§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
I rise chiefly for the purpose of calling attention to the question of contracts, respecting which allusion has been made by the right hon. Gentleman across the Table of the House. I think it is better, considering the nature of the Question, that it should be reserved for discussion in Committee. Before proceeding with that I should like the Committee to bear with me while I make a few observations on questions which were raised in the interesting debate with the Speaker in the chair yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman made two long speeches of great animation, in which I am sure the whole 1384 House gladly recognised a sign of the unabated power which has always distinguished the right hon. Gentleman. But it appeared to me that both the eloquence and ingenuity of the right hon. Gentleman obscured that which is the most significant feature of the present situation. It is not the programme of the coming year that so much demands the consideration of this House as the programme of the past year; and in one feature of the past year it stands out conspicuous throughout in its two main branches—the shipbuilding part and the works part. The one conspicuous part of that programme is the delay and the failure, and the multitude of breakdowns. I do not want to introduce a Party spirit into this discussion, but I think I am entitled to say that the Party which is in power ought to feel the failure that has attended their efforts. In saying that, I allude to the course which they as an Opposition thought fit to take rather more than four years ago, when they came down in force to this House at the end of December, after the Estimates had been passed with their own approval, when the Estimates of the coming year were under consideration, to move a vote of no confidence upon the then Government for what they regarded as the Government's delay in prosecuting the Naval defences of the nation. I am not going to dwell upon that Debate. I do not intend for a moment that the example then set by the responsible Leader of the House is one that we should be justified in following now; but, I do think I am entitled to record one or two of the expressions used by the then Leader of the Opposition, who is now the Leader of the House, as to the six months' delay which he said had been irretrievably lost. The First Lord of the Treasury last night confessed that seven months have been lost. The then Leader of the Opposition declared that we should be criminal in putting off, even for a week, the extended programme. It is a curious coincidence—almost a Nemesis—that the year respecting which these violent apprehensions were expressed on that occasion was the year 1897–98, which stands before us as the year of broken promises, of failure, and of breakdown. There is one other feature I think I must recall to the sense of the House in dealing with 1385 the present situation. Allusion was made to it last night, and I do not think it has been quite clearly recalled to the attention of the House. Those Estimates which had so far failed—last year's Estimates—were attacked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, as the present Estimates are attacked by him, as insufficient. I do not join in that, except to say that it appeared to me, from the consideration of the figures before me, that there was an expenditure of £500,000 less in new construction. In regard to the proposals then before the House as compared with the new construction of the preceding year, the right hon. Gentleman did not accept my conclusion, but he made the significant and important declaration that if any abnormal activity was displayed by any Power tending to disturb the Naval balance of power in Europe, he should not hesitate to come to the House and ask for an increased expenditure. He came and asked for an increased expenditure of exactly the amount we on this side of the House had mentioned he was deficient in, in regard to new construction. The new proposals were based upon a serious ground, which made the present situation very significant—the ground of the abnormal activity abroad he suggested at first. He appealed also not to be pressed; and, I think, he would be the first to acknowledge that no undue pressure was put upon him on that occasion. The fact that the increased expenditure was based by him on grounds so serious as those makes the present part of the programme of the more importance, and deserving the consideration of the House. So far as one portion of the programme is concerned, the failure is well before the House, if it is not yet be fore the country. The programme consists of two points. One is the shipbuilding, in which everybody is interested; the other is the Works Department, in which, unfortunately, nobody is interested. So far as the shipbuilding is concerned I say almost nothing, because my hon. Friend last night, from his point of view, made the failure of the programme conspicuously clear. These figures, which I now put to the House, are figures which have not yet been stated. Last year the Original and Supplementary Estimates which the House 1386 authorised the right hon. Gentleman for new construction amounted to £7,566,191. The probable estimated expenditure to the end of the year, as we find out by these new figures, is £5,255,521. Thus there is a deficiency standing face to face with the Estimates of £2,310,000 in new construction alone. But, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has attributed a certain portion of that—nearly the whole of it—to the labour difficulties, to which I shall refer by and by. I do not know whether the labour difficulties are really responsible for the whole of the deficiency. If they are, then he would have to add to the account of the labour difficulties certain other sums, namely, that on the ships that had been delayed by labour difficulties. There has in other parts been an increased expenditure; the very ships on which the contract part has failed to a large amount show in the other parts of their construction an increased expenditure over the Estimates. This result was anticipated, I have no doubt, by the Government. In dealing with the examination of the new Estimates it was made more manifest in the last memorandum; and it was writ large—and, if I may say so, loud—in the main portion of the right hon. Gentleman's own speech. If I wanted words to express the disappointment and dismay which many of us feel at this result, I need do nothing more than quote the long wail of mortification and disappointment which formed the main portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Another way of putting it is that of the new works authorised by the House last year, one-third has failed. We have the right hon. Gentleman's own assurance that measured by time it has failed to the extent of seven months. We have heard nothing of the still more serious failure in the other portion last year. I said a little while ago that works, in my opinion, were as important as shipbuilding, but that the public in general, and the newspapers in particular, knew a great deal less about it. I am not alluding now to the works voted in those Estimates, but to the works which were being carried on under the Naval Works Act of last year and the preceding year. The existing Act, as most people know, is a continuation of the Act first brought in by the late Board of Admiralty. I do not think 1387 it wise or fair to vouch for particular proposals to this House in the names of particular Members of the Board of Admiralty. I agree that the responsibility of the Admiralty is collective, and that, after all, the responsibility of the Admiralty to the House is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. I do not think I am going beyond the mark when. I say that I was associated with the Naval Works Bill more particularly and more personally than with any other part of the work of the Admiralty. I was familiar with every step in that Bill from its inception in the Admiralty, where it was begun without the faintest assistance, with hardly any suggestion from outside, from such as the Navy League and others, who present the right hon. Gentleman with their recommendations. It was a policy which was begun in the Admiralty, matured in the Admiralty, and brought down to the House with the responsibility of the Cabinet, and carried unanimously by the House without pledging anybody in particular. I think I am right in saying that in the highest Naval opinion that was available to us, in the opinion of the highest Naval authorities, the urgency of the works proposals was not less than the urgency of the shipbuilding proposals. While in this part of the Naval business of the nation there has been a falling off, there has been not an equally serious but a more serious falling off with regard to shipbuilding. I am glad my right hon. Friend the Member for West Monmouthshire is present, because he will remember the Debate that took place last year on the last instalment of the Naval Works Bill. Anyone who compares the Act of 1896 with the Act of 1897, which specified the probable Estimate of expenditure of the same year will see that the net result is this, that whereas they were authorised to carry out works and expend £2,750,000, they have only spent a sum of something like £808,109. Thus there was authorised £2,750,000, and £750,000 only spent. I have spoken of the works being as absolutely necessary as the shipbuilding, and I am going to state my reasons for that opinion. The House was good enough at the beginning to accept a general declaration on that subject; and keeping that in mind, what is this 30 per cent. of failure in shipbuilding to compare 1388 with the failure of 75 per cent. in a matter equally important? The new figures asked for by the Government were granted, and in the light of that discussion, and after the complaints as to the failure of the Admiralty we heard that the figures were outside the Estimate. The expenditure authorised in last year's Naval Works Bill was—I am sorry I have not the Bill here—some thing like the same sum: £2,750,000 practically. Now, Sir, who could have hoped that after the events of last Session, after the experience of the Admiralty last Session, after the breakdowns of last Session in respect of works, we should in this year of Naval humiliation be called upon—I don't think I am using too strong language; "mortification," if you like—that is the right hon. Gentleman's own word—
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. G. J. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
Administrative mortification is very different from Naval humiliation.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
They both mean the same thing. I think it is not unfair to call it Naval humiliation; or I will call it mortification if you choose. We have to face not merely a deficiency of 30 per cent. in the shipbuilding programme, but apparently we are to have the story of 1897 repeated over again. The right hon. Gentleman says very little in his Memorandum about that. Not only should we have a Return showing the expenditure, but we ought to have some time given for its discussion, so that it can be effectively brought under the notice of the House. I will not say any more about a matter which appeals to me as much personally as to the right hon. Gentleman himself—I mean the great deficiencies that have resulted in what we hoped would be a most successful Naval shipbuilding year. I will make a few observations upon one specific subject. The right hon. Gentleman spoke yesterday in terms I entirely adopt of the weight to be given by this House to the Naval programme. I have never, from an early period of my connection with the Admiralty, failed to yield always a primâ facie, concurrence with everything the Naval Lords declare to be essential 1389 to the defence of the nation, and to what the Naval colleagues, who were members of the Board of Admiralty when I had the honour to belong to it, also thought to be essential. It is a singular thing how short is the life of the Naval Council. It only remains in office four or five years. I do not know whether Sir Frederick Richards is not now approaching the term of his career. This may be the last Estimate for which he is responsible; and I should be doing an injustice to myself if I did not attempt to express the peculiar obligations under which I have always felt to him, and my sense of the great service he has rendered to the Navy and the Admiralty. I will now take up a specific topic—I mean the administration of the Admiralty in respect of the labour difficulties of the past year. Anyone who looks at the First Lord's statement will see, I think, some 13 or 14 specific cases in which labour difficulties are alleged as the cause of the breakdown of the Naval programme. The point to which I mainly want to direct the attention of the Committee is the way in which the Admiralty has dealt with the contractors who have failed to complete their contracts in consequence of the labour difficulty. Now, there are two points of view from which this question may be regarded. First of all, let me say, so far as I am concerned, I have never expressed an opinion one way or the other as to the merits of this labour dispute, and I recognise to the full the rights of the masters to lock-out, and the rights of the men to strike. The wisdom of striking, or of locking out, is for them and not for me. At the instance of my own constituents I tried to discover what it was that the Admiralty had done, or had tried to do, in dealing with those contractors. There are two points of view from which these contracts are of great public importance. First of all, there is the question of fair play as between masters and men; the necessity of not taking sides one way or the other, the necessity of standing strictly upon the rights of the Government, and doing nothing which would operate to balance the scales one way or another. The other is the point of view of the Naval programme, and on that I think it will be admitted that it was the duty of the Government, and the Admiralty 1390 in particular, to see that nothing they did would imperil the Naval programme. I do not know what the Admiralty has done, and I am here for the purpose of asking the right hon. Gentleman to make full disclosure of the Admiralty proceedings in this matter. I have just one word to say in connection with the Admiralty as to the action of another department of the Navy. It would not be within my right to discuss the proceedings of the Board of Trade, and I am not going to do it; but I do say that the Government, out of regard for the supreme interests of the Navy, ought to have used not merely Admiralty powers, but ordinary powers, including those of the Board of Trade, to prevent or to bring to a termination this most disastrous dispute. The House will remember that it is nearly a year since I began to press the Board of Trade in this matter—the 18th March last year—and nothing has come of it; I mean that the Naval programme, so far as it has been injured by the labour difficulty, has not been aided by any action of the Board of Trade. Now I come to the specific question, the question of the Admiralty, under the powers given to it in its contract with the contractors. I have to-day obtained, by the courtesy of the noble Gentleman the Secretary of the Admiralty, a copy of the ordinary form of contract which is used in the building of a ship, and I am afraid I must ask the House to bear with me while I read to them the two main clauses. Here is what is called the Penalty Clause—If the contractor fail or neglect to complete the said vessel, with all articles, as required by the contract, and in a proper state to be delivered into the charge of such person or persons as aforesaid, on or before the … in accordance with this contract, then the sum agreed to be paid for the said vessel, in Clause 14 of the contract, shall be, and the same is, hereby varied as to amount, and the same shall be diminished by the sum of … pounds, as and for liquidated damages for each day which shall elapse between … and the day which the said vessel shall be delivered complete into the charge of the person or persons aforesaid, in accordance with this contract, and the amount of the said liquidated damages shall be deducted out of the final instalment on the hull, mentioned in the fourth schedule hereto, and in the event of the same exceeding in amount, the said final instalment the balance shall be forthwith paid by the said contractor to the Commissioners.1391 That is what is called the Penalty Clause, which consists of a diminution of the contract price by a certain sum per day. Now comes a still more important clause, Clause 17—And if, in the opinion of the Controller, the completion of the said vessel and machinery shall be delayed by any change of design or extra works or alterations ordered by the Commissioners, or by any strike or stand-out of any of the workmen usually employed by the contractors in constructing the same, or in preparing the materials for the same, and if notice in writing of such delay or cause of delay shall immediately on the occurrence of such cause of delay be given by the contractors to the Commissioners, then so much further time shall be allowed for completing the said vessel as shall be certified in writing, signed by the Controller, to be allowed for such cause of delay, and his decision shall be final and binding on all parties, and such liquidated damages as in Clause 16 hereof shall be calculated from such extended time, and without such certificate of the Controller, no such extension of time shall be allowed.Well, Sir, those are the clauses which express and define the contractual limits of the parties, and if the House accepts the position I took up at the beginning, there can be no doubt that after the dispute it was the duty of the Government from all points of view to stand upon its legal rights under those clauses and not make any concession to one party or the other. In certain clauses the excuses for delay are defined; one of these is a strike or stand-out, there is no mention made of a lock-out, and if the Controller decides in favour of the contractor who has such an excuse as a strike or stand-out, then an extension is to be allowed. I call the attention of the House to the fact that it is a strike only and not a lock-out. In other contracts I have seen contractors have been prudent enough to provide, not merely for strikes, but for lock-outs. A strike is a legitimate excuse; it is a thing not within the control of the contractor at all. A lock-out is a thing which is his own action, and it is perfectly reasonable to allow one to be an excuse, and the other not to be. These are the conditions upon which these clauses of this contract are framed. I have been endeavouring, at the instance of my constituents, to find out what lines the Admiralty is going to take in this matter, and this time I have failed. The right hon. Gentleman, in his answer to me, led me to infer that the question had not been decided; something which 1392 he said previously led me to infer that the question had been decided; I cannot reconcile these two statements. There was a curious answer given to me by the Secretary to the Admiralty ten days ago, when he told me that the Board of Admiralty never decided anything until they absolutely could not help it. [Mr. MACARTNEY: I never said any such thing.] Until it was absolutely necessary. [Mr. MACARTNEY: I said the Admiralty did not decide until the occasion arose.] Well, as the occasion arises or not. My question was, have you come to a decision at all, and if you have come to a decision, what was it? I have never got an answer to that question, and if the Admiralty never decides anything until the occasion arises, that is very much the same as what I said. I hope the same postponing of the decisions of the Admiralty does not prevail upon the Military side. What took place yesterday? I call the attention of the House to the terms in which the right hon. Gentleman answered the question. He said that the time for the consideration and the application of the contract clauses is when the work contracted for is completed, and when the question of enforcing or not enforcing the penalty for delay is to be decided. I should have thought that in a case of this sort the time for considering the question was when the notices were given, and having regard to the importance of the questions from all points of view, I should say it was the duty of the Admiralty there and then to consider what they were going to do in this particular case. The right hon. Gentleman answered me in the manner in which I, as a Scotsman, have no right to complain. My countrymen are supposed to be in the habit of answering one question by asking another. The question is—If a labour war commences with a strike on one side and is followed by a partial lock-out on the other side, is it to a lock-out or to a strike the delay is due? That is a question for him and not for me; I am not in the Admiralty now. But is that a fair way of stating the facts? There are many Members sitting round me who are far more familiar with the facts of this dispute than I am. What he meant was, a strike began in London, followed by a lock-out in the country—which is a totally different thing. Among the other 1393 questions I have to put is, does he propose to connect the lock-out which took place in the country with the strike in London, which caused it? I must appeal to the hon. Member whether it it is a fair statement of the fact to say, so far as they know, the difficulty began with the strike. The difficulty began with a lock-out of 25 per cent. of the men, with the intention, on the part of the employers, to lock out the remaining 75 per cent., and the rest of the men then struck; is it true or not, if the rest of the men then struck, to say that the difficulties began with that strike? If he says there was no strike or lock-out in the shipbuilding yards, but that any delay is due to the necessary material being delayed through a strike elsewhere, what is the position of the shipbuilder? Is he to be penalised? I will appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General to answer that question. On this particular question his advice would be invaluable. I take it that a contractor who fails to fulfil his contract through the fault of the sub-contractor is, nevertheless, bound to pay damage. He must protect himself with regard to the sub-contractor. But he has not protected himself by a lock-out clause, and, if that is to take effect, of what avail is it to remember what the opinion of the law is upon these hypothetical questions? But are these suggestions consistent with the fact? I have made an attempt to find out what took place, and I hold in my hand two copies, obtained from different sources, of the lock-out notices, under which these men were locked out, and I beg the House again to pardon me for inflicting upon it the contents of a written document. This is one of the notices I received—Employers' Federation and Engineering Association, etc.—In consequence of a strike having taken place at the works of Messrs. Thorneycroft and Co., Humphreys, Tennant, and Co., and Thos. Middleton and Co., all of London, to enforce a demand for the reduction of working hours from 54 to 48 per week"—a small reduction—notice has been given, on terms of the employers' resolution of the 1st July, duly intimated to the Trades Unions concerned, that on Tuesday, 13th of July, and the three succeeding Tuesdays, the services of 25 per cent. of the members of the following unions employed in these works will be dispensed with.1394 Then follows a list of the unions. Now, I ask how a notice of that sort is to be reconciled with the answer that I have quoted? Here is a lock-out, organised in such a way that 25 per cent. of the men are dismissed, and a resolution of the employers is passed to go on and dismiss the remaining 75 per cent. If these notices, which have been sent to me, are the notices on which the men were locked out, the answer given to me is a misleading one. It was not a partial lock-out. [The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY: I said partial strike.] This is a lock-out entirely. It is not a strike. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to make the strike in London responsible for the lock-out in Glasgow? If that is so, I deny his right to do it. This is a lock-out of 100 per cent. of the men in four instalments, and if the men left their employment, they being under notice to quit in three weeks, if they went out at once, and you are determined to count the time from which they struck, then I say the time which the master is entitled to claim is the three, two, and one weeks for which the men struck. It may be said that in all cases the notices were not couched in these terms. I have had a copy of another notice, which purports to be only an announcement as to 25 per cent. There is no declaration of any intention to go on to the other 75 per cent., but I am told in those cases where the masters did not serve the ultimate notice of lock-out at once, they declared their intention to proceed week by week with their notice, precisely the same as if they had done so in the first instance. Now, there is an extract from a newspaper, which took some interest in this matter, which says—The employers posted a notice locking out only 25 per cent. of their men, but they proposed to give the remaining notices subsequently to the remaining 75 per cent. of the men. That proceeding has, however, been anticipated by the men, who are handing in notices themselves.Now, I say, so far as this House or the Admiralty is concerned, it does not matter one jot whether 100 per cent. of the men are included in one notice or whether they are dealt with in batches of 25, so long as there was not the intention suggested in the answer of the right hon. Gentleman, of proceeding with the work 1395 with the remainder. I hold in my hand an extract from a newspaper of this date, which I hope I may be allowed to read; it is—When men who are positively at work are locked out for no fault of theirs, as individuals, though the unions to which they belong may be unwise, it is no use talking of negotiations.That is the language of the Times newspaper. Now, I have put before the House, so far as I know them, the material facts of the case, and I want to know what the Admiralty has done, and what they are going to do. I have not complained of the Admiralty, except so far that they have not answered the question I have put. I declare, at this moment, I do not know whether they have come to a decision or not, or, if they have, whether, having regard to the events that have happened, they have come to the decision that the lock-out must be treated in the same way as a strike. Now, last night the right hon. Gentleman threw out an entirely new suggestion, but one that was fortified by advice which he had received. The Attorney General will tell us what he has advised in that respect, no doubt; but what the right hon. Gentleman said was—after saying that the time when the question of enforcing penalties was to be considered had not yet come, he virtually told me yesterday it would be an illegal step if he enforced these penalties. I do not know what that language means. There is no word in the English language more abused than that word "illegal," in the ways in which it is used. What we want to know is, what does the right hon. Gentleman mean? He went on to refer to decisions that show that this step is an illegal step if these penalties are enforced. So far as I can see, Clause 16, which empowers the Admiralty to withhold money, would be a very good defence, so far as the Admiralty are concerned, to any action which might be brought claiming the whole contract. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that "stand-out" has the force of "lock-out"? It may be so, but I should be very much surprised to hear any court of law give such a decision. It is for this House to form its own conclusions as to what the contractor is entitled to. If the Papers which I have before me are correct, and if the results are such as I have 1396 read, it does not appear to me to bear arguing that this delay is not caused by the strike in any sense. You may allow for the period during which the men who were under notice struck; but if you say a man locked out his men, because men elsewhere, servants of other masters, had struck, once you adopt that attitude you are flying in the teeth of reason, you are taking sides, and doing that which your interests in the Navy, which ought to be your supreme consideration, do not justify your doing. Those are the questions to which we demand an answer from Her Majesty's Government. I am pressing for an answer to questions which I put four months ago, and which are not answered yet. I have not taken sides with masters or against them. Neither have I, nor would it become me to do so, censured the Admiralty for their action in this matter, but moved by constituents of my own, who have been locked out for no reason for which they were responsible, who have suffered for seven months the most dire distress, and who have asked me to ascertain whether the Admiralty would allow the benefit of this clause or not, I, first of all, questioned the right hon. Gentleman out of the House, I have questioned him in the House, and, receiving no satisfactory answer either way, I have, as a last resource, to submit the whole case to the impartial consideration of this Committee.
§ *THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. W. G. E. MACARTNEY,) Antrim, S.
I think that it is extremely unfortunate that the right hon. and learned Gentleman never intervenes in this question without introducing Party politics. I appeal to the recollection of the Committee. On almost every occasion when he has intervened in Debates of this character he has invariably endeavoured to introduce a strain of Party politics. [Mr. EDMUND ROBERTSON: Never.] Neither my right hon. Friend the First Lord, nor myself, nor my hon. Friend the Civil Lord has ever attempted, either on the platform or in this House, by any contrast of the acts of this administration with the acts of another, to take any Party advantage whatever, and I warn the hon. and learned Gentleman that, in drawing 1397 the attention of this Committee to the contrasts which might be made between the administration of which he was a member and the present administration, he is venturing on extremely dangerous ground.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
If the hon. Gentleman refers to anything I have said to-day, I say I point to no contrasts, and have made no contrasts, and, as he has imputed Party politics to me, let me remind him I have invariably supported their Estimates throughout.
§ *MR. MACARTNEY
It must be distinctly within the recollection of the Committee that in the opening sentence of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech he based his attack upon what he called the procrastination. [Mr. EDMUND ROBERTSON: I beg your pardon. I never used the word.] He based his attack for the non-expenditure of the current year of the Naval Vote on an attack which he said had been similarly made upon the administration of which he was a member, by those now sitting on the Ministerial Benches. If that is not Party politics, I do not know what is. I say this with regard to the charge of delay—there were no labour difficulties to account for it, there was no strike or lock-out, and the whole matter was a question of policy; and it is a very dangerous matter for an hon. Member to intrude like this upon the Navy Debate. If I chose to pursue this matter further, which I decline to do, it would be easy for me to show that the administration with which the hon. Gentleman opposite was connected was probably liable to the charge which was then made. But, Sir, I now proceed to deal with the important question which the right hon. Gentleman raised later on in his remarks dealing with the action of the Admiralty in relation to strikes. The hon. Gentleman has put from time to time to the Admiralty several questions, and he has complained that he has not received full or sufficient answers. I think I have given the hon. Member, in a most direct manner, the very fullest information upon the particular matters on which he inquired. I told him—and I think it will be in the recollection of the Committee—that the Admiralty had received from a certain 1398 number of contractors, but not from all notices of a strike having occurred in their establishments. The hon. Member asked me what action had been taken, and I replied that "no action has been taken." I may tell the Committee that with regard to the administration of the strike and penalty clauses, they are independent clauses, and the practice pursued by the present administration has been precisely that which was pursued by our predecessors. In no respect whatever during this period in which the disputes have been going on has the administration of the Penalty Clause in any way varied from the practice and procedure of the Admiralty either during the administration of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, or of his predecessors. The hon. and learned Gentleman probably forgets that when he was acting for my right hon. Friend opposite he had to deal with the Penalty Clause in reference to strikes. But I now come to deal with the special circumstances of this labour difficulty. Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman has objected to the answer that I have given him that the necessity for dealing with the Strike Clause had not yet arisen. That is perfectly true. Notices have been received from certain contractors, and those notices may hereafter have to be taken into consideration. But because notices had been received from any particular contractor, it does not at all follow that in relation to the work in hand it would be necessary to make application to the Admiralty for relief under the Strike Clause. And even if it were necessary for the contractors to apply for that relief, it does not on that account follow that the penalties in Clause 16 should be entirely waived. All the considerations in relation to the contract, the period at which the ship or other work has been delivered, and all the considerations as to the delay which may have occurred must be taken into account, and, therefore, it would be impossible for me, or, indeed, for anybody else, to say at the present moment what course I may or may not take in future with regard to a set of circumstances which have not yet been completed in relation to any particular ship or any machinery now in the hands of the contractors. The hon. and learned Gentleman asks whether 1399 we have formed any idea what our course may be. Well, we know, and I have no objection to tell him what the legal rights of the contractors are under this clause. It is immaterial, absolutely immaterial, for the purpose of considering their rights, whether the Strike Clause contains the word "lock-out" or not. That has been decided many years ago. In the year 1876, before the Lord Chief Baron and Baron Pollock, a decision was given in the case of "King and Others versus Parker." It was a case in which the proprietors of a colliery in connection with a Federation of Employers attempted to enforce a reduction of wages which their employees declined to accept. In consequence of this the pits were closed, and the firm locked out their men. They did not deliver their coal according to their contract, and they claimed to have the benefit of the Strike Clause, but the other party thereupon declared the contract to be at an end. The proprietors claimed the benefit of the Strike Clause, and the judges decided that unless it could be shown that there was mala fides on the part of the contractors who locked out their men, it was absolutely immaterial whether the word "lock-out" was in the contract or not. I may say at once that the Admiralty have taken the highest opinion available on this subject, that of the law officers of the Crown, as to the legal definition of this clause, and the legal position which I have presented to the Committee is that which I have ascribed to the contractors, therefore it is absolutely unnecessary for me to consider the circumstances of this strike, or to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman into the question—whatever my own private opinion may be—of whether the strike, which began in London, had any connection with the partial lock-out in Glasgow, and whether the partial lockout in Glasgow had any connection with the 75 per cent. strike which followed in other places. The decision in the case I have just cited still holds good, and I think it will be admitted on all sides, that the case which the hon. and learned Gentleman had attempted to establish against the Admiralty has collapsed. It entirely depended upon the interpretation, which is given to the Strike Clause, and I think his view was 1400 that unless we could show that the word "lock-out" ought to have been in the Strike Clause in order to protect the contractors, we had no right to consider their claims under that particular clause. As I have said before, the case of each individual contractor will eventually be considered, and I have no doubt that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that it would be imprudent on the part of the Admiralty to neglect, either in this case or in any other case, the assured legal position of any of those who are parties to contracts with them. I do not know whether I have now made the position perfectly clear to the hon. and learned Gentleman, or whether he still thinks that he is in need of further information on that point. If he is, I shall be very glad to give it to him. I hope the Committee now strictly understand the position which the Admiralty occupies, that is the legal position, so far as we have been advised, of the contractors, and also understand the motives which underlie my reply to the hon. and learned Gentleman when I told him that action had not been taken and would not be considered except in due course following the ordinary procedure of the Admiralty in these cases.
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
Sir, I hope that the House of Commons and the country will receive some more satisfactory account of the views and conduct of a great Department of State than that which we have received from the hon. Gentleman, both in the temper and in the substance of the account that he has given. In my opinion, no more serious question has ever been raised than that which has arisen out of this unhappy contest between capital and labour, and it is the duty of the Government to act in the most cautious manner, and to declare their views in the most explicit way. Certainly the speech to which we have just listened has done nothing to elucidate that question, but, on the contrary, it has done a good deal to throw doubt, a very mischievous doubt, upon it. Now, Sir, I am happy to see that some more clear exponent of the law has arrived, in the person of the Attorney General, than the hon. Gentleman 1401 who has undertaken to refer to case law on these matters, and if we are to hear from the Attorney General that the Government has no right to enforce these contracts and the time at which they are to be accomplished, then what have we to consider? If it be true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that it is illegal to enforce the Strike Clause on the contractors, why is it that the Government are taking time to consider what they will do? A proposition more monstrous, or more contradictory, it is impossible to conceive. The hon. Gentleman has undertaken to say that he has been advised by the law officers of the Crown that it is illegal to insist upon these penalties after delay, a delay which has been unfortunately injurious to the interests of the country, to whomsoever the fault belongs. Is that the proposition which the Attorney General is going to maintain? I must have forgotten all the little law I ever knew if the Attorney General is going to make such an assertion as that. Why, what, Sir, is the proposition? I do not know whether that other legal aphorism of the Secretary to the Admiralty is derived from the law officers of the Crown that Clause 17 of the contract has no connection with Clause 16 which is the Penalty Clause. [Mr. MACARTNEY: I said they are independent.] Oh! independent. Yes; but Clause 17 states at the end of it that—liquidated damages under Clause 16 hereafter shall be calculated on such extended time,"—so that Clause 17 does refer to Clause 16, and yet the hon. Gentleman says that they are independent. Is that the advice that he has got from the law officers of the Crown that this clause is independent? I really should have thought that the First Lord of the Admiralty would have considered that this was a question worthy of his consideration, and that it was one of those knots that was worthy of being untied by the very highest authority. What is the use of trying to foist upon the House of Commons such an account of these transactions?
§ *MR. MACARTNEY
I mean to say that action may be taken under Clause 17, which need not necessarily be followed by any action under Clause 16. It can be followed, but not necessarily. 1402 Notice may be given and served under Clause 17 by the contractors, and the result of their own action may be such that it is not necessary for them to demand the waiving of the penalties, and for the Admiralty to consider whether they should be waived or not.
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to say that I differ from that view altogether. Clause 17 is, as it expressly states, an exception to Clause 16, and to say that an exception to a clause is independent of that clause is not an accurate statement of the meaning of the document. But I pass that over. The contention that the two clauses are independent cannot be supported for a moment. Now, Sir, what is Clause 16? It is a clause which declares that the Admiralty have the right—and I venture to say it is their duty also—to see that the work which is put out to contract for the defence of the country, is properly performed. That is what Clause 16 is. Well, then, Clause 17 makes an exception to that, and it leaves it at the discretion of the Admiralty, after considering all the circumstances of the case, if the delay is caused by any change in the designs, or extra work or alterations by the Commissioners—that is the work of the Government themselves—or by any strike or stand-out, to waive the penalties. Does that mean a general strike? Why, Sir, the Clause itself—and I cannot think the Secretary to the Admiralty has ever read it—proceeds to say that the strike or stand-out must be of any workmen usually employed by the contractor. The strike must be in connection with the particular contract, and in that particular work, and, therefore, for the members of a federation to state that they will lock-out their men, not on account of a strike by men in their own works, but because of a strike that has taken place in London is, in my opinion, absolutely inconsistent with the provisions in Clause 17. Why, Sir, if all the other works had been subjected to a strike in their particular works, and there was one of these contractors whose men were ready to go on, were they entitled to lock-out those men because there had been a strike elsewhere? The Strike Clause is 1403 specifically applicable to the contractor having a strike within his own works, and, therefore, to say that the occurrence of a strike elsewhere can deliver a contractor who has not got a strike in his own works from the obligation to fulfil his contract in respect of time is, to put an interpretation to the clause which is not in any sense in accordance with the terms of the contract. That I cannot understand. We heard that the Attorney General has advised the Secretary to the Admiralty that there is a case where a decision in a court of law has been given, that without any Strike Clause there may be circumstances in which this principle may be applied. But I have only heard the lay account of that case, and, perhaps, we shall hear a more accurate account. But this proposition I do not think the Attorney General will deny—that you cannot import into this contract any theory or any definition of the question of the Strike Clause except the definition of it which is given in Clause 17, which is the Strike Clause. You may have different Strike Clauses in different contracts, but in each case the question must be governed, not by any general propositions at all, bus by the particular Strike Clause which finds its place in the contract. Here is a Strike Clause in this contract. This Strike Clause specifically states that it shall be only applicable to a case where the workmen have struck in the particular works to which the contract applies. Now, Sir, on this subject of lock-outs it is quite plain, first of all, that the word could not be imported into this Clause 17. Well, Sir, that is put out of question by this very word. It is a "strike or stand-out of workmen," not of any of the employers. The exception applies only to the case of workmen on strike, and, therefore, it is absolutely impossible that this exception to the Penalty Clause can apply to anything else but the action of the workmen employed under that contract. Well, Sir, it is quite obvious on the face of it that it can only be applicable to causes over which the contracting party, the employer, has no control. But more than this, there is no exception to any acts over which the employer has no control as far as I can see in this contract, 1404 except a particular strike as defined in this clause. There are many things over which the employer might have no control, which would not exempt him from the penalties. Supposing, for instance, he undertook to construct a ship within a particular time and he was disappointed in some of the materials to be supplied to him, or that the price had risen so as to be prohibitory, and so on. You may put many such oases in which the employer might be delayed in completing his contracts by acts over which he has no control, and yet he would be bound by these penalties. I venture to say that the Attorney General will not assert that any act which tends to delay the work to be done by the employer, except those specified in the contract, would absolve him from the penalties under Clause 16. If so, you had better strike out the Penalty Clause altogether. If you are going to say that although you have made specific exceptions which are to exempt the contractor from doing his work in the time specified you will import other exemptions, the consequence will be that you will never have your work done in the time specified, because it will be always possible to set up some excuse of that character. And, therefore, it is for that reason that the exceptions are specifically put into these contracts, and the putting in of these exceptions is to exclude any other exceptions. And now, Sir, let us consider how this question bears upon this very important and serious matter of these conflicts between capital and labour. Sir, when an employer undertakes to lock out his workmen, he undertakes a very serious thing; a very serious thing in regard to his own business, because a lock-out involves large and heavy losses to an employer; it involves a loss of interest upon his great capital employed, it involves the value of all his plant, and it involves him in a great responsibility to those with whom he has made contracts himself. For instance, he has contracts to buy large quantities of coal, large quantities of iron, and large quantities of other materials. He has to fulfil those obligations, though his works are stopped by the lock-out, and therefore the contractor, before he determines upon a lock-out, must bear in mind and weigh seriously with himself what is going to 1405 be the cost of the lock-out to him. Well, one of the items of loss upon which he ought to calculate is that of the penalties he will have to pay for not completing his contracts. That is one of the natural consequences he weighs in the balance just as much as the loss of the interest on his capital, and just as much as the liabilities under the contracts for materials to which he is subjected. He has to say to himself, "If I lock out my men I shall have to pay to the Admiralty for not making them a battleship within such a time." That is, and ought to be, one of the considerations which should weigh in his mind before he determines on a lock-out. That, to my mind, is really the determining feature in this question. The man who supplies him with coal and with iron will not let him off his contract, because he has locked out his men. They would say to him, "You have locked out your men, but you contracted with us to supply you with so many tons of coal per month, and we call upon you to take them and pay for them." But is the Government of this country alone to say, "Well, if you lock out your men we will let you off your penalties"? That is the real question—that is the deciding question—and from the moment I first began to consider this question it seemed to me to determine it, because I say that all the other contracting parties will not let him off, and why should the Government—who has the highest interest in the accomplishment of this work which is now postponed—allow the projects for the defence of this country to be postponed for many months? Are they to be the only contractors who are to say to the employer, "Well, if you think fit to lock out your men we will let you off"? In my opinion that is not a wise or just conclusion. Is the Attorney General prepared to say that if the Government enforces these contracts that the contractor can go into a court of law and resist the contract? Will he say that? If he says that—[AN HON. MEMBER: There is an end of it.] No, not an end of the question, because I should like to see it tried in a court of law. The Government have no right on an obiter dictum, though, I admit, it is one of the highest dignity, that of the Attorney General—
§ *THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD E. WEBSTER,) Isle of Wight
That is not my dictum. I never gave such advice.
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I thought not. There is an old proverb which says that a man should not be his own lawyer; that he should leave his counsel to state his case, but I think the Admiralty were unfortunate when they placed the statement of the law in the mouth of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. I should like to say that I think none of those propositions would be supported by the Attorney General. Either the Government have, or have not, a legal right to enforce these penalties.
§ *MR. FORTESCUE FLANNERY (York shire, W.R., Shipley)
Will the right hon. Gentleman, who was himself Solicitor General at one time, say that in his opinion—
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
In my opinion, if there is a doubt about this question, it ought to be carried by the Government to a court of law, and it ought not to be left in doubt. If it be a fact that it is illegal for the Government to enforce the penalty clauses under such contracts, then in my opinion our Admiralty contracts are worthless. They are so proved to be from what has happened, and from what apparently, so far as we can gather, is the mind of the Admiralty, if they have a mind upon this subject. But surely the question has reached a point, both in fact and in law, at which we are entitled to call upon the Government to state their views. Now, Sir, we are going to have new contracts with, I suppose, new clauses of this kind, and no man can say what may happen upon them. Is it wise—I was almost going to say, is it decent—to leave this question undecided? How are you going to be better off in a month or two hence in deciding this question than you are now? You know all the facts of the case—you know whether you have or have not a legal right to enforce these penalties. You know what are the considerations which should induce you not to enforce the rights of the clauses which you possess, and I think these are matters upon which the country ought to have, and have a right to expect, the definite opinion of the Government. Well, Sir, the questions we should like to hear 1407 answered very plainly are: first of all, whether the Government are of opinion that, if they think fit, they can legally enforce these penalties? And secondly, I think we ought to be told what are the principles upon which they think these penalties ought not to be enforced, because it is quite plain that this is a matter which will very materially affect the future Admiralty contracts, and the future construction of ships and defences of the country. There is only one word upon another point, which was very ably touched upon by my hon. Friend who has spoken on this matter, and that is the delay in the Government, works. Well, now, I can assure the Secretary to the Admiralty and the Government that I am not going into this subject from any Party point of view. We are proud—we who belonged to the last Government—that we did originate this system of making provision for the Naval works. My hon. Friend near me, and his colleagues at the Admiralty, stated what works were necessary, and I was responsible for providing the money, and between us we made that provision; but it was an essential feature of that provision that it should be an annual provision, so that the Government should come forward and state what works they expected to do within the year, so that Parliament, upon the Bills for Naval works, can examine and ascertain whether the work has been done, and how it has been done, and, in fact, retain its control over the operations. My hon. Friend says that last year the Government came forward and said that they could spend £2,750,000, but at the end of the year it turned out they had spent only the £750,000 and not the £2,000,000. And now they are apparently not going to ask for another Naval Works Bill because they have not spent the £2,000,000 which they had the authority to spend. That is not in accordance with the intention of the annual Naval Works Bill which was to bring under the consideration of Parliament every year the expenditure that had taken place, so that Parliament could examine and know how the money had been spent and why, if it had not been spent, the work had not been done. Well, of course, we always have that control in the case of money voted on the Estimates, but when the matter is put into an Act 1408 of Parliament the House of Commons loses that control, and, therefore, the omission to bring in this annual Bill is practically to defeat for the year the control of Parliament over this expenditure, which control is most essential. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Naval works are at least as important and, perhaps, even more important than the shipbuilding at home, for when our Fleets are abroad everything depends upon the power of repairing the ships if they go wrong, and it is for that purpose that Naval works are required at Gibraltar, Hong Kong, and elsewhere. It is of great importance that you should have your docks at Gibraltar, Hong Kong, and elsewhere to repair ships, and, therefore, a deficiency of 75 per cent. upon your Estimate in Naval works is far more serious than a deficiency of 50 per cent. on our shipbuilding. And, therefore, it is greatly to be regretted—I might almost say condemned—that these works should be so much behind, unless there is some better reason than that which we have yet received for it, and it is still more to be regretted that we are not to have the annual Naval Works Bill, by which Parliament would have been able to fully discuss this question. I think we ought to have some account of that matter from the Admiralty to which the hon. Gentleman has not yet referred. It is a matter of very great consequence, and I hope that in some form or other, if we are not to have an annual Bill, the First Lord will find an opportunity of discussing why it is in the past that there has been such backwardation in regard to these Naval works abroad, and what reason there is to expect that there will be better progress in the future. That is the question upon which I should like further explanation, and it is one of the most serious in the whole Navy Estimates.
§ *SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
The right hon. Gentleman is never more interesting, and never more surprising, than when he remembers that some years ago—I will say, perhaps, a good many years ago—he filled a very important legal position. I confess that I think it would be fairer to the House, and to his opponents, if, when he rose to lay down the law with a confidence that is surprising 1409 and which, I think, is not founded upon a solid foundation, the right hon. Gentleman would refrain from using such expressions as "foisting views upon the House." My hon. Friend the Secretary of the Admiralty had been deputed to make this statement, but was applied to in the course of his statement to give his view upon the law. He stated it with clearness, and, I believe, with absolute accuracy—an accuracy which many lawyers in this House might, perhaps, not have equalled had they attempted it. I do not think that insomuch as not the slightest notice had been given to me by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that this question was going to be raised, he need have imputed to me opinions which I have never given, instead of those which I shall give to the House before I sit down.
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I only repeated what the First Lord said—namely, that he had obtained the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ *SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
Now, Mr. Lowther, what is the exact position? There is, in my judgment, no doubt about the law applicable to the case which we have been asked to consider, and I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman in his calmer moments will think that his strictures on the speech of my hon. Friend were justified. As I understand it, the position is this: A number of ships are under contract; they are in the course of completion. For the purpose of this argument, we will consider that not one of these ships is complete. At some future date, when a final payment comes to be made, the question will then arise whether the ships have been completed in the given time. But as for the right hon. Gentleman being correct in saying that the Admiralty have now to determine or not whether they can enforce penalties, or whether there will be a reduction in the price, the Admiralty have no power at the present moment to do anything of the kind. [Mr. EDMUND ROBERTSON: They have power to decide.] No, not even to decide. The only time that there can be any deduction whatever is when the final instalment comes to be 1410 paid. My hon. Friend was misunderstood—I am quite sure unintentionally—when the right hon. Gentleman represented him to say that the two clauses were independent. What I understood him to mean was, that different considerations arose under the Penalty Clause. But, Mr. Lowther, it is important that the words following in the clause should be read, which the right hon. Gentleman did not read. Clause 16 provides that a date shall be fixed for the completion of the ship, and that if there is delay an amount of liquidated damages, according to the schedule, shall be deducted out of the final instalment, or, in other words, the question whether or not there shall be a deduction, cannot raise until the final instalment comes to be paid. But that is not all. I can imagine that the right hon. Gentleman did not consider the legal aspect of Clause 17 very long before he spoke. If he had, he would not have done me this injustice; but he will appreciate, when he sees it, that there are some considerations which, in his very interesting and amusing speech, he somewhat lost sight of in Clause 17, which provides that in the event of any strike, or stand-out, if notice in writing of the cause of the delay be given immediately by the contractors, then further time should be allowed for completing the said vessel, as shall be certified in writing and signed by the contractor. Therefore, the first thing that is to be done is this: that an independent arbitrator, whom the right hon. Gentleman never mentioned—that is, the Controller—is to certify, if he thinks fit, for an extension of time; and the time when all those considerations may be considered, will be when the Controller has to make up his mind whether he will certify or not. I daresay the right hon. Gentleman in days gone by has been engaged, as I have not infrequently been engaged, in arbitration in such contracts as those under consideration, and in arguing before the Controller as to whether or not there should be an extension of time, having regard to the words of the clause. Then will arise the question whether or not there ought to be an extension of time, having regard to the words of the clause under which exception should be granted. I agree that the word "illegal" may be used in a loose sense, but I am not going to argue the 1411 case upon the meaning of any particular word. I say, however, without fear of contradiction or criticism, that the time has now come when the Admiralty ought to deal with this question. It can only arise under two preliminary conditions—that the ship shall not be delivered in time, or, if the Controller does not certify for the extension of time; then, in that case, the Admiralty will have the right to deduct under Clause 16. Therefore, I do not hesitate to say again that the strictures made by my right hon. Friend on the Civil Lord were uncalled for. I speak independently, because I have nothing to do with the answers. I have heard part of his speech, and I only speak from that knowledge, but what the Financial Secretary stated, that the time had not come for dealing with this question of penalties, is absolutely right, and, I go further and say that the Admiralty would be acting most improperly if they prejudged the case on which the Controller has got to adjudicate independently. I do value greatly the independence of Gentlemen in such high positions as that of Controllers of the Admiralty. I have been before them myself, and I know how independently they act; and to assail these officials of the House or elsewhere, and to indicate what their decision shall be when they have to act judicially under a contract, is a most improper proceeding. To say that an official of the Admiralty is to tell the Controller what his decision is going to be would be a most improper thing. That is, in fact, what the right hon. Gentleman is asking when he asks the Admiralty to decide now whether these penalties should be inflicted. I now come to the learned argument of my right hon. Friend as to the meaning of this clause. He reminded the Committee that questions had been answered by the official representing the Admiralty, and I should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman would have said if my right hon. Friend had declined an answer put to him in this House. It has been decided now for upwards of 20 years that, if masters act in a bonâ fide manner, though the strike be caused by a lock-out, or though it be caused by the masters locking out their men because they would not agree to whatever terms might be discussed between the parties, such a clause as this implies that law has not been doubted 1412 since the judgment mentioned, and it has been endorsed in a subsequent case by Lord Coleridge, and the only consideration under such a clause is, whether the strike or standout has been caused by the bonâ fide action of the master, and not by improper action in order to avoid the consequences of his contract. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not suppose that the suppliers of iron, or the suppliers of coal, would free the contractor from his contracts. But does the right hon. Gentleman know whether the contracts under which the iron and coal were supplied contained strike clauses or not? The whole question would depend upon whether or not the contractors had been wise enough to protect themselves against the contingency of there being a strike or a lock-out, caused by the labour questions which may arise. Now, Sir, I come to the opinion which the right hon. Gentleman indirectly attributed to me, which I should not have noticed, but that it is so very serious having regard to outside considerations. The right hon. Gentleman said he wanted to know whether the Government had said to the contractors: "If you lock out your men we will let you off the penalties," and that opinion the right hon. Gentleman indirectly attributed to me. When I said: 'No such opinion has ever been given," the right hon. Gentleman retorted, "I thought not." Well, the right hon. Gentleman was quite right in saying "I thought not," but such a suggestion should not be made. I do not hesitate to say that if the representative of the Admiralty had gone to a contractor and said "If you lock out your men we will let you off the penalties" he would have been acting very improperly indeed. The right hon. Gentleman ought not to have made that suggestion across the floor of the House if he had not some ground for it, for he knows what the suggestion is. He knows the story that will be told by the Press outside if there be no prompt reply given to it. I may say there never was a shadow of doubt about it, and so far from it being the fact that the Admiralty had invited a lock-out on the promise to every contractor to let them off the penalties, such a suggestion is absolutely groundless.
§ *SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
I leave that to the recollection of the House. The right hon. Gentleman said he wanted to know whether the Admiralty had said "If you lock out your men we will let you off the penalties."
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The Attorney General was not present when the speech was made to which I was replying.
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I beg pardon, but the hon. and learned Gentleman forgets. In this very part to which I alluded I was replying to a statement made by the hon. Member who spoke on behalf of the Admiralty, and the conclusion I drew was that he stated, and stated most distinctly, that it would be illegal to enforce these penalties. That is what I was replying to, and I asked for a definite statement. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member the Attorney General heard the statement by the hon. Member who spoke before him, but if he did, he did not contradict that statement, and I said he would suggest to all the contractors that it would be illegal to enforce it, and it would not be enforced.
§ *SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
That is a somewhat lengthy interruption. I have never left the House since the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee, and I have heard every word of the speech of my hon. Friend. I understood the hon. Member to say that he had been advised that the Admiralty could not now deal with the question of the enforcement of penalties, and it was in that connection that the hon. and learned Gentleman said he did not wish to make any point of the word "illegal," because there were different views taken of that word.
§ *SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
I am quite ready to let the House judge whether or not I am misrepresenting anybody. 1414 The legal question of the enforcement or non-enforcement of those penalties cannot be decided now. But if this suggestion that the Admiralty directly or indirectly had said to the contractors "If you lock out your men we will let you off the penalties," I desire to say that so far as I know, and according to the best information I can obtain, there is not a shadow of foundation for that suggestion. There is only one other point which the right hon. Gentleman spoke about, and that is the strike, or lock-out, or stand-out, in those particular works. I thoroughly agree with him, but, as I understand the facts, they are that there are some contractors who have not given notices for extension of time at all, and certain contractors who have. The position of this matter seems to be plain and simple. I perfectly agree that it is ridiculous for a man who has not had a strike to suggest that he can get an extension of time because there has been a strike in some other place. Penalty Clauses are not very easy clauses to enforce, and I have no doubt if the right hon. Gentleman would look back into those interesting cases, which he himself studied years ago, he would find that it is only under ordinary conditions that you can enforce penalties. Quite apart from strikes or anything else, penalties are not easy to enforce, and it is perfectly plain that under such a clause as this the Admiralty must, proceed strictly in accordance with their rights, and they are very clearly defined. Contractors have given notices of strike, and the independent jurisdiction of the Controller, who is the arbitrator between parties, comes in under the clause, and if he certifies an extension of time no penalties will be deducted. If a Controller does not give an extension of time sufficient to cover the whole delay, the Admiralty have to consider whether the penalty shall be enforced or not. Questions as to the extension of time and penalties for contractors have been constantly before the Admiralty, and having regard to all the circumstances of the case, and upon a fair consideration of them, the question is determined between the parties without any relation to the political considerations introduced in this Debate. It is quite possible, had I known of the way 1415 in which this matter was going to be raised, that I should have had the opportunity of putting my views more fully before the House. I hope I have satisfied the House that there is no ground whatever for the charges of want of faith, lax practice, or unjust application of the law which has been suggested if not actually made, by the right hon. Gentleman against the representatives of the Government.
§ *MR. S. F. MENDL (Plymouth)
I claim with some confidence the indulgence of the House—an indulgence which I know is invariably accorded to a new Member—to say a few words upon the important subject of this discussion, and if any justification were needed for my intervention in this Debate it would rest in the fact that I have recently been elected to represent a constituency which is eminently interested and peculiarly associated with the question of the Navy, both from historical association and from a perception of the immense and valuable importance to the security of these islands and the Empire in general which is involved in the maintenance of an all-powerful naval force. If I may speak for myself—and I believe I can also speak for an overwhelming majority of hon. Friends on this side of the House—I have always found the support and advocacy of democratic principles at home compatible and consistent with a firm belief in the maintenance and development of the British Empire all over the world; and that maintenance and development are, in my judgment, absolutely dependent upon the supremacy of our naval strength and the command of the seas. I believe, Mr. Lowther, that the whole House, irrespective of Party, approve of every scheme framed with that object, and realise that, upon our command of the seas, whether in time of peace or war, the national existence of the country and the life-blood of our own population here and in our colonies and dependencies absolutely depends. I am myself no naval expert, and I can only, therefore, hope that the proposals which have been made by the responsible officials of the Admiralty, are absolutely adequate to the necessities of the situation; for I am convinced that the nation is fully prepared to make any sacrifice to secure that efficiency. I 1416 was somewhat alarmed by the speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for York and the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean—an alarm that was not altogether allayed by the reply of the First Lord of the Admiralty. The First Lord of the Admiralty I do not say was too optimistic—he disavows any intention of being that—but what struck me as being an alarming fact was a sentence made use of by the First Lord of the Admiralty in his reply, when he said that we were not, so far as construction was concerned, in a worse position now than we were one and a half years ago: "We are losing the lead, but I do not consider we have gone back." I do consider that a serious state of things. If we do lose the lead we do go back. In this matter of ship construction it appears to me that you cannot stand still; you must go forward if you do not want to go back. Two and a quarter millions which the Government last year thought it was necessary for the defence of the country should be spent have not been spent, and that seems to me to constitute what may cause a good many of us some alarm. I confess I find myself in agreement, as one having no technical knowledge of these matters, with the noble and gallant Lord the Member for York with regard to the Government exercising their power of pre-emption over some of those ships which are being built for foreign countries in the yards of this country. I think that would be the natural view of the layman and the outsider, that that admitted deficiency of two and a quarter millions should be made up by this means. We have got the emergency arising, which would entitle the Government to act, if they thought fit to do so. I do not understand the First Lord to decline to accede to that view, and I think it is worthy of consideration. I must express my regret with reference to the Debate to-night, and from the statement of the First Lord with reference to the position in which we find ourselves with regard to the delay of construction of battleships in and out of the dockyards, due to the labour struggle which has only just come to an end. Page 7 of the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty is, I think, a sufficiently tragical document 1417 with regard to that. We have a year's loss to make up, and I think it is not an exaggeration to say that the whole of the ships of 1897 are still on the stocks. The First Lord called it a deplorable story, and the noble and gallant Lord the Member for York called it heart-breaking. I think it answers both of these descriptions; and it also throws a comparatively fresh light upon a struggle which has already been bitter enough and abounding in heart-breaking incidents. The First Lord of the Admiralty yesterday merely stated the facts, and he used an expression to which reference has been made to-night, as to its having been illegal for the Government to intervene, and I must confess I heard with some surprise the reunion expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Dundee with regard to that adjective. But what we have heard from the Attorney General is that the contract dates have not expired, and therefore the Admiralty could not proceed to recover the penalties. If that is the law it appears to me to constitute a very serious position; the Admiralty are, to a large extent, tied and bound to the contractors, and it will be a strong argument indeed as to how far these contracts ought to go outside the Government yards at all. Supposing this dispute had lasted for two years! Are we to suppose that the Government would have waited until the end had come, and then the Comptroller should adjudicate us to whether these contracts were enforcible or not? It seems to me that this is a very simple matter. What is the generally accepted idea of the meaning of the words, "strike clause"? It is the protection of the contractor against a set of circumstances arising outside his control, which prevents the fulfilment of his contract. Can it be said that the late struggle in the engineering trade was due to circum stances wholly outside the control of the employers? I do not wish to express an opinion upon the merits of the dispute; being neither an employer nor a work man, I have no claim to do so. I do not wish to express an opinion upon the definition of the dispute as to whether it was a strike or a lock out, but I should have thought that it was obviously not a dispute outside the control of the employers of labour. 1418 The dispute began in London by a local strike of some 700 men. A general lockout of some 25 per cent of the men at once followed, and within three weeks it was followed by the remaining 75 per cent. Then, no doubt, it was a general strike; but what seems to me to prove a case against the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty is the very ambiguity of the description of the issues—sometimes called a strike and sometimes a lock-out. This, after all, is a national question. I must say in this connection that I could not help feeling, during the eloquent and convincing peroration of the First Lord, when he referred to the necessity for keeping up our strength and about the furnaces not being extinguished, that if there were to be strikes or locks-out, God help the country, that they had no politics in the Admiralty and no knowledge of Trades Unionism, and so forth, that if he had carried out the principle a little earlier in the dispute a great good might have been done. Assume there was no legal right, to enforce penalties. A hint from the Admiralty, or even if the right hon. Gentleman had brought a small amount of pressure or persuasion to bear on the contractors, might have borne good result; but their action in this respect, practically applying the benefit of the Strike Clauses to the contractors, is nearly equivalent to actively assisting one party to the dispute, and thus imperilling the national security. If Ire had brought this pressure and persuasion the right hon. Gentleman might have done two things. He might, in the first place, have come down to this House with a more complete programme of ship construction, one which would have allayed the anxiety of many of us, who greatly feel the serious failure to carry out the construction proposal of last year. And, in the second place, he might have limited the area of the dispute, and contributed in some degree to an earlier settlement of that great industrial war, which has inflicted terrible suffering, and done great and to a large extent irreparable injury to the engineering industry of this country.
*ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
Mr. Speaker, I begin my observations by expressing the opinion that if we are to have a Radical representative for the dockyard of Devonport, then I can only 1419 say that I congratulate the voters of that place upon their choice of a representative. He speaks with no uncertain sound, and in a tone of voice that can be well heard in every part of the House. I pass away from the hon. Member, because I want to bring the Committee back again to the subject in hand, and not worry ourselves about the conflict between labour and capital. I think my hon. Friend the Secretary of the Admiralty was rather hard upon the hon. Member opposite in the beginning of his speech, because I saw no Party spirit manifested in his expression of opinions, though whether they were right or wrong I will not say. We Naval men look upon the hon. Member the late Civil Lord of the Admiralty as a warm friend of the Service, who certainly acts with zeal in anything which he imagines to be for the good of the Service. The hon. Gentleman opposite began by attacking my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty in somewhat rather strained terms. He called it an exposition of a policy of failure and delay. He then went on to say that the speech was a long wail of mortification and disappointment. Well, Sir, we are all very sorry for what has occurred, but I do not think it is fair to charge the Admiralty, much less the right hon. Gentleman, for being in any way responsible for this miserable and unhappy state of things. I call the statement of the right hon. Gentleman a very able exposition of a very unhappy state of things; but the hon. Member went on, forgetful of the old story that curses, like rooks, come home to roost. I do not wish to say anything offensive, but it is not an inapt quotation, as you will see. He dwelt at great length on the causes of delay in carrying through the Naval programme, which prevented the development of our sea power. But he never went to the root of the thing. Mr. Herbert Spencer, in one of his books, said that Parliament—not this immediate assembly—in passing measures of legislation, were often unmindful of what the consequences of their legislation might hereafter be. Now, Sir, I affirm that the cause of all our trouble over this delay in the Naval programme lies at the door of this House—not this particular assembly of Members, but at the door of Parliament. I am old enough to remember, 1420 when we were in opposition during these few months in 1886, from January to July, when a right hon. Gentleman brought forward a pious Resolution which my hon. Friend will remember—namely, "that the State should be a model employer." What is the State? It is the ordinary expression for the multitude of taxpayers. It simply means that the Cabinet shall do its duty. I objected very strongly to that pious Resolution, and when we came into power in 1886 it was put into a pigeon-hole, and no action was taken upon it; but when the late Government came into power in 1892 with their small majority, which made them eminently squeezable by some of their supporters, those supporters demanded that some action should be taken on that pious Resolution. I remember the event well, as I was in my place lamenting in my heart that action that was about to take place. What followed? Why, the introduction of the mischief of the eight hours system into the Arsenal. I said then to my Friends right and left, "The dockyards will have to follow suit." The dockyards did follow suit. Then I said it is a letting out of water, and the trouble will be universal; the private employers will have to follow suit, or we shall have a huge labour war. The beginning of all this folly lies at the door of this House in accepting that objectionable, pious Resolution which the late Government, squeezed by their followers, had to give effect to, and nobody can deny the force of this point, that when you meddle with a question of this kind you cannot foresee the tremendous results of your action. The delay in our Naval construction programme is lamentable, but I believe that the authorities will be able to satisfactorily explain the cause of that delay. All Naval men greatly lament the delay in carrying out these works in various places abroad, but I may say that the late Civil Lord might have borrowed a little from the courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman sitting beside him, formerly Secretary to the Admiralty. I noticed his speech, and listened to it with a great deal of pleasure. He said he felt himself disarmed, when he listened to the explanation of the cause of the delay, and I wish before he left the House that he had disarmed the hon. Friend sitting by his side, and then, 1421 perhaps, we should not have had so much heat brought into the discussion. Let us feel that when discussing Naval questions that Party feelings should have no place, but that patriotic feeling should alone prevail. The late Secretary to the Admiralty made some useful criticisms on the First Lord's statement. Amongst other things, he called attention to the proportion of Reserve in relation to the question of active service, but I am perfectly satisfied that the question is in good hands—namely, the hands of the Sea Lions at the Admiralty—and I am willing to leave it there. The Admiralty are now seeking to enrol the pick of the fishermen of the country who are seamen as apart from sailors. That policy, I think, is quite right, and I hope we shall have more of it. My hon. Friend urged upon the Admiralty an increase in the number of training vessels. It would be a very good thing if you could recruit more of these men—if you can get them to go to sea—and commission more of the ships which, in time of peace, are shut up in the great reserve dockyards like Portsmouth. I, therefore, agree with the hon. Member for Lynn that it would be advantageous to increase the training squadron. The hon. and gallant Member for York told us that he went about to enlighten the country—he first of all said enliven, and then corrected himself—I prefer the correction. I should like to refer to the Resolution which the noble Lord put upon the Notice Paper. He spoke to it, but not much in detail. It is a particularly important one, because it deals with what he calls obsolete ships. He found fault with certain ships which he said should be struck off the list of effective vessels—namely, those with muzzle-loading guns. Then he went on to show that certain other vessels, which I need not enumerate, should be sold—who would buy them?—broken up—that would cost more than they are worth—blown up—that is more sensible—or taken out to sea and sunk. I do not quite agree with the noble Lord's view of the matter, and I venture to say that, defective as these ships are and obsolete, when you come to compare them with the present ships—because science has made rapid advances of recent years, and nothing has benefited more from this than the British Navy—they are not useless, and I do not think that my gallant 1422 Friend will carry the House with him when he suggests that these ships should be struck off the effective list. Some of them have been, and still are, magnificent broadside ships—the Sultan, Hercules, Superb, and Alexandra, for instance—and although their main-deck armaments may be muzzle-loading guns I am not prepared to admit that these ships are to be condemned as utterly useless merely on that account. After all, the penetrating power of these guns is very little behind that of the more modern breech-loading guns. I think my gallant Friend pushes his point rather too far when he contends that these muzzle-loading guns should be destroyed or discarded. I have been gunnery instructor at Portsmouth, so I presume I know something of the matter. Of course, I assume that the Admiralty have provided the modern ships with the best weapons. I have good reason to know that these broadside ships, such as the Sultan or the Hercules, would be compromised in stability if you put on board heavy breech-loading guns, because if this were done my hon. and gallant Friend knows what a difficulty these ships would be in when encountering some of the heavy rolling seas with guns secured outboard. I believe the Admiralty have acted wisely in deciding not to re-arm them with modern main-deck armaments. Now I come to the statement published by the First Lord. I rejoice to see that the Admiralty are going to give certain wards to captains of turrets. That has been long desirable. Then I see there is to be an increase in the Marine force. The First Lord did not give us any information as to the creation of a reserve of Marines, although this was promised last year. Will he now give us some assurance as to that? With respect to the question of victualling, the First Lord will, I trust, be able to satisfy us that the Admiralty will deal with the question of the full meat rations of the men. I believe that when Marines are on shore they are under military regulations. I think that at a time when this House has approved of proposals which have been put before it with respect to giving improved pay and rations to soldiers, the rate of pay and the rations of Marines when on shore should also be taken into consideration. In my opinion 1423 a similar addition should be made to the pay of the Marines as has been done in the case of the soldiers. I know that representations have been made officially to the Admiralty on the subject, and, knowing as I do how warmly this House approved of the proposals put forward in the case of the Army, I must earnestly urge that this matter should be considered; and I ask the support of hon. Members for my request that a similar boon should be granted in the case of the Marines. This is a burning question, but I want the remedy to come as an act of grace from the Admiralty. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance that this question will now be settled once and for all. The right hon. Gentleman, in his statement, does not tell us much about the new nickel armour. I shall be glad if he will let us know what success has been achieved with the new 6-inch nickel armour, because we all know that this will do the work of thicker armour. I should like to be informed how far the Admiralty are working in this direction. I believe they can use it with great effect in the new cruisers. I do not know why the Admiralty have not gone in for an 8-inch gun. It seems to me it would improve every ship of the Diadem class. Last year I pointed out how very strong naval opinion was against the armament of these ships being confined to 6-inch guns, and I think if 8-inch guns were to be mounted on ships of that class it would be far better. I do not want to labour the question any more, but I am strongly of opinion that the manufacture of these guns is a matter that should receive immediate attention. I should like to remind the First Lord of the application which I know has been made to the Admiralty by the Auckland Harbour Board. That Board has built a fine new dock, and I think it would be a very gracious act on the part of the Admiralty if they could see their way to make a grant in aid to the harbour authorities for the purpose of building workshops, etc. However, we shall have more opportunity of discussing this in detail on the Works Vote. It is a splendid dock, 500 feet long, capable of taking in two cruisers at one time; 80 feet wide, and having 33 feet depth of water on the sill. We have given them nothing to make this dock. It would be a very gracious thing if the 1424 Admiralty could see their way to ask this House to make a grant-in-aid to build workshops. I do not think it would be right to ask the House to make annual grants for maintaining work-ships; that would mean men and machinery. But you have the land; the Government have in New South Wales granted a very large amount of valuable land in connection with the Sydney dock. That land was worth £2,000,000. The Government have land alongside of their own property in Auckland, and might give them that land, and let them make workshops. I do not hesitate to say that a dock in New Zealand is a very important acquisition, seeing that Auckland is 1,200 miles away from Sydney, in the event of war. I think the matter requires attention, and I hope it will not be lost sight of. Other remarks I may desire to address to the Committee when they come to the Votes. I do not think the Admiralty are to blame for the delay; of course, that delay is deplorable. The nation suffers because Parliament entertained that wretched, pious resolution some years ago.
§ *MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)
In face of the testimony that was offered last night by the First Lord as to the most efficient way in which these men carry out their duties, it is impossible to urge, with any degree of success, that eight hours has been a failure in any sense at all. What interested me in the observations of my hon. and gallant Friend were his references to the rations of the Marines, and before dealing with that in detail I propose to say a few words about the question of Naval rations generally. I see by the First Lord's statement that he has found it necessary to increase the scale of rations for the lads trained on sea-going ships. In another part of the statement he referred to the fact that they are increasing the rations for the Marine recruits while in training. I hold the opinion, and my opinion has been formed from information I have collected for the last five or six years from men who ought to know a great deal about the question themselves, that the quality and scale of seamen's and Marines' dietary require a thorough overhauling. I believe to-day that the man that goes 1425 abroad on a tramp-steamer is far better treated in the way of rations than the seamen and the Marines. Take, for instance, the cocoa they have for breakfast. The time has come now when a man ought to be permitted to say whether he will have cocoa, or coffee, and the seaman, too, should have something to help down his dry biscuit or his soft bread. On the mercantile marine steamers I am told that the men get a proper allowance of butter to put on their bread, and it seems to me that in these days some concession should be made in this direction. What is more noticeable than even the rations are the ancient and abominable hours that prevail in the Navy for men having their meals. As my hon. and gallant Friend knows, the last meal in the day that a man gets on board ship is four o'clock in the afternoon. Notwithstanding the fact that he may be put on duty for several hours, he gets no other meal until seven o'clock in the morning, unless the captain likes to certify that he shall have some additional rations. I think there is plenty of room for amendment in that particular direction. I now come to a larger point alluded to by my hon. and gallant Friend, and that concerns the pay and status of the Marines. As he rightly said, the question of pay is wrapped up in that of rations. I myself addressed the question to the First Lord of the Admiralty, and that appears to have escaped my hon. and gallant Friend's notice. [Admiral FIELD: No.] He quoted an ancient question; mine dealt with the same point, but I was not aware of the question to which he referred. I asked the First Lord whether similar concessions with regard to pay and deduction would be granted to the Royal Marines as to the Army. He replied that the pay of the Marines would be considered. He reminded us that the emoluments of the Marines differed from those of the soldiers. That is perfectly true. But when ashore and in barracks he is deprived of many of the privileges enjoyed by both services. For instance, he has to pass a course of gunnery, and when he becomes qualified as a trained man he receives a penny a day more. The seaman has precisely the same opportunity, but when the seaman is qualified as a seaman gunner he gets 3d. extra, 1426 making a total of 4d. a day; that is denied to the Marine altogether. He has to take the same gun, do the same work, and he has no opportunity of getting this extra, concession of 3d. per day. Let us consider what is the actual state of the Marine. I estimate his pay at 1s. 3d. per day; out of that he has to pay 7d. per day for his rations. That brings his pay down to 8d. a day. Then, these rations are most inadequate. He gets for breakfast half a pound of dry bread and a pint of coffee or tea; for dinner he gets three-quarters of a pound of meat, including bone; for supper he gets half a pound of bread and a pint of tea. In the first place, I contend that the ration is altogether inadequate, and the point I make out is this, that, though he has to pay 7d. a day, he has really to spend more in the canteen out of what is remaining, otherwise he would practically starve. That brings his pay down still further; but, in addition, he is under perpetual stoppages for his kit. I really cannot see the point of observation made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, that the emoluments of the Marine differed from that of the Army.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I did not say that the pay of the Marine was greater or less than that of the Army. It was simply pointed out that the pay of the two stands on an entirely different footing.
§ *MR. KEARLEY
I will not pursue the matter further. There is only one other question I want to refer to, and that is in connection with the money that the First Lord announced last year was going to be expended in the improvement of the position of the warrant officers. The First Lord told us last year that the cost of the improvement of the pay and the status of the warrant officers was £30,000 a year; I can only account for £17,000 having been expended on behalf of the warrant officers. The reason I refer to the apparent deviation between what was stated by the First Lord and what was shown in the first Estimate is that I want to call attention to an apparent hardship which some of the warrant 1427 officers suffer from. The warrant officer who goes in for being a gunner becomes entitled, when he passes his first-class certificate, to 1s. 6d. a day, or 1s. a day in the case of a second-class certificate. When warrant officers take up the boatswain line they become no longer eligible for this extra pay. I cannot understand why that should be. I think it is my duty to bring this matter before the House. If the Admiralty will look into it they will see there is some injustice in it. I only wish to call attention to the pay of the stokers, who receive 1s. 8d. per day on joining. They do not secure the 2d. per day re-engagement money as the seaman class do; nor do the petty officers obtain the 3d. per day progressive pay which is paid to the seaman branch. They are the hardest-worked body of men in the Navy, and I do not think, although the right hon. Gentleman told us that they were coming forward very freely, that the quality is as good as it might be. There are so many young and immature boys at the present time, and if the pay were slightly increased—I suggest 2s. per day—you might get a better class of man. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the frank way in which he has put his proposals before us. I thank him because he has paid the highest possible tribute to a large body of men, whom I feel it an honour to represent in this House.
§ THE CIVIL LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. J. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN,) Worcestershire, E.
It is the disadvantage of a Debate of this kind that it travels over so wide a field and raises so many subjects. It is difficult for those who represent the Admiralty at this House to deal with them as they would wish. I think it would be a convenience to the Committee and the Members interested if I should now read a statement my right hon. Friend the First Lord made on behalf of the Government as to the progress which has been made during the current year under the Naval Works Act. The Committee is already aware that the sum provided under the Act of last year was £2,750,000 in round figures. The expenditure which it is now estimated will have been incurred by the close of the financial year amounts to £975,000; we, therefore, have a sufficient balance available to proceed with the 1428 work during the coming year. A great deal has been said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee about this failure on our part to expend as much money as Parliament had granted. I think, that the hon. Member for Dundee said that the Government had required the Admiralty to spend this £2,750,000 during the coming year. I think that is hardly the way in which the position should be stated; that is hardly a declaration I would be willing to accept. In arriving at this sum, the Admiralty thought it necessary to make provision, not for the expenditure of 12 months only, but for the expenditure of 16 months, so as to give us sufficient money to proceed with the work, with all the work, without a check, if it should not be possible to place the new Naval Works Bill early during the present Session. And for the same reason we took up on each side the outside figures of the utmost possible expenditure that under any conceivable calculation would be needed during the year. It is, therefore, I think, not surprising that the actual expenditure has not come up to the amount which had been provided; and when the hon. Member for Dundee is inclined to taunt us with the inaccuracy of our forecast he should remember his own experience at the Admiralty, and how difficult it is to estimate not only the expenditure, but the cost of such great works as we are carrying out. The hon. Member will remember that the Boards of which he was a member, included in their Naval Works Bill the proposal for the great dock at Quayham. When the work was finished by the present Board of Admiralty, it was found that the expenditure was more than a million sterling in excess of the Estimate, and you will see the difference between the Estimate and the actual cost is almost inseparable from works of such magnitude as those with which we have to do. So far as we can see up to the present time, that has been the only estimate which has greatly exceeded the general result. It was not surprising that the whole of the sum sanctioned by Parliament was not expended. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose said the object of the Naval Works Bill was to secure the control by the House of Commons over the progress of naval works. 1429 I think the Members of the Board of Admiralty would hardly agree with the statement. The object of the Board of Admiralty in obtaining the money by Bill, instead of its being included in Vote 10, was to secure at once that those works, when once begun, should be proceeded with without interruption or check, and should at no stage be hampered by want of funds. It is not an uncommon occurrence, in dealing with works under Vote 10, that the provision it is possible to make for the year is less than the expenditure which a contractor could safely incur, and works are delayed in their progress because the money is not forthcoming. Our own object with regard to these great naval works, and I think in that we have the sympathy of the whole House, is that, as it is of the utmost importance that these works should be pushed forward with the utmost rapidity, we, therefore, thought it was necessary to make certain that we had money enough, rather than to cut down the provision of money to the exact figure that experience would prove it was possible to spend; and the result is that we are in no case checked by want of money, and we are progressing as rapidly as the difficulties of the engineering crisis will allow. Having said so much, I must admit that the progress has been disappointingly slow. I am bound to admit we altogether underestimated the initial difficulties of starting such works as we have undertaken. Difficulties have occurred in many places, notably at Dartmouth College, where, after friendly negotiations broke down, we had to have recourse to the compulsory powers conferred upon us to secure that site. Although we have done our very utmost, we are not yet in possession of that site, and until we are in possession we cannot proceed with the building. With regard to the Hong Kong Dockyard extension, the hon. Member for Dundee, when he spoke of the advance which had been made for the works in 1895, forgot how little had been done at that time in regard to securing the necessary land and foreshore for carrying out many of these works. Although the Bill of 1895 included the dockyard at Hone Kong, the harbour at Dover, and the docks at Gibraltar, it was not pretended that there was any design upon which we could proceed to action 1430 at once. In the case of Hong Kong, we had to settle a very difficult question with the Colonial authorities, who thought they had a prior right to construct the road. Then we found that it was possible that we could secure the exchange of property on the wharves which would improve the dockyard. That has caused great delay in beginning the work, but the advantage to be gained will far more than compensate us for that delay. Take the case of Dover: the plans for Dover were approved more than a year ago, and we estimated that a considerable expenditure at Dover must take place during the current year. We provided no less than £200,000 for that purpose, but it was only in November last that we were able to accept the tender for the construction of the harbour; and, practically, the only expenditure which is to be incurred in the present year is the expenditure on the land and foreshore. Having said so much about the disappointments we have had, and the failures on our part through the initial difficulties at the beginning of these works, I must say a few words more in order to prevent the Committee going away with a wrong impression as to the progress made. The expenditure which we have incurred is not a fair or full test of the work which has been done. There are at the present time large sums which we shall not be called upon to pay during the current year, but which we might be called upon to pay at any moment, and which we should have to pay if called upon. For that reason it is not the correct way to arrive at the progress of our works by subtracting the sum which has been expended from the sum which has been provided, and to suppose that the unexpended balance represents delay in all those works which are the most important to the country. I think they are undoubtedly the enclosure and defence of certain harbours, the completion and defence of Portland Harbour, the completion of the harbour at Gibraltar, and the completion of the Mole extension in the harbour of Gibraltar. Now we have underspent on all those works. I would ask to be allowed to tell the Committee what progress has been made, and the probable date of completion. In the case of the harbour at Gibraltar, the defence of that harbour will be completed in 1900—the schedule time. The 1431 new Mole extension will be completed in the Committee to the present year, and, although there will be something to be done afterwards, the harbour will be practically completed for the use of Her Majesty's Fleet at that time. With regard to Portland, there we have now accepted a tender, and the contractor has begun the work, and he is bound to finish it in a certain time. At Portland the full completion of the work will be one year behind schedule time, but the defence of the harbour, which is the important thing, will be complete by September next year, or something more than a year in advance of schedule time. I think the Committee will understand that the breakwaters will be brought up to low-water level by that time; after that part is done, piers must be put in, but, practically, the use of the harbour will be obtained by the nation over a year in advance of schedule time. In the case of Dover—which is a very good illustration of the failure to spend the full sum provided—we have provided £200,000 for Dover, and this year we shall only spend a few thousand pounds in the purchase of land and foreshore, but the contractor is bound to complete the whole in 1907 and 1908, and complete that portion of the defence in connection with the extension of the Admiralty Pier as early as 1905. If the Committee have followed me through these figures, they will see that the insufficient expenditure will not be followed by consequent delay in the completion of those works. If I may take some other cases, there are the Chatham Naval Barracks, the Portsmouth Naval Barracks, and the Chatham Hospital, and I have every hope and reason to believe that the whole of those works will be finished close on schedule time. With regard to the difference between the expenditure and the Estimates in the case of the dockyard extension, we have had to consider what the contractor could possibly earn. He has sent in bills for payment considerably less in amount than we have anticipated, and any hon. Member who has visited these works will see that good progress has been made with, them, and they will be completed at schedule time, and the country will be in possession of the docks at the time they anticipated they would. I ought to call the attention of 1432 the Committee to the fact that one or two works have been already finished, and it will be satisfactory to know that those works have been completed within the amount of the estimate we have furnished. They are the Keyham Engineers' Colleges and the Royal Marine Depôt. We have finished before schedule time two great docks at Portsmouth which were needed for the Powerful and the Terrible. The Terrible was actually docked there in 1896, while the schedule time to complete was 1897–98. I mention that also as an illustration of the fact that where expenditure remains over, it does not mean necessarily that the work is delayed. For some time after those docks were completed, contractors' bills were still unpaid, and for a still longer period one item had to remain open in the schedule because there was some ground to be made up which could not be done until the ground had had some time to settle. The Board of Admiralty feels that the House of Commons is entitled to an explanation of these matters, and I hope what I have said to the Committee will cause them to feel that, while there has been great and disappointing delay as to the commencement of some of these great works, yet the most important of them all are making good progress, and we are in a position to be certain that they will be ready for use by the time scheduled in the Act of Parliament. I need only further assure the House and Committee that there is no body in this country who is so anxious to press on these works, or who would so willingly take steps to hasten them, as the Board of Admiralty. We have given our utmost attention to them, and are doing our utmost to hasten the preliminaries in those cases where the works are not begun, and are seeing that satisfactory progress is being made while the work is being completed. [Dr. BANNER: What about Haulbowline?] The work at Haulbowline is proceeding satisfactorily. The expense is fairly keeping pace with the sum we provided. The dredging has been completed, and in regard to the fever hospital the plans have been approved, and the work will be shortly commenced. We will do our utmost to press on these works and get them completed in the time sanctioned by Parliament. If there is some extension of time needed, I am hopeful that 1433 it will not be a serious extension in most cases. In some of these cases the country will actually be in possession of the works and using them in advance of schedule time.
*SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH (Lancashire, N.E., Clitheroe)
I think it would be much better, and more convenient, to the House, to discuss these works when it has before it the official statement which has been laid on the Table. Until we are in complete possession of these figures and facts, I am not at all sure that this discussion can be carried on to any great advantage. I would ask the attention of the First Lord for a moment to the difficulties in which we are placed in debating the state of these works to-day, and, as the House will not get an opportunity of discussing the Naval Works Bill this Session, there will not be the usual annual opportunity of going into this extremely important matter. I think we should be better able to discuss the work that is being done under the Naval Works Act when we are in full possession of the facts, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance that an opportunity will be provided at a reasonable time after we have been able to read the Paper which has been laid upon the Table of the House.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
It is difficult for me to pledge myself as to when the opportunity sought, for can be afforded. Indeed, I am not quite sure that I can give any information on that particular. There is one Vote on which a discussion can clearly be taken, and that is the reduction of the salary of the Civil Lord. I cannot pledge myself as to the order in which the Votes will be taken, or as to the particular day that the discussion could take place, without consulting the First Lord of the Treasury, and it is desirable that further discussion should be positioned until the Admiralty Vote is before the Committee.
*SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
I hope I shall not be going too far in accepting that as an assurance that the right hon. Gentleman will use his influence with the First Lord of the Treasury 1434 in arranging an opportunity for discussing the progress made under the Naval Works Act. I hope it will also be understood that, if a reduction of the salary of my hon. Friend should be moved, it will not be in a hostile sense, but merely for the purpose of raising this discussion.
§ *SIR J. COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
I join in congratulating the First Lord of the Admiralty upon the very clear statement he has made. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the front Opposition Bench that it would be rather inconvenient to conclude the discussion at the present stage, when there are so many questions of a wide-reaching character which can only be touched upon in this Vote. I am sorry to say that we have heard from the First Lord excuses for the backwardness in carrying out the programme under the Naval Works Act. No blame is to be attached to the Admiralty, but the resources of this country are hardly adequate to meet any emergency. We seem to have reached the point when we are doing all that the resources of the country will enable us to do. That, I think, is a very serious matter, and rather points to the necessity of encouraging the great factories of this country to lay down plant, so that there may be greater elasticity in the resources of the country for supplying the Fleet. Now, my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty used a very remarkable phrase in the very first sentence of his speech in laying these Estimates before the House. He said he was asking for "a colossal sum." "Colossal" is a relative term, and I wish, in the very few moments I occupy the House, to draw attention to the wider aspect of this naval question than has been touched upon yet. The figures are "colossal" if measured by the Navy Estimates of 20 or 30 years ago, but that was a time when the country, somehow or other, lost sight of its sea interests. But they cannot be regarded as colossal if taken in relation to the work to be done and the interests to be protected. When it is remembered that the entire fabric of the Empire rests primarily upon our security of the sea, I do not think that £23,000,000 can be considered colossal. When you take our sea-borne commerce 1435 and shipping, what is £23,000,000? It is hardly one per cent. It cannot, therefore, be said that £23,000,000 is an exorbitant or colossal sum. But, alter all, what is £23,000,000? I see by the afternoon papers that a few individuals have offered £23,000,000 for the Lipton Tea Company. Japan is spending at this moment half its total revenue on the Navy. That is an important fact, because we have to include Japan among the other Powers on the sea, and you can leave nothing out of account. When you remember that the revenue of this Empire of ours is well over £200,000,000, I do not think £23,000,000, to protect the vitals of our Empire, can be called a colossal sum. The truth is, we are trying to carry on the protection of the Empire with the resources of only a portion of it. We are charging the naval expenditure on the smallest proportion of British revenue. Now, my right hon. Friend said—and I was very glad to hear it—that the disposition of cruisers is being very carefully considered as regards every trade route. It is commonly supposed that there is no plan or arrangement as to what actually is done with our ships in war. It was the case a few years ago, but it is not now. But I would ask my right hon. Friend, who has had the facts before him as to the trade routes, whether it has not occurred to him, in looking at the trade routes which have been marked out on the map, that there are many British trade routes which have no connection with the United Kingdom? As a matter of fact, the independent sea trade of the outlying Empire is greater than that of France; and since, at the present time, we are bearing this burden alone, I do think it is opportune that someone should draw attention to the fact. Look at the South Atlantic — South Africa on the one side, and Argentina on the other—and what do you find? You find that the sea-borne trade of South Africa and of Argentina is about equal, and the revenue of Argentina is less than the revenue of South Africa. But Argentina is spending very nearly a million a year in naval forces for the protection of her interests in the world and in the South Atlantic. As to the Cape, I want to ask my right hon. Friend what has become of the ironclad promised by the Cape? If British South Africa is to rise to the level 1436 of the Argentine Republic, she ought to be spending £800,000 a year on the fleet. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to give us some information on that point, because, looking at the condition of the world, looking at the inevitable dangers in front of us, we ought not to be shy in speaking on this subject, and try to remind our fellow citizens in the Colonies that the Empire is not to be maintained by mere lip-expression of loyalty. Now, passing events call our attention to Port Arthur. A great deal has been written as to the danger arising from the fact that Russia is at Port Arthur. Some people seem to think that she has swooped down, all of a sudden, upon Port Arthur. Everyone, however, who knows the history of the matter knows that the Russians have, for very many years, been steadily extending their Empire in that direction, and nobody need be surprised that they have reached Port Arthur. But the question is: How does that affect us? My noble and gallant Friend, with a multitude of others, argue that because Russia has gone to Port Arthur we must seize another port. Sir, I beg to dissociate myself altogether from any such contention. The value of Port Arthur, or of any other port, is to be measured simply by the power of the seagoing fleet of which it is the base. I hope that the Admiralty will look with great caution upon arguments based on the assumption that, because a position has been occupied by one Power, therefore we must balance that position by taking this point or that. You cannot increase your trade without increasing your protection. Under the present system, the danger of the Admiralty listening to the demand for increasing their bases is that they may shuffle out of their responsibility by throwing their protection upon the Army. I venture to make these remarks with regard to Port Arthur because I think it is important, when there is so much talk of our getting another base, that we should remember that the land does not command the sea; it is the sea that commands the land. The time has now come when we must consider whether we can, under the present arrangements, maintain the forces necessary for the defence of the Empire in all parts of the world. I do think we should pay a little more regard to what 1437 I may call the decentralisation of the arrangements for the defence of the Empire. The operations of a fleet in war involve the seizing and holding of bases for supplies and coal, and when you are engaged in a maritime war you will be face to face with the problem of trying to find the force to hold such bases. That duty is the proper function of a Marine force, and throughout all the last war that was what the Marine force was used for. I am going to show now that the Admiralty are rapidly departing from the policy that was carried out through this war. I find that at the date of the Battle of Trafalgar one-fourth of the total naval force were Marines, and if you look at what happened you will find that you always had a large force of Marines ready to hold the position, but you have not got that now. Who covered the disembarkation of the Peninsular Army? Why, the Marines. We know—it is a matter of history—that the Duke of Wellington might have been in great difficulties had it not been for the Marines holding a fort. These are things which we cannot exclude and cannot forget. In the Crimean War one-fourth of the total forces were Marines. At the present it is one-sixth. Well, I think that is a matter of broad policy, and I desire to draw the strongest possible attention to it. You are decreasing the proportion of your Marine forces to the total of the Navy. Now, the First Lord of the Admiralty has said—The highly technical character of the necessary training of seamen of Her Majesty's Fleet is such that seamanship now forms only a small part.I ask my right hon. Friend, why is it that there has not been a change in the policy with regard to Marines? Why is it that the proportion of Marines to your total Navy is diminishing?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I think my hon. Friend will find that the proportion is still the same, and there has certainly been no intention of diminishing it.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
Well, I am bound to express my opinion, and perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to show me that I am wrong; and he 1438 knows, at all events, that I do not want to invent any particular theory. Well, now, touching that point, and replying to my right hon. Friend's interruption, when he said that the proportion of Marine to blue-jackets is the same. But has he included in his calculation the 20,000 Reserves? If so, you must recollect that your Marine force must be taken in relation to the whole naval forces which you expect to be able to call upon in time of war. In the old days the proportion of Marines was larger than it is to-day, and when you are talking about the proportion of naval and Marine forces you must bear in mind that you should add to the Marines to establish a parallel between now and former days. And now with regard to the freedom of the Fleet in the Pacific. My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, in his memorandum, is perfectly silent on the subject or the Australasian agreement, and it is on that point that I desire, in conclusion, to say a few words. He told us that Australia was clamouring for naval assistance. Now, I think it is time that we should just remind them, in answer to this clamour, that we are bearing almost the whole burden of the cost of the Navy. It is no use mincing this matter, and I speak strongly. I do not know what my right hon. Friend will say in reply to this clamour, but I propose to show that we pay for naval protection to a large extent for Australia; and, instead of clamouring for more assistance in this respect, they might expect us reasonably to clamour that they should come forward more liberally in support of our naval expenditure. If you look at the map of that hemisphere, you will find that Australia looms very large and Japan very small. Now, the revenue of Australia is three times that of Japan, but nevertheless Japan is spending £6,000,000 a year upon her Navy to dominate the Pacific Ocean, while Australia thinks it very hard because she is called upon to contribute to the defences of the Empire something like £130,000 or £140,000 a year, under stringent conditions. When the Australians are clamouring for us to do this and that for the protection of the British Empire, and to show our strength in 1439 that part of the world, I think it is well just to mention that the sea-borne commerce of Australia is £30,000,000 more in value than the sea-borne commerce of the Russian Empire. That is another fact which I think should go forth. Now, my right hon. Friend the other night spoke in a very lucid and a very clear way when he brought before the House the question of the mobility of our Fleet, and how all these squadrons attached to various stations could be called upon to send reinforcements to any point. But my right hon. Friend talked—and he rather surprised me—about drawing ships from the Australian station to reinforce squadrons elsewhere. That rather surprised me, and I hope to be able to draw from the right hon. Gentleman a statement which will settle it, because I do not see how it can be done. He spoke of the Orlando being drawn from there to reinforce a squadron elsewhere, but she was then on her way home. Surely, he did not mean to convey to the House that in a great emergency, if the Royal Arthur were wanted in the North Pacific, he does not mean that they were to provide certain ships, Now, the agreement entered into some years ago with Australasia was this: that they were to provide certain ships and to give so much for the maintenance of those ships. We were to increase our squadron, and undertake never to reduce it. The Australian squadron consists of sixteen ships, but the condition attached to this agreement was that they were to pay this paltry sum of £126,000 a year, and we were not to have the control of our own ships beyond a certain area. These sixteen ships are confined within an imaginary line drawn round Australia. That, in principle, is absolutely fatal to effective naval power, and I want now to get accurately at what happened. Now I hold in my hand a paper: it is the proceedings of a conference held at the Colonial Office between the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Premiers of the self-governing Colonies in June and July last. It is a very remarkable paper, because it gives you what the Secretary of State for the Colonies says, and it gives you what the First Lord of the Admiralty says, but it does not give you what the Premiers said. It gives you practically nothing at all, and the 1440 value of it appears to be that you know that there is good reason for this and the method of its publication. I do think that, with regard to this Australian agreement, we have a right to more information. My right hon. Friend appears at the end of the conference, and he was asked to make some statement with reference to the attitude of the Admiralty, and particularly as to the attitude of the Australasian Colonies in this respect. He then made a statement, and I am bound to say that I for one, after reading that statement over and over again, am convinced in my own mind that it was a statement made for other reasons than for naval reasons. The balancing is so admirably done that I do not hesitate to quote his words. He says—From the stragetical point of view we should be glad that the Admiralty should have a free hand.Well, as long as that agreement forbids the moving of the fleet beyond a certain area round Australia, the Admiralty has not got a free hand, and I would point out this and remind the House of it, that the agreement is that the fleet or ships cannot be moved beyond that limit unless they get the consent of all the Parliaments of all the Australasian Colonies. That means, of course, that the Admiralty have to get the consent of seven different Parliaments, or fourteen representative Houses. That, practically, means that there is no freedom at all. That being so, I now turn to what a Premier has said about this conference after he got home. I refer to the Premier of New South Wales. He says—The conferences between Mr. Chamberlain and the Colonial Premiers were four in number. On the question of Naval Defence it was evident that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Admiralty at first intended, or hoped, that the Australian contribution to Naval Defence would be substantially increased, and that the movements of the Australian squadron would not be restricted as in the existing agreement. I took advantage of a speech made by Mr. Goschen at the banquet of the Royal Colonial Institute, in order to put an end to any such expectations. I ventured to suggest that we could best do our duty to the Empire by developing the resources of the Australian continent, and that to cripple our slender finances in order to make a paltry reduction in the cost of the British Navy would not be a good thing for the Mother Country or ourselves.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
Then I am very glad that I have brought it forward, and I am very pleased to have that contradiction. I do think that the time has come when we ought to try and get our fellow citizens in the Colonies to look at this question of the defence of the Empire in a broader spirit, and if I have said anything that will tend to achieve this object—and I am sorry to have been so long—I shall not have taken up the time of the House in vain.
§ *MR. W. ALLAN (Gateshead)
I have listened very attentively to the speeches that have been made for and against the Admiralty, and I am sorry to see that a great want of sympathy has been shown by many hon. Members as to their duty with regard to the question of the delay in the delivery of the ships not yet completed, and in regard to the non-advancement of the work. I am very sorry that some of those gentlemen who have criticised the Admiralty officials so severely are not here at present to hear what I am going to say; but it was self-evident that those hon. Members did not understand the practical nature of shipbuilding, or they could have easily seen and understood why the ships are so delayed at present in the Admiralty dockyards. Those who have had to do with the non-delivery of materials in shipbuilding know well enough that all the works, no matter what they are, will be affected if things do not go on smoothly day by day. The amount of disarrangement in a dockyard is immense when the material is not delivered to time. During the time of the great strike, of which I will say nothing at all, the points raised by the Civil Lord of the Admiralty—and I was sorry to see the passage-at-arms which has taken place—appear to be a sort of tu quoque kind of policy. I say this: that I do not see how the Admiralty could have helped themselves, seeing what immense establishments these dockyards are; for after a stoppage it takes you months to get your machinery set going again. Now 1442 I come to what has been a source of complaint from hon. Gentlemen on this side, who have lately held office, of not spending money enough on the Navy. I often think it is a great pity that these gentlemen had not been brought up to some trade. They would then have known what it was to get work done without the drawings. I remember that about five years ago I used to talk to Ministers of the Gladstonian Administration about the very same thing—the non-completion of works. But when you come to take into consideration the great amount, of work that has to be done at Gibraltar, Malta, and the Cape of Good Hope, and also the fact that some of the drawings for dockyard extensions have not yet been prepared, how could the money have been spent? I think the First Lord of the Admiralty deserves some sympathy when the great operations at Devonport, Gibraltar, Malta, and other places are taken into consideration. With regard to the dockyards, I may say I have come to the conclusion that they are far ton small for our requirements. I remember five years ago telling the then First Lord of the Admiralty, when the Navy Estimates were discussed, that they were bound to spend more, and that those Estimates would increase year by year, as the demands were bound to be greater. The right hon. Gentleman yesterday spoke of the ships now in China waters, but when we look at the position of this Empire in the China seas what do we find? You have not, on the whole China coast, adequate and suitable docks for repairing damaged ships either in time of war or in time of peace. I therefore think it behoves the First Lord to take this matter of the extension of docks into his serious consideration, and to come down to the House and demand a substantial sum of money. Wherever our ships go you find that the docks are too small. Chatham, Portsmouth, Devonport, and Plymouth have not much increased in dimensions and area beyond what they were 30 years ago. I find fault with you upon this point because it is a practical matter, and one which would seriously affect us in the event of our ships being damaged in time of war. You are building battleships in the docks at this moment. Why cannot you have berths enough without interfering with the docks? I merely throw that out as 1443 a suggestion. I consider cruisers as the light cavalry of our Navy. I have always advocated them, and I was pleased to hear that the Admiralty do not intend to mention the designs of the four cruisers they are going to lay down. But I sincerely hope that the First Lord will take to heart the case of the Powerful. I am sorry to see from the Press that she has been a complete failure, and that another ship whose praises were sung in this House has also come to grief, and has been told to come home—the Speedy. I see the boilers need to be thoroughly overhauled, and she is to be relieved. Although not five years old yet, she is practically done for, and yet that is a boat which was lauded so much by the Chief Engineer of the Admiralty. I did not hesitate before, and I do not hesitate now, to say that a terrible blunder has been committed. The Powerful has actually used up a sovereign per mile for coals for the time she has been in the water. Here is your grand cruiser which was supposed to steam about 22 knots. I stand upon my condemnation of that ship upon her first trip to Hong Kong. Had you taken my advice and sent that ship for a run into the Atlantic, you would have found out all her defects. Here was a beautiful ship destined to destroy any commerce. She left for China, and what did she do? She did not go as fast as a sailing ship. What was the condition of her stokehold? I have had letters, and of all the stories I ever heard in my engine-room experience, and in all the cases of vessels I have sent to sea—numbering some 600 or 700—I have never heard so sad a story of engine-room agony and despair as that concerning this ship. The water disappeared suddenly out of the water-tube boilers, the tubes became red hot, and from beginning to end every man in the engine-room was in a state of mental tension almost bordering upon insanity. The guns, also, could not be fired off because there was no steady platform for them. These are facts. There is no use in saying that failure is a success. I want to see your ships what they should be, to give you plenty of them, and to give you full value for your money. I am very sorry the First Lord did not give that vessel a fair spin into the Atlantic, as he should have done. Then, with regard to 1444 the Terrible, where is she now? Why don't you send her to the Atlantic?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
We are going to put her into commission at once. We shall do with her as we do with all our ships. We shall not try to rush her at full speed before her officers and crew are accustomed to the engines, and we shall take every pains to show whether she is a good ship or not. The hon. Member may depend upon it that every effort will be made to ascertain defects, and she will be commissioned like all other ships in order to establish all the qualities that she ought to have.
§ *MR. ALLAN
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman is going to do that, but it is not engineering.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
The hon. Member must be aware that no company runs its ships at their full power the first time in the water.
§ *MR. ALLAN
I engineer a number of steamers every year, and I may tell the right hon. Gentleman that I always send them at full speed. If the job is a good job to begin with, there is nothing to fear. I am saying nothing that is new, it is patent to everybody, and what I suggest ought to be done by the Admiralty. There is another matter that I want to direct attention to. I have been looking at the dockyard account books, and there is something in connection with this Vote about which I would like an explanation. It startles one to see how these books are kept at the Admiralty. In the case of the gunboat Spanker a sum of about £50,000 is stated to have been spent in the last two years, and this money has been spent upon a boat that would fetch very little in the market. A large amount of money also appears against the dispatch boat Alacrity and the first-class battleship Collingwood; and what I am desirous of calling attention to is that the entries in these books do not appear in the Estimates.
§ *MR. MACARTNEY
They have been; they appear in the expenses accounts of previous years. This is the audited account.
§ *MR. ALLAN
I will not cite the case of the Dreadnought, nor that of the Blake, although you spent upon the latter over £11,000 last year, but I will take the case of the Phaeton, another new ship. In 1895–6 you spent on machinery £13,304, in 1896–7 £13,602. How do you account for these entries not appearing?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
One item was in the expenses account, and the other is in the Estimates as to the future. One has been audited and passed, and the other has not.
§ *MR. ALLAN
I am a very plain bookkeeper, but if I see from an entry in a book that money has been spent I look to the incidental charges opposite. In conclusion, all I would say is this: I warn the right hon. Gentleman with all fervour, and as a Briton, that the course he is pursuing with regard to our ships will land this country in a muddle. You will find that your Fleet will be ruined in about five years. A friend of mine, an eminent engineer, has written me that he had been to La Ciotat, and was astonished at the number of water-tube elements, one fitted into Messageries Company's vessels, now lying in thousands on the scrap-heap. You are now going to fit in some things known as "economisers," once known as "feed-heaters," with all their many pipes and cocks, the result of which is simply greater dangers. Your grand ships are being spoilt by the bursting of pipes that you put into them. I warned you five5 years ago that your plan would be a failure, and I say it again now. I care not who the man is you have at the Admiralty; you dare not run these boilers at full speed and take 22 knots out of the ships. I again enter my protest against the present policy of the Admiralty, and I challenge the First Lord to send these ships, with water-tube boilers, full speed across the Atlantic, instead of merely making them the subjects of a little drawing-room entertainment in the shape of a trial trip. I protest against the manner in which the Navy is engineered, and I do not hesitate to do so because I feel that I am doing my duty to my constituents, to the country, and 1446 even to the Admiralty themselves. At present I assure the country that its splendid Fleet, on which it is spending some £25,000,000, is being wrecked in the boiler-room.
§ After the usual interval, Mr. A. O'CONNOR took the Chair.
§ *MR. FLANNERY
Mr. Arthur O'Connor, I desire, in the first place, to associate myself with the chorus of approval which has met the extremely lucid and extremely candid statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty. So long as the right hon. Gentleman is at the head of affairs at the Admiralty—and he has given in his able statement the particular views and bold, firm grasp of those affairs which his experience in naval matters entitles him to give—I confess I think that the obsolete part of the Admiralty system will be neutralised by the present business-like capacity which he is able to give to the whole of the Admiralty affairs.
§ [Notice being taken that 40 Members were not present, the CHAIRMAN (Mr. A. O'CONNOR) counted; and 40 Members being present],
§ *MR. FLANNERY
continued: Sir, when the hon. Member for Mid-Cork came to my rescue, I was referring to the safeguards which the Admiralty Administration had in the experience of the present First Lord, and I was going on to show that the defects in that administration at the present time arising from the obsolete character of the Admiralty Board would be neutralised by the business-like capacity of the administration of the Admiralty, ensured mainly by personal circumstances at Whitehall. The very important fact of my right hon. Friend being at the head of the naval affairs of this country, after the experience he has had for close upon a quarter of a century, or, perhaps, for more than a quarter of a century, is a reason why the country will be ready to accept at his hands reforms in the constitution of the Admiralty Board which the country would not be ready to accept from a less experienced administrator; 1447 and it is because I believe that such reforms may be introduced by the right hon. Gentleman for the sake of successors less experienced than himself that I desire to call attention to the suggestions which have already been made. When the Board of Admiralty was at first formed, the vessels which it had to administer were vessels of so simple a character that it was not difficult for anyone who did not thoroughly understand them to perform the duties of administration. Why, Sir, the cooks' galley was the most complicated mechanism on board ship in those days. The right hon. Gentleman himself has referred in his able speech to the complicated mechanism of modern war ships, and to the great advantage which he possesses in having for his advisers the highest scientific men of the day. I entirely agree with him, and I venture to say that the place which the scientific advisers have upon the Councils of the Admiralty is as much a matter of personal weight as it is a matter of their official position. The elevation, say, of the present director of naval construction to his position of influence is more because he is the Assistant Controller of the Navy than because he is the Director of Naval construction; and if there were established a system of having seats on the Board of Admiralty for the constructor of naval works and the Engineer-in-Chief of the Navy, I believe that the change would be of great advantage to the administration, and of the greatest importance in assisting the difficult questions of mechanism in the Navy. I do not, for a moment, desire that the present Board of Admiralty should be reduced in size, but if additions be made without taking away a single Sea Lord from the Board, then I believe that we should have a proper preponderance of mechanical force amongst those who are best able to represent the best interests of mechanism in the Navy, and who, at present, are under orders, and are not able to influence the Admiralty Board as they ought to influence it. The least satisfactory feature in the Naval Estimates of the coming year is the fact that seven months have been irretrievably lost in the progress of new construction. As one having some experience of the operations in ship-yards and engineering works, I must say that 1448 the figures are sanguine. I do not believe that the new ships will be advanced in the expected proportion. Nevertheless, I recognise, as a reasonable and well-deserved compliment, what the hon. Gentleman has said as to the workers in the ship-yards, who are now labouring with a will, having broken down the bitter strife and feelings of antagonism which, I am sorry to say, my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth, in the early part of this Debate, sought most eagerly to excite. As regards foreign orders in this country, I daresay it would be recognised that the question involved is the most difficult diplomatic question ever brought before the notice of my right hon. Friend. I do not imagine a more difficult question than the negotiation for the sale of vessels of war made in this country to foreign nations. But there are rumours that at least two of those vessels have been under negotiation for sale to another foreign Power. Now, in regard to those rumours, I venture to say to the right hon. Gentleman that in the present state of international affairs, in the present anxiety of the country as to our foreign relations, and in the present temper of the people towards the movement for strengthening, by every means in our power, the position of our Navy, it would be very unpopular and go hard with my right hon. Friend if any other foreign Government than those for whom the ships were being built succeeded in purchasing them. I presume the vessels built in this country are up to date, and, having regard to the variety of service of the British Navy, I believe there will be few ships up to date, with all modern improvements, and equal to all modern requirements, built by British constructors, for which, in some shape or another, place would not be found in the organisation of the British Fleet. I believe the right hon. Gentleman is entirely on the alert in this matter, and I hope he will not suppose that the suggestions I make are in any way intended to imply that he is not a competent judge of the matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean has spoken very strongly upon the question of the reserve of British, seamen, and it is admitted on all hands that the proportion of foreign seamen in the Mercantile 1449 Marine is increasing every year. There are some vessels that are not only manned by foreigners, but are officered and commanded by foreigners, and the great danger is that, in the time of war, the foreigners who command and man those ships, if they have any pluck or patriotism at all, will take those vessels, not back again to British ports, but away to the ports of their own country. That is a danger of a real character, as well as a danger in the gradual weakening of our reserve of seamen in the mercantile navy available for service in the fighting line. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking on this, has said, "I cannot create British seamen for British merchant ships." Well, Sir, no one would suggest that it is the duty of the Admiralty to create trained seamen for the purpose of service in the merchant ships, but the Admiralty can do something more than that; the Admiralty can encourage the employment of more native seamen in the merchant navy, and in that respect the Admiralty has already done something. Those hon. Members who were present at the Review at Spithead last summer will have noticed that the Campania and the Teutonic were manned by members of the Royal Naval Reserve, British seamen enrolled in the Reserve of the fighting line. Why was that? Because it is a condition of the retention of armed cruisers, and the payment of a subsidy to those cruisers, that they shall be manned with men who are enrolled in the Reserve. I venture to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that they might wisely and, without introducing any new principle, go one step further, and they might grant some small allowance to these ship owners who man their vessels with British seamen, providing that those seamen are trained in the Royal Naval Reserve. That suggestion is not a new one; it has been made over and over again, and possibly in time it will be acceded to. The cost would be exceedingly small, and it would be an encouragement to ship owners who, at the present time, I am sorry to say, are not sufficiently patriotic to insist upon British seamen in British ships. That would probably create an important and useful reserve of British seamen. I now come to a subject which has already engaged the attention of the House 1450 to-night, and it is so vital in its influence on the Navy, and, therefore, its influence upon the very existence of the country, that I ask the right hon. Gentleman to pardon me for again recurring to what has already been discussed, not only in this Debate, but in the previous Debate. In his speech last night the First Lord of the Admiralty used these words—There is a growing belief amongst professional men that speed is one of the first essentials.[Mr. ALLAN: "Hear, hear!"] The Member for Gateshead knows that this is true. It is perfectly clear that speed is one of the very first and most important considerations, before which every other consideration of fighting quality—in a cruiser, at all events—gives way. There are some engineers outside this House who have thrown the gravest doubt upon the powers of the best and most modern of our cruisers to fulfil the duties of speed which have been laid down by the First Lord and universally accepted. Speed must depend upon the endurance of the boilers and that which supplies the motive powers for the ships; and I would very respectfully—speaking with a serious feeling of responsibility—ask my right hon. Friend to dissociate in his mind the question of steaming for a short time under exceptional conditions of scientific supervision, with a numerous staff for the purpose of attending to the machinery, and steaming continuously under the circumstances of ordinary navigation upon an ocean voyage. Why, Sir, to use an illustration which will appeal to every Member of this House, it is as much as saying that a man who has made a successful maiden speech should at once be qualified to become a Cabinet Minister. It will be remembered that the initiative suggestion for the use of water-tube boilers in the Royal Navy was based upon the alleged success of boilers of that class in a merchant steamer called the Ohio. These boilers are now taken out of that ship and have been replaced with boilers of a different character. I must again ask the right hon. Gentleman to take this matter into consideration. I was much distressed and more disappointed than a loyal supporter of the Government ought to be at the character of the reply giver, to-day by the right, hon. 1451 Gentleman on this subject in the House. The right hon. Gentleman answered, if I understand rightly—I was not in the House at the time—that the boilers of H.M.S. Diadem would be tested in the ordinary way, but that the Admiralty would not pledge them selves to make any test of full power over a long ocean distance. What I understood the position that the hon. Gentleman took up to be was that the practice of the Mercantile Marine was not to send vessels which were fitted with new machinery, or new vessels, on their first voyage under full power. If that is so, and I have properly represented the statement he has made, I venture at once, with all the responsibility that I can possibly assume, to join issue with him. Might I refer to the Campania and the Lucania?—and I ask hon. Members of this House who have been passengers in any mail steamer afloat flying the British flag, what they would say if on the first voyage of any of those vessels it was said by the owners, "We shall not run her at full, or nearly full, power, because it might strain her"? I grant at once that during the first voyage of any steamer, those I have mentioned, or others, or cargo-boats, it is the custom during the first portion of the voyage to deal with her most care fully until everything has got down to its bearings. But then we find that that vessel crosses the Atlantic regularly, and carries Her Majesty's mails, and that her first voyage is accomplished within a few hours of her subsequent voyages. I venture to say the invariable custom in the Merchant service is to drive a vessel on its first voyage within a few points of its full power. Later on in this Session I will produce a table which will show the times occupied in the first voyage across the Atlantic by the popular mail steamers, and I pledge myself to prove that, practically, the steamers in question are forced, and driven practically at full power, on their first as on their subsequent voyages. Now, I ask the right hon. Gentleman how that applies to the position of the naval boilers in Her Majesty's ships. Has the right hon. Gentleman, since he came into office, done all that a, reasonable and prudent man ought to do to test the 1452 capacity of the new system of boilers for driving vessels at full speed for long ocean distances? In time of war the fate of the country may hang on the capabilities of the boilers in that direction. I do not wish to take an alarmist view; I do not wish to say a word which might seem too strong, but I do say, unless the boilers and machinery can be depended on, no amount of strategy, no amount of bravery on the part of the officers, or the engineers below, will be able to overcome their deficiency. The question is: has the Admiralty, in its policy, taken reasonable precautions, having regard to the allegations which have been made by men of responsibility in this House and elsewhere? I venture to say they have not. With regard to the Diadem, there was a question put to the Admiralty by the noble Lord the Member for York as to whether they would set all doubts at rest by sending her across the Atlantic at full speed. We have been told, according to reports, that she has made a most successful series of trials, and that she has been successful throughout. That being so, the Diadem being a new ship, with boilers brought up to date, as they are in these other vessels, is there any justification for withholding an ocean trial of those boilers, even if there were no other reason than to satisfy the hon. Member for Gateshead? I venture to say that an engineer of the experience of my hon. Friend, who has spent all his life in connection with machinery, who has run the blockade in charge of machinery, and who sits in this House to represent thousands of mechanics, who themselves manufacture machinery, ought not to be entirely ignored. Might not the Admiralty go so far as to extend the trial trip of the Diadem across to New York under convoy, if it is desirable, of the Campania? I do not suggest that she would not be safe to go a long voyage, but let her start at the same time, and let her, as we hope she may, arrive at the same time with the same condition as to full power. I do not wish to labour this subject too much, but I do feel very strongly upon it, and I hope it will not be felt that there is on my part any desire to impute any personal blame. I am speaking of doubts, which I regard as extremely important, and I hope that 1453 in that spirit my remark will be taken. There is one other point which I venture to put: hon. Members of this House who take a deep interest in, and have a great desire to understand, naval matters, would like to know whether facilities will be given by the Admiralty this coming year such as were given two years ago, when a visit was paid to she fleet and facilities of a somewhat unusual character were given by the Admiralty. Will there be any opportunity given to those Members who desire it to visit the ships in reserve and in the dockyard? I believe that if the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to doing this he would certainly help Members of this House to a, better understanding of the wants and deficiencies of our naval greatness.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I interpose for a few moments in order to answer the particular question which has been raised by the hon. Member who has just sat down and by the hon. Member for Gateshead—namely, the question of water-tube boilers, and I wish to take the Committee fully into confidence on this question. The Powerful on her voyage out suffered from a defect in her machinery. There were defects in her machinery on her trials of a certain amount of horsepower. The hon. Member opposite says he has a letter from a person on board, and I shall be obliged if he will let me have a copy of that letter without the signature, that I may inquire thoroughly into the allegations it contains. Now I also have had a, letter from an officer on board the Powerful, written after the accident, and in it he says—My main regret for the delay which has taken place is that some persons will probably say this is due to the water-tube boilers.The letter is characterised by some strong naval phrases, but the gist of it is that the accident had nothing whatever to do with the boilers.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
The hon. Member seems to suppose that when we want to send a ship abroad it is necessary for her to go at full power, but it is the rarest case, and only in case of emergency, that, a ship is ordered to go at its full power. I do not know whether the hon. Member has looked at the records of other voyages to Hong Kong by vessels of other navies? But if we compare the speed at which they travel, it will be found favourable to us. I am not at all sure that vessels of other Powers go at express speed. I believe they go at an economical ordinary rate, not wishing to record great performances, but to get to their destination in reasonable time. The Powerful has been ordered north by the Commander-in-Chief. The hon. Gentleman said she was a, failure. I have not yet received the report of the engineer at Hong Kong as to the repair of the engines and evaporator pumps, but the information I have at this moment, as I understand it, is that there was no difficulty with the boilers at all. Now the hon. Gentleman puts the failure of the engines on the boilers, and when I heard of the heating of the cranks of the Powerful I knew what to expect. I knew for a certainty that the unfortunate defects in the machinery would be laid at the door of the water-tube boilers.
§ *MR. ALLAN
I beg pardon. I never said such a thing at all. I am an engineer, the right hon. Gentleman is not. I know what the heating of bearings is and what boilers are better than he does. The heating of bearings has nothing to do with the boilers.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
No; then why did the hon. Member, with his splendid wealth of imagination—the hon. Gentleman is a poet as well as an engineer—why did he refer to his prophecy as to the failure of the boilers? The defect was in the 1455 machinery, but said he, "See how right I was." Yes, but his prophecy was as to the boilers, and it was not the boilers but the machinery that went wrong, and he points to the failure of the machinery to point his moral in regard to the boilers. His general denunciation of the Admiralty for some five years past has been not about machinery, which he understands better than I do; it was about the boilers he had his doubts. The hon. Member says very truly he is an engineer and I am not. I confess I know nothing about boilers and engineering, but I am not at all sure whether the engineers of whose advice I have the advantage are not of equal standing with the hon. Member in the engineering world. I am not at all sure whether the authorities I could quote on my side are not superior to the hon. Gentleman, or even my hon. Friend who has just sat down. Now, there have been discussions in regard to this question at the Institute of Civil Engineers, and elsewhere, and the case for the Admiralty has been put over and over again. I would ask the hon. Member whether he would be good enough to attend one of these meetings of engineers, where Sir John Durston and others would meet him and deal with this scientific question in a way in which none of us are able to deal with, it, except two or three Members of Parliament. There it could be argued with full knowledge on both sides. That is the kind of trial I should like the hon. Member to undergo when he is calling on us to undergo this trial here. I have intimate personal knowledge of the captain who conducted the trials—a Naval officer of distinction—and that Naval officer was convinced of the propriety of adopting these water-tube boilers. New men have come to the Admiralty, men of independent judgment, and I have put it to them: "Would you go back from the water-tube boilers to the cylindrical boilers, or would you say that to do this would be like going back from breechloaders to muzzle-loaders?" They have said in reply, "You would be quite justified in making that statement." But what do authorities generally, and not only in this country, say? These boilers have been adopted by France, by Russia, by Germany, by Austria, and all the chief 1456 engineers responsible for the efficiency of these navies take the view that water-tube boilers are most adapted to men-of-war. I cannot decide for myself; I must decide by the authority of those who are able to argue the question out with their opponents and to meet them in that argument face to face. I admit the responsibility which the Admiralty have incurred, but it would be an enormous responsibility to allow foreign Powers to make advances by the adoption of these water-tube boilers while we held back and refused to furnish Her Majesty's ships with them, when they were considered by the naval engineers of all countries to be the boilers for the future.
§ *MR. FLANNERY
Will the right hon. Gentleman forgive me for one moment? I have not advised the Admiralty against water-tube boilers, but I would advise them to test their endurance.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I am glad to hear that explanatory remark, but I think the general impression derived from his remarks was that he distrusted water-tube boilers. Does he distrust that one trial, if successful, would prove the case, or, if unsuccessful, would be sufficient to disprove the case? This is a new departure, and the first boilers may not be the best. When we introduced the breech-loaders there was precisely the same difficulty; some of them broke down, and there was the same feeling and denunciation. It was said of the breech-loader: "This is a foreign invention. Will you adopt it because the French adopt it? Let us stand by the muzzle-loaders." I was at the Admiralty at the time, and I know that that was the view held by many eminent gunnery men, as well as by many officers. But it had to be done, and we had to adopt the breech-loader. We were late in the adoption of the more modern improvement, and we suffered by it, and the consequence was that it was years before we were able to pick up. Suppose we were to suspend the introduction of the water-tube boilers and allow 1457 them to be put in by those who may be our possible opponents; it would be poor comfort if, after we had done our utmost to get up steam at the same rate, and after seeing the ships we wanted to catch easily able to get away from us—because with the water-tube boilers they could raise steam more easily than we could with the cylindrical—we were then to say that we had followed the advice of the hon. Member opposite (the Member for Gateshead)? I have great respect for him, and when he speaks he has the great advantage of his engineering experience, which few in the House of Commons possess. But if I had my advisers here the House would see the hon. Gentleman would not be able to make the statements which, with his poetic expression and rhetorical powers, he is now able to make before a House of Commons which, like myself, is almost incompetent to judge upon questions of this character. I am bound to follow authority in this matter, and what can I do except this? I see where the greatest authority on each side is, and I follow that, authority. It would be my business if I had any doubts as to the counsel given me on the matter to change my engineering advisers, and I should like to know whether the engineering profession generally would consider it right that I should reject the advice of those who advise me in order that I might accept that of the hon. Member for Gateshead. I confess that, as at present advised, I do not see my way to do it. I have taken every opportunity to have the best counsel on the subject. When I have had Naval officers who have been in these ships I have asked them for, and pressed them to give me, their opinion on the water-tube boilers, and Naval opinion has distinctly come round to wafer-tube boilers, and would regret any change in the ships that are being laid down. That is a point, of course, which has to be taken into consideration. What is true is this: in any new invention of this kind it is essential, with new boilers and new machinery such as you have got in this case, that those who have got the working of them should learn their lesson by degrees. They require more stoking than the other. Great science must be learned, and it is learned, and we find that the more the stokers are instructed in the management of the 1458 boilers the more successful they are. One of our chief businesses at present is to educate the stokers in the perhaps, more difficult stoking than there was before. The strategical advantages of these boilers are considered to be such that, viewing the authority on the one side and on the other, I have no choice except to proceed on the same lines as my predecessors in relation to these boilers; and surely hon. Members, and the House generally, must feel that if in every other country the men who have studied this question have taken the same view, there is primâ facie evidence and, perhaps, sound argument for the adoption of these boilers. All modem ships have got water-tube boilers. The Russian ships sent to China have water-tube boilers; the vessel which the Emperor of Russia sent over to the Jubilee has water-tube boilers. I say that the general attitude of the engineering world has decided in favour of the water-tube boiler. I do not, under these circumstances, see what other course I could pursue than the course which is now being pursued by the Admiralty—namely, not to fall behind, but to keep up to what is expected of our men-of-war by introducing into them the strategical advantages to be derived from the adoption of the water-tube boilers.
§ SIR JOHN BAKER (Portsmouth)
Mr. Speaker, I would venture to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to what I consider a serious omission in his speech in relation to the efficiency of the Navy. I would like to add my meed of thanks and congratulation to the right hon. Gentleman for his speech, but I am forcibly reminded that there is a considerable difference in the treatment of the Army and the Navy. We remember the satisfaction which was disclosed in this House upon the efforts which were being made by the Government to improve the condition of the service and of the men in the Army, and we received with great gratitude those arrangements and proposals with regard to that service. Now, it is a fact which one cannot but observe that the Army seems to have received more attention in the House than the Navy. I suppose it is the misfortune of the Navy that its friends are 1459 scattered all over the world. At all events, they have not received that attention which the Army evidently has received and, perhaps, deserved to receive. Now, in particular may I mention that the Navy—the men of the Navy, from the officers down to the stoker boy—have no such representation as the sister service seems to enjoy in this House, and they are entirely dependent upon those two or three Naval officers who are Members of the House, and those who represent constituencies in which they number largely. Well, now, here is a remarkable fact, that we have great pains taken by the Government to popularise the Army, to improve the condition of those who enter the service, but we have no effort to improve the condition and the pay of the men of the Navy. It will be within the recollection of the House when I remark that during the last few years you have altered the conditions of the one service, but no improvement whatever has been effected by the Admiralty for the men of the Navy. Representatives, through their officers, are constantly presenting memorials to the Admiralty for the very simple privileges which are given to the sister service, but which are constantly and continuously denied to the Navy. The relative position of this service is vastly inferior—as has been shown over and over again by the Returns sent to the Admiralty—to that of the Army. The men of the Navy do not envy for a moment the position which the Army enjoys, but they do ask that they shall enjoy like privileges for like services and conditions of service. Chief and petty officers have again and again prayed to the Admiralty for years for a slight alteration in their pensions. They get no response, they get no sympathy. Then with regard to the condition of the blue-jackets and the men of the lower deck. Many Members of this House may not know the complaints which these men are constantly making to the representatives of those working-class constituencies which are largely composed of this branch of the service. There has been no great or important change in the condition of the seamen for the last 20 years. The most conservative station in life in this country is that of the seamen. The right hon. Gentleman is asking 1460 for continuous service and for Reservists. He will get that more readily, and men more numerously, if he will give them the same consideration that the sister service and other classes of the community enjoy. I join with the hon. Member for Devonport in what he said about the rations. I have had dozens and dozens of opportunities of knowing the exceptional cost to the men of the Navy in consequence of the paucity and quality of the provision made for the service, especially for the vessels which are not away from home at all. Credit has been claimed by the Admiralty because boys are to be obtained by any number, and efficiently trained for the Navy. That is satisfactory, but it would be much more satisfactory—and naval officers know it better than civilians know it—if men were not taken out of the Navy in their prime, between 30 and 40 years of age, but were induced to continue in the service by a satisfactory arrangement in regard to pay, pension, promotion, and provisions. There has, however, been no intimation to this effect, and it will give great disappointment. Sailors do not manifest discontent, but I can assure the House—and I am speaking from personal experience—that the fact that the First Lord has made no provision, no suggestion, no improvement, and no promotion for these sailors will prove a great disappointment to the men in the Service. If he wishes to popularise the Service, I hope he will see his way to do what is being done by the War Department for the Army—that is, to give concessions and listen to the petitions which are constantly pressed upon him by those who have entered the Service. I do hope that the First Lord will not consider that I am pressing this matter too strongly upon him, for we all know the services which he has rendered for a long period now, and I hope and believe that he will give some consideration to those who form the great mass of the servants of the Crown, who are defending the country in every quarter of the globe. I wish, also, to thank the First Lord for the handsome way in which he has recognised the loyalty and duty which the dockyards have given the Government during the past few years; and in that recognition I would ask him respectfully not to forget that there again there have 1461 been for the last year or two great cause for dissatisfaction from the inattention to comparatively small thing's, which have led to great difficulty with both inconvenience to the men and to the Government. I hope these objections will not be passed by without consideration, because they are matters which should be dealt with quickly, fairly, and equitably to save all these difficulties and frictions which, when left to simmer, create discontent and disobedience to superior authority. I hope the right hem. Gentleman will not think that I am putting it in any other light but that of the interests of those whom I represent. I assure him, again and again, that we have much for which we are thankful to him, and I do trust that he will give some consideration to the great matters which I have specified, and that he will not forget those without whom a great battleship is practically worthless.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD (York)
I should like to make a few remarks with regard to the question of water-tube boilers brought before the House. As a naval officer, I have great faith in the water-tube boiler. Everything connected with a ship is a sort of compromise, and taking that and the expenditure of coal which are against that boiler, there are many things to be said for placing it in a man-of-war. I had the opportunity of seeing a certain class of water-tube boilers at Chatham, in the trial of some torpedo-boat destroyers, and I am perfectly certain that with no other class of boiler can you get up steam and speed so quickly as with those boilers. I quite agree that the First Lord of the Admiralty has done well to take the advice of the best authority he could find before he put those boilers in, and the result will come out most satisfactorily. The First Lord was perfectly correct when he said that the hon. Member for Gateshead always had his knife in these boilers, and it is evident that he was wrong in saying that the boilers were at fault when it was the machinery that had broken down in that particular case. I believe the hon. Member for Gateshead will find that these boilers are very suitable for men-of-war. With regard to the question I asked the First 1462 Lord to-night, I am afraid I did not put it quite clear. I never asked to have the Diadem sent across the Atlantic until she had been some time in commission, until the engineers knew their work thoroughly, and until the bearings had worn down into their proper position, and until the ship was absolutely put into fighting trim. I do think it would be a most valuable thing for the country—and the great engineers would be glad to see it—if a man-of-war, like an ordinary mail steamer, were sent across the Atlantic to see how those boilers would act. I have absolute faith that those boilers will come out of such a trial very well indeed. The gallant Admiral the Member for Eastbourne made some remarks about a Motion I have had on the Paper with regard to the blowing up of certain ships. Well, I am perfectly certain that we must move with the times, and my Motion is merely that we have a number of ships which would be very effective fighting ships if they were properly armed. All I ask for is that, if they are not properly armed, they should not be put into the effective line of battleships, but should be scratched off the A Division of the Fleet. Now, the First Lord of the Admiralty said last night that he had come to the conclusion that the maximum number of men that the country could afford to keep up in time of peace was 106,000. I would rather have had it, as I said last night, at 110,000, but I am glad to accept that number. I make out that, by taking ships that are at present available at this moment, that is both in commission and in reserve, but now ready, we should want 105,000 men to commission those ships and put them into the first fighting line; and, remember, that number has nothing to do with the auxiliaries, and we could not send our fleet to sea without the following auxiliaries: mercantile auxiliaries, store ships, ammunition ships, workshop ships, telegraph ships, and a whole fleet of colliers; and then there would be tenders and hospital ships. I do not put down in my 105,000 these auxiliaries, for not one of them have to go into those ships. I make my 105,000 necessary to man the first fighting line if we have to go to war. The First Lord said the inference is that we have got 100,050 men. [The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY: Men and boys.] But 1463 we really have got only 91,513, and next year we shall have only 97,000 and not 106,000 as the First Lord stated. What I wish to point out is that the First Lord has made a statement which gives a false impression. Of course, he has not done so intentionally, but I want to point out that I have documentary evidence to prove it. I refer to the Memorandum of 1892 and 1893, which says that at present all men and hoys under the Naval Discipline Act are included in both A and B, and thus a false impression is created as to the number of men available for active service.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
My noble and gallant Friend should remember that that matter was put right by the way in which it is stated in the Estimates, where it is exactly stated how the matter stands. I always use the phrase "men and boys" carefully, but recollect that a number of those boys will be men in about a year-and-a-half. I do not know why my hon. and gallant Friend has fixed upon this particular idea that I have created a false impression.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD
Why did we separate the two classes A and B? I can only go by what the right hon. Gentleman said himself last year, when he stated that we had got 100,050 men on the active list. [The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY: Men and boys.] Well, the hon. Gentleman has his opinion, and I have mine. It is a mere play of words [The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY: Hear, hear!]—it is a mere play of words, but it has given a false impression as to the number of men you have available to go in your ships to fight. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to make out his complements. I have got all the names of the ships and their complements, and any Member of the House can do it. You want 105,000 men to man the ships, and you have only got 91,000; and that 91,000 includes all Coastguards and Marines. As you want 105,000, and you have only got 91,000, we were actually 14,000 men short in the fighting line to man our ships. That is a very clear statement and I should like to see it upset. The First Lord said he 1464 would be glad to get 10,000 more men, but I should like to have 14,000 more, and we should then be better off than we are now. I maintain that Members are sent here to get these points out, and, unless they were got out, the country would be in the dark as to the real state of things. With regard to the officers, the First Lord was very frank last night and told us that he was short of officers, but he did not give the House the numbers. In France there are 220 commanders, in Russia 205, and on the British active list we have got 266 commanders. We certainly have got 259 commanders on the retired list, but I do not think we should get many of them to servo in the event of war. Well, now, with regard to lieutenants. France has 756 lieutenants, Russia 598, and the British Navy has 1,041, and only 38 unemployed or on half-pay. Certainly there are 423 retired, but a retired lieutenant is generally not very useful, as he is too old for service, and only about 15 per cent. of them are useful. With regard to sub-lieutenants, France has 585, Russia 287, and the British Navy has only 292, or five more than Russia. Those are remarkable facts, and I hope the First Lord will not misunderstand them. I say he must get more, and he must manage it somehow. The sooner the country knows the actual state of things the better, and the sooner will they say, "You must make some arrangements to go on shipbuilding as soon as you can." Then comes a more serious point. We have now in the fighting line 31,974 petty officers and seamen, and we have 651 lieutenants to command them. Well, now, we have got remaining 37,000 petty officers and seamen, and to officer them, if we call them out, we have only got 314 lieutenants. Therefore, with more men—and they may be called out in an emergency—we have les officers to man them at the very moment when we ought to have more. The First Lord did say we were very short of these lieutenants, and, although he did patch up with the auxiliary reserves—and all of them are very good officers—still, I think some steps should be taken to see how we can augment the lieutenants' list, because, if we go to war, these are the officers who have to do the work of looking after the ships, regulate the watches, keep up discipline, and really to 1465 conduct the action. Now, just one word more with regard to Class A. I find on the Reserve 27,054, on the 1st of January, and these men are to fill the vacancies which I have described if we have to go to war. Now, the First Lord of the Admiralty is perfectly right that these boys will become men, with the assistance of Providence, in time, but at the moment they are not men. As things are now, we shall have to fall back on these Reserve men. But what I want to point out is this—I have said it before, and I suppose the First Lord of the Admiralty will agree with me—that I feel that we shall not get these men, or a very small proportion of them, because it is impossible to imagine for a moment that when we go to war the Mercantile Marines are to be robbed of their best men. It is the duty of the Government to keep the Mercantile Marine running in times of war to secure the delivery of our materials and food supplies. To suppose that we are going to take their best men to man the ships is a chimerical idea. In the Mercantile Marine this is more emphasised by the fact that they are becoming a diminishing quantity, and it is impossible to conceive that we are going to run the Mercantile Marine with foreigners. The Reserve question is a very large question I confess, and I am glad that the First Lord has made a beginning, and, if he has time, I believe he will have an efficient Reserve. But it is not on the Mercantile Marino that we shall have to depend for the Reserve in time of war, but on the fishermen and coastguardsmen. I am perfectly certain we shall find ourselves in a very bad way for manning ships in times of war, although you may have the best officers and men—and you have got as good of both as any could wish for—if the difficulty with regard to the Reserves is not overcome. It is no use putting your hand in your pocket, as taxpayers do now, to spend all this money in that way. I am sure that, the First Lord of the Admiralty will cheerfully recognise this fact, that if it were not for grumbling, a good deal that is now done would not be done. I believe that grumbling hurts the authorities, and unless somebody puts these things out, how on earth is the First 1466 Lord to know what is going on? He cannot rely upon the old official; he is such as terrible individual, is that old official. The old official will never allow anybody else to have anything to do with what he considers only concerns himself. He says, I am responsible, all these other people are not. The hon. Gentleman said something about the Works Bill. It was a splendid Bill, which that Government deserve every credit for, but he need not have said that it was by the Navy League people and others; I put myself as one of the others. I do not hold with that argument of the old official at all, and, although I believe it is irksome, it is better that we should get these things out of the floor of the House of Commons, where we are face to face with the Government, who are very strong, and have it out with them here. Now, I will ask the First Lord whether he will kindly tell me if he has made up his mind as to the number of the Naval Reserve of this country is to be, because, although we make out what our requirements are, I do not think we shall make out what our establishment shall be. That is my point, and my belief is that the very least that we can do in this country, provided you fix your standard of 106,000 men on the active-service rating, that a proper and efficient Reserve is 70,000 men, and I do not see any chance at present of getting anything near that. I will not say anything as to whether the First Lord is successful or not with regard to the Reserve, but with regard to the active-services rating, I think that was very short. The First Lord was most frank last night. He concealed nothing. He let us know how unhappy the Admiralty has been in the way of ship-building, and I quite agree with the hon. Member opposite when he remarked that certainly the works are quite as important, if not more important, in these days of steam and machinery, than the mere building of ships, and I am very sorry that the Government of the day have got so very far back in the contracts, but I am very much relieved since I heard the speech of the First Lord, because he put it very plainly to us, that it does not follow that because your expenditure has not been 1467 kept right up that a great deal of work has not been done, and I think that his explanation has been very satisfactory. I will detain the Committee no longer on this point, but I hope the First Lord will let the House know definitely about this subject of the Naval Reserve. It is a question of great importance. This question as to what number of men the Admiralty consider necessary I should also like to know, and what is going to be eventually their position as regards the number of ships.
§ MR. S. WOODS (Essex, Walthamstow)
I hope that the noble and gallant Lord who has just sat down will pardon me for admiring the excellent speech which he has just given to the House. I would also like to pay a compliment to the right, hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty for his excellent speech last night on the Navy Estimates. My object, Sir, in addressing the House this evening is to call special attention to the discharge of working men from Portsmouth Dockyard on the 22nd January this year. Sir, on Thursday week I had the honour of putting a very pertinent question to the right hon. Gentleman in reference to these discharges, and I raise this question purely because I think it is a public question, and I think that the very elaborate answer that the right hon. Gentleman gave to me on Thursday week calls for a reply on behalf of the workmen, or else the right hon. Gentleman will probably justify the course he has pursued in discharging them after the meeting that I referred to. I think in that reply there were three points. The right hon. Gentleman stated that one of these men was discharged for dishonesty or fraud; another for sending an improper letter.
§ MR. WOODS
I take it from the right hon. Gentleman's statement. However, I accept the explanation. I shall have to deal more fully with the various points in the charges, because I think this House will give fair play to working men, as well as to anyone else, provided 1468 he is unfairly treated, whether it be the State or a private employer. I stand here to-night for the purpose of vindicating the attitude of these men, and before I sit down I will endeavour to prove that the treatment administered to them on the 22nd January was hard and wretched in the extreme. Now, Sir, one of the men's names is Sparshott, and he is charged with dishonesty and fraud, and that is given by the right hon. Gentleman as a reason why he was discharged, after holding a meeting on the 22nd January.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
The hon. Member put to me the general question, is their conduct generally good. I answered that their conduct was generally good, but that one of them had been convicted a short time before of making a dishonest return. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see the difficulty of asking me general questions.
§ MR. WOODS
I accept the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, but I was going to read a newspaper statement giving a reply that was given by the right hon. Gentleman. These are the words—I cannot answer the first question of the hon. Member without qualification. The character of the four men was generally good, but one of them had been convicted a short time before of making a dishonest return of work to the recording officer of the dockyard, and another had on one occasion written an improper letter to his superior officer.Now, Sir, I have got the man's own statement, and I think the House ought to hear it. I, first of all, give the past character of the men. This man Sparshott was a riveter in the dockyard, and he had been employed in this dockyard for 17 years. Three years previously he had been at the fire, and he had received the highest pay of 27s. per week. He performed the special riveting work in the dockyard on most of Her Majesty's ships in Portsmouth Dockyard. He was appointed by the constructor to rivet the main keel of H.M.S. Sultan, after the damaged plates had been removed and replaced, and when finished he was specially commended by the 1469 officials for his abilities as a working man; they stating that never in their experience had they seen such good riveting, and he was awarded an extra shilling a week on his wages. Thai docs not contain he charge that is made against this workman. The charge which was made by the right hon. Gentleman was that he had only put one rivet in a ship, and that he had charged for 16. That was the charge. I am trying to give the man's explanation; and I think the House ought to understand both sides of the question, which also explains very fully what I consider a very obsolete custom in the works and in my judgment, I say it most respectfully, I think it is disgraceful to the Government and the officials that such a state of things should exist in Her Majesty's Dockyard. I will read the statement as given by the man, and which can be proved by every man in the dockyard if required. He saw there was no pretence of charging 16 rivets for one, but in accordance with the practice in force in the dockyard which was that, when men have to perform a very difficult job, or a special single job, they were to charge an equivalent amount to the time occupied in doing the work. The official who booked the 16 rivets knew that only one rivet had been put in but he also knew that the "set," which embraced Sparshott, Harris, another man and a boy, had been occupied rather over an hour in doing this job, they having had to remove their fire, etc., from one end of H.M.S. Canopus to the other, and had to put the rivet in a very awkward place. The piecework rate for the rivet was 1½d., and they charged 2s., or an equivalent of 16 rivets for an hour's pay for three men and a boy. This was recorded by the officer but disallowed by another, hence the trouble. This system had been previously explained to the Admiralty Committee, and they had advised the men to pursue the same system until the piecework prices had been revised. This is the statement of Sparshott, a man who had a long experience in the dockyard, and a man against whom, the finger of scorn could not be pointed prior to this event. I think the House ought, at least, to 1470 give sufficient credence to the man's statement, under the peculiar conditions in which he is situated. But I think the House ought to know something else in regard to this question. The piecework system is at the bottom of all the mischief. The right hon. Gentleman, admitted that he would give his careful consideration to it; that was a very proper thing to do, but it is not the first time that this subject has been brought to the notice of the Admiralty, or to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. Of course, I believe that he would attend to it if it had been brought to his notice previously, But I believe that the permanent officials in the dockyard have known about this system for years, and if is not rectified, and has never been attended to, and a better system has never been put in its place. The history of this piecework system is as follows: In February, 1891, the fair wage Resolution was passed through this House. I suppose to put the thing in operation, and to put the men's wages up to something like the fair standard in April of the year, 12½ per cent. was added to the men's wages. In August of the same year, 12½ per cent. was taken from their wages. In 1892 12½ per cent. was taken again. In 1897 another reduction of 10 per cent. was taken from their wages. Now, Sir, that is about 37 per cent. reduction from the wages of the riveters and the drillers in the dockyard, and this the men know, because they have got comparative statements from the private firms where men are employed in the same kind of work. These comparative statements show conclusively—I have them in my possession, and they have been sent on to the Admiralty—that deputations have mot the superior officers in the dockyard, showing that the men's wages at the present time are from 50 to 100 per cent. below what private firms pay for the same class of work as that being done in the dockyard. If hon. Members dispute that, I have got the information in my hand, with prices for every kind of work, and I know that the right Iron. Gentleman is in possession of the same schedules, so I will not trouble the House with the figures; but in the middle of 1897 the riveters, in 1471 consequence of not being able to get these grievances redressed, and finding that there was no hope of their so doing, a large body in the dockyard put down their tools, and asked the officials of the dockyard if they would meet them as a deputation to consider their general grievances. This meeting was held. I have endeavoured to point out as clearly as I possibly can the men's side of the case, so that the House can come to a fair judgment upon the whole matter. Williamson, Davis, Thomas, Beaton, and the other men were perfectly candid and they enumerated the grievances. After they had discussed these grievances, the officials were thunderstruck—this is a statement that I am reading from—it may be that it has become public pro perty—at the rotten system in vogue, and appeared greatly concerned at the revelations made by the men.
§ MR. WOODS
In regard to the system of piecework and the rubbing out of paint from the heads of the rivets, which was another department of the nefarious system which was in operation, and from which the workmen could not derive wages by the proper system of payment, which was, as I have just said, about 50 to 100 per cent. below the wages paid by private firms. These were the words—The deputation was then asked to consider the Court of Inquiry as their friends, and on no account to mention the rubbing out and the falsification—above all, they were to avoid saying one word about the matter to the Press, as it would be more than their positions were worth if the public got to know of what was going on.That is from the public Press of Portsmouth, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman may have seen it. I contend, Mr. Lowther, that the statements I have made justify the men in the action which they took, because they have tried by every means in their power, by deputations, petitions, and by holding public meetings of protest; and yet with 1472 all these things they can get no satisfaction, no amendment of the system and no fair wages for the work which they have to perform. Now, Sir, the next charge was in regard to an improper letter.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I only mentioned that as an instance in reply to the Question of the hon. Member, but it had nothing whatever to do with the reason why he was discharged.
§ MR. WOODS
I, of course, accept the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. These men, of course, not being able to get any leaders, held a meeting—that meeting was held on the 22nd of January, outside the dockyard, after they had completed their work—and at that meeting there were, as nearly as can be omputed, 1,500 working men. This meeting was quite quiet, because we have the evidence of the police of Portsmouth, who stated that it was a perfectly peaceful meeting, and there were no strong expressions, no extravagant language. The strongest word for one, of course, dealing with the system under which they laboured, and that was the word "tyrannical condition." A resolution was passed, and the resolution, accompanied by a respectful letter, was sent to the First Lord of the Admiralty. At the meeting on the 22nd January, held outside the dockyard, a moderate resolution was passed, and a respectful letter sent to the First Lord, asking that the resolution should receive careful consideration. The letter which was sent is as follows—
§ "22nd January, 1898.
§ "Rt. Hon. G. J. Goschen.
§ "My Lord,—I am instructed by the Hand Drillers' Association to forward on to you a copy of resolution passed by a mass meeting of Dockyard employees (comprising about 4,500), which was moved by the undersigned, seconded by Mr. Sparshott, of the Ship Riveters' Society, supported by Mr. G. Knott, of the Iron Caulkers, and further supported by Mr. Proctor, editor of Chat, and a member of the Portsmouth School Board. The Chair was occupied by Mr. R. Gould. President Portsmouth and District Trades and Labour Council, and a, member of the Board of Guardians."1473
§ That was the letter accompanying the resolution. These were the terms of the resolution—
§ "That this meeting of Dockyard employees condemns the unjustifiable system adopted by the Admiralty in compelling hand drillers, riveters, and caulkers (termed skilled labourers) to go on piece or task work (without first consulting the workmen) as to the fitness of the work to be performed. Further, that an enquiry be instituted into the cases of eight men working on H.M.S. Bellona, who, having worked hard under tyrannical conditions for a, week, received an average pay of 8s. We therefore pray for an independent enquiry into the piece or task work now being performed in H.M. Dockyard. We trust you will give this resolution your careful consideration.
§ "On behalf of the above,
§ "I remain, yours most respectfully,
§ "A. G. GOURD, Secretary."
§ Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman in the reply he gave me on Thursday week said that the statement as to the men only being able to earn eight shillings a week was false. I am prepared to admit that it was an exaggeration. I have gone through the figures very carefully, but I think the House ought to understand the circumstances, and then I think it will be considered that the wages which the men actually earned were scandalously low, and altogether inadequate. One man received 7s. 8d., a second 7s. 5d., a third 10s. 6d., a fourth 13s. 5d., a fifth 8s. 5d., a sixth 7s. 11d., a seventh 7s. 4d., and an eighth 10s. 1d. I think those figures work out at an average of 8s. 11d. a week. This proves that the wage earned is insufficient for any man having a family dependent- upon him for support. Now, Sir, with regard to Gould. He was President of a society, and as such, he was naturally asked to preside at this meeting. There is nothing against this man's character; he held a position as instructor of apprentices—one of the first positions a man can hold in the dockyard. His statement is that he and the other men were not discharged for any professional offence, but for the part they took in that public meeting. That is an interference with the right of combination. 1474 I know that there is no Member who would not stand up and protest against anything unfair or unreasonable, and I think that this House ought to be the judge of whether the treatment these men received was merited. The right hon. Gentleman may perhaps say that this letter and this resolution were sent to the wrong place, ignoring the recognised channels of communication between the workmen and their employers. I believe the resolution was sent to the First Lord, but I do not think the men have received any reply. I expect they were in some difficulty as to whom they ought to communicate with—sometimes they communicated with the officials of the dockyard and at others they wrote direct to the right hon. Gentleman, but because this letter contained rather strong suggestions as to the remedying of their grievances, the right hon. Gentleman evidently does not consider it his duty to reply to it, although he has replied to previous communications received from these men. The right hon. Gentleman sent a reply to a letter enclosing a letter from the hand-drillers. Gould's complaint is that he was dismissed at a moment's notice by Admiralty orders, without any reason being given. He therefore asked Admiral Price which of the regulations of the yard he had violated, but the Admiral could only tell him that he was aware of none. Now, the case I wart to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this: that the men have legitimate grievances, that these grievances have existed for some time, and that the men have petitioned, and sent deputations to obtain redress, but down to the present time none has been afforded. As far as the men knew, they took the most reasonable course to obtain a remedy. Three schedules were, sent to the principal officials of the dockyard, but not one reply was received. Sir, I think I have established a case: that the men were discharged for the part they took in holding this public meeting, and that their being so discharged is a direct violation of, and interference with, their right to meet and discuss their 1475 grievances. This meeting was composed solely of workmen, the time was their own, and no extravagant language was used. I would, therefore, respectfully ask the right hon. Gentleman to say, unless he can substantiate his allegations against the men, that he will consider the position he has taken up with regard to them. I am unwilling to say that the right hon. Gentleman has acted arbitrarily, but I hope I have been able to put before the House evidence to show that he may have been unintentionally unfair, and I hope that he will, upon reconsideration, re-engage the men; or, as an alternative, that he will appoint a Committee to inquire into their grievances. I feel sure that the First Lord will give the question I have placed before him to-night his careful consideration, and, if possible, allow these men to resume their work. I do not wish to make use of any threat, but unless the reply of the right hon. Gentleman is satisfactory, I shall take the earliest opportunity of again raising this question at the proper time on the discussion of the Estimates.
§ SIR JOHN BAKER
I should like to supplement my hon. Friend's remarks by adding my testimony to his. In my constituency the general belief is that in this matter the Admiralty has acted upon unreliable information. The inquiry that took place was very superficial, and the punishment awarded is very much in excess of the offence (if any) which was committed. I happen to know the whole facts of the case. My hon. Friend has pointed out that the men—hand-drillers, riveters, and others more particularly—are the victims of a long-continued system of oppression. What did they do? They took possession of a vacant piece of land outside the gates, they got the man who was not only president of the dockyard society, but of the whole of the societies in the district, to take the chair, not dreaming that he was thereby committing a breach of discipline. This man is respected throughout the borough, and his character is beyond reproach. I certainly must confess 1476 that I fail to see where any offence was committed. A letter was written which may have lacked a little polish, but that Gould should have been punished with a severity as if he had been the worst of characters is unjust; and I must say that I think that the right hon. Gentleman has been most ill-advised in dismissing this man from the service simply because he was chairman of this meeting. Such treatment is severe and even tyrannical. The dismissal in this way of a man like Gould, who has 16 or 17 years' service, means the loss of his character, because in the dockyard no character is given on dismissal for breach of discipline. It means the banishment of the man from the town or place where alone, possibly, he might be able to gain employment, and it means the distress and punishment of his wife and children. I ask the First Lord whether, in this case, an attack has not been made on the right of combination and the right of free speech, in order to deter men or societies from taking any active part in an agitation in relation to their work and their duties in the dockyard? I can tell the House that I know as a fact that these men have from time to time presented petitions, but to not one of these have they received any satisfactory answer. I therefore beg of the right hon Gentleman to again inquire into the facts of this case. They have complained to me, and I have complained to the authorities, on several occasions last year, but there was no response whatever to the constant indications of growing discontent. No complaint could be made against the Admiralty for discharging men who had committed some grave offence, but these men deny that any grave offence was committed; a mistake, if you like—the use of the word "tyrannous" in the resolution, or the words "white slaves," and so on—but nothing to justify dismissal. It is admitted that the only offence for which the men were discharged was because they were taking part in an agitation. ["No, no!"] There is no possible offence that could be charged against any one of the men, save the offence of having attended the meeting and forwarded petitions 1477 tions direct to the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman may say that this is a breach of discipline, because the Admiralty have regulations under which the men can approach them in regard to either their duties or their pay, but I would remind him that there are no written rules; the rules are understood, but there were no written rules that were acknowledged as binding by the men, and the system has failed in this case, because petitions have been repeatedly sent in without any satisfactory reply, and sometimes without any reply whatever. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not, for the mere sake of adhesion to a judgment which he has once passed, without information, refuse the plea which my hon. Friend has made on behalf of the men, and which I endorse to the fullest.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
The first point on which I wish to reassure the hon. Gentleman, and, indeed, hon. Members in all parts of the House, is that these men were not discharged because they were trades unionists or because they combined; but I do hold this: that people are not allowed to do in combination what they would not be allowed to do singly, and combination cannot purge what would be an offence if there were no combination. This matter has been put before the country as if it were a deliberate act of the Government, in order to discharge trades unionist leaders. There is nothing of the kind whatever. I scarcely realised at the moment when these men were discharged what important positions they held in the trades unionist world. I am sorry, for a reason which will be apparent to hon. Members, that they did occupy such important positions, because the position is this: that they were engaged in what I must call a demoralising agitation. ["Oh, oh!"] Yes, I think I shall show hat conclusively, when I make the House acquainted with the facts. One of the points which were argued at this meeting, and not only argued but exemplified by some of the claims themselves, was 1478 that the men had deliberately put in claims for more work than they had actually done. Now, the hon. Member who introduced this subject said, I think, that some months before these men had had an interview with the superintendent, and that the interview with the superintendent led them to state that there was a habit in the yard of rubbing out the marks, so that they could claim twice over for the work they did. They said that was the system that prevailed in other yards. [MR. WOODS: That was the allegation.] That was the allegation, and it is an allegation that has been repudiated with the greatest energy in other yards. I do not know whether it was Sparshott, but one of the four workmen in question actually said he had received a letter from the Secretary of the trades union in Sheerness, in which he said that that was the custom of that yard—a statement which was strongly repudiated from Sheerness itself. Now, that was the character underlying this demoralising agitation, as I call it. Those hon. Members who demurred to that phrase would, I think, fairly accept this; if it was a meeting simply agitating for higher wages, it may be that, in some respects, they might think that the men had not proceeded on proper lines, but they would say, after all, they were struggling for higher wages; but, if these dishonest practices were actually justified, on the ground that wages were not high enough, I think hon. Members would say that there was something dishonest tainting the proceedings. At all events, from that point of view, we considered that the retention in the public service of men who took a prominent part in a meeting of that kind is not for the benefit of the country. The hon. Member says that the punishment was heavy because they were discharged. At the same time, he said that the conditions of work in the dockyards are so tyrannical that a man had only about 8s. a week under those conditions. That was the impression conveyed. "These are the starvation wages; how can the 1479 Government maintain a system which leads to such wages?" That is the way in which it was put. Now, in the first place, let me deal with the man Sparshott. The distinct information, the official information, which I have, and which I may allude to again, is that the man was suspended for charging for 16 rivets when he had only put in one. That was the charge, and then this man, who is suspended for this, moves a resolution at a public meeting held at the gates of the dockyard. Well, of course, it is said we are to be model employers; but, I ask, would any private employer retain a man in his service in such circumstances? He might say, "I will overlook the offence," but when under suspension this man goes to justify it, as it were, and to get the approbation and support of a public meeting, I say it is a public meeting which was held under circumstances which those responsible for the Admiralty were not entitled to overlook. There was no trades unionism at all about this. I do not believe that the trades unionists would circularise me with reference to these men if they were entirely acquainted with the circumstances of the case. If they were, I do not believe they would have made an appeal for their reinstatement. I turn next to the question of the wages these men were earning. The question is, whether they were able to earn higher wages, or whether they were unwilling to earn them, or whether these lower wages which were earned by a set of men on the Bellona, are not part of an agitation, with the view that, by holding out these lower wages to the public, they might get a lover by which to force up wages. Now, that sounds, perhaps, a little problematical in the first instance, but we know that attempts were made on other ships to induce the men to work so as only to earn these smaller wages, in order to make an impression on the public and to force the hands of the Government. Those, I think, are proceedings which it would be very unwise to lend the indulgence of the Admiralty. Let me mention one significant circumstance. At this public meeting there was 1480 a suggestion made that the men who only earned 8s. or 9s. should be indemnified by a collection to be made on their behalf. Now, could they have earned more wages? The general system of piecework is attacked. The system is this: there is a certain amount of work at day pay, there is a certain amount of work paid for by the piece; and the question is whether, with their piecework, the men can generally earn more or less than their day pay. I will take four men who were at work on the Bellona. Their wages were 22s., 23s., 23s. 10d., and 22s. Those were their wages, and they earned so much less.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I think the hon. Member will find that it does not make much difference.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
All the difference if, week after week, they earn the same wages; but the important point I wish to make is this: during six months there was only a quarter per cent. of the men who earned under the wages which I have quoted—who earned less than 22s. or 23s.; not one out of a hundred, but only a quarter per cent. and that quarter per cent. were not all in Portsmouth, but spread over the whole of the dockyards; those are the whole of the cases. If a man earns, under piecework, less than his day wages, every case is reported, in the first instance, to the Admiralty, so careful are we that every precaution should be taken that they should not earn less than a fair day's wage. These cases are reported to the Admiralty, and then, where the men have done what you may call honest work, if they have earned less, it is made up to their day wage.
§ *MR. CLOUGH
I beg pardon: this is the whole gist of the question. I have here a statement from Sparshott, which says that three men and a boy were at work one hour putting in one rivet, and the price paid for the rivet was 1½d. Every Member of this House will admit that 1½d. for four of them is not sufficient. Now, the question comes, how are wages made up? Are they made up by charging extra work?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
Yes, in the case of Sparshott, because Sparshott has not made an honest return. The hon. Gentleman ought not to bring forward a case unless he is fully acquainted with the facts. Here is a public meeting, and these statements are put forward—that the men are only earning 8s. or 9s., causing discontent and dissatisfaction among the workmen in all the yards, and these statements are put forward without it being stated that these are only very exceptional cases. They would be hard cases, no doubt, if they were exceptional, if it were proved that the men concerned had done their best. I will just mention one circumstance, which is remarkable. There was one man who, in this particular week that was quoted by the hon. Member opposite, earned 7s. 6d. less than his 22s., and he was one of those held up to the public as unable to earn more than a miserable starvation wage; but after this trouble had blown over, after these men had been discharged, the same man earned, for the same time of working, 27s. Another man came, and was put on the same work, where it was said that the men could only earn 8s. in the whole week, and he had the misfortune, in the eyes of the agitators, if I may call them so, to earn 15s. in three days. Pressure was put on him; it did 1482 not come before me personally, but it led, very properly, to the discharge of another man for endeavouring to tamper with the loyalty of the man who was doing such good work. I will not trouble the House with any further cases, except this: a third man, whose wages were 23s. 10d., earned in the week when the men had been discharged, and when everything was over, 10s. more than his day wages, on exactly the same kind of work that these other men had been engaged on before.
§ *MR. CLOUGH
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say that I do not interrupt him save for the purpose of having this matter elucidated. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that when a man has not earned a certain amount it was made up. If he is allowed so much per rivet, how is it made up?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
If the man has worked properly, and if it is seen that, owing to his materials being too hard, or owing to some technical difficulty or other, he has really been unable to earn the full amount, the Admiralty would say: "This man has done his duty; he could not have earned more under the circumstances; we will make up his wages to the ordinary day wage."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
Yes; he is paid what he has earned, but not exactly according to scale. If it is found that, through no fault of his own the scale has worked hardly on him, it is set right.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
Certainly; instead of piece work he gets his day wage. There is another system that is occasionally adopted, and that is, of giving an additional percentage for particularly difficult work; if the men do not earn enough 1483 they get a percentage. Therefore, the House will see that the Admiralty have taken great precautions that the men shall have a fair day's wage for a fail day's work; and it is because the holding of the meeting was, in our view, tainted with the contrary tendency, quite apart from freedom of speech, that we considered it right, and in the interests of the public service, that these four men should be discharged; and we have seen that the work done after their discharge has been better than that done before. But, Sir, I should not leave this matter without saying that, generally speaking, with regard to the piecework now done, the men earn from 20 to 42 per cent. more than their ordinary day wages. We have gone into it to see how it works out, and that is the result. In some cases it is not more than 10 per cent., but on the average it is between 20 and 42 per cent. more. Indeed, I have no doubt that the Admiralty will, at some time, have to reconsider the piecework system, because the amount paid is so much in excess of day wages. I will now make one remark which I hope will give some satisfaction to hon. Members opposite, and it is this: One thing of which I know the men complain is that they do not know sufficiently in advance what the price for piecework is, because there are not a sufficient number of items given to cover all the various work they have to do. An inquiry is in progress at this moment—and the men know it—to see whether a scale can be drawn which will give more certainty as to the particular wages that will be earned on particular work.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
Yes, and it was known to be going on at the time of the public meeting. It is a long inquiry, because it has to go over hundreds, if not thousands, of items, and we have to consult four or five dockyards and compare prices with the schedules of private yards. It began in September, and is not entirely concluded; but the men were informed 1484 that this inquiry would take place. It did not, however, close with sufficient rapidity for the men, and, in the words of Sparshott, they thought it right to take "a bolder course;" he said "they could not get any satisfaction, so they thought it right to take a bolder course." Well, the Admiralty have thought it right to take, not a bolder course, but the proper course, of discharging the men who were engaged in that agitation. I cannot give expression to the regret I feel at this unfortunate incident in our dockyards, where, generally, we can place such reliance on the men and have such confidence in them. Fortunately, it has been quite a local trouble. The Admiralty will do their best to hasten the conclusion of the new schedule, in order to remedy any grievances that may still exist; but. I say, not in an unsympathetic tone, but in a tone as firm as is necessary for the discipline of the yard, that I cannot conceive that it could possibly be the duty of the Admiralty to reinstate the men who took part in a meeting of the character I have described.
§ MR. J. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
The right hon. Gentleman imagines, I suppose, that he has made out a strong case, but I must confess that I still think there is a very strong case indeed for the men. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members opposite differ with my view, but it seems to me that they are very easily satisfied with any point that may tell against the workmen. I think the right hon. Gentleman has not made out a very strong defence of his position. We are told that these men were discharged for dishonest practices, and that any private employer would have adopted the same course.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I really must not be misrepresented. I did not say that they were discharged for taking a dishonest course, because some of the men had not taken any part in dishonesty themselves. What I said was that they were discharged in consequence of the part they took in a meeting, which was a meeting practically in the nature 1485 of a demoralising agitation. In defending that position I do not wish at all to misrepresent the acts of the men or Lo charge any particular man with dishonesty.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
I must say that that strengthens our position again. I had an impression that it was partly for dishonesty that these men were discharged, but now we find that we have come down to the one point at issue, and that is, that the men were discharged for taking part in an agitation. [The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY: A demoralising agitation.] The right hon. Gentleman describes it as a demoralising agitation, but I want to know why men employed in a Government dockyard should not have a perfect right to agitate on any question. The Government recognise that they have a perfect rigid to combine. Now, with regard to the position of the man who occupied the chair—Mr. Gould, I think his name is—this man, apparently, had committed no offence whatever. The only offence this poor man had committed was to take the chair, and that was, in the minds of the Admiralty, sufficient justification for discharging him. Then we are told that the officials had made certain misstatements with regard to this agitation, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, of course, is always ready to believe the statements that may be made by the officials of the dockyard. I think that we have established a case for inquiry, and I for one intend to press the matter forward, and we will have to avail ourselves of every opportunity in this House to see that justice is done to these men. I do not intend to prolong this Debate any further, but I for one say that the men have good reason to complain.
§ *MR. H. E. KEARLEY (Devonport)
I understand that the hon. Member who has initiated this Debate has stated that it has been admitted by the authorities that they knew that more work was being claimed for than was done, and that that was winked at. ["No, no!"] That is the statement that was put forward. I most distinctly repudiate 1486 the suggestion. So far as the Government officials are concerned in the yard of which I have most knowledge I am perfectly certain that that is not the case at all. There is no man in Devonport Dockyard, in a responsible position, representing the Admiralty, who would lend himself to any such base attitude as is suggested, and, whatever may be the merits of the Portsmouth case, I do most distinctly repudiate the suggestion that it is the practice on the part of any Government employee, in Devonport at all events, to charge for work which he has not done and that that is done in connivance with the officials. I think it is only due to my constituents, and it is also, I think, due to the Admiralty, and its most admirable administration, to repudiate any idea that there is any connivance on the part of Government officials in the practice of men charging for work which they have not done. But, Sir, while I am standing here to-night to repudiate any suggestion of that sort, I do think that in this particular case, so far as regards one man, at all events, there are circumstances that entitle him to a reconsideration of his case. The man Gould was not a driller or a riveter; he was a shipwright. He was not interested directly in this controversy at all, but he held the position in Portsmouth of Chairman of the trades' council, and he happened to be among the crowd when this meeting assembled. He was recognised, and he was invited, because of his connection with the local trades council, to take the chair. I have read his observations at the meeting, and I consider they were very moderate in every respect. He said clearly at the outset—I do not know, of course, anything about the question; I am not a riveter or a driller.I do think that the course the Admiralty has taken with regard to this man is harsh and arbitrary, and certainly ought to be reconsidered. Now, I would like to say a word, speaking from my own experience, on the merits of what is known in Government yards as piecework, or "job and task." This subject of piecework is an ancient grievance, and 1487 although I admit that, under fair conditions, the men are able to earn a surplus ranging sometimes from 25 to 30 or 40 per cent. over their weekly wages, still, it is a fact that in all the yards, when they get on to difficult work, it frequently happens, as the Admiralty records disclose, that they are not able to earn a surplus, indeed they are not able to earn their weekly wages. I will give a practical instance, within my own experience, that occurred when these right hon. Gentlemen now sitting on this side of the House were at the Admiralty. It was in connection with a ship called the Bonaventure. A certain body of men were engaged on the planking of that ship, and the piecework scale of pay allotted to them was inadequate, and the result was that the men could not earn their weekly wage. Naturally, there was a great amount of discontent. I took up the case, and represented it to my hon. Friend below me, and after a great deal of pressure, I got him ultimately to accept the view that the men held—that they had been deprived of what they were entitled to receive. Now, I am not going to suggest that there was any particular generosity on the part of my hon. Friend in refunding this money. On the contrary, I say that if the case had not been taken up by the men's Parliamentary representatives, that money would never have been refunded at all. I say that this system should be thoroughly overhauled, and while I most emphatically protest against any suggestion that the men charge for work that is not done, and that the Admiralty officials connive at that practice, and while there are honest men in all the yards who would repudiate strongly any suggestion that it is necessary for them to resort to dishonest methods in order to earn their weekly wage, I say there are cases repeatedly occurring in all the yards where, owing to the piecework scale prevailing, the men are not able to earn their weekly wage. While I entirely dissociate myself from any support of men committing dishonest practices, I do think if the Admiralty will look at the evidence 1488 that they have themselves in their weekly Reports of these piecework earnings they will see that there is a case for inquiry into this piecework rate of pay. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has stated that the piecework system, as regards the price to be paid, is undergoing a process of overhauling, and I am very glad to hear that. When I first came to this House I had occasion repeatedly to protest against the policy adopted with regard to piecework. What were the principles prevailing? These men had no voice in bargaining as between the employer and employed, and, what is far worse than that, the schedule of prices was a closed book to them. It was not displayed in any single yard. The men could not get the information. We protested here, over and over again, that it was most unfair, and quite contrary to the principle prevailing in private yards, that the men called upon to work piecework should not be allowed to see the schedule of prices, and know the basis on which their pay was made up, although it frequently came to less than their weekly rate of pay. That, Sir, is all I have to say on this question. I desire to protest on behalf of my constituents, at all events, against the suggestion that they have been guilty of defrauding the public, or attempting to do so, and that the officials of the Devonport yard have connived at that. I deny it emphatically. Such things may occur in other yards; there may be some exceptional case at Portsmouth, that I know nothing about; but I do know, from the experience I have gained during the last half-a-dozen years at Devonport, that there is no foundation whatever for the charge there. With regard to the particular case we are now discussing—Gould's case—I think it is deserving of consideration. I think he has been wrongly convicted. He came casually to the meeting, and was invited to take the Chair, and did so; he was not ever a member of the trade in which there was a dispute, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to rehear the case of that man, at any rate.
§ *MR. F. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)
I, as a trades unionist, was very anxious to hear the defence of the right hon. Gentleman in this particular case, and I was gratified at his opening statement, when he assured the House that these men have not been discharged because they are trades unionists, and I also agree with his proposition, as far as I understood it, that nothing could be right collectively that was wrong individually. My satisfaction, however, was only of very short duration, because the Committee were told that these men were discharged because of the part they took in a demoralising agitation. Now, that was a very strong statement to make, and I listened very patiently for some justification of it. I expected that the right hon. Gentleman would prove to the Committee that speeches were made at this meeting in which some of the men who had been discharged were attempting to justify some of these dishonest acts which have been spoken about, and I confess here, that if I thought that any trades unionist or any trades union leader would attempt to justify, and to actually promote, a system which would give a man the price of 16 rivets for one rivet, I should have no sympathy whatever with him; but this very meeting was called for the purpose of protesting against the system of piecework which prevailed, and I can assure the Committee that the men affected, the unionists concerned, would unite with the right hon. Gentleman in any scheme that he might bring forward which would make these dishonest acts of which we have heard tonight absolutely impossible, but, at the same time, give to the men an equitable system of piecework. We have heard that in one week the men may earn a living wage, while in another week they may be unable to earn a living wage. Those or us who have had to work on piecework know that it is very difficult to draw up a good scale, and while you may get a very good result for one man it is very unsatisfactory for another 1490 workman, who may be unable to put in a full week's work. Therefore, it is not fair to take even the average. The piecework rate should be so fair that in no particular week should a man be able to earn only 8s. But the right hon. Gentleman has no right to say that these men were taking part in a demoralising agitation when he cannot prove that any responsible leader desired that this practice, which we must all admit is wrong, should be continued. Of course the right hon. Gentleman has enormous advantages over an ordinary Member, and therefore, of course, much more so over a Member of two or three days' standing in this House; but, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman (who is a master of debate, and, therefore, his omissions are significant) confined himself throughout his speech to riveters. Now, Gould, as the hon. Member for Devonport has pointed out, is not a riveter; he is not a piece worker; he is a shipwright, working for weekly wages. He was a shipwright who had an apprentice under his charge, which is proof, as hon. Members will know, that he was a competent workman and a man of good character. Gould took part in this meeting under the circumstances that have been already stated. He had declared over and over again that his desire was merely to get an equitable system of piecework. He never used a single word, as far as I know, and the right hon. Gentleman has not quoted one single word, to show that he, in any sort of way, sympathised with these malpractices. Therefore I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to, at any rate, look into the matter again, and if he finds the facts are such as we have heard to-night and if he cannot (I think he should) reinstate all the men, that he will see his way, at any rate, to reinstate Gould, who, it would seem, is to pay the penalty, not only of being a Government employee, but of having been lifted a little above his fellows by his own exertions, because he is a public man in Portsmouth, and that is probably why he has been singled out. Now, if the case 1491 has to stand as the right hon. Gentleman has left it, then I am here to say that the worst fears of the trades unionists of this country are confirmed, and that this is, in spite of everything the right hon. Gentleman has said, an attack on trades unions. Why, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman himself adopted the technical terms of the Free Labourers' Association; he talked about "agitators." Of course, all trades unionists are termed "agitators." [The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY: No.] The right hon. Gentleman says no. I venture to say that all trades unionists would be treated by the right hon. Gentleman as agitators unless they write him a letter of praise for some speech he makes. I am bound to say this is more than a dockyard question. It is going to be more than a dockyard question to the great masses of the trades unionists of this country. I do not stand here with any desire to give special privileges to State employees. I am not a State Socialist, and I do not in any way exaggerate the functions of the State, or wish to secure undue privileges for State employees. Our demand is a plain and simple one, and it is an irresistible one in the end. We desire the right of free combination for every workman in this land, be he a State employee or a private employee. I have only to conclude by expressing again my deep-felt fear that we have before us in this Portsmouth case a distinct attack on orderly combination. I would like to say, Sir—I am not acquainted with the rules of this House, and that is where I am at some disadvantage—but I would just like to say that this dockyard case as defended by the right hon. Gentleman, has set going my worst fears as to the action of the right hon. Gentleman during the lock-out of the engineers. I must interpret some of the things he has said by what we have heard to-night. I will admit that I do not stand here as one who is at all desirous of increasing our Naval expenditure, but I am bound to say that, if, for seven 1492 months, wicked Radicals like myself had been able to delay the Naval Programme, we should have been denounced up and down the country; but it does seem to me that, when it was a question of class instincts against patriotism, patriotism had to give way. I will not weary the House any further, except to repeat again that, having carefully listened to the right hon. Gentleman, I can only conclude that he has joined those aggressive capitalists in the country who are determined, as they call it, to teach trades unionists a lesson; but I would venture to say to him that, in the teaching of that lesson, his experience will very likely be the same as that of others who have pursued the same course.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I would point out to the House that this is the second night's Debate on the Naval Estimates, and I would appeal to hon. Gentlemen whether we might not now be allowed to take at least Vote "A" and Vote 1.
§ *MR. KEARLEY
Many questions of importance have been raised in the course of the Debate yesterday and to-night, and it is the first time within my experience that the criticisms of hon. Members upon the Navy Estimates have not been vouchsafed a single word of reply. Last night the right hon. Gentle man appealed to us to let the Speaker go out of the Chair on the ground that we should have full opportunity in Committee of raising any point, and he would be able to give some detailed replies. We have not heard one single word of reply. Under those circumstances I think it really most unreasonable of the right hon. Gentleman to ask that the Government should be allowed now to take these two important Votes.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
Sir, I have, at all events, attempted to reply to a good many points. 1493 If I have retrained from saying more it has been in order to give hon. Members themselves as good an opportunity as possible of speaking. But what I will undertake to do is this: I feel that I do owe a reply upon some points that hon. Members below the gangway have raised. If it meets the views of hon. Gentlemen, I will ask my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury to put the Report stage down at an early hour, so as to give the necessary opportunity of concluding the Debate. I hope the hon. Gentleman will consider that a reasonable proposal; if so, I will appeal to my right hon. Friend to give ample time on the Report stage.
§ *MR. KEARLEY
I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that Vote "A" gives the Government the numbers, but not the money. I do not raise the slightest objection to giving them the numbers, but I think we should not give them the money, because, if we did, we should destroy our opportunity of insisting on having a reply to the points that have been raised. I am prepared to give the numbers, but I think the right hon. Gentleman will see that it is unreasonable to ask for the money.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I am quite prepared to accept the suggestion of the hon. Member. The Government will be perfectly content to take the numbers to-night.
*SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
I hope it may be understood that the questions which some of those on this side would have liked to raise may if Vote "A" is passed to-night, still be raised upon the other Vote. I think that is a course that has been consented to on previous occasions. I think we should scarcely be content without an assurance to that effect, and I imagine that it would probably be convenient to the right hon. Gentleman himself, as will as to the House, to take that course.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
My only desire is to meet the convenience of the House. I think it is plain, in the first place, that the House has a right to a reply from my right hon. Friend, but, on the other hand, it would be hardly fair to raise a universal discussion again. If it is understood that the House will be content with a reply from my right hon. Friend on the points that have been raised, then of course I shall be perfectly ready to consent to that reply being given on the next Vote; but I hope the House will feel that they ought not to re-open the broad general discussion.
§ Question agreed to.
§ Committee report progress; to sit again Monday next.