§ GENERAL LAURIE (Pembroke and Haverfordwest)
I beg to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, whether his attention has been drawn to the statement that the scarcity of stokers in reserve of the Navy has become a danger to the country; to the reported difficulties in finding sufficient men necessary to navigate the Terrible from the contractor's yard to Portsmouth; and to the announcement that, in order to obtain a sufficient supply of stokers, the standard for stoker recruits has been reduced by three inches; and whether he proposes to take any steps to remedy this state of things?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. G. J. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
Yes, I have seen such a statement as that to which the hon. and gallant Member alludes. As regards the scarcity of stokers, the following are the figures. On June 15th there were reported as available for draft—of chief stokers and leading stokers, 1st and 2nd class, 491; of stokers, 1st class, 1,160; of stokers, 1439 2nd class, 1,328; making a total of 2,979. In addition there are a large number of recruits at the ports who have not completed their drilling. The House should bear in mind that this is at a time when, we have more ships in commission at sea than there have ever been in time of peace except during naval manœuvres. But it is not always convenient to take the men returned as available for draft away from the temporary duties on which they may be engaged in the port, or to withdraw them from the courses of training or requalifying, through which they may be passing. It is more convenient to draw them for a temporary purpose, such as a navigating party from other yards, especially when, as in the case of the Terrible, it was particularly desired to have 1st class stokers specially trained. With reference to the announcement that, "in order to obtain a sufficient supply of stokers, the standard for stoker recruits had been reduced by 3 in.," it is quite incorrect. The reduction has not been by 3 in., but by 1 in., and that is merely replacing the standard where it was in February arid putting it at the normal point. The normal height for stoker recruits is 5 ft. 3 in., but in January 1895, and again in February 1896, the standard was temporarily raised to 5 ft. 4 in. This step was taken in each case towards the end of the financial year, when, unless the entries had been slightly checked, the numbers voted in the Estimates would have been exceeded. As the steps taken for raising recruits for stokers are securing the number sanctioned by Parliament, no change is necessary. During my recent visits of inspection, I took the opportunity in several yards of personally inspecting the stokers then in the depôts, and I was much pleased with the fine and satisfactory physique of the men.