HC Deb 12 May 1898 vol 57 cc1061-3

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether the Russian Government have given orders for the construction of six new battleships immediately; whether two others are projected, and large orders have been placed for cruisers and torpedo-boat destroyers; whether three of the new battleships are to be of 12,675 tons, one to be constructed at the New Admiralty Yard, St. Petersburg, one at the Baltic Works, and one at Galerny Island; have two been ordered from Cramp's Yard, Philadelphia, and the sixth battleship been ordered to be constructed at Nicolaief, on the Black Sea, and will be of the "Three Saints" class, 12,660 tons; whether he is aware that the two vessels projected are to be of 6,600 and 8,800 tons respectively; whether he is aware of the great and unusual activity in the French Naval dockyards; and whether there is an alliance between France and Russia?

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

I must preface my answer to the noble Lord's Question by stating that I know of no official statement of the Russian Government covering the ground which his Question covers. Most of the alleged facts appear to me to come from a statement in the Kronstadt Gazette, which, I think, has been called an official paper, I know not on what authority. My answer to the first paragraph of the noble Lord's Question is that I do not believe that the Russian Government have given orders for the construction of six new battleships immediately; I believe it to be correct that three new battleships are to be constructed at St. Petersburg, as suggested in the third paragraph. These are the three to be built in Russia, as I stated on the 4th instant. With reference to the fourth paragraph, I was not prepared to make myself responsible for the rumours that two battleships had been ordered from Cramp's Yard, in Philadelphia, until I had been able to test the statement. So far as I have learnt, it is not correct. One battleship only has been ordered at Cramp's; the other ship is a cruiser. With reference to Nicolaief, on the Black Sea, we received information long since that it was in contemplation to lay down a "Three Saints" there, but according to latest information it is not a battleship, but a vessel of the Vulcan type, of about 8,000 tons, which is to be laid down in that yard. The battleship Prince Potemkin, building at Nicolaief, which is a ship of the "Three Saints" type, has been under construction for some time, and has long since been taken into account, and is quite independent of any recent developments. As to paragraph 2, I know of no other battleships being projected; nor, if I knew, would it be right to attach value to intentions for the future, unless officially and definitely announced. We have several times had Russian ships carried forward as projected from list to list, which, after all, were never laid down. As to the fifth paragraph of the noble Lord's inquiries with reference to the tonnage of such alleged projected ships, I expect there is a confusion. I know of no battleship of such tonnage. Possibly the 8,000 ton ship may be the Vulcan, building at Nicolaief, and the 6,000 ton ship a cruiser. With reference to the question whether large orders had been placed for cruisers and torpedo-boat destroyers, I have heard of two orders for cruisers, one at Cramp's already mentioned, and one at Havre; and inquiries have been made by Russian agents with reference to destroyers. Whether orders have been actually placed for the latter I have not yet ascertained. I have endeavoured in this answer to sift the facts as far as possible, but I cannot guarantee their accuracy in the absence of positive information, and I must demur to making myself responsible for the correction of any facts which I am not able to verify. My best answer would have been simply to say that the attention of the Board of Admiralty was constantly and fully directed to the proposed large increases in foreign Navies. I have read in the newspapers that there is considerable activity in French dockyards.