HC Deb 12 March 1897 vol 47 cc581-9

100,050 Men and Boys.

SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

asked whether the First Lord of the Admiralty was not going to make a statement.

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

said that it would be more convenient if he made the statement at a later stage, when the questions raised in the discussion might be answered.

ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)

said that everyone had read the general statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty with interest. It was one of the most satisfactory statements which naval men had seen for many years. But he was not prepared for so large an increase in the personnel, though he rejoiced that the First Lord had made a concession to naval opinion. The whole service would rejoice to see the new grade of warrant officers created in favour of a certain number of engine-room artificers. It would be greatly valued by the men, and would be for the best interest of the service. He noticed that the training ship at Queenstown for boys had not yet begun to fulfil its duty. The ship was sent there nearly a year ago. Why the delay? He was glad that the Admiralty had added another training ship to the Northampton; but for the lads who joined, and who were 17 or 18 years of age, a more liberal diet was desirable. They were not mere boys, and they were generally emaciated when they joined. As to the new system of training for the naval cadets, it was too soon to criticise it yet, but he was glad the age had been raised. The Britannia had, he saw, had the Racer attached to it; but he would suggest that another such vessel was necessary, as one could not be enough for the work. He was always glad to see an increase of the Royal Marines, and he wished that it had been larger. There were grievances among the Marines which had not yet been put right. The majors of Marines were kept three years before they received an increase of pay, while the majors in the Army were only kept waiting two years. This was a gross inequality which was keenly felt. He was sorry that the Admiralty had not yet provided proper ranges for the Marines at Plymouth. Then there was the burning question of deductions from the full rations when on shore. This grievance the Marines still smarted under. The Army were relieved from it in 1873. While the Marines were afloat they were, of course, treated on the same lines as the seamen; but on shore, they came under military rules, and it was most unfair that they should not receive the concession which was made to the Army as long ago as 1873. When Lord Cardwell proposed the abolition of the stoppage he said, "It is exceedingly unpopular with the soldiers." It was just as unpopular with the Marines now. It was no answer to say, as he had been told by the Secretary to the Admiralty, that he wanted the Marines to be treated as soldiers one day and as Marines the next. He only wanted them treated on fair and proper lines; and where they had remedied a grievance in the Army the same grievance ought to be put right in the case of Marines when on shore. He had discussed this question with commandants of Marines and ex-Adjutant Generals and ex-First Sea Lords. He would be happy to give the name of the latter with whom he had discussed it, and this ex-First Lord had admitted to him that the present system was a great injustice to the Marines; and indeed he went so far as to say that he himself ought to have dealt with it long ago. He had never yet found a naval man who was not sensible of the injustice, and he hoped the matter would be inquired into and dealt with on liberal terms. They were all glad to hear the Naval Reserve were to be dealt with on new lines and according to new methods. If there was any criticism to be made at all it would be that the Reserve was still, in many points of view, not large enough. The hon. Member for Dundee had put it very well when he laid it down that the Reserve ought to be in proportion to the total active personnel. He was greatly pleased to see that at last the 12-years seamen who do not re-engage were allowed to enter the Reserve force as "qualified men," and were to be granted a pension of £12 at the age of 60. He did not at all agree with the observations of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, who stated that the French battleships were more powerfully armed than ours. That was not correct. Our first-class battleships were more powerfully armed than the French, and had nothing to fear in any comparison. An important matter to which he had to call attention was the armament of the new ships of the first-class cruiser type. They were powerful vessels of an entirely new type, but their armament was a great departure from anything he had ever known in the Naval service, and he wanted the First Lord to justify that departure. It used to be the custom, before any change in the armaments of ships was carried out, that the opinion of the head of the gunnery establishment at Portsmouth was always invited and expressed. He should like to know whether the captain of that great establishment had been consulted in this matter, or whether it had been left entirely to the officials inside the walls of the Board of Admiralty. What was the good of one of these first-class cruisers, supposing she was chasing a French or any other battleship, if she could not hull that vessel? A ship might very well be escaping and trying to reach its port after an accident at sea. A cruiser without a 9'2 gun could not stop that ship. The more he studied the armament question and the valuable Return which had been obtained by the Member for the Forest of Dean the more he was convinced that it was not satisfactory. He did not find a single officer who approved of the low armaments of the "Eclipse" class. He trusted the First Lord would relieve his mind from misgivings on the point. He was informed that there was no means of communicating direct with the men in the casemates. The order had first to go to what was called the "exchange," and then it was distributed over the casemates. What was wanting was direct communication front the conning-tower to the casemates. He next referred to the grievances of stokers, chief petty officers, and others, and had regretted that they were still unredressed, and that they had to be brought before the House year after year. He also complained as to the toll at Haslar Bridge. Even poor women going to visit their suffering bread-winners at the hospital had to pay toll.


That has been settled.


was glad of that, but hoped it would be settled by joint purchase by the War Office, the Admiralty, and the ratepayers. As to the lamentable state of things as to the health of the troops in India, a great mistake had been made in doing away with the operation of the C.D. Acts. They were, at first, only suspended, and if they cut the suspending rope the Acts would be again in force, but they have since been repealed. As in the Army so it was in the Navy, and in Haslar Hospital there were 700 seamen and Marines suffering. He hoped something would be done to remedy this gigantic evil.


said he was in hopes that the right hon. Gentleman would have commenced by making a short statement in reply to some of the points raised in the Debate of that day week. Of the general topics which had been raised the right hon. Gentleman had referred only to the question raised by the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean. They were now considering the whole scheme of the Government, and he wished to mention one or two things that were in his mind last week. The First Lord began by admitting a great decrease in one particular Vote (8). He had looked through the Votes, and he thought that every Vote except this one showed an increase. The First Lord made no allusion to what was generally considered a most important matter as far as shipbuilding went, and that was a comparison between the money devoted to new construction in one year and in another. He had endeavoured to get at the figures in order to make a comparison. It appeared to him from the figures before him that, instead of there being a decrease of only half a million this year for new construction, there was in reality, after making an allowance of £75,000, which was the sum to be expended upon the new Royal yacht, a decrease of £1,100,000 in the proposed expenditure for the year upon new construction. He wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether these figures were approximately accurate, and, if they were, whether the right hon. Gentleman would give the House some explanation of the reason for this large decrease in the sum to be expended upon new construction. He was making no complaint on the subject, and no doubt the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give a satisfactory explanation of the matter. That was all he had to say in relation to the apparent change of policy with regard to new construction. As far as the new battleships were concerned, nothing appeared in the Estimates to throw any light upon their type or armament. No doubt some information on the subject had appeared in a Unionist journal, which appeared to be inspired, and it was singularly accurate as far as the ordinary Estimates were concerned.


The journal to which the right hon. Gentleman refers was not inspired by me. The statement that appeared in the journal in question was due, not to inspiration, but to some scandal, which I deplore in the deepest manner. No idea whatever was given to the journal by the Admiralty, and no one can be more annoyed than I was at the publication of the statement. No doubt its publication was the result of some deplorable purchase of documents or of some other means by which the information was obtained. The documents ought never to have left the Admiralty. ["Hear, hear!"] I can only repeat that I gave no inspiration to the journal. [Cheers and Ministerial cries of"Withdraw."


Withdraw what? I merely made use of a passing phrase. [Renewed Ministerial cries of "Withdraw."] I never intended to charge either the right hon. Gentleman or the Admiralty with having inspired the journal in question. I do not know where the information was obtained from, but it was remarkably approximate to the truth. There has evidently been a deplorable breach of official secrecy, and if the right hon. Gentleman could make any one responsible for it he would have no warmer supporter in the matter than myself. The right hon. Gentleman must not suppose that in using the phrase "inspired" I was making any reflection upon himself. The statement, however, does profess to be the result of inspiration. [Ministerial cries of "Oh!" and "Withdraw."] I never for a moment imagined that in using the phrase I could be supposed to be making any imputation upon the right hon. Gentleman or his colleagues. [Renewed Ministerial cries of "Withdraw."] What am I to withdraw? I have explained the sense in which I used the word, and that ought to be sufficient. [Ministerial cries of "Withdraw."]

MR. EDWIN LAWRENCE (Cornwall, Truro)

I rise to order, Sir. The word "inspiration" always means inspiration by the Government. ["Hear, hear!"]


As the hon. Member has raised the point of order, I may say that I do not think that the word "inspired" is of itself so unparliamentary or so offensive that it requires to be withdrawn. But if the hon. Gentleman chooses to make it the foundation of a charge he must either make the charge good or he must withdraw the expression. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that he never intended to make any charge whatever against the right hon. Gentleman. ["Hear, hear!"] With regard to the new Royal yacht, it was clear that it was of a perfectly exceptional character, and would be non-effective. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether this vessel might not be so constructed that she might be serviceable in certain circumstances as part of the effective Fleet. The sum of £75,000 only was asked for in the Estimates for the year in respect of that vessel, and the only further information they had with regard to her was that she was to be finished within three years. He should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would inform the Committee how much her total cost would be. The only other item connected with shipbuilding to which he would refer was the question of the boilers, and on that he only wished to say that he was extremely glad to find from the First Lord's statement that the experiments with the water-tube boilers had been a complete success. ["Hear, hear!"] Turning to manning, he was met with a difficulty on the question of the 6,300 additional men, that in the First Lord's statement they were accounted for in detail in a particular way, in the summary of the Estimates in an entirely different way, and, finally, in Vote A itself, in which the numbers were taken, in a different way again. The First Lord's statement gave the number of officers at 126. In the summary the collective number of officers to be added was given as 127, and in Vote A as 141. The same sort of discrepancy appeared in every item; for instance, 1,000 Marines were mentioned in the First Lord's statement, whereas in the book he could only find 980 accounted for. He might have passed over something which explained these apparent discrepancies, but they were apparent, and it was important that the Committee should know on which of the three statements they were entitled to rely. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman without reserve on the statement that a new grade of engineer officers of warrant rank had been established for the encouragement of engine-room artificers. ["Hear, hear!"] That was a matter which the late Board had had under consideration, and he should be glad to know from the right hon. Gentleman how the technical difficulties which were involved in this change had been not over. Another experiment initiated by the late Board was the institution of the training ship Northampton. He was glad to see that that experiment had been developed considerably, and, apparently, with much success. When that experiment was about a year old the late Board communicated certain statistics as to its results to the House, and he would ask the right hon. Gentleman to bring that statement up to date. He was much interested in the success of this experiment, because he thought it was a weakening of the service that recruiting should be practically confined to one district—in fact, nothing would delight him more than that the whole Empire should be contributory to the personnel of the Navy. [Cheers.] In connection with the personnel, there was one conspicuous omission from the Estimates which would cause some disappointment. Two years ago the experiment was initiated of introducing a new class of naval officer taken direct from the Mercantile Marine. He had been looking forward to an announcement of the results of that remarkable experiment, but he could find no allusion to it, and he would be glad if the right hon. Gentleman could tell the Committee how it was working. While on the question of personnel, he would turn for a moment to the Naval Reserve. While the numbers on the active list had nearly doubled during the last 20 years, the numbers of the Reserve had nearly stood still, and he would suggest that in future increases in the personnel, regard should be had to the Royal Naval Reserve. He had a few observations to make on the head of Naval Works. Two months ago he was able to carry out a long-cherished intention of visiting Gibraltar for the purpose of seeing the progress of the naval works there. Anyone who was familiar with the place would be at once struck with the magnitude of the work done. ["Hear, hear!"] As time had gone on he had been more and more impressed with the greater urgency of the mole as compared with the dock. The original intention of the late Board of Admiralty was that the two works should go on together, but the completion of the new sea wall seemed now to be a matter of greater urgency than the completion of the dock. He understood that it would be possible to complete the sea wall within four years. If any sacrifice was to be made as between the two sets of works, the sacrifice should be in favour of the mole, so that there might be as soon as possible at Gibraltar a place of refuge for our ships against attack. He should be glad to have some information as to the proposed commercial mole, by which the harbour was to be closed at the northern end. Were the expenses of this mole to be defrayed by the Colonial Government or by the Imperial Government? He was glad that in connection with the Dartmouth College the Admiralty were going to put in force the compulsory powers conferred upon them by the first Naval Defence Act. The First Lord of the Admiralty did right to make effective use of these powers for the purpose of acquiring the new site which he wanted at Dartmouth. Naval Members, and all who were interested in naval Cadets, would be glad to know what kind of building was to be erected. In conclusion, he asked when the new Naval Works Bill would be introduced, what were the items of expenditure which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to add to those already sanctioned by Parliament, and whether the new Bill was to be a loan Bill like the first?

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