted.
§ MR. ROBERTSON
said, he could only speak again by the indulgence of the House. In answer to the hon. Baronet the Member for Belfast, he might say that the extreme length of the dry dock at Gibraltar was to be 580ft., the width at entrance 94ft., and the depth of water on sill at ordinary spring tides 35½ft. [Sir E. HARLAND: "Five hundred and eighty feet is absurdly short."] Any representations of that sort would be considered. The question of what use was to be made of Haulbowline Yard was far too large for him to attempt to deal with upon the present occasion, but there would be an opportunity for raising that question hereafter. With reference to the question of how much of the new work was to be contract 1360 work, and how much Admiralty work, he might state that the works at Gibraltar and Portland Harbour would be done by Admiralty contract labour. About half the dredging would be Admiralty work, and the rest of it contract work. With these three exceptions—Gibraltar, Portland, and half the dredging—the whole of the work mentioned in the Bill would be given out to private contract.
§ MR. HANBURY
pointed out that there would be two systems going on at Gibraltar at the same time, because the work now being done there was contract work.
§ MR. ROBERTSON
explained that the small amount of that work at present being done there would soon be finished. The suggestion to make Pembroke Yard a finishing depôt had been under consideration before and had been rejected, though he did not deny that there was something in the suggestion to make Pembroke more complete. He could only promise that the matter should receive further consideration. He hoped that the House would now give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ SIR G. BADEN-POWELL (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
thought the statement as to Gibraltar was very scanty and unsatisfactory. The proposed dock was very far too short for practical purposes, and there were already two ships in the pay of the Admiralty which could not get into the dock; while in the future there would most likely be others in the same predicament. The battle had been fought over this dry dock since 1884. He had always advocated the erection of dry docks, and he was much surprised to learn that the length of the one at Gibraltar was to be 580 feet. He thought that the Government, with the present feeling of the country on this subject, might have suggested a sum sufficient for the erection of a proper dry dock at Gibraltar. Although the Civil Lord had stated very properly that he would consider the objections raised to the length of the dock, 1361 he must know already that increased length, having regard to the position where this dry dock was being made, would involve a large increase of expenditure, because at the place chosen by the Government there was a very high rock. But there were other matters in connection with Gibraltar to which the attention of the House ought to have been drawn before it was asked to pass this Bill. The measure had been submitted to the House without any explanation of the principles involved. On the financial principles not a word was said by the Government until the Chancellor of the Exchequer was forced to reply this evening to the criticisms of the noble Lord, the late First Lord of the Admiralty. He wanted to know what was to be the depth of water enclosed by the new flying breakwater and the extension of the new mole. The depth of the water was a very important matter, and no information had been given them on the point. When the extension of the new mole was talked of, he wished to know whether, with that extension, facilities were to be provided for the coaling of steamers. Were facilities for coaling to be provided in connection with the new flying extension that was to be made, or was it to be merely a new breakwater? Then, had the Government considered the alternative schemes that had been before them for the past 10 years? Had they considered the canal scheme, and the scheme relating to the eastern face of the rock? [Mr. E. ROBERTSON: "It has been all answered already."] These points had not been all answered. [Mr. E. ROBERTSON: "I referred to the portion of the eastern side of the rock."] The hon. Member had made an observation which would lead the House to suppose that all these questions had been answered, whereas they had not been all answered. The canal scheme had not even been referred to by the Government speakers. The Government knew very well that in adopting the scheme for a dry dock in the parade ground, as it was called, they were adopting a scheme which was very expensive, which was incapable of future expansion, and which could only provide one dock. He thought that the Government ought to have told them something about those other schemes which were not open to the same objections, and 1362 ought to have given some special reasons or constructing this particular dry dock which was to cost something like £300,000. These were very grave omissions from the list of works for which provision was to be made. There was the omission of such important works as those at Dover and Hong Kong, and there was no mention of improvements in ports in the Far East of the Mediterranean. Two months ago in this House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered a speech foreshadowing an intention to give up our hold on the Eastern Mediterranean. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman afterwards took the first available opportunity to withdraw that speech, and he was, therefore, surprised to find that no mention was made in these works estimates of any works in the Eastern Mediterranean, where a very small expenditure would provide us at all events with a secure harbour for our Fleet in sight of Famagusta. He knew that some people who did not realise the dangers of their proposal, thought that our best policy would be to abandon the Mediterranean. But if, from pusillanimous advice, we should be induced to withdraw from the Mediterranean, what hold had we on the Atlantic? He could state on the highest Naval authority, and from his own personal observation, that we did not possess a properly-equipped Naval base between Devonport and Cape Town, and if war broke out there would not be a single port where coal and stores could be replenished or ships repaired over that very nearly 7,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean, the only remaining route to our great Possessions in South Africa, to Australia, to India, and the Far East. The House would appreciate the importance of this statement when he said that the modern battleship only carried coal sufficient for three weeks' effective cruising, and no such vessel could proceed 3,000 miles for effective service unless it could have recourse to a reliable coaling base. He regarded this as a neglect of Imperial and Naval interests. The works set out in this Bill had never been properly explained to the country, and he believed that not only experts, but the general public, would not feel much confidence in what the Government were about to do from the explanations they had offered to the 1363 House that night. As to the financial principles of the Bill, his noble Friend the late First Lord made a speech in which he advanced four criticisms on the Bill, and the effort which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made to answer them only showed how weak was the case of the Government in regard to this part of the measure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer advanced several contentions which appeared to him to be contradictory in themselves and of one another. The right hon. Gentleman said it was not a sound policy to allow finance in Naval and Military matters to be subject to the control of the House of Lords, and in almost the same breath he said the only sound policy was to introduce an annual Bill for this purpose. If that meant anything, it meant that annually they were to put their Naval policy, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman, at the mercy of the House of Lords. That was one contradiction. Then the right hon. Gentleman said it was a mistake to suppose that a loan would be appealed to as a financial measure on the plea of urgency. The only legitimate justification for a loan, he said, was because the money was intended for permanent works; but his main financial principle was that the needs of the year must be got out of the funds of the year. Here was a Bill which professed to be a Loan Bill, because it was for permanent works, and yet in its very principle it was to be an annual Bill to take the money of the year for the work of the year in order to pay for permanent works which ought to be paid for by a permanent loan. The noble Lord argued that there ought to be a time limit in any expenditure of this kind, but he had not heard from any Member of the Treasury Bench why there should not be a time limit, and he thought his noble friend who had made this criticism deserved a substantial reply on that point. Then the right hon. Gentleman had told them that it was no use taking the total cost, because they must from year to year provide funds for the work which was to go on. But if they were in any way to charge posterity with the continuance of these works they left it to posterity to say that the works might be stopped at any moment. The money spent upon these works would, 1364 unless they were continued, be absolutely thrown away. He thought it would have been more practical and businesslike if the Government had explained to them that these various works would cost so much money. He found that they provided for a million sterling of expenditure, leaving the country saddled with a further expenditure of five millions and a half, if the first expenditure was to have any effect at all. It was a great pity that the whole matter could not have been discussed at greater length. In one of the classes the Admiralty was enabled to transfer from one head to another in the schedule, without the control or approval of the House, large sums of money. The consequence was, that the million which it was proposed to spend on 11 different items might all be spent upon one item. He contended that that was a breach of their best financial traditions, and there were other matters in the Bill which would also require their close scrutiny in Committee. On the whole he wished to congratulate the Government on having boldly followed in the steps of their predecessors so far as they dared. He could only regard the Bill, however, as a halfhearted, halting, and inadequate attempt on the part of the Government to follow in the wise financial course pursued by their predecessors.
§ MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said, the view he took might be put in the form of an analogy. In a Committee of the House dealing with a project brought forward by a private adventurer, a statement of the whole expenditure required had to be given, and the private adventurer was expected to take powers to incur that whole expenditure; if he did not the Committee was not likely to pass the Bill. The House ought to have the whole scheme before it, so that the details might be discussed. The result of the mode of dealing which the Government had adopted was, that the House could only imperfectly consider the schemes under which the money was proposed to be lent. When they came another year and offered any criticisms upon the scheme, they would, he supposed, be told that they sanctioned the scheme because they sanctioned the expenditure for the first part. As guardians of the public 1365 purse they were bound to protest against this method of dealing with public funds.
§ MR. WILSON LLOYD (Wednesbury)
said, the schedule of the proposed expenditure was very meagre. He agreed that the House ought to have more complete information before it. He wished to ask why it was that in this scheme so large a proportion of the money was to be spent outside England. They were told—and they all knew it—that England was "the predominant partner" of the United Kingdom. Yet under this scheme England, which found a great part of the money, would not have the benefit of the expenditure of the money in this country. From the point of view of popularity, he should have thought the Government would have spent the money in the country in which they desired popularity. But what did the House find? They found that the first item of expenditure in the schedule was to be spent outside the United Kingdom—at Gibraltar: £275,000, more than a quarter of the whole sum, was to be spent in Gibraltar. Surely the Government must know the depressed state of the labour market in England at the present time. It had been said and even promised that we were to give up Gibraltar. A time might come when we should give it up as a naval station. He hoped not, for he should deplore it. But it was often suggested that Gibraltar should be given up. They all knew that, after spending a million of money on important defences and fortifications on the Ionian Islands, those islands were given up. The ex-Prime Minister advocated the giving up of the Ionian Islands, and they were given up after a million of money had been spent there. However desirable it might be to spend £275,000 for Gibraltar, the money should be spent in England. [Ministerial Cries of "Divide!"] Yes; those cries were their argument. Expenditure for Ireland and Gibraltar, but not for the benefit of the British taxpayer. If a Member on the Opposition side of the House said, "We want this money spent in England," they cried, "Divide!" and thought it out of order. England was the predominant partner, and he did not know why £275,000 should be spent in Gibraltar, and £250,000 in Ireland, leaving less than half to be spent in 1366 England, where most of the money would have to be found, and the labour market was sorely in need of employment. The defence of this country might be improved by the construction of a ship canal from the east coast to the west, which would enable us to transfer our naval force from one to the other as circumstances might render necessary. Above all things, let us employ labour at home, and spend money at home, and so improve the condition of our own working classes; and this the construction of the suggested canal would do.
§ MR. J. C. MACDONA (Southwark, Rotherhithe)
urged that, however much money might be spent upon dock accommodation for our shipping at Gibraltar and elsewhere, it would be of little use if ships never arrived to be docked. Amongst the many dangers to which shipping was exposed, perhaps the greatest was the danger of running upon a derelict. This danger has only recently been reported as close to Gibraltar, where it is proposed to spend so large a sum for two docks. The Secretary of the Admiralty having, in reply to a question on the subject, admitted that a large floating derelict had been swept through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean, the Government would be seriously compromised if so great a danger were not captured or destroyed.
§ Bill read 2°.