HC Deb 02 March 1896 vol 37 cc1499-524

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. G. J. GOSCHEN, St. George's,) Hanover Square

who was received with cheers, said: My first duty is to thank the House for accepting without demur the suggestion that I should make my annual statement on the Navy before you, Mr. Speaker, leave the Chair. I promise that I will not abuse the privilege by any inordinate length of speech, and I shall not make a statement of such proportions as have been assigned to it by anticipation in some quarters of the House. I wish to approach the business part of my statement at once, and will therefore make but few preliminary observations. I hope I may be relieved of any necessity of dwelling upon what is called the critical nature of the times. These are sober Estimates which we are going to propose. We hope that they will be accepted by the country as adequate to the occasion. They are not proposed with any feeling of alarm. ["Hear, hear!"] The only other preliminary observation I would make is to remind the House of the truism, the truism which is often ignored, that any increase in the Fleet means not only an increase in the number of ships, but must be followed all along the line of Naval preparation by expenditure in various directions. [Cheers.] More ships mean more men to man them, more officers, more seamen, more marines, more engineers, more stokers, more ratings of every kind. And more men and more officers mean more centres of training, more accommodation both on shore and at sea, more schools, more hospital accommodation, and more barrack accommodation; and, therefore, it must be well borne in mind that when an increase in the Fleet is suggested it would be unwise to act simply in one direction. A general survey must be taken of the whole situation, and the corresponding increases must be made where they are necessary. Excessive increase in any one direction would be useless unless it were followed by increases in other directions. [Cheers.] I would enforce that view by stating that now the situation is changed as regards the completion of warships. In old days the building of a warship took four or five years. Then it was necessary to look far in advance, and overtake the building of those ships in respect of men and mighty guns. Now the rapidity of shipbuilding has become such that you can build ships as rapidly as you can construct the large guns that are to be put into them, or train the officers and men who are to manage those ships when they are completed. For instance, a new 12-in. wire gun contains 108 miles of wire. The result is that if we were to push on with our ships more rapidly than the producing power of the country will supply us with armour and armaments, we should have our ships ready for sea but not be able to send them to sea. A further feature in the situation is this, that we train almost every class of men whom we put into our ships. We do not take seamen from the mercantile marine except in very small numbers; and now we train our engineers and stokers, as well as our seamen. Stokers are entered young; they are sent to the various ports; they are drilled as seamen are drilled for a certain number of months; and in that way we get a higher class, a more disciplined class, and a more useful class than we should otherwise be able to obtain. ["Hear, hear!"] But the House must bear in mind the enormous complexity of our armaments. That is a difficulty which must induce us to pay the highest attention to every form of training, to engineering schools, to gunnery schools, and to our naval shipbuilding schools, because these great modern machines are such that the ordinary seaman who was the gunner of the past would certainly not be able to find his way about. ["Hear, hear!"] In the scheme I am about to lay before the House we have not been looking to an increase in one direction only, but we have endeavoured, I can assure the House, to face the great requirements of the Navy in every department, and I may say, in every part of the world. [Cheers.] We have tried to look at this matter as a whole, and the result of that examination, as it stands, I will now proceed to lay before the House. I will, in the first place, deal with the personnel of the Navy, and here I should wish at starting to be allowed to dispel a fallacy which is very prevalent in many quarters—namely, that we have a difficulty in obtaining sufficient men for the Navy. [Cheers.] That view is only held by those who are not acquainted with the actual circumstances, but still it is a very general fallacy, and I have received sometimes touching letters from local authorities and from individuals, offering their services to the country on account of the alleged scarcity of men and difficulty of recruiting for our services. That difficulty does not exist. [Cheers.] On the contrary, I am able to make a satisfactory statement to the House on that point. ["Hear, hear!"] Of course we cannot recruit trained men because it is a special service for which we require them, and therefore we must take them early and train them ourselves. But, as regards the number of men which we can secure by accepting the offers of those who present themselves, we are in an entirely satisfactory position. [Cheers.] When we enlist 3,000 boys for the Navy we take 1 in 10 of the applicants, and the numbers of eligible candidates have been such that we have been able to make a strict selection and to increase the standard and the chest measurement of the boys. The same holds good as regards the stokers. We are now able to secure the number of stokers we desire, and we are training them at the present moment in great numbers. Well, now, with regard to numbers, right hon. Gentlemen opposite are aware, and the House must be aware, that the Admiralty has proceeded not in any haphazard way in order to see how much we can afford to spend on men next year; but for some time past there has been a Manning Committee sitting, and they have examined every ship ready and every ship in course of construction, and have made their plans in advance, calculating what number of seamen, marines and stokers is necessary to man the increased number of ships that we are going to send afloat. Last year the increase in the total number of men was 5,450. I propose to ask the House to sanction an increase of 4,900 to the personnel. We wish to add 1,800 to the seamen class, slightly more than 2,000 to the engine-room ratings, 342 to the artisan class, and 500 to that most useful and valuable force, the Marines. To show what progress has been made with regard to numbers, I will give the House a few figures. Upon the active list there were ten years ago 61,400 men. In 1895 there were 88,850, and, as I have said, the number is now to be increased by 4,900. The Reserve has been increased in the same time from 18,300 to 25,100. One method by which we have recruited for the Service is by the cruise of the Northampton, a ship set aside to visit various ports along the coast and to enter directly a certain number of boys of an older age than usual. That is a system which can only be adopted very tentatively and with care, but we have received reports from the Commanders of the ships in the Mediterranean Squadron, and without exception they speak most favourably of the conduct of these boys. ["Hear, hear!"] There is apparently one deficiency, and that is that only a few of them can swim. Apart from that, they have been extremely well reported upon. We are now going to increase the sources of supply by a method which occupied the attention of the House last year—namely, by the agency of a training-ship, which is to be sent to Queenstown. For this service we have selected the Black Prince, one of the finest ships that could be devoted to such a purpose. In the case of the Marines the recruiting has also been most satisfactory; and here, again, during the last few months, we have been able to raise the standard. I call particular attention to this, as it shows that, both in the case of seamen and Marines, we have a large selection from the youthful population of the country. I may mention that we are arming the batteries, where the Marines are trained with the latest type of marine guns. I stated at the opening of my remarks that there must be consequential expense upon the increase of the Fleet. For example, the number of men being increased, we are bound to provide more hospital accommodation. The accommodation at Chatham is at present insufficient and inadequate, as is also the barrack accommodation. We shall have to propose expenditure under these two heads as well as for further school facilities. I think the House will be prepared to regard such expenditure as capital expenditure, and to add it to the Naval Works Programme initiated by the last Government. I will say nothing now with regard to the Royal Naval Reserve, which is in a satisfactory position, but for information on this subject, I may refer hon. Members to the printed statement which will explain the Estimates, and which will be in the hands of Members to-morrow morning, if not this evening. I wish to say a word or two with regard to the position if warrant officers. We have been able to come to certain conclusions affecting their prospects and condition. The list of chief gunners, chief boatswains, chief carpenters and warrant officers will be further increased to meet the extension of the Fleet, thus giving a certain amount of promotion. That increase will be accompanied by a revision of the rules governing their pay, promotion, and training. The chief gunners, chief boatswains and chief carpenters will get an improved scale of pay, ranging from 10s. to 12s. a day, and warrant officers will get from 5s. 6d. to 9s. a day, besides increased store and certain other allowances. Pensions and compassionate allowances to widows and children of officers who retire with the rank of honorary lieutenant will be on the same scale as those granted in the case of junior lieutenants. We trust that this will meet the wishes, to a certain extent, of a body of officers whom the nation values highly, and in whom it takes a legitimate pride. ["Hear, hear!"] I am able to say also that the training of engineer students in the college at Keyham is progressing in a most satisfactory manner. Two members of the Board visited that college not long ago, and they were struck by the general appearance and aptitude of these young recruits to Her Majesty's service. The profession of engineers in the Royal Navy is a fine profession, and the men who enter it now come from all classes of society. They have, when they enter the profession, a certain professional career. They have that advantage over civil engineers. Having once entered the service they are sure of being on full pay until they retire, there being practically no half-pay in their case, as there is in the case of the active list. The prospects of engineer students, who are to mess with gun-room and ward-room officers, are not generally known in the country, yet the number of applicants is such as to meet the necessary requirements of the service. Now I pass to the executive officers. The House will remember that an experiment was made last year, when it was determined that 100 officers should be entered from the Mercantile Marine. The plan was very much criticised at the time, and some hard things, which I regretted, were said with regard to Mercantile Marine officers. It was suggested that there would be difficulty on board ship, and that we should not get the right sort of men. Well, according to the information which we have received from the officers under whom these men are serving, there has been no friction, and they have proved themselves to be a most excellent addition to our Naval Service. [Cheers.] Ninety of these officers were taken from the Royal Naval Reserve; two were taken from the Victorian Naval Defence Force; and eight were taken from the Mercantile Marine direct. There were several hundreds of applicants, and we have a supplementary list. The gaps caused by the plan in the ranks of the Royal Naval Reserve have been at once filled up, 264 young men having sent in their names for enrolment in that service. A great many of these officers, I should add, have had a year's training, and some of them two years' training, on board a man-of-war. This plan, however, we still regard as a temporary expedient, and we shall look in the future as in the past to a system of education such as has been hitherto carried on in the Britannia o prepare the officers of our fleet. There is no subject which has more exercised my mind than the question of the supply of young officers. It is a matter of paramount importance, and I am not prepared to say that I consider the present system as entirely satisfactory. I think we draw our boys possibly from too small an area. Whether the Civil Service Commissioners have been unable to defeat the efforts of crammers or whether the crammers have improved upon their system I do not know; but certainly the main idea of parents still is that their boys must be sent to cramming schools, before they can expect to pass the entrance examination for the Navy. Now, all who have looked into the matter are unanimous in this, that we ought to get boys from the various schools in the country. ["Hear, hear!"] We want to get them straight from school, and we do not approve of that forcing system by which a naval cadet before he enters the Britannia has been put under pressure at a very early age. Holding these views, with which my colleagues at the Admiralty entirely agree, I have communicated with the head masters of some of our great schools, and I find that some of them are anxious to have Navy classes with the object of passing boys directly into the Navy, just as older boys pass into the Army, straight from school. The difficulty in the way hitherto has been the question of age. If boys have to enter the Britannia when they are between 13½ and 14½ the time they can spend at school is too short, and they have to go to school very young. The head masters state that if we advance the age by a year, then they would be able to establish a Navy class. I held a conference with a few of the head masters who have rendered me great assistance, and who have entered cordially into the scheme that we should make an appeal to all the schools in order to get boys, not with the traditions of a forcing establishment, but with the traditions of general British schools where boys are reared. At that conference, besides the head masters, were the Secretary of the Civil Service Commission, the Captain of the Britannia, and the chief naval instructor of the Britannia; and they, one and all, came to the conclusion that if we advanced the age of the boys by a year it would be possible to give them a better and a more healthy education before they entered the Naval service, while the age for going to sea would not necessarily be increased. There is an objection in many quarters to increasing the age of sending to sea. The boys, however, would have 16 months of preliminary training instead of 23; but coming so much better prepared, and having done a good deal of school work before entering the Britannia, it is thought that the time can be shorter. This will be amply compensated by the possibility of devoting it more fully to the study of our own technical requirements. If the House approves that proposal, which we could carry out, we should raise the age of entry by a year, substituting shorter courses, but in those courses giving more special attention to the special technical requirements desired, and giving the boys, at the same time, such training in seamanship, in sailing, in boating, and so on, as is now given in the Britannia. [Cheers.] But our views with regard to the admission of boys to the Naval service do not stop there. After the most careful consideration, after a review of the previous inquiries, we have come to the conclusion that the Britannia itself—now an old ship, holding now 270 cadets, whereas it only held at one time 150 cadets—will not, for long, offer sufficient accommodation, or be the best for training which our boys could have. We propose to substitute—as was proposed many years ago—a college on shore for the Britannia. ["Hear, hear!"] The sanitary and disciplinary arrangements of the Britannia are extremely difficult to maintain at the highest point of efficiency. I have, however, on wish to depreciate the Britannia; but, without entering into the argument at this moment, I think better education, a more healthy education, and better discipline will be maintained by the arrangements I have suggested. I know there is no point which the House views with more interest than the period when the boys have passed through the training in the Britannia and training college. My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn asked me the other day with regard to the Training Squadron. He thought that the Training Squadron was insufficient, and he stated that he would like to see it increased in order to give more opportunities of seamanship to our midshipmen. I find a very considerable difference of opinion in naval circles on that point. Personally, I think there is a great deal of force in the contention of my hon. Friend. I think that though the Training Squadron has ships which still have sails, the training in ships which have sails is invaluable to sailors who have to combat the elements; yet there are a good many officers of the younger school who believe that our sailors and officers will never take the same trouble with regard to sails with which afterwards they may never have anything more to do. ["Hear, hear!"] They hold that the time so spent is somewhat wasted, as well as the money expended on the trainingships; and their view is that the young men ought to be exercised only in ironclads and torpedo destroyers. Between these two schools of thought it is difficult to decide; but it appears to me that this attack on the training and sailing system is very much like the objection brought against a study of the classics. Though the training may not be of direct use, I believe it to be invaluable. But training is, of course, also necessary in ironclads and in torpedo destroyers, and we have established a system of passing a number of men and officers through torpedo destroyers so as to accustom them to the management of this new form of swift vessel. We have a certain number attached to the Channel Squadron and at various ports, so that while we continue the training in the Training Squadron we are, I hope, meeting the views of the other school by training as far as possible in torpedo vessels and ironclads. I am glad to say that we have been able—and in this respect I am sure the House will agree with me—to increase the number of ships afloat to a very considerable degree. It is costly, no doubt, though scarcely in proportion to the experience which is gained. I pass now from the personnel to the question of mobilisation in the statements which are generally submitted to the House—the question of the number of our ships at sea. We have strengthened our various squadrons; we have more ships in the Channel; we have more ships in the Mediterranean and in China. ["Hear, hear!"] We have also substituted efficient ships for the old coastguard ships, and we have organised the Flying Squadron, which has added largely to the number of our ships afloat. I am glad to be able to say that the organisation of this Flying Squadron created no disturbance whatever in any single dockyard, or in any other way. It was not a question of unparalleled effort. Orders were given that we required so many more ships to be put into commission. They were put into commission without any fuss or difficulty in the dockyards; and the rapidity with which some of the ships were docked and sent out reflected the highest credit on our dockyard authorities. [Cheers.] Notwithstanding that we have this larger number of ships at sea than usual, notwithstanding any necessary criticisms that may have been passed on many of the ships, or the faults that could be found almost with any ship that sailed the sea, the behaviour of our ships at sea has been good and has given satisfaction to the country. ["Hear, hear!"] It is marvellous what people will write occasionally on these matters. I saw an article from a paper—I did not read the paper—which the writer apparently thought important enough to circulate as a leaflet. It was to the effect that our ships were so constructed that it was dangerous for them to go to sea; and, therefore, they generally remained in the harbour. [Laughter.] I think that the number of ships which have been commissioned and floated are much greater in proportion than that of any other country, European or American. I say this in no spirit of boastfulness, but because it belongs to us as a maritime nation to have as many ships as we can. The commissioning additional ships for the Channel Squadron has given us the opportunity of putting into it the two latest results of British shipbuilding, the two latest creations of Sir William White, our most talented constructor-in-chief. They went to sea with the Channel Squadron, and the Admiral commanding the squadron was able to write as follows with regard to the Majestic:— I am thoroughly satisfied with the result of our first cruise in the new ships, and think the result is most creditable to the designers and fitters-out. We went through manœuvres, target practice, and torpedo running, just as if we had been a year in commission; and although it was the first time and everything was new—guns, torpedoes, and engines—all went without a hitch. The ship steers well. She is quicker off her helm than the Royal Sovereign, and does not lose her way so much in turning. This comes from a practical sailor, and it is a criticism of the last ships we have added to our fleet, the Magnificent and Majestic. With regard to torpedo destroyers our experience has been extremely satisfactory, and there have been some circumstances which have given us an opportunity of testing their strength. There was the Sunfish, for instance, which came from the north when just completed in a heavy gale, and small as she was she made a good voyage. Some hon. Members will remember the Daring running into Dover. A ship ran into her, but she was nevertheless able to keep at sea, and the naval architects who examined the results were surprised at the manner in which so slight a vessel had been able to stand the strain. I trust that the House will forgive me if I dwell upon these points, because they are of very considerable interest to the country at large, and there are criticisms made which we are not often able to answer. This is another report of the experience gained in a recent collision with another vessel:— The torpedo-boat destroyer Lightning, when proceeding at a speed of 14 knots, collided with another vessel. The collision tore away the whole of the Lightning's bows, and her subsequent grounding twice without material damage, proved that these vessels, though necessarily very lightly built to secure the high speed demanded, are yet capable of withstanding very severe damage without foundering. I have thought that these reports on the new types, the Majestic and the torpedo destroyers, would not be without interest to the House. I would now recall the attention of the House to one of my opening remarks about the consequential expense attendant on the increase of armaments. I turn, therefore, to the subject of ordnance—armaments, guns, and ammunition. In this respect I think scarcely sufficient provision has been made in the last two years' Estimates, but I do not wish to attach any special blame for this. I am most anxious we should all co-operate together, without party recriminations, in this work. Probably and naturally the late Government thought that the ships would not make that progress to completion with the immense rapidity which we have seen exhibited. At all events, we have fallen behind in the construction of guns, but I trust we shall be able to pick up what we have lost, and with the view of doing so we have spent £200,000 extra in the present financial year, for which I shall propose a Vote in the Supplementary Estimates. But next year, having gone into the examination ship by ship in the same manner as we have done in the case of the men—and again I say this is no haphazard Vote—I regret to say it will be necessary to ask the House to assent to an increase of no less than £850,000 on Vote 9, for ordnance and ammunition. The Vote, that is to say, will be increased from £1,693,000 to £2,543,000, an increase of more than 50 per cent. That is imperatively necessary [cheers], and we shall look to the producing power of the country to supply us with that amount of guns and ammunition. If there are hon. Members on the other side who think this is too much, let them put themselves in the position of necessity arising and ships being ready and there being no guns or ammunition for them. Check the ships if you wish, but do not grant the ships and refuse their armaments. ["Hear, hear!"] I am afraid this is not the only result of the increased requirements for guns and ammunition. If we have more guns and ammunition, with the corresponding reserves, we require more storage room, more magazines. Fresh magazines are required. I may state that the old hulks in which powder has been stored have become to be regarded as positively dangerous, and the question of magazines must be vigorously taken in hand. For this purpose we think that nearly half-a-million will be required. That, again, I think we may consider as capital expenditure, and provision will be made for it in the Naval Works Bill. It may be convenient for me to state what other expenditure we intend to provide under the Vote. Increased dock accommodation was provided by the Act of the late Government. Amongst other works, there is the long-desired extension of the Mole at Gibraltar, and other works connected with that port. Money was also taken for a dock, but the House may remember that in the Bill of the late Government the word "dock" was inserted in the schedule, but at the instance of the House of Commons the word "docks" was substituted; and a shipbuilder, whose loss we all regret—Sir E. Harland—recommended that the dock which was being built should be increased to 700 feet. Apart from that, another argument has been urged—namely, that if the dock were increased to 700 feet two vessels might possibly be docked in it at one time. ["Hear, hear!"] "Docks," as distinguished from "dock," implies a certain amount of increased accommodation in various ways, and that at Gibraltar means a considerable amount of money. I do not know whether the House of Commons approaches this matter with a light heart. At all events the Admiralty have not done so. If there is one point on which we have concentrated the best attention at our command it was as to what should be done at Gibraltar. The matter involved an immense amount of responsibility, and admittedly there are considerations on one side and the other; but finally we came to the conclusion that an effort must be made to make that necessary accommodation at Gibraltar which its strategic position and the requirements of the Navy render necessary, and we have concluded to build three docks instead of one and to provide the necessary accommodation. The cost of the new works is estimated at 2frac14; millions, in addition to the £361,000 already provided for the one dock. ["Oh!" and a voice, "Shame!"] The amount, I admit, is large; I do not think it is staggering, and I shall be surprised if we do not in this matter receive the support, not of a unanimous House of Commons, but of a very large portion of the House of Commons. [Cheers.] I ought to add that we have not only considered the point by ourselves, but we have called in the experts of the War Office. We have considered all the questions with regard to the strategic position of Gibraltar, and certainly not without the fullest consideration, but with a deep sense of our responsibility, we shall ask the House of Commons to include this additional amount in the Vote. Nor have we confined our attention to Gibraltar. It has been our duty to take a survey of all parts of our Empire ["Hear, hear!"], and to see where dock accommodation was necessary in the changed circumstances of naval policy and strategy. I have no professional opinion upon this, but I am told that modern iron ships require more docking than the wooden ships of olden time. We have had to look to various parts of the globe, where I will not say our interests might be menaced, but where we ought to be prepared to defend them, and it will probably be necessary for us to add to the works which were proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. We do not in present circumstances intend to ask for a dock at Mauritius or Simon's Town, at the Cape of Good Hope. We believe a dock at Mauritius is necessary, and we shall ask for money in the Estimates to make a preliminary survey with regard both to Mauritius and Simon's Town. We think that better than putting any amounts into the Naval Works Bill this year, for the following reason—that it is impossible to estimate the cost, and the House of Commons might only be unwittingly deceived if we were to insert any sum in the Bill before the preliminary surveys are completed. In the Naval Works Bill of last year, for example, Dover was inserted. It is highly probable that the amount set down on account of the works there is underestimated by a very large sum. I believe the right hon. Gentleman opposite took the figure of two millions from old Estimates made many years ago, having no other figures to go by, and it being impossible to find any others. We shall propose a Naval Works Bill on the lines of the Act of last year—that is to say, a Bill to be renewed in the next financial year—because we feel that at present we have not got sufficient knowledge to estimate as regards Dover or the other docks which I have mentioned. The works which I have enumerated and certain other minor proposals raise the amount taken in the Naval Works Act of last year from £8,500,000 to £14,000,000, which will be the amount laid down in the new Bill. These are large Estimates, but the House will not be staggered by the amount [cheers] unless hon. Members can put their finger on one single item where they think that economy ought to be enforced. It is not lightly that we have included these large sums in our Estimates. It is with a full conviction that this expenditure is necessary. With regard to the finance of the Bill, I am authorised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state that he will put aside the surplus of this year, after satisfying the Supplementary Estimates, to make a fund which, in the first instance, shall supply the expenditure under this Naval Works Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] Instead of borrowing with one hand and setting up annuities and perhaps at the same time buying Consols or other securities with the surplus, my right hon. Friend has generously placed the surplus at the disposal of the Admiralty for the purposes of the Naval Works Bill. [Cheers.] I now pass to that which perhaps will be more interesting to the House—namely, the question of ships. Let me in a few sentences review the past; and let us look for a moment at the efforts of the last few years, in order that we may obtain a glance at the whole of the naval shipbuilding which this country has considered to be necessary. I will start with the Naval Defence Act of 1889. Of course in that first year there were certain ships under construction, the expenditure on which I leave out. I start afresh with the Naval Defence Act. There are three periods—that of the Naval Defence programme; then that of the programme intermediate between the Defence Act and what is called Lord Spencer's great programme, which includes the ships built in 1892–3 and 1893–4; and thirdly, that of Lord Spencer's programme of 1894. The Naval Defence Act added 70 ships to the Navy, of which 10 were battleships. The intermediate period supplied three battleships—the Renown, the Majestic, and the Magnificent; five cruisers, including the Powerful and the Terrible, four sloops, and six torpedo-boat destroyers. Then came Lord Spencer's programme, under which the following ships have been or are now being constructed—seven first-class battleships, four first-class cruisers of the Diadem type, six second-class cruisers of the Talbot type, four second-class cruisers of the Arrogant type, two third-class cruisers of the Pelorus and Proserpine type, and 56 torpedo-boat destroyers. No ships of this latter programme are complete as yet—the time has been too short—except some 20 torpedo-boat destroyers. Adding the 70 ships built under the Naval Defence Act, the 12 under the intermediate programme, and the 23 under Lord Spencer's programme, we reach the total of 105 ships and 62 torpedo-boat destroyers which have been commenced, part of them finished and part still under construction, between 1889 and 1896. That is a formidable list—a great list; and yet I shall have to ask the House to add to it. [Cheers.] The effect of the Naval Defence Act is now apparent. Up to now we have only the Majestic and Magnificent of the ships belonging to Lord Spencer's programme. Of course it is not in the first year that one sees the good effect of it; but of the 70 ships built under the Naval Defence Act there are at present in commission 10 battleships, 27 cruisers, nine torpedo gunboats. The Mediterranean Squadron has three Defence Act battleships out of nine, and six out of seven first and second-class cruisers. The Channel Squadron has four Naval Defence Act ships out of six, and the Particular Service Squadron is, except for torpedo-boat destroyers, entirely composed of ships of the Naval Defence Act. Therefore you will see from the present ships afloat how much is due to the effort made at the time of which we are now reaping satisfactory results. There are two ways by which we may increase our force—either by the acceleration of ships building or by the laying down of new ships. I am not sure whether the acceleration of ships building is not as important an element in policy as the laying down of new ships; and that policy of acceleration is a policy to which we are committed, and which we wish the House of Commons to endorse. [Cheers.] During the present year we have endeavoured to hasten the programme which was laid down by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. We have done so by putting more men on the battleships, and so finishing them earlier. We have hurried on the order for armour—a most important fact, if we require more armour in future years; because though, of course, there is a great industry for the supply of armour, yet it is necessarily limited. Therefore we have only taken time by the forelock, and have spent more money upon armour in the present financial year than the original Estimates contemplated. The Supplementary Estimate which it will be our duty to propose to the House amounts to £1,100,000. It includes an excess of £150,000 for wages in the dockyards, that is for the additional men we have put on to make the Majestic and the Magnificent ready earlier, and to have them in the Channel Squadron at the present moment, and for other work. We have spent £300,000 more on armour; £325,000 more on stores, and £200,000 in armaments and munitions for guns and Maxims. By this amount we undoubtedly relieve the burden on the coming financial year. Whether it is fair to do so, hon. Members will be able to judge in a few moments, when I come to that which we propose to place on the Estimates for the year 1896–97. I may say here that we have increased the men in the dockyards up to 23,000; and I think that I ought, in passing, to pay a tribute to the organisation of our dockyards and those who have assisted in building our ships. There is the greatest emulation, I am glad to say, between the various dockyards. They take the greatest possible pride in finishing a ship before the time in which a corresponding ship was finished in another dockyard. The emulation between Chatham and Portsmouth is most healthy and exhilarating, and it is pleasant to see the men taking this interest in their work and their delight in turning out ships well and swiftly. The output of work will bear the closest criticism, in regard to either time, efficiency, or economy. It reflects the greatest credit upon the officers of the yards and on all the workmen. ["Hear, hear!"] The unexampled rapidity in the construction of battle ships has not in the least interfered with the other works in the yards. It is extra work that has been done. I know that it has been said that this rapidity affects the efficiency; that the men have been taken away from other ships. But that is not so. The up-keep of the fleet in commission and the thorough-going efficiency of the ships in the reserve have been fully maintained. With regard to the question of sacrificing efficiency to cheapness, it has been said that complaints have been made by the overseers or captains of newly commissioned ships. The records of the Admiralty contain no mention whatever of such complaints. [Cheers.] I have spoken of the year in which we are at present. Now I come to 1896–97. We start with having under construction a formidable number of ships—eight battleships, 21 cruisers, and 40 torpedo boat destroyers. Let me approach the question of battleships from the points of view of number and class. I am not going to place before the House comparative lists of the navies of foreign countries and of our own. It is, no doubt, a matter which has to be done, and we at the Admiralty have given days and weeks and months to the consideration of the relative strength of the different navies. I propose, not to place before the House the processes or figures by which we have arrived at our results; I propose only to give those results, with some indication of the system which we have followed. One paramount rule which we have laid down in all comparisons is that size alone is no criterion of the fighting value of a ship. [Cheers.] The Leader of the Opposition caused tables to be prepared showing the first-class battleships of various countries. Such lists are illusory to a certain extent, unless they are accompanied by numberless explanations; and even then such controversies would gather round them that it would be impossible to elucidate them. But we have proceeded by analysing, as regards battleships, all such forces as ought to be taken into consideration. We have been aware of this fact—that there are first-class battleships belonging to ourselves which are at present not much more efficient than some second-class battleships; and, on the other hand, that there are some second-class battleships which may be ranked in certain circumstances as equal to first-class battleships. We look at the matter as a whole. We take a second-class battleship which is capable, as regards armament, armour, and speed, of competing with a first-class battleship. You must send a first-class battleship against it. Nevertheless, that second-class ship is unequal to the first-class, because it has not got the coal-carrying capacity, and, therefore, it is only under certain given circumstances that the second-class ship is equal to the first-class. In the construction of battleships there are four desiderate—speed, armament defensive armour, and coal carrying capacity. To secure these objects, if you want to secure them all in their fullest efficiency, you require vessels of a certain size, and when you want to decrease the size of that vessel, you must make up your minds which of those four desiderata you are prepared to sacrifice, and that sacrifice you will choose according to the special circumstances of the nation. Those who are prepared for defensive naval strategy may leave out coal-carrying capacity; those who believe that theirs must be an offensive policy must on no account surrender coal-carrying capacity, and so it happens when you compare one of our ships having large coal-carrying capacity, and also considerable capacity for carrying ammunition with a foreign ship has thicker armour, but what is her coal-carrying capacity? You must make a sacrifice on one side or the other, and it is only when you bear in mind these first principles you will do justice to your own ships, or be able to form a proper opinion. No naval architect is able to combine all these desiderata together under a certain size. I will read an extract from the speech on the French Navy Estimates by the reporter on the French Naval Budget, because it very neatly expresses the doctrine of which I am speaking, and which has a great bearing on the selection of ships. M. Thomson said:— It is certain that if the problem of modern construction is not insoluble, it is at least very delicate and very complex. Naval construction becomes more and more complicated. We are at this moment in a period of transformation, development and trial. Every ship brought into existence puts the type which it replaces in the Fleet into a lower grade, and only bears a distant resemblance to that type. Every armourclad is a compromise. Beyond the multiple and very various requirements, it would be impossible to conceive a type which would not give a handle to any criticism. To instal on the hull of a medium tonnage weapons of war of a tremendous power, to put under the protection of an armoured wall formidable fighting instruments where bronze, iron, and steel are crowded together in every shape, to give to this mass a large radius of action, a high speed, it is almost the pursuit of the improbable. But have the goodness to believe it—the foreigner no more than we possesses the solution of this difficult problem. We say the same. No country more than ourselves has power to solve this problem. I thought I would place before the House some of the various differences of opinion which exist with reference to what you ought to sacrifice; but I have already detained you so long—and I have still a certain amount of ground to go over—that I will refrain from doing so on the present occasion. I will confine myself to saying that the whole ship must be taken into consideration, also the differences as regards the disposition of armament. A choice must, therefore be made. That choice must depend on the special requirements of the particular nation for whom the ships are built. It is strongly held by the present Board of Admiralty—I believe it has been held by past Boards—that the range of action in the case of English ships must not be crippled, and that coal-carrying is one of the most vital necessities. We must have ships equal in fighting capacity and we must have coal-carrying capacity also, in order to enable our ships to remain at sea. Consequently, in any ships we may propose we cannot go below a certain size, unless we accept the doctrine that they are to be Channel ships only. Some of our rivals have fine fighting ships, but their inadequate coal-carrying capacity prevents them going beyond the Channel. We think we ought not to build such ships, because we require our vessels not only in the Channel, but in distant parts of the world—we require ships ready to go anywhere and to do anything. ["Hear, hear!"] I will put before the House the number of ships which we propose to add to those now under construction. We propose to add five battleships, four first-class cruisers, three second-class cruisers, six third-class cruisers, and 28 torpedo-boat destroyers. The first-class cruisers will be of the Diadem type, the second class of the Talbot, and the third-class of the Pelorus type. With regard to the torpedo-boat destroyers, I must inform the House, looking to the extraordinary urgency of proceeding with that class of boat—seeing they were sanctioned by the late Cabinet and entered into the programme of Lord Spencer—we have ordered eight of them in anticipation of the verdict of the House of Commons. Of course, if the House of Commons so chooses, they will strike them off the number we now propose. With regard to this list of cruisers, the House will observe that they are to be according to existing types—the Diadem, the Talbot, and the Pelorus. The five battleships are to be improved Renowns. In order to avoid any misconception, I may say these designs were prepared by Sir William White before he left. Sir William White has been indisposed for some months, but before he started on his holiday for the restoration of his health, he was able to approve of the whole of the programme which we now produce to the House. I have his authority for it, and his authority is a great one. ["Hear, hear!"] Sir William White has built 130 battleships, and not one of them has had a deeper draught or has erred in stability from the calculations which he had made. His recent ships, the Magnificent and the Majestic have had 200 tons less weight when launched than his design. The new Renowns will be 390 feet in length, 74 feet in breadth, and have a displacement of 12,900 tons. They are thus 2,000 tons smaller than the Majestic, and draw about two feet less water, a point to which we attach very great importance. They will have the same coal endurance and rather greater speed. They will be fitted with water-tube boilers, and will consequently be able to steam further at a high speed than the Majestic class. The main armament will be the same as that of the Majestic class. The protective arrangements are also similar, but there will be less thickness of armour. We believe that, through the coal arrangements in the bunkers alongside the deficiencies in armour will be amply compensated by the advantages we have gained in other respects. I have compared the new Renown with the Majestic. As compared with the old Renown, the new ships will be greatly superior in armament—namely, 12-in. as against 10-in. guns, and in barbette armour 12-in. as against 10-in., and two more 6-in. quick-firing guns. In citadel protection the principal portion of the protected area has the same thickness in both cases—6-in. The Renown has a little 8-in. armour, but the new ships will have their citadels about 15 feet longer. For continuous steaming over long distances, the new vessels will have an advantage in speed of two knots. These five battleships, added to the seven battleships which are now building under Lord Spencer's programme, and the Renown, will constitute 13 battleships which will be under construction during the present year. ["Hear, hear!"] With regard to the number of cruisers, I wish to say to those who think it is either too great or too small, it has again not been decided upon haphazard. The First Naval Lord has gone over every station, every trade route, and has considered the composition of the squadrons of the Mediterranean, North Sea, and Channel, on the Irish coasts, and in distant parts. He has allotted so many cruisers to these particular places. This number of cruisers is based not upon a comparison of the number of cruisers other nations have, because their conditions are entirely different from ours, but upon the question what we have to defend, what services will have to be performed, in what direction the food supply will have to be protected, and what resources we have. This number of cruisers, added to those which have gone before, and with the addition of a few third-class cruisers which may still have to be asked for in a future year, represents the deliberate opinion of the Board of Admiralty. Whether we err or not, it is the deliberate opinion of the Board of Admiralty as to the requirements of the day. ["Hear, hear!"] I am now approaching the end of my very long story. I have placed before the House the number of ships which we propose to add to the Navy. We do not propose to proceed by Bill, because it is intended to begin all these ships during the present financial year. I may say that, looking at these additional ships, the House is entitled to know that the cost, in addition to what we have in hand at the beginning of the year, spread over three years, is £10,000,000 sterling. That is for the new ships. We propose to finish the whole of the Spencer ships, and the whole of our own ships, by July, 1899. On the present year there will be a proposed increase of £1,860,000 on Vote 8. Now I have placed before the House roughly the effect generally of our Estimates. There is an increase for men, including the reserve, of £300,000; shipbuilding, £1,860,000; ordnance, £850,000; new works, £70,000 more than last year, exclusive of the Naval Works Bill, and other Votes, £42,000; or a total increase of £3,122,000 on the Votes of last year. The total Navy Estimates are £21,823,000. In 1895–96, they were £18,701,000, there being thus an increase of £3,122,000. In regard to items of new construction, the amount will be £7,385,000, as compared with £5,393,000. In previous years the amounts were—1892–93, £4,050,000; in 1893–94, £2,984,000; in 1894–95, £4,477,000; and in 1895–96, £5,393,000; and in this year, £7,385,000. The amount of increased wages in the dockyards is £294,000. Three battleships, one first-class cruiser, and one third-class cruiser will be built in the dockyards. The remainder will be built by contract. The three battleships to be built in the dockyards will be commenced when the ships on the slips at Chatham, Devonport, and Portsmouth are completed. This will insure a continuity of work in the dockyards. Tenders for the two battleships to be built by contract will be given out next month. The whole of the third-class cruisers will be commenced at once. Indeed, I have gone so far as to invite tenders, and as soon as Parliament sanctions them the whole will be put in hand at once. Stringent limits as to the date of their completion will be inserted in the contracts. They ought to be ready within 13 months from the time of their commencement. The same holds good with regard to the torpedo-boat destroyers. The whole of the tenders for these will be invited at once. The first and second-class cruisers will be commenced in the autumn. The House will see that the whole of this Programme will be commenced and pushed on in the financial year 1896–97. The Programme on which the Board of Admiralty agree is embodied in the Vote of that year, with the few exceptions I have already stated. A broad view has been taken of the Navy, and we believe that now we have arrived at some point on which we may stand. There will be 13 battleships, 10 first-class cruisers, 19 second-class cruisers, eight third-class cruisers, and 90 torpedo-boat destroyers, which form the joint Programme of Lord Spencer and the present Board of Admiralty. The cost of the whole of this, beginning with 1894–5, added to as it has been by myself, will be about £28,000,000. The cost of the Naval Defence Act was £21,000,000. Five million pounds were spent in the two intervening years on these ships. And now about £28,000,000 is the joint Programme of Lord Spencer and ourselves, forming from the year 1889 to 1899 an aggregate expenditure of £55,000,000 upon new construction. I may now sum up. The House will remember that we ask for a supplementary Estimate of £1,000,000 and for Estimates which this year amount to nearly £22,000,000. I give these figures to the House not in any spirit of boastfulness or exaggeration. That is far from our desire. These are not Estimates of provocation—[cheers]—they are Estimates of self-defence. [Cheers.] They are Estimates based on the special conditions of this country—conditions which are not those of any other country—on our scattered possessions, on the position of our food supply, and on our colonial Empire. They are based on the security of our own shores. [Cheers.] If foreign countries look at these Estimates they must not compare them with what they spend upon their navies. They must consider comparatively what they spend upon their armies—["Hear, hear!"]—because the squadrons which we send to sea are the corps d'armée that we place upon our frontiers as they place corps d'armée upon theirs. [Cheers.] Then they have conscription and their vast military armaments. We have our small, though, I hope, excellent, Army. ["Hear, hear!"] But it is to our ships and our Navy that we look. [Cheers.] And an increase of these, even a large increase in our Estimates, ought not in any degree to excite the jealousy or emulation of any foreign nation. We are doing no more than we consider absolutely necessary for our self-defence. ["Hear, hear!"] Some words of mine have been misconstrued to mean indifference to the maintenance of friendships with other countries. No statesman can feel such indifference. ["Hear, hear!"] When we are taunted, as has been continually the case, with what has been called our isolation, we have a right to tell them how we regard that alleged isolation ourselves. We have a right to explain its nature and limits to our countrymen. But, however that may be, whether we be isolated or not, whether in any great strain that may come upon us—which God forbid—we should be unaided by allies, or whether in any general disturbance of peace, we should take our place side by side with other Powers, the British people are unanimous that our fleets should represent the self-reliance of a great nation. [Cheers.] To that unanimity the Government commend these Estimates, satisfied that their cost will be cheerfully borne by the nation, and trusting that they will be accepted, as they have been conceived, in a spirit of moderation, though framed on a scale which, with a full sense of responsibility, we deem adequate for the occasion. [Cheers.]

On the Motion of the FIRST LORD of the TREASURY, the Debate was adjourned.