§ *THE CIVIL LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN, Worcestershire, E.)
in rising to move the Second Reading of the Naval Works Bill, said that he did not intend to deal with questions which had been discussed and decided when the Measure was before the House last year, but there were some alterations in the estimates for the works already sanctioned, and some new works included in the present Bill, upon which the House would probably desire sonic information. The most important of 86 those items was the revision of the Estimates for the improvement of Dover Harbour. At the time this harbour was first included in the Naval Works Act the Admiralty was not in possession of any plaits or surveys to enable them to give an accurate estimate of the cost of the proposed improvements in the liar. hour, as the House had on the previous occasion, rather more than 10 years ago, declined to allow the then Government to carry out the survey which would have placed them in possession of the required information. The sum of £2,000,000, as an approximate estimate, was included in the Bill of last year for this work. The Admiralty, however, had now obtained a complete survey, and full information as to the work to be done, and they thought it right to raise that Estimate to £3,500,000. The plans adopted followed in the main the proposal of the Royal Commission of 1844, and they enabled the Admiralty to get an area beyond the five-fathom line greater by about 50 acres than was then suggested When the harbour was completed they would have an enclosed space of 610 acres below low water, giving an area of 315 acres beyond the five-fathom line, and affording berths for 20 battleships besides several smaller vessels. The next item which called for remark was the increase in the estimate for the dockyard extension at Hong-Kong. When the late Government left office no definite plans had been prepared with regard to the extension of this dockyard, and no arrangement had been entered into between the Admiralty and the colony. Shortly after the present Government came into office they were able to conclude a satisfactory arrangement with the colonial authorities. The Government then sent out an engineer to prepare plans upon the spot, and front his report the Government learned for the first time that probably certain exchanges of land and building could be effected with the military authorities by which still further improvements in the dockyard could be carried out. The increased Estimate was asked for to enable the Admiralty to take advantage of this scheme. Under the original scheme the total area of the dockyard was to have been twelve acres, with one jetty running into deep water, and with a very limited frontage in shallow water. By the new 87 scheme they would have a wharf in deep water with a frontage of 1,100ft., and a small basin which would enable the repairs to ships to be carried out much more economically, besides getting more dockyard space that was most urgently required, and accommodation for torpedo boats and stores. He found that since 1890 the tonnage of ships on the station had more than doubled, and since 1894 it had increased by over 60 per cent. With regard to the new works at Gibraltar, he was happy to say that the Admiralty had been able to make a satisfactory arangement for closing the north end of the harbour by a mole instead of by dolphin and boom defences. The total cost of these works would be £700,000, of which sum the colony would bear four-sevenths and the Admiralty three-sevenths. The scheme would make the harbour absolutely secure against torpedo attacks, and would give an increased space of 96 acres, the advantage of which could hardly be over-estimated. As to further dock accommodation it was proposed to vote half of the cost of the dock at Colombo, the other half of which was to be borne by the colony, and the amount provided by the Admiralty was not in any case to exceed £159,000. It would he a. full-sized dock, capable of taking the largest cruisers and first-class battleships The other new works provided for were the naval barracks at Sheerness, the present barracks being utterly inadequate and insanitary, and the new zymotic hospitals at Haslar and Haulbowline, as the accommodation in those institutions was at present inadequate for the requirements of the fleet. The result of these changes in the Estimates was an increase in the total estimated cost of £3,264,000. With regard to the finance of the Bill, the maximum estimated expenditure for the year was £2,742,900, but to meet that expenditure there were balances of money already voted by the House to the amount of £2,088,900. The total sum, therefore, that the House would be asked to vote in respect of these Estimates was only £654,000. As to the provision of the money, the Naval Works Act of 1895 authorised the issue of £1,000,000 in terminable annuities; but of that sum only £860,000 was issued within the year; and the other £140,000 therefore lapsed. The 88 Naval Works Bill of last year authorised the issue of £2,750,000; and it further provided that the surplus of revenue over expenditure for the financial year then closing should be set apart in a separate account, and should be devoted, in the first place, to the repayment, with interest, of any money already borrowed under the Act of 1895; in the second place, to the repayment to the Treasury of any money issued by them, but not borrowed; and the remainder was to be available for the purposes of that Act or of any succeeding Act. The total sum so set apart was £4,209,000. The maximum estimated expenditure up to the end of the current financial year was nearly £4,504,000. There was, therefore, enough money out of that surplus to meet almost the whole of the expenditure which, it was estimated, could in any circumstances be incurred within the current year. If the whole of the money which the House was asked to vote were spent, there would be a very small balance which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to provide out of the current Exchequer balance. Therefore it was not necessary to ask for power to borrow further money. He hoped this explanation had made the position clear to hon. Members. [Cheers.] The Admiralty were satisfied that the proposals made under the Bill were not more than adequate to meet the needs of the service for which they were responsible; and they believed that they were meeting the general sense of the House and the country in asking the House to make adequate provision for those needs. [Cheers.]
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
offered his sincere congratulations to the hon. Gentleman for the perfectly clear statement which he had made. He regretted that an hon. Friend of his (Mr. Lough) had put down a Motion on the Paper for the rejection of this Bill; and he hoped that the Motion would not be pressed to a Division. For his own part, he was sincerely pleased once again to be able to support this Naval Works Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] The House had recently had an opportunity of seeing a small part of the. British Fleet, and no doubt hon. Members were impressed with the majesty of the spectacle. But if it were possible to bring together all that was 89 being done under these Naval Works Bills all over the world, the effect would be even more impressive than that of the review at Spithead. ["Hear, hear!"] There always would be severe crities of the Admiralty as an institution, but it was only just to say that the Bill which, when it was first introduced by the late Government, was described as al "magnificent and far-reaching, scheme," was in its essence and details the work of the Admiralty itself, unstimulated by outside prompting, and unaided by outside suggestions. Not even the Navy League in its most expansive moment had ventured to imagine anything so far-reaching as the scheme imposed in 1895, and continued in the Bill now before the House. When the first Bill was introduced, the late Government were pressed, not always generously or without suspicion, on one point above all others—and that was rapidity of construction. It was said that the late Administration were taking too little money, and it was hinted that they did not intend to spend the money which they had taken. That being the case, he was somewhat disappointed with the result which this Bill appeared to show in the matter of rapid construction. He imagined that the slowness of progress had come as a surprise to the First Lord of the Admiralty himself; because earlier in the Session the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a question, said that this Bill was to be a loan Bill, showing that he expected the provision which had been made out of the surplus of preceding years to be expended. He must complain that nowhere was to be found a. clear statement of what the progress during the last year really had been. When the first Bill was before the House the Government undertook that the annual Measure should contain in the schedule information which would enable the house to see the progress made during the preceding year.
§ *MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. and learned Gentleman will find an explanation in the First Lord's statement circulated with the Estimates.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
said that that statement would never have led him to anticipate the backwardness of construction revealed by the Bill. The only measure of progress which lay Members of the House could understand was the 90 measure of money expenditure; and that test he proposed to apply to the Bill. The form of the schedule had been materially altered. A column contained in last year's schedule had been suppressed—the column showing the estimated expenditure for the past year. That information the late Admiralty pledged themselves to give. The Bill revealed an alarming state of things, if the inferences which he drew from the figures were correct. Bearing in mind that the plea for this Bill had been the absolute urgency of nearly all the works, he could not conceal his dissatisfaction with the slow rate of progress in some of the most essential particulars. One of the most important works was the dockyard extension at Keyham. The Act of 1896 showed that the expenditure on Keyham up to the then last financial year was £10,000. The amount provided to be expended up to the 31st of March 1897, was £500,000. If progress had been normal, or anything like what had been anticipated, over half a million would have been spent on Keyham Dockyard extension. The actual estimated expenditure for the year was £88,204. No doubt there must be some explanation of this and other facts which he should mention, but he would meanwhile point out the difference. Then as to the item for the enclosure and defence of Gibraltar harbour. The amount which ought to have been expended up to the end of the last financial year was £423,000. The estimated expenditure was £344,000. In a. matter so vitally important, this deficiency was even more serious than that in the case of Keyham. The expenditure on the enclosure of Dover Harbour in the last year ought to have been £15,000. The actual estimated expenditure was £3,185. On the dockyard extension at Gibraltar the expenditure ought to have been £360,000. The actual expenditure was estimated at £123,000. The expenditure on the enclosure at Portland Harbour ought to have been £250,000. The actual expenditure was estimated at £173,340.
§ *MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said that it had been explained at the time that the estimates were outside estimates, and the Admiralty never promised to expend the whole amount. They only promised to carry on the works as rapidly as possible, and that had been done.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
said that be was not assuming that there was no defence; but he took it that the reason there was a balance of £2,000,000 available for the furtherance of this programme was that the £2,000,000 have been expended in the last financial year, and had not been expended. He must remind the House of the extraordinary pressure which was put upon the House to get the Act of 1896 through. The discussion was closured on the plea of urgency, and in the other House it was carried through all its stages in one day. The slowness of progress which the figures now showed was a striking commentary on this plea of urgency. When the Gibraltar scheme was first mooted, the docks were in everyone's mind, but now it was agreed that the harbour was more important. It was generally known now that these harbour enclosures at Gibraltar, Portland and Dover were wanted purely and solely to keep out the torpedo attacks which might otherwise destroy the fleets assembled at those harbours. It was therefore most essential that the work should be pushed forward as rapidly as possible. He hoped that priority would be given to this work over everything else. He hoped that the First Lord of the Admiralty would be able to explain tile backwardness of construction and to assure the House that it hail not occurred with his goodwill. The danger should be averted by speedy and strenuous action on the part of the Admiralty, in which they would be supported by the House.
§ SIR GEORGE BADEN-POWELL (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
congratulated the Civil Lord on the lucidity of his statement and the excellence of the proposals which he had made. As to Gibraltar, he hoped the Admiralty would furnish some information as to how far the coaling leases, which were supposed to pay for the commercial mole, had succeeded. He should like, when further explanations were given, that they should be told how they could be assured that the contributions to the Gibraltar fund would be specifically ear-marked and appropriated for the construction of the mole. The other remark he had to make was in regard to the construction of dockyards in various parts of the Empire. He wished to know specifically what length these docks were to be made, because it 92 seemed to him they had not only to face the question of the size of men-o'-war now in existence, but whether they could dock those mercantile cruisers, on whom lie hoped they could place real reliance in time of war, and ninny of which were now being built to exceed 600 feet in length—a length which would probably go on increasing in future. Provision should be made as regards dockyards for the ships of the future and not merely for present requirements. He hoped the Government, in introducing this excellent scheme for the defence of the Empire and trade all over the world, would not forget that though the Bill provided certain facilities it by no means provided all. We had no docks or repairing places between Gibraltar and the Cape, and yet this was the area where most of our trade would concentrate in time of war, and where the great naval actions of the future would have to be fought out.
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
, in rising to move that the Bill be read a Second time this day six months, explained that he did not object in principle to carrying out every work that might be necessary for the needs of the fleet, but he thought the Bill introduced at this advanced hour of the Session was au exceedingly bad precedent and totally unnecessary. If there was unanimity about the Bill on both sides of the House he might not push his objections too far, but there were one or two considerations which should be taken into account before they arrived at a decision. It was admitted that the Admiralty had two millions in hand remaining over from the last two Acts. Would they be able to spend next year a. quarter of a. million more than they had spent in the last two financial years? If not, this Bill was unnecessary. In the dog days, at the end of a. Session, they ought not, in a time of perfect peace, to be plunging into the discussion of Estimates amounting to 17½ millions if it could be avoided. The Admiralty, it appeared, had now obtained a complete survey and report with reference to the new works at Dover, but why bad not that Report been laid on the Table? He doubted whether a great harbour could be built at Dover with safety, owing to the engineering difficulties. They were joyously going to pour 3½ millions into the sea at Dover. 93 Dover in time of war was about the most unsafe place in the whole Empire for our battleships to seek refuge. [Cheers.] The best thing they could do was to run through the Straits of Dover as fast as they possibly could. [Laugher.] They would be far safer down at Devonport or some other spot more Secluded than Dover. [Renewed laugher.] With regard to his second point, the late period of the Session, he contended that it was almost impossible, at this period of the Session, to give adequate consideration to these large proposals. There were few Members present, and they were all disorganised by the Jubilee proceedings. His hon. Friend below him (Mr. E. Robertson) took credit for being the father of this policy. His hon. Friend took a little too much credit. His policy was a mild and safe policy, Such as generally proceeded from Liberal Governments. His total expenditure was only S millions, in the early part of last Session it got up to 14 millions, and now it had risen to 17½ millions. He objected to this grand method of treating this question. Under the Bill of 1895 it was proposed to spend on Gibraltar millions, under the Bill of 1896 3¾ millions; whereas under this Bill the sum had risen to 4½ millions. Again, the Civil Lord had not mentioned a most interesting point. It was proposed to lay a tax on the colonists at Gibraltar of £14,000 a year to cover part of the cost of the new works there. That was an entirely novel proposal, and he should like to have some explanation of it. This was a charge which ought to he defended, and the House ought to learn how the people at Gibraltar viewed the proposal.
§ MR. LOUGH
said that the hon. Gentleman did not say, however, that the colony were to be charged 2¾ per cent. on the money during the time of construction. On a former occasion £2,000,000 were asked for Dover; £3,500,000 were now asked.. The Hong-Kong Estimate was increasing in the same proportion. In the first Bill it was £290,1100, in the next £340,000, and in this Bill the amount way; £575,000. The, expenditure during the next year it; Hong-bong was supposed to be £100,000. That was an amount of 94 money which it would he impossible to expend in the period. Then let the House look at the Irish aspect of the case. For the first time Ireland was included in a Naval Works Bill. But the £60,000 was really an amount borrowed front the Estimates; and in the change which had been made Ireland was deeply interested. The total expenditure to be sanctioned by the House was 17½ millions, and Ireland had to pay one-twelfth of the amount. Against that contribution only £60,000 was to be spent at Haulbowline. That was a very small expenditure, though he could not refrain from adding that he did not sympathise with that line of criticism. Personally, he thought that there should not be any expenditure in Ireland; but some arrangements should be made on the great financial questions which had been raised with regard to Ireland before the country was asked to contribute such large sums to an expenditure like this. There was another great change made in this Bill as compared with the moderate and safe Bill of the Liberal Government. Tito Liberals provided for 1½ per cent. as the cost of supervision; but the present Government had adopted more extravagant ideas, and had provided for a per cent. He should like to know whether any contract had been entered into in respect of Dover? [Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN: "No!"] Then it would he impossible to spend the large sum which was taken for Dover if no progress had yet been made with the contract. He trusted that full particulars would be given with reference to the contracts entered into, and that due regard would be had to the necessity of seeing that everything was done as economically as possible. On the whole, he could not help thinking that the time chosen, for these proposals was inopportune. We had recently been celebrating a long reign of peace, but no sooner was that celebration over titan the House of Commons was asked to vote this great expenditure, when, as far as he could see, the state of the world could not justify the policy of the Admiralty. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
As the First Lord of the Admiralty cannot speak after answering the questions which have been 95 put, I wish to ask him one or two questions with reference to the finance of this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee has dealt so fully with the details of some of the items of expenditure that I need not repeat them; but the finance of these new naval works differs materially from the principle of the finance of the former Naval Defence Act brought in by the Administration of which: the right lion. Gentleman was Chancellor of the Exchequer. In that Defence Act the whole sum for shipbuilding was taken, and authority was given to borrow; there was no control consequently afterwards by the House of Commons. But later, by the last Government, the system of annual Bill was adopted, it being in the form in which money was taken in Lord Palmerston's Government for the fortifications. The whole object of that was that the House of Commons in each year should have a voice in, and should have full knowledge in each year of what was being clone. In the annual Bill of last year it is stated,—Whereas the said schedule sets forth the estimates of the cost of the works and the time in which they are to be completed, the amount to be expended thereon, the amount required for the expenditure thereon during the financial year ending the 31st day of March 1897";and in the schedule is set forth the amount the Government is taking, and that they intended to expend up to 31st March 1897, £2,750,000. The House had a right to expect that the Government would spend something like that amount; why, otherwise, was it stated in the annual Bill? But at this moment I do not find in this Bill any means of ascertaining what they have actually spent. The first question I would ask, therefore is—What has been the actual expenditure which was estimated in the Bill of last year to be £2,750,000? In that respect the annual Bill has failed in the object it is intended to serve of informing Parliament how much was intended to be the expenditure in the year, and how much has actually been expended. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty, whom I desire to compliment on the statement he has made to the House, says, "Oh, it was an outside estimate." But as far as I can 96 ascertain £2,000,000 had not been expended that is, indeed, a very "outside estimate."
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
Surely this is not going to be the kind of Estimate which is to be continued in these annual Bills? No doubt we shall have an explanation, but I hope if will be an explanation which will assure us that there will be no such errors in future in the Estimates of the work to be done within the year. In this Bill we have an Estimate of expenditure up to March 31, 1898, of £2,742,000. How much of that will the Admiralty have expended next year? I am bound to say that in the first Bill for which we were responsible the Estimate was £1,000,000, and the expenditure amounted to that sum within £140,000. But that is a very different thing. One may well imagine that an Estimate may vary to the amount of £150,000.
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
Then there was a variation of a quarter of a million; but that is a very different thing from a variation of two millions. I am bound to say, however, that, though we made the Estimate, we were not responsible for the expenditure, but our successors; and we cannot say what would have been done under the administration of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee. Of course, the Admiralty is a permanent Department, with the best means of estimating what is to be spent and seeing that the money is spent; and what we want is some assurance that these representations which are made to Parliament in these annual Bills should conform in some reasonable degree to the information which is laid before Parliament. It is a most material point to make, that Parliament shall not be called upon to vote large sums of money when there is no reasonable expectation that it will have to be expended. It becomes almost a farce under the circumstances, and I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dundee that one of the great objects in giving these large powers is defeated. After 97 all, it really does amount to borrowing, because this money, which was expended out of the surplus, was money which otherwise would have been devoted to the discharge of debt; therefore it is only really paying out of one pocket into another. I did not feel justified in taking any objection to the appropriation of the surplus in this manner; for had the surplus been used to discharge debt, the next day you would have borrowed the same amount. So long as the principle is maintained, which we have always held sacred, of devoting an adequate sum each year to the liquidation of debt through terminable annuities and through the new sinking fund, which amounts to something like £7,000,000 a year, I think it is only reasonable that permanent works of this character should be paid for in this way. Now, the surplus accruing in 1895–96, in the year ended the 31st of March 1896, was £4,209,000. That was a little nest egg which the present Administration—and I do not complain that they have done so—have used for these permanent works instead of borrowing. money; and the House will understand, and the country will understand, that so far as there has been any expenditure on these great Naval works it has been done out of the annual taxation of the country, and not by borrowing. That is to say, that the four millions which were yielded by the taxation of that year have sufficed to defray the cost of these great permanent works, not only in the past but in the present financial year. The surplus of this year has been in a similar way devoted to military works, and, as I am informed, it will suffice for the military works of at least two years to come without any borrowing at all. I wish it to be understood, then, that the heavy cost of these works has not been defrayed by borrowing upon terminable annuities. I do not complain of it—I am a great advocate for the discharge of debt, and I do not complain that the cost of these works has been found without any nominal addition to the debt at all. That being so, I should like to know—we have not yet got the exact figure—what money they expect to want beyond the unexhausted surplus of 1895–96. I get a figure of something like £50,000, but I do not know in fact what it is, and I think we ought to have it. As 98 far as I can judge front the Revenue returns, it seems to me that there will be a very ample surplus to meet that, and much larger demands. That is the figure I would like to have, therefore—first of all, the exact amount he has to spend; and, secondly, what reason he has to believe that he is going to spend the sum here demanded—£2,742,000; and how much of that will have to be taken out of the balances which will, no doubt, be ample in addition to the surplus. And now, with reference to the works themselves, any comment one has to make upon them individually would be made much more appropriately in Committee, than at the present time. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington (Mr. Lough) as to Dover Harbour. I am not in a position to endorse his criticism, because in recent times I am the person responsible for having proposed the construction of a harbour at Dover, for in the year 1885 I produced a Bill for that purpose. I do not agree with him that Dover is a bad staion. The Fleet always used to make one of the principal stations in the Downs. If my hon. Friend refers to the well-known work "Black-Ey'd Susan" —[laughter]—he will find that the Downs were an habitual station in time of war of the British Fleet, and a very natural station in the narrows commanding both the North Sea and the Channel. And, therefore, I have always thought that a great naval station at Dover, not of construction, but of observation, was a natural resort of the British Fleet. I agree with what has been said as to the altered character of the security of the Downs owing to the danger front torpedo boats, and, therefore, a harbour at Dover is a requirement, for a modern fleet, of great importance. ["Hear, hear!"] will only observe that if our policy in this matter had been carried out by our successors in office in 1887, the harbour which I proposed this time 10 years ago might have been already completed and in operation. [" Hear, hear !"] These are matters, however, which, no doubt, will be more fitly discussed in Committee; and. I only rose in order that we might have seine accurate information on the financial aspect of this Bill, and some better security that when the annual Bill is laid before us we should be given 99 authentic information as to what has been spent and what is likely to be spent in the year that is before us. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ *SIR C. DILKE
could not agree with the hon. Member for Islington in his reasons for moving the rejection of the Bill. The only two reasons he gave were the lateness of the Session and the statement that the Bill was not necessary. It was never too late in the Session to produce an annual Bill, because it gave the House a useful opportunity of reviewing the policy of the Government. Perhaps in one point of view the, Bill was unnecessary, because the service could have been performed without coming to the House for fresh money; but from the point of view of strict convenience it was highly necessary, because there were two or three new departures in the Bill—slight changes and modifications of existing schemes upon which the House would have an opportunity of pronouncing an opinion in Committee. ["Hear, hear!"] The introduction of the Bill was the result of a promise given by the last and the present Governments that there should be an annual Bill for naval works; and, as it gave the House a control over details of the schemes which it could not otherwise possess, he could not agree that the Bill was in the least unnecessary. He partly agreed with the criticisms made by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer and the late Second Lord upon the present Admiralty for the great deficiency of expenditure as compared with the estimate. But he slid not entirely agree with the late Chancellor of the Exchequer because the expenditure incurred had been larger than the sum actually spent. It was evident that in carrying on large works at a place like Gibraltar they could not be sure of spending in twelve months all the money they undertook to spend. The answers to questions he had put in the House showed that the Government were not at all clear as to the actual amount spent in the year as contrasted with the amount they had undertaken to spend. He first got round figures, which showed that they were likely to spend £2,000,000; then the sum was reduced to £1,500,000; and ultimately it came out in the Budget speech that the expenditure had been only £898,000. He did not agree that by accepting this 100 Bill they would be undertaking to plunge into great expenditure. Both the late Government and the present had warned the House that the figures given respecting the works at Gibraltar and Dover were only tentative, and that as regarded Dover they could not make a certain statement until the completion of the surveys. The expenditure upon the Dover Harbour was one of those matters with regard to which they must trust the Government, for neither the strategic nor the naval knowledge of the House was such as to entitle it to express an authoritative opinion. Behind the Government, they should remember, there was the expert opinion of their advisers, and by that opinion the House, it seemed to him, must be bound in matters like the Dover project. If the naval authorities said that Dover was a place where expenditure ought to be incurred they ought, he thought, to make the sacrifice cheerfully. It was hardly possible that this expenditure at Dover would have been recommended by the Government if the First Naval Lord, the greatest naval authority they had, had not urged it. The authority of the First Naval Lord could, therefore, he thought, be cited in support of this proposal. For the proposed increase of the expenditure at Gibraltar they had been prepared by the information supplied to the House in 1895, when plans were produced and explained, and the statement was made that if the assent of the colony could be obtained to the scheme—and it had now been obtained—this additional expenditure would become necessary. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Dundee that the whole of this expenditure was expenditure which the Admiralty had undertaken unprompted. In the case of Gibraltar, at any rate, he believed that the Admiralty had required a great deal of stirring up, and that a great deal of pressure had to be applied to successive Governments in order to induce them to undertake works which were thought to be necessary to meet the emergencies which might be caused by naval engagements in the Mediterranean. The principle of kills of this kind was, he, believed, generally approved, and all that Radical Members could ask was that full information should be supplied from year to year on financial points, especially in the Budget speech.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
drew attention to the proposal to erect a fever hospital at Haulbowline.
§ *MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
explained to the hon. Member that the intention was to replace the present fever hospital for naval patients in the dockyard, the existing building being very unsuitable for fever cases.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
thought that before the proposed work was proceeded with the sanction of the local authority ought to be obtained. Haulbowline, it should not be forgotten, was in the centre of a residential district, and if the present hospital accommodation for fever patients were to be largely extended the residents' apprehension of infection would probably increase. Great compliments, lie saw, had been paid to the Government of the Cape Colony for its present of a battleship to the Empire, and he understood that a vote of thanks to the colony was to be proposed in that House. The Government, however, extracted from Ireland every year the price of two first-class battleships, but never dreamed of giving Ireland any thanks. No compliment was paid to Ireland for her contributions to the Imperial armament, but the Cape Colony was to be effusively thanked. The policy of Parliament was to sanction any amount of naval expenditure at Hong-Kong, Gibraltar, Madagascar, Jerusalem—[laughter]—etc., but in Ireland the most trifling expenditure was grudged. He was glad to see that a sum of £64,000 was at last proposed to be expended at Haulbowline, but for years the Irish representatives had unavailingly tried to induce the Government to increase the work at that dockyard. Ireland practically got nothing in return for the millions which she contributed to the Navy. Even when a ship had to be repaired she was sent to an English dockyard in preference to Haulbowline. The Government wrung from Ireland money for the Navy from which his country derived no benefit, for no one would ever think of attempting to take Ireland. His country had been so impoverished under the Union that it was not worth taking. He hoped the Government would in future spend in Ireland a fair proportion of the money extracted from that country for the purposes of naval defence.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
pointed out that the return that Ireland got for her contribution to the naval expenditure was the security that was afforded her. With regard to the complaint That more repairs were not effected at Haulbowline he would observe that ships must be repaired in the most convenient places, and that, as a rule, repairs could be more conveniently executed at Chatham or Plymouth than at Haulbowline. Now as to the remarks of the Member for the Forest of Dean in this matter, he broadly said that they must follow authority in naval matters. Yes; he agreed when it was strictly a naval matter; but here Was raised a question which was not strictly naval. That was why he objected to a considerable portion of the expenditure, which represented an entirely new departure. In his view, more than half the expenditure was wholly bad. One half was wholly good, the other half was wholly bad. [A laugh.] As to the Dover Harbour, there was nothing as to which naval men differed more, and, therefore, he could not accent the authority of the right lion. Baronet (Sir C. Dilke). There was nothing that naval men differed so much on as naval subjects, there were no men who differed more on all subjects, therefore, he could not accept the appeal to authority to which the right lam. Baronet (Sir C. Dilke) referred. As to the Dover Harbour, for 60 years many naval authorities were against it, nearly all so much against it that no First Lord could be got to propose it until two years ago. As to Gibraltar, he had always advocated the formation of a dock there, but they could never get any Naval Lord to agree. Now it was three docks, not one dock. As to the expenditure under the Bill, 17 millions, the way in which eight millions of it was to be spent was most excellent—deepening harbours and enlarging docks. One word of warning he would give, this was not final, they had in fact only got at the beginning of their expenditure. If they succeeded in constructing this enormous harbour at Dover, and at Portsmouth and other places, they would have only begun their work. They would have to keep an enormous number of 103 dredgers at work, and for this work they would have to make large annual provision. As to the other nine millions, he held that it was unnecessary and bad. Above all, he objected to six millions on the defence of harbours against torpedoes. They ought not to have a harbour exposed to torpedo attacks. No ship would venture in time of war to enter Dover Harbour, but would have to pass it at full speed. It is true that an, Admiral would be protected in the harbour from the torpedo, as it at present exists. There might be torpedoes falling from above. Were they going to put a roof over their harbours. He advocated works for the Scilly Isles, a most important position, which would be made absolutely secure by the expenditure of a quarter to half a million. Having alluded to the plan, he wished now to refer to the Report. He thought hon. Members ought to see the Report itself. The Report was an essential part of this Bill as regarded Dover Harbour, and lion. Members could not tell whether the expenditure it was proposed to make was justified until they saw that plan and the Report upon which the expenditure was founded. He hoped the plan and Report would be furnished to the. House before the Committee stage of the Bill was reached. If not, and no satisfactory explanation was offered as to their not being forthcoming, he should have to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. It was extremely important that they should see the Report and plan. From the accounts he had received he believed the engineers were inclined to pursue ancient methods of a costly, lengthy, and expensive character. He understood they were favourers of the method of making a breakwater of this kind at Dover, by the old method of sinking solid blocks. If the more modern method were adopted of using massed concrete and driving in piles, they would have a better and more resisting structure, and at the same time, one so much more economical to make that almost a. million might be saved on the cost of this work. They were entitled to know what method was to be pursued in making the harbour. The new method of which lie had spoken had been adopted with success in South America, where a harbour had been constructed in a 104 far more exposed place than Dover under circumstances of great difficulty.
On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
§ *MR. HUDSON KEARLEY (Devonport)
said attention had been very properly drawn by the lion. Member for Dundee to the apparent delay in carrying out the extensive works that were in hand at Devonport. Special reference was made to what was called the Keyham extension works, but it was only fair to say that there were other works at Devonport against which no such complaint could be made. There was a most extensive scheme of dredging operations being carried an in, he believed, a perfectly satisfactory manner. He should like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty how far up the Hamoaze those dredging operations were to extend. It did not seem to be clearly understood whether the anchorage was to be made sufficiently deep at Salt Ash Bridge to accommodate ships of war. If that were done it would materially improve the harbour. There was also dock extension going on quite apart from the Keyham works. That extension of the existing dock accommodation was very valuable, and he did not think there was any cause of complaint as to the rapidity with which the work was being carried out. As regarded the main, contract at. Keyham, however, it was rather peculiar that out of a sum of £3,000,000 £88,000 only had hitherto been expended. He was bound to say that from the local knowledge he had the work was proceeding fairly satisfactory. It was, of course, a large work, and when carried out would put Devonport in the position of the first naval port they possessed. At the present time there was no graving dock at Devonport large enough to take their largest cruisers, and, seeing that so many mere of this type of vessel were being built, it was most necessary that the new graving docks with sufficient capacity to take these cruisers should be pushed forward with the greatest dispatch. The most important requirement at Devonport was increased floating basin accommodation. At present the acreage was so scanty that he was told by naval authorities it was like playing a game of 105 chess to get one of these ships out of the basins, when she hall to be removed to another part of the harbour. For that reason it was certainly desirable that the work should proceed rapidly. The contractor laid, he believed, about 1,400 men now engaged, and it was expected that in the course of this year, or early next year, the number would be increased to nearly 4,000. If that came about the arrears of work would be more than caught up, and they might reasonably expect that at the expiry of the seven years over which the contract extended the work would practically be completed with satisfaction in every way. He should like to ask, the First Lord if he could give them some information as to the proposals referred to in the schedule for the further extension of naval barracks. It was most important that the barrack accommodation at Keyham should be gone on with, and he should like to hear a word its to what the proposals were. One question that would affect the progress of these works was the difficulty the contractors had in finding accommodation for the men they were about to employ. The Admiralty knew something of the system of land tenure at Devonport, and he thought it would be wise on their part if, when they were undertaking such extensive works as these in a locality so notoriously landlord ridden as Devonport, they' made sonic arrangements in advance to secure a sufficient quantity of land, so that their important operations might not be hampered and restricted as they now were, and would be, in consequence of the difficulty of providing housing accommodation for the workmen.
§ CAPTAIN DONELAN (Cork, E.)
congratulated the Admiralty upon their apparent determination to fulfil their pledges as to the equipment of Haulbowline. It was important that the works should be proceeded with without interruption, so that the (oily Government dockyard in Ireland might be utilised for overhauling and repairing ships for the Irish naval stations. Under this Bill alone Ireland's contribution towards the maintenance or the Navy would amount to £1,500,000, and the concession in regard to Haulbowline was a small instalment of justice indeed. Only the other day the Queenstown guardship was sent 106 across the Channel to Devonport to be overhauled, although she was moored within a few hundred yards of the entrance to the dock, and twenty competent local shipwrights were anxious to undertake the work. Consequently Queenstown, the headquarters of the Royal Navy in Ireland, had been for two or three months, and was still, without a guardship, and the Admiral commanding the Irish station had been compelled to hoist his flag on a gunboat. This state of affairs was naturally calculated to create discontent and indignation in Ireland. It was highly unsatisfactory from a naval point of view, and he asked for an assurance that there would be no undue delay in completing the proposed equipment at Haulbowline, that the estimated outlay for the current year would be expended within that period. He agreed with the hon. Member for Louth as to the desirability of consulting the local authorities before constructing a zymotic hospital at Haulbowline, although he admitted that a new hospital was urgently required.
§ MR. G. WYNDHAM (Dover)
held that they ought not to measure the benefits conferred by the Bill on any locality by the sum expended in the locality. The true benefit derived, whether by Dover or Ireland, was to be found in the protection which each place received as part of the Empire. From what the hon. Member for Lynn Regis had said, it might be thought that the idea of building a natural harbour at Dover was a new one. There were two standing refutations of that idea. A convict prison would never have been built at Dover tinder a Liberal Government unless large sums were meant to be expended in the construction of a national harbour. The Leader of the Opposition had built up a reputation for being a most scrupulous guardian of the public purse, and when the right hon. Gentleman gave a blank cheque to the Government of the day for any sum which might be necessary to build a national harbour at Dover, no one need have any hesitation in feeling that a strong case roust have been presented to him. It was not for Members of the House to enter into expert criticism of the Report upon and plans fiat the work, but to say to the moat experts, "You have made out your case. We ought not only to have a national 107 harbour at Dover, but to get one constructed as soon as possible." Parliament had determined to spend a large sum of money on the work, and it ought to be carried out without undue delay.
§ *MR. R. W. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)
said the House must regret that a large proportion of the money voted last year for these important works had not been expended on the work then contemplated. But he congratulated the Admiralty on the rapid and efficient completion of the two vast docks at Portsmouth hon. Members had recently had an opportunity of seeing. The completion of the works was most creditable to Major Pilkington and Major Raban, who were primarily responsible. Exception had been taken to the charge of 5 per cent. for administration, but it was manifestly necessary that when the Government undertook the control of works of this magnitude, a larger sum should be set aside for supervision than any departmental outlay hitherto would have justified. He presumed that the Government intended to invite tenders for the harbour works at Dover, and to have them executed by contractors in the ordinary way. The French Government during the last 30 years had spent upwards of £25,000,000 in improving the ports on their coasts. Meanwhile, with the exception of a little outlay at Portsmouth and this contemplated outlay, the Government of this country had done almost nothing. Up to the present time the total outlay did not exceed £2,000,000. These harbour extension works were not only important from a naval point of view but also from a commercial point of view. This was shown by the recent outlay at Antwerp and Buenos Ayres. At Buenos Ayres a sum of £7,000,000 had been spent by the Argentine Government in building docks quite as large as the Dover and Keyham works together, and the expenditure had increased enormously the. commercial resources of the country. The same was the case at Antwerp. He was therefore more reconciled to this large expenditure than if it was to be laid out on such purely naval work as the building of battle ships. He trusted that Her Majesty's Government would proceed promptly with these works, and would give an assurance that they would be put up to tender, and that 108 the work would be given to the lowest responsible contractor.
CAPTAIN PHILLPOTTS (Devon, Torquay)
asked whether any of the necessary plant for repairing warships would be provided at Colombo and also when the new barracks at Walmer were likely to be ready for occupation?
§ *MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
thought that the most important, points that had been raised were the questions of the rate of progress made, with works already approved and the estimate of expenditure made. in connection with those works. He would like to say at the outset that the expenditure actually incurred could hardly be taken as the measure of progress. The Government were always, of course, behindhand in, the payments to their contractors, and therefore more work had been done than was represented by the actual payments at any given date. It was perfectly true that they had not been able to make such rapid progress as, in a more sanguine frame of mind, they had anticipated; but difficulties in connection with such works as these arose, especially at the beginning. Delays took place in, the preparation of plans and designs, in getting out the quantities, in calling for tenders. When all these things were done progress was likely to go on in an increasing ratio, and although they had not made such progress as they had hoped in the last year, they felt they were justified in hoping that much greater progress would be made in the coming year. In preparing these Estimates, the Admiralty were bound to have regard to the very great inconvenience which would result from the work at any point being checked by lack of funds. They felt bound to make the. Estimate sufficiently wide to cover any possible expenditure which might be incurred during the time occupied in passing this Bill. As far as he knew there was no reason to change the scheduled time as to the date for completion. Having discussed Gibraltar very carefully with the advisers of the Admiralty, he saw no reason to anticipate that the work there would not be complete in its main features by the scheduled time. The Leader of the Opposition asked for definite information on two points. He asked first what was the actual expenditure last year. The estimated expenditure up to March 3I was £800,000. Then the right 109 hon. Gentleman asked what was the actual extent of the spending power the Government took this year over the sums they had available out of the surplus between revenue and expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman put that figure correctly at £60,000. That was the demand the Admiralty might have to make on the Treasury, but he did Dot anticipate that they would have to make it. Exception had been taken to the construction of a harbour at Dover. The Admiralty had Intl the best advice on the subject from their advisers, who were perfectly confident of the feasibility of the plans it was proposed to carry out. The hon. Member for King's Lynn argued that such a harbour would be useless for the purposes of a fleet, and that any competent strategist would condemn the proposal. He should imagine that, with the exception of the lion. Member himself, no strategist would do otherwise than put the highest value on a harbour of this kind. The advisers of the present Board were unanimous as to the necessity aural advantage of the harbour. The hon. Member had spoken of the Board of Admiralty as never agreeing among themselves, and that the board-room was the scene of almost daily quarrels. That was entirely contrary to the facts. The Board were absolutely agreed on the necessity and urgency of their work, and they were supported by distinguished Admirals who had been at the Admiralty. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for the Louth Division of Lincolnshire asked whether it was intended to call for tenders for the works at Dover. It was proposed to do so, and to accept the lowest tender from a responsible firm. The Admiralty would also shortly call for tenders for the work which remained to be done at Gibraltar and other places.
§ *MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Yes. With regard to Devonport, it was proposed to extend the works above Saltash Bridge, but it was intended only to make berths for cruisers. The hon. Member for Louth asked a question about the fever hospital at Haulbowline, and another lion. Member asked him to give it pledge that the works would be proceeded with as fast as possible. He gave that pledge, not only in regard 110 to the works at Haulbowline, but in regard to all the works which they had undertaken. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members would understand that when a large number of new works of this kind were started at the same time the pressure on the staff of the Civil Engineer-in-Chief was tremendous, but the preparation of the plans and designs which had not already been prepared would be proceeded with with the utmost dispatch, and they would lose no time in carrying those plans into effect. He pointed out that the hospital at Haulbowline was not a new hospital, but was merely- transferred front a building which was wholly unsuited to the purposes of a fever hospital. If it had any effect upon a neighbourhood, it would only be of the most beneficial kind. They would, have no objection to circulating among Members, in any way which the Rules of the House admitted, the sketch plaits of the principal harbour works. In regard to the report as to the works at Dover, he did not think it was desirable to give to the House only a part of the information on which the Admiralty were proceeding. Neither did he think, with all respect to the House, that it was competent to discuss the technical and engineering difficulties which were encountered. lie bad been advised that bag work would be most unsuitable at Dover. They had taken the very best advice that was obtainable, and were following that advice.
§ CAPTAIN DONELAN
was understood to ask if the works at Haulbowline would render that dockyard more efficient.
§ MR. W. ALLAN (Gateshead)
said it was refreshing to hear that the Admiralty were fully alive to the importance of protecting the south coast of England, but he did not think they had considered the matter in a broad and comprehensive spirit. At the present moment the only two ports on the south coast where damaged cruisers could be repaired were Portsmouth and Plymouth. Now they were told that something was to be done at Dover. But the idea of the Admiralty seemed to be that all the naval battles of England in the future would be fought in the Channel. The manœuvres that were at present being carried on off the Irish coast showed the 111 necessity for additional harbours of refuge. Why did they not make proper harbours of refuge on the east and west coasts of Scotland and on the south coast of Ireland? It was the duty of every Government to protect the nation, and such harbours were needed for the protection of the nation. He should like the Admiralty to grasp the matter in a national and not a parochial manner. How had the money in connection with the Dover scheme been spent?
§ COLONEL DENNY (Kilmarnock Burghs)
said there was not at present on the coast of Scotland a single dock which was capable of easy access. They had a dock at Glasgow, but unless a warship was without armament or coal it could only get up the Clyde by running the greatest risks. Belfast and Milford were in very much the same position. He would ask whether it was not the view of the advisers of the Admiralty that they should have in Scotland some slight expenditure in the way of naval defences. He had had the honour of attending a deputation which waited on the First Lord some time ago, and an offer was then made that if the Admiralty would subsidise the dock to a very small extent they would provide the necessary dock themselves. That offer was then declined, but he hoped the First Lord would take into consideration the desirability of these works.
§ MR. J. C. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
pointed out that three-quarters of a million of public money had already been spent on Haulbowline, and yet that dockyard was only able to execute the most trilling repairs to Her Majesty's ships. The dock was either wanted or it was not wanted, and if it was wanted the necessary works should be completed as expeditiously as possible. He did not think it was too much to expect that the whole of the works should be completed in two years. He did not think that there was any genuine desire on the part of the Admiralty to make this a dockyard for the construction or the efficient repair of 112 ships to any substantial extent. The permanent officials had all along been averse to the expenditure of money on Haulbowline, and he thought the permanent officials should be taught their proper place, and the advice of the experts should be taken. He should not be surprised to hear of the discharge of a number of men from the dockyard in a short time. Why, he asked, should not the dockyard be put in such a condition that it might construct ships. A dockyard on the south coast of Ireland would be invaluable.
§ MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)
said that many years ago a Select Committee of the House of Commons went thoroughly into this question and recommended various places where proper harbours of refuge should be constructed. A. Royal Commission was then appointed, 40 years ago, to further investigate the matter, and that Commission in their Report alluded to the position of Waterford and the absolute necessity of making it a harbour of refuge, which could be done at a comparatively small figure. From that day to this, however, nothing had been done. They had heard that in these matters they must be guided by the opinions of experts, but here was a case where those opinions had not been followed. An expenditure of £70,000 or £80,000 on the harbour of Waterford would make it capable of holding the whole fleet. He also pointed out that a boat-slip was required at Tramore to enable the naval officers to get into their boats.
§ CAPTAIN PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)
supported a memorial from the convention of Royal Burghs in Scotland emphasising how badly off Scotland was from the point of view of defence in the matter of dockyards for the repair of vessels. There was no reason why places like Aberdeen, Dundee, and Leith should not be made suitable as ports where vessels of war could be repaired.
Bill read a Second time, and committed for Monday next.