§ Order for the Second Reading read.
§ THE CIVIL LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN) Worcestershire, E.
This Bill, the Second Reading of which I now move, provides for the continuation of the construction of works sanctioned under the previous Naval Works Act. The total cost of the works included in the Bill is estimated to be £23,600,000, and on account of this the House is now asked to authorize 272 an expenditure of £3,100,000 in addition to the sum already provided, and to give borrowing powers to the extent of £3,161,000. The Bill in its form follows closely the previous Acts, and raises I think no new questions of principle, nor no large questions of policy. The only change in regard to its form is that whereas previous Bills were in intention and appearance Bills for one year, this is a Bill providing for expenditure over two years. The House will remember that in the Bill of 1897 we took a larger sum of money than we were able to spend in that financial year, and that sum of money has lasted up to the present time. We have found great difficulty in estimating some works, especially in the early stages. But I hope that by taking a sum for two years we shall approximate more closely our estimate to our expenditure. There is another incidental advantage in this from an administrative point of view, upon which I can hardly lay too much stress, and that is that the work of the directing staff of the Civil Engineer-in-Chief's Department and the Directors of the Works Department will not be interrupted next year by the preparation of a new Bill, and they will be able to give their uninterrupted attention to carrying out these enormous works. I hope that the Memorandum attached to the Bill and the schedule which forms part of it will dispense me from making any detailed examination of the old proposals repeated from previous years. If any information is required in regard to points of detail in regard to these matters I shall be happy to give them at the Committee stage. I think that the information in the Memorandum and schedule is so full that I need not trouble the House with details at this time. I imagine the House will be more anxious that I should give them some account of the progress made with the existing works, and some explanation of the new proposals now put before them for the first time. As regards the progress of the existing works, the House is well aware of our failure to spend the sum we had anticipated in the previous year. That failure, as I have said, and as I hope the House will note, is by no moans to be taken as indicating absolutely the progress we have made in these works themselves. Because, in the first place, there is a great amount of preliminary work to be done by the contractors, and expendi 273 ture to be incurred by them for plant for contractors' work, as distinguished from permanent work, upon which we make them no payment at all, but in regard to which they recoup themselves from the price they get for the whole work when it is finished. In the second place, payments are necessarily always one or two months in arrear, and in the case of foreign stations it is sometimes more than that, because the accounts when they come in have to be carefully examined and audited before any payments are made upon them. In the third place, in regard to two works—Gibraltar and Portland—these had been begun by the Admiralty before the contracts were taken for them and accordingly there was handed over to the contractors the whole of our own plant and machinery, and we have had to recoup ourselves for them from the money earned by the contractors. And, lastly, there are the reserves that we take by instalments as the contractor earns them in case of any failure to fulfil their contracts. In the case of the last two items the amount of work already done is £300,000. While laying stress on these facts, and drawing attention again to the fact that our expenditure is not to be taken as an absolute test of the progress of the works, I admit that the progress in the initial stages has been less rapid than we had hoped for, or anticipated. That is partly due to changes in policy with regard to some of these works. In the case of the Gibraltar dockyard extension, and in regard to the Hong Kong extension, owing to changes that had been found desirable, there had been practically substituted for the original schemes entirely new and very much larger schemes of defence, which could not reasonably or possibly be expected to be completed in the same time. There are other cases, as for instance, that of the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth; and in the case of some of the barracks and other works we have found unexpected difficulties in obtaining the land we require, and the process of acquisition whether by purchase or otherwise has been disappointingly slow. The House must also bear in mind the fact that a vast amount of preliminary work has to be done after the approval of the House has been given to the scheme before we are ready to begin. Any Member of the House who has not had the opportunity which I, myself, have had, 274 of looking at the preparations in the office of my advisers, can have no conception of the number of plans and drawings that have to be prepared in order to the prosecution of these vast works. Again, in regard to the estimates, there is one more difficulty on which I must touch. The House will realise that it is customary and indeed necessary to allow to the contractors who undertake these works a very large latitude as to the order in which they begin to prosecute them, provided only that they complete them within the contract time. As some portions of the work are much more expensive than other portions, it depends to a large extent on the fancy or the plans of the contractor which one he will undertake first, and he, therefore, cannot know what the expenditure on any given portion may be. Last year, in order to check our own calculations, we invited the contractors to inform us what their own estimates were, and the expenditure on the works they had in hand, and their estimates were at least quite as wide of the mark as our own. The House will, therefore, see the difficulties with which I had to deal. In the whole of the works on which I made inquiry, the contractors estimated that they would spend just double what they did spent; while in one case—one of the largest of our contractors—his expenditure was only a fifth of what he gave us as likely to be spent. In spite of these facts, however, I am glad to say that during the last financial year there was a great improvement in regard to the correspondence between the estimates and expenditure, and as regards progress with the works. We expended during the last financial year a million and a quarter, as against an estimate of a million and a-half; and the progress of the works themselves has been satisfactory. Thus, in the case of the great harbour of Portsmouth, it was finished in so far as concerns the provision of defence against a torpedo attack in April last; and although, of course, much work still remains to be done there in bringing the whole breakwater up to the section it will be when completed, and in placing the gates and lights on the breakwater we have already secured the use and advantage of that great military harbour. I need only remind the House that the whole of the mobilised fleet assembled there the other day. So, in 275 regard to the works at Gibraltar: the extension of the Admiralty mole was completed to the low water level last September, and it is capable of protecting that part of the harbour against a torpedo attack. I may illustrate that by the grounding of one of our own torpedo boats when practising a night attack against the harbour. The detached mole is finished to low-water level, and the lesser mole will be finished by March in the year after, and by that time the whole new harbour at Gibraltar will be completed as regards defence against a topedo attack. The House may possibly wish to know whether there is any reason to anticipate any trouble from the strike which has occurred at these works, owing to the paragraphs which have appeared in the Press in regard to it. I am glad to to be able to say that the information I have received is to the effect that the workmen are already returning to work, and that there is not likely to be any serious trouble on that account. These two works, with Dover, are the most urgent of all the works included in the old Bill. The progress at Dover has not been very great in respect of permanent works. Considerable work has been done in laying out the dockyard, preparing docks, and in railway connections which are a necessary preliminary to the vigorous prosecution of that work. In regard to the dockyard extension at Keyham, about a fourth of the whole is already completed. The expenditure on that work last year was very nearly equal to the whole money spent on it in the preceding years, showing that as the work progresses the expenditure goes up by leaps and bounds. As to the Gibraltar dockyard extension scheme, great progress has been made with the first dock, which, according to the Bill of 1895, was to have been the only dock. It will be ready for use in three years from December last. I hope the House will not think it necessary for me to go through all the works in the schedule, but I may say, in general terms, that with three exceptions the contracts are now let for all the works included in the previous Acts. These exceptions are the barracks at Sheerness, which had to be abandoned for reasons already explained, connected with the in sanitary condition of the only available site. The other two contracts are for the Hong Kong Extension and the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. In both of 276 these cases tenders will, I hope, be called for during the present year, and in both of them under subsidiary contracts a considerable extent of preliminary work has been done. That preliminary work has been of special importance at Hong Kong, because it has, to a great extent enabled the authorities to erect the shops for preparing the machinery which the contractors will have to employ. I pass from this review of the progress of existing works, only noting in doing so that the three works already completed have each been completed within the scheduled time and the scheduled cost. I now pass to the new works included in this Bill, and I do not wish to minimise their magnitude, involving as they do an expenditure of six millions sterling beyond that already provided, but I hope the House will not cavil at the amount asked for, but will seek to satisfy itself that the money is necessary, that the works to which it is to be applied have been well thought out, and that the country will get full value for the expenditure it is asked to undertake. The new expenditure of three millions falls under two classes. The first, composed of additions to existing estimates, is mainly required to make better provision for the health and comfort of the officers and men of the fleet, in connection with the hospitals and barracks now being built. But by far the most important section of this new expenditure is that required for the construction of five new docks, which now appear in the Bill for the first time. The House, of course, will understand that in these works the Admiralty has no inducement of its own. It is in these matters merely the handmaiden to the fleet. Dock accommodation is not less necessary to our naval supremacy than the provision of ships and men, and the efficiency of the fleet now depends to a far greater degree on the provision of docking facilities than at any previous time. In olden times it was possible to make many repairs with the most primitive agents, but the transition from wooden to iron ships made such a thing absolutely impossible, and iron ships are much more liable to accident, and require greater inspection, and unless they are frequently docked and cleaned lose a material portion of the speed for which the nation has paid. During the past ten years the total tonnage of ships built and building for the Navy increased from 864,000 to 1,800,000 tons. In the 277 same period the size of ships has shown no less progress. In 1889 the largest battleship, the "Trafalgar," was 345 feet long, and the largest cruiser, the "Northumberland," 400 feet long. To-day we are building battleships 400 feet long, and we have cruisers in commission 500 feet in length. The facts as regards individual squadrons are no less striking. The Mediterranean Squadron ten years ago had a tonnage of 96,000 tons; now it amounts to 205,000 tons. The Channel Squadron has risen in the same period from 37,000 tons to 155,000 tons; the China Squadron has very nearly trebled, and the squadrons at the Cape, North America, and the West Indies have almost exactly doubled. And during the ten years while this enormous increase in the fleet has been in progress the only docks that have been constructed are one at Malta and two at Portsmouth. The House will not therefore wonder that further accommodation is needed. We propose to build new docks at the places mentioned in the schedule, and one of the proposed new docks will be at one of the great depôts of the fleet, Chatham. Seven first-class battleships and eleven first-class cruisers are allotted to this depôts. Yet there is no dock at Chatham that can accommodate the "Powerful" or the "Terrible," or any of the first-class cruisers now building, and there is only one dock available for the large first-class battleships. That accommodation is quite inadequate either for the repairs of the fleet in time of peace, or to the situation that would be created in time of war, when the want of accommodation might prejudice our success or deprive us of victory. We propose, therefore, to build a new first-class dock at Chatham which will take the largest cruisers and the largest battleships. The next point is Malta. Malta is and must remain the most important of all our foreign stations. There is only one dock there which will take either the "Majestic" class, the "Royal Sovereign" class, or any of the battleships now building. The deficiency of dock accommodation there has already caused great inconvenience, and has been reported on by successive Naval Commanders-in-Chief. We propose to construct two docks at Malta—one a double dock and the other a shorter dock. It is more economical to build the two together, because the machinery which would be necessary for one would equally serve for the two. 278 We have also arranged for an extension of the dockyard by acquiring certain property adjacent to it. The length of the longer dock will be 790 ft. and of the shorter dock 550 ft. The breadth of both will be 94 ft. and the depth 35 ft. 6 in. The other proposed docks will be at Bermuda and the Cape. On the North American and West Indian Stations we have the largest interests both in floating trade and in colonies, and these interests call for adequate protection in time of war. At present there is one first-class dock at Halifax which is not an Admiralty dock, but of which the Admiralty have prior rights of user, and there is a small floating dock at Bermuda. We now propose to add a new first-class floating dock at Bermuda. We carried out a survey to see whether it would be possible to construct a graving dock at Bermuda; but the engineering difficulties were found to be so great, that the cost of the work was prohibitive. The floating dock will float in a basin of 30 acres in extent, and a depth of 33 ft., and it will have a certain amount of wharf-wall which will greatly facilitate repairs, At the present time the dock at Bermuda will not take the flagship on the station, or the large cruisers; and if anything happened to any of the vessels in the West Indies it would have to go to Halifax, about 2,000 miles, to be repaired. In this connection I might give the House, some striking facts as to the result of Lord Rodney's great victory in 1782. After the battle nine battleships sailed for England unrepaired. Four foundered, with a loss of 2,000 men; one was abandoned sinking; one put into Halifax; one put in at Jamaica; and only two reached England. Therefore, in view of the greater difficulty of repairing modern vessels except in properly constructed docks, the House will see that there would be great danger in leaving the dock accommodation on that station in its present ineffective condition. Another proposal, the importance of which will not be, I think, denied, is for the dockyard extension at the Cape. The importance of the Cape is patent to every one. It is a great calling place for our trade in time of peace, and a much larger volume of trade would, probably, pass there in war time. It is an important coaling station, and we already possess a small establishment at Simon's Bay, but with no dock. There is a dock belonging to the Harbour 279 Commissioners at Cape Town, but that dock will only take the older first-class cruisers when lightened, and is unable to take a battleship, or cruisers of the "Powerful" and "Diadem" class. The harbour is very crowded in time of peace, and is likely to be much more crowded in time of war; and we think that in such a position it is necessary to have a dock of our own. We propose to construct a dock 750 ft. long, 95 ft. wide, and 30 ft. deep, at Simon's Bay. In order that that dock may be safe from storms, protection for the dock entrance is necessary; and accordingly breakwaters will have to be constructed. The attention of the Board of Admiralty at the same time was called to the very unsatisfactory condition of the present coaling arrangements at Cape Town. If a spell of bad weather were to coincide with the arrival of a fleet in need of coal, several days might elapse before the coaling could be effected. We have therefore thought it advisable to take advantage of the protective works necessary to the dock to make a basin 28 acres in extent and 30 ft. in depth, and to provide in that wharfage accommodation, so that the colliers may come and unload alongside, and so that coal for the fleet may be stored. I ought not to part with this question of the Cape dock without recognising the assistance which we have received from the Cape Government in regard to the matter. The Cape Government has passed two Acts—one for the purpose of giving the Admiralty the necessary powers of control over the waters of the naval portion of the port, and over the foreshore; and another facilitating the purchase by the Admiralty of the land on the shore necessary for the protection of the dockyards. But for this assistance the works would be much more costly than they are now likely to prove. The last proposal we make is for a dock at Hong Kong. Recent developments have very much increased the importance of Hong Kong. Except for one dock at Kau-Lung there is no dock on British territory which will take the four largest ships on the China station nearer than Sydney, and none nearer than Bombay which would take the next two. There would also be considerable difficulty in docking the ships at Kau-Lung in consequence of the nature of the currents there. When proposals were first made for this dockyard extension a dock was 280 not included in the scheme; but a portion of the extension was reserved for a dock if it became necessary. Having regard to the fact that Kau-Lung is large enough for the largest cruisers, and that the space it the Hong Kong Dockyard is very valuable, it is proposed to build only a, shorter dock—550 ft. long 95 ft. wide, and 30 ft. deep.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
No, at Hong Kong. The House will see that these proposals are the result of a careful survey of the needs of the fleet, and of the forces which we are obliged to maintain in different waters. I hope, therefore, that the House will feel convinced that this scheme, though large, is not larger than is required, and that it will consent to read the Bill a second time, without any hostile manifestation.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Austen Chamberlain.)
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH (Lancashire, Clitheroe)
The hon. Gentleman in the commencement of his speech made very full admissions as to the delay which, to the great regret of us all, has overtaken many of the works, but the explanation does not really cover the extent and the gravity of the disappointment which has been suffered with respect to the progress of these very important works. These delays have had two results. The first was shortness of expenditure, which in the years 1896–97 and 1897–98 amounted to £4,000,000 less than the estimate. The second serious consequence is the change in the dates of completion. The dates given in the present Bill are very different from the dates given two years ago, or, in some cases, three years ago. I find that the Gibraltar extension and the deepening of the harbour and approaches are five years later.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
That is due to the fact that the dredgers 281 have been diverted to more urgent dredging work elsewhere.
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
I accept that explanation. I also find that such works as the Gibraltar Enclosed Harbour, the commercial mole, the Channel Naval Barracks, and the Keyham Naval Barracks were three years later; that the Portland and Dover Harbours have been postponed two years, and that other works have been postponed one year. The next topic to which I will allude is the great increase in the total estimated cost of works under this Bill. This is partly due to the numerous additions which have been made to the expenditure on items which already existed in the Naval Works Acts of previous years, amounting altogether to £309,852; but it is mainly due to entirely new works proposed under the Bill. I think the Houseis bound to take notice of the progressive increase which has taken place in expenditure under successive Naval Works Bills. The Bill of 1895, for which I and my colleague were responsible, contemplated an expenditure under nine millions sterling, though I admit that as it was impossible at that time to accurately estimate the cost of some of the great works, particularly the Keyham Extension and the Dover Harbour, the estimates given in that Bill were under the mark. The Bill of 1896 proposed an expenditure of more than 14 millions, the Bill of 1897 an expenditure of 20 ¼millions, while the present Bill proposes an expenditure of 23, or rather 23½millions, so that we have an increase of 9½millions since 1896. There is no disguising the fact that this enormous increase of expenditure is due to the need for additional dockyards and dockyard establishments in various parts of the world owing to the increase in the fleet and the building of larger ships, but it is serious to contemplate what all this must lead to. Seeing that the construction of several new docks is proposed, I would ask whether it would not be better to adopt the policy of obtaining the right of temporarily using docks of sufficient dimensions, in private hands, at places where at present we have no docks of our own, and thereby avoid the cost of keeping up a dockyard establishment, which would be necessary if an Admiralty 282 dock is built. The Admiralty have experienced the difficulty of keeping a large staff of superior artisans engaged in dockyard establishments at foreign stations employed throughout the year; and at Malta, where such a state of things has existed, the experiment of building a ship was tried. I do not, however, think that that experiment will be repeated, for it was very expensive, and by no means encouraging. There is one other point in respect of Bermuda Dock which I should like to raise. The Civil Lord has told us that there is to be a floating dock. It is not, I suppose, proposed to put that charge upon the Bill. I presume that that will be rather a subject for the Estimates.
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
Our experience of floating docks is that they are not of a permanent character, and therefore it would not have been wise to put the charge upon the Bill. There is only one more point on which I wish to say a word, and that is the fact that this is a Bill for two years. I am opposed to this arrangement, because Parliamentary control for one year is deliberately abolished.
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
I suppose the hon. and gallant Gentleman would be delighted to abolish all Parliamentary control?
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
Somehon. Members desire that there should be as little control as possible by Members—save themselves—over the War Office and the Admiralty, but that is not the view of the average Member of the House, for whom I speak. I do not know that there has ever been a case in which this House has been asked to exercise its control once in two years instead 283 of once every year. It is a very peculiar arrangement, and is contrary to our traditions and convictions. The only comfort the economist can carry to his soul is that during the coming year there will be no opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to propose further great works involving an expenditure of several millions of money.
I rejoice that the Bill provides for a period of two years' expenditure, so that the Admiralty will not for that space of time be called called upon to fight the subject over again. The right hon. Gentleman opposite seemed disposed to criticise the Admiralty because they were unable to subsidise a greater number of docks. The Admiralty have already subsidised a dock at Halifax, and they have agreed to subsidise a dock at Auckland in New Zealand. In the colonies it is not difficult to invite an enterprising individual to risk his money in constructing docks under a Government guarantee; but it would be absurd to depend upon voluntary help for docks at Malta or Simon's Bay, and therefore we must look to the Imperial Government. I think this modest Bill deserves the warm support of every hon. Member. I listened with much attention and not a little admiration to the speech of the Civil Lord. He led us to contemplate the difficulties that naval men have had to encounter. I think he has made out a most excellent argument why the present Government, as well as the two previous Governments, should be impeached for having neglected their duties for so long a time. That I know is the view entertained by naval men. It is a matter of gratification that the Admiralty and the Government have at last wakened up to the necessity of providing these docks for the accommodation of the fleet, though I am not going to give them any special credit for their action in the matter. I rather lament that the question was not dealt with ten or twelve years ago. I might go even farther back, for all Governments have been supine and negligent in the discharge of their duty in these matters. It is only within the last two years that the situation has forced itself upon the Admiralty, and that they have come forward to ask the Government for the necessary money. We are thankful that they have at last rea- 284 lised the necessity of asking Parliament to grant these large amounts of money. They are not amounts that any sensible man can cavil at; they are all absolutely essential to the efficiency of the Navy and to control at sea. I must express my regret, however, that there has been so much, no doubt necessary, delay in making progress with some of the works mentioned in the schedule. However, I shall give the Bill my warm and hearty commendation.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, South)
said he desired to ask a question which no doubt his right hon. friend the First Lord or some other representative of the Admiralty would be able to answer. It related to Dover harbour. The works which were being constructed there by the Harbour Board and by the Admiralty had greatly increased the difficulty of approaching Dover Pier in rough weather. What he wanted to know was when they might expect these difficulties to disappear; and whether they might fairly expect that the works on the harbour would be so far advanced by the time the rough weather came in the late autumn or at the beginning of next year, that these serious drawbacks to the Channel service would be removed.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Norfolk, Lynn Regis)
I should like to accentuate what my right hon. friend opposite has said with regard to the two years' system of Parliamentary control. I think it is an unfortunate innovation that Her Majesty's Ministers should ask for authority for the expenditure of large sums of money for a period of two years. The essence of our financial arrangements lies in our annual system. If we are not to have an annual system of finance, then we had better hand over a lump sum to the Government to spend as they like, with, perhaps, the audit of the Auditor-General at the end of the expenditure. The only control that is of use is the annual control. As to the Bill itself, I should like to say a word or two with regard to Gibraltar. The expenditure on Gibraltar is something like 4 ½ millions. I have always thought that that was a little excessive. I am perfectly prepared to admit that Gibraltar is one of the most important strategic situations in the world for this 285 country. For years we have been trying to persuade successive Governments to make one dockyard at Gibraltar. Now you are going to make three docks, which I certainly think is one more than necessary. I should be satisfied with one, I should be well satisfied with two, but I am sorry that you propose three. With regard to Gibraltar, I have seen accounts which give me great fears that the method which has been pursued by the contractors is one that is foredoomed to failure. There are peculiarities at the bottom, fissures in the rocks, and so forth, which are very difficult to deal with. I should like to have an assurance that my information is incorrect, as, otherwise, in addition to the sum now asked for, we may have to expend another £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 in getting the Gibraltar works properly completed.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
The method being now pursued; I am not in a position to go into details, but I understand it is a question of water oozing through the bottom on which the works are being constructed. With regard to Keyham, I am told that there also there is great risk of the present method of conducting the work not succeeding, and I should like some assurance with regard to that. As to Portsmouth, I am told that the dredging works have had the result of so increasing the tide that it is very difficult for men-of-war to lie there with safety; they have to be constantly ready to let go an anchor in case they break away from their moorings. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether he proposes to adopt the suggestion which has been made for lessening the tide, viz., of making another opening into the harbour on the western side. I very much regret to find that in this large expenditure no provision whatever is made for the extremely important and comparatively cheap work of a breakwater at Seilly. Half-a-million would construct a breakwater which would make Seilly, which is a most important point, lying half-way between Cape Clear and Ushant, a perfectly safe anchorage and an admirable coaling station. At present the 286 swell of the Atlantic flows in there, summer and winter, day and night, so that you cannot use it as a coaling station; but this breakwater would make it one of the most useful stations we could have.
§ * SIR EDWARD GOURLEY (Sunderland)
I hold that this proposed expenditure is more than in required. It is totally unnecessary that such a large sum should be spent on barracks. The proper place for seamen is on board their ships, but there is a system of bringing home after a short time what are designated "reliefs" for rest in barracks. The Government have taken advantage of the present popularity of the Navy in the country to incur unnecessary expenditure. Another portion of expenditure which I think is in a large measure useless, is that for a floating dock at Bermuda. What to my mind ought to be done is to attach to each of the squadrons a repairing ship, on which there should be the necessary appliances for repairing vessels at sea.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
How could you clean the bottom of a ship at sea?
§ * SIR EDWARD GOURLEY
I am not speaking of the bottom of a ship; that is another question altogether. With regard to Gibraltar, I understand that a portion of the expenditure is to be in defence works. What description of defence is meant? Does it mean defence applicable to the protection of ships?
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I am afraid the hon. Member has been led into error by the word I used. The defence against torpedoes will probably be completed within a short time. There are no defences in the sense of guns and fortifications provided for in this Bill at all.
§ * SIR EDWARD GOURLEY
I should like to ask with regard to the docks, what is to be the nature of the appliances? if you are going to construct docks without the necessary modern appliances or 287 making repairs, the expenditure will in a large measure be thrown away. Take the question of new ships. The new ships are built under cover——
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member is mistaken. Some of the old roofs still remain, but in most cases they have been removed from the building sheds.
§ * SIR EDWARD GOURLEY
What I wish to press upon the Admiralty is that with this increased dock expenditure in place of having, as is the case now, to order ships home for heavy repairs to hull and machinery, you ought to make provision for modern appliances for the purpose of executing the heavy repairs which will necessarily be required in connection with our large vessels.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
If the hon. Member will look at the memorandum attached to the Bill he will see that in all cases provision is made for the necessary machinery, ships, &c., for working the docks.
§ * SIR J. COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
With reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for Sunderland, you cannot help having proper docks, and it is no use having docks unless you have proper machinery and proper appliances, so that when a ship does come in for repairs the work may be completed. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke just now, from the front Opposition bench, expressed considerable regret that the policy of subsidising somebody to give you these docks was not followed. I was surprised at that line being taken, because it is all very fine to say, "This is a cheap way of getting a dock; let us give some encouragement to private enterprise to build a dock provided it gives us the right to use that dock"; but at a naval base it is a dangerous policy to pursue. For instance, take Esquimalt, where this very plan was followed. A subsidy was given, and it looked a very nice arrangement. But what happened? An admiral brought his ship into the harbour, and found he had no control over the harbour, and actually had to pay damages for giving certain orders to pick up certain moorings. It is, therefore, no use subsidising docks unless you have absolute control of the waters in the 288 neighbourhood. With regard to the motion before the House, I think it shows, on the face of it, that the matter has been thoroughly well thought out before being brought forward, and everybody who has studied the plans which have been put in the Library must have been convinced that there has never been a Bill brought forward which so clearly bore the stamp of great forethought, careful calculation, and adaptation to a settled policy. A Minister has two duties to perform in bringing a proposal before the House. He has to make it clear to the House, and he also has to make it perfectly clear to the "man in the street." It is because that was done that I so greatly admire the speech of my hon friend in introducing the Bill. I thank him for the admission that there is no money put down in this Bill for Wei-hai-wei. I am glad that at present the Admiralty are standing firm, and that we are not to be precipitately launched into any permanent naval expenditure for Wei-hai-wei as has been done by the military authorities in proposing military barracks.
§ MR. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)
I am afraid the confidence of the hon. and gallant Member is hardly justified by our experience in the past with regard to these Bills. From what we have already heard it is pretty certain that before another Naval Works Bill is introduced we shall have considerable expenditure proposed by the Government in regard to Wei-hai-wei. I am not capable of judging whether my hon. friend's congratulations are justified with regard to this Bill as distinguished from other Bills giving evidence of being based on a thoroughly well thought out plan, but on every occasion when similar Bills have been brought forward the House has been assured that a "thoroughly well thought out plan" is being pursued, and yet every year this "thoroughly well thought out plan" is varied and the expenditure continually increases. I am afraid, therefore, we cannot rest assured that this can be looked upon as a complete programme for the next few years. Upon the financial side of this question, I would like to point out that here we have brought before the House in the last week of July what is really a very important part of the financial and naval programme of the Govern- 289 ment of the year. It is an essential principle of good finance that the Government should declare when they produce their Navy Estimates what are their whole proposals with regard to naval expenditure, and when they produce their Army Estimates what are their whole proposals with regard to military expenditure, so that the Chancellor of the Exchequer when bringing in his Budget may be able to make a complete statement of the expenditure of the coming year, whether it is to be incurred under the Estimates or under Loans Bills such as the one now before us. In 1896 the Resolution was introduced on the same night as the First Lord of the Admiralty made his statement on the Navy Estimates.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
I am speaking of the present Government. That was the first year the present First Lord was in office, and he began much better than he is now going on. Consequently we knew then, though not in detail, what were the full naval proposals of the Government both in regard to finance and sufficiently in regard to naval matters as well. The practice of making these Bills biennial instead of annual I must say is an entire departure from the previous practice of the House. We thereby lose the annual control that the House would have over the progress of expenditure under this Bill; and the preceding Bill; and that progress of expenditure and still more the progress of liability is a very serious item indeed at the present moment, and will be a still more serious item in the immediate future. It has already been pointed out how the estimated cost under these Bills has grown in four years from £8,000,000 to nearly £24,000,000, and it is absurd to anticipate any other result, if these tactics of Naval Works Bills go on, than that this sum will continue to increase in the future as it has done in the past. The liabilities are increasing at a much greater rate than our annual expenditure under these Naval Works is doing. Our annual expenditure no doubt is also increasing. It is now 1¼ millions, but if the Admiralty estimate for these two years included in the Bill is accurate it will amount to one and a half millions 290 per annum, and no doubt as the works go on that sum will go up to a couple of millions, or even more. The result financially will be that when we endeavour to compare the Naval Estimates over a period of years, we shall have to add to the amount of expenditure upon the Navy the increasing annual sums which have been paid under these Naval Works Bills. I would make one more remark, and that is that the Naval Works Bill is a more satisfactory measure than the Military Works Bill, although they both proceed from the same Government, and were introduced almost at the same moment. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in the Bill he has set before us, has given both a memorandum affixed to the Bill and a full schedule attached to it; he has given full particulars both as to past works and as to future works, and has definitely called the attention of the House to what are the large and important new works that are now being undertaken, to which the sanction of the House is asked for the first time in the present year. That is the right and proper method of doing business, and I am surprised that the Military Works Bill sins in every particular against this canon of financial procedure. I will not pursue that subject on the present occasion. I would merely say as regards the general aspects of this Bill what was said on a previous occasion, viz., that this enormous and constant increase of expenditure in the Navy really must make any cautious man pause, and look somewhat askance at the possibilities of the future. The hon. Member for King's Lynn anticipated a not very distant future when, if we continue to increase our naval expenditure, there would be very serious difficulties in getting the taxpayers of the country to endure it. That was true of the Naval Estimates in May last, but it is still more true in regard to this great naval programme, with the ever increasing liabilities under these annual Naval Works Bills. I think it is a very serious prospect for the taxpayers of this country if we are to continue to increase our naval and military expenditure in this way, and it must cause every cautious man to contemplate the future with some misgivings.
§ * LORD CHARLES BERESFORD
The criticism of the hon. Member 291 who has just sat down is one which is levelled against all questions of expense. In regard to this subject there is always this to be remembered, that our expenditure on the Army and Navy is really only the rate of insurance which we pay for our trade, and if the hon. Member will calculate how much our trade has increased during the last twenty years he will see that the expenditure for the Navy and the Army is really not very extraordinary in proportion to our commerce.
§ * LORD CHARLES BERESFORD
It is not increasing so much as the hon. Member alleges, especially if he will calculate how very backward the expenditure was when we began this policy. I may say that want of the necessary precautions with regard to our naval expenditure was really due to the opinions held on these Votes some years ago. With regard to what the Civil Lord has brought before the House on behalf of the Board of Admiralty, I quite agree with what he said, and I commend him upon the very clear statement of fact which he made. This is what you want not only in this House, but in the country, because it puts the matter plainly before the electors. The Civil Lord told us plainly what they want and why they want it, and then he put down the expenditure. I do not think it is possible to find any fault with the speech of the Civil Lord or the statement he has produced. The hon. Member opposite brought forward a seemingly very good argument, namely, that we should not spend our money on our own docks, but that we should subsidise mercantile docks. The other day, when I was in China, an ironclad ran aground, and she was taken in one of the subsidised docks to be repaired. I went to see the Admiral and the dock master, and I found that by no possibility could that ship have been got out under ten days. What would have been the case if we had some very great damage done to a ship, and we had to send her to such a place as that for repairs? Such a thing has happened, and I am sure the First Lord will support me when I say that in the end it is very much cheaper to have your own docks and your own machinery than to have subsidized 292 docks belonging to mercantile companies. The hon. Member for Sunderland brought forth two of the most extraordinary proposals I have ever heard of in my life. He said that such docks were unnecessary because you could take with the fleet a repairing ship to do all repairs. The hon. Member seems to forget that docks are necessary because you have got to clean the ship's bottom, which is a very difficult process, in order that the rate of speed shall be maintained. As has already been pointed out, the chief necessity of men-of-war is that they must have speed at the moment when it is wanted. I can give the hon. Member my experience of a ship which I have commanded when her full speed was 17 knots. I tried her once when she had not been in dock for nine months, and I could not get her to go more than 5 knots less than 17. That will give the hon. Member some idea of what happens to a ship if it is not often docked; and it must also be remembered that you use more coal under such conditions than you do when the bottom of the ship is as it should be. As to the remark made by the hon. Member regarding barracks, I should like to know what you are going to do with your schools, your great Naval Reserve, and your ships' companies when they are paid off? Are we to build the old three-deckers? Those ships are all getting not obsolete but beyond repair. You have got to put your men somewhere, and your best plan is to put them into barracks. In these days you have got to discipline your men much more in a military way than in the old days. I once explained in this House the difference in the discipline between the old bluejacket and the soldier. Suppose you had two men up for the same offence, one being a bluejacket and the other a marine. You would say to the marine, "What have you got to say?" and he would reply that he had committed the offence. The commander would say, "Four days; right turn, quick march. "The marine might go grumbling, but nothing would stop him marching. If the commander said exactly the same thing to the bluejacket, would he do the same? No, not a bit of it, for he would stop there to argue the point, and it would probably take a corporal and file of marines to remove him. In the old days we had the cat and no discip 293 line; now we have no cat and good discipline. It is simply on account of the drilling of the men in barracks that good discipline has been introduced into the service. I should like to ask my right hon. friend a question about Hong Kong. I went carefully over the plans of Hong Kong, and I never saw a more efficient proposal than the one made there considering the amount of money which is to be expended upon it, and I think it will be of immense use to the fleet. With regard to this expenditure you cannot increase your fleet without increasing your auxiliaries which will enable your fleet to fight, and one of the most important auxiliaries to the fleet are properly equipped dockyards where you can go to repair your ships after an action, and very often before an action. I quite agree with my hon. and gallant friend as to Wei-hai-wei. My mind is entirely altered on that point because the policy of the Government has altered, and if the policy of the Government alters as regards China, I must alter my mind with regard to Wei-hai-wei. With regard to Gibraltar I am sorry that the Member for King's Lynn thought we had expended even a shilling too much there. Gibraltar is the most important naval base we have in the whole world, and I do not think we can make it too strong. I think the Government, as far as I can gather from Gibraltar, are doing very well indeed there, for it is the point of departure in the Mediterranean. I am glad to see that they are going to put the Cape, which is one of our most important strategic naval bases, in that state of order which it should be in.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
There are one or two points which I should like to hear a word or two about if the First Lord of the Admiralty is going to reply. My hon. friend the Member for Dundee made some complaints as to the continual increase in the total amount of the liability of the State; but I think it is only fair to say, as regards the original estimate of £8,000,000, that when the first Bill of this series was placed before the House we were careful to say that we could make no promise that the items mentioned exhausted the programme which the Admiralty then might consider necessary. Four years have 294 passed, and the whole scheme of naval works under the Naval Works Act has been under the consideration of the Admiralty, and now, at all events, I think we are justified in asking the First Lord of the Treasury whether we are within measurable distance of the end. Does this scheme approximately give the House the full naval programme of the Admiralty? I rather imagine that there are still one or two things that will have to come forward under another Bill, but I think it would be a satisfaction to my hon. friends if we could know that the Admiralty is nearing the end of its programme, and that the vast total of £23,000,000. which is the amount now reached, is practically the whole amount we shall be asked to supply under the Naval Works Act. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some assurance on that point. There is another matter which I think it might be convenient to direct the right hon. Gentleman's attention to. In Clause 1 it is provided:That Section 5 of the Naval Works Act, 1895, which relates to the manner in which money can be raised, shall be constituted as if it were re-enacted and in terms made applicable to this Act.Section 5 of the Act of 1895 directed that the money required under that Act should be raised by terminable annuities, which were to run for a period of thirty years from the commencement of that Act. That section is now incorporated by reference in this Bill. It appears, however, to be left ambiguous whether all the annuities are to expire at the same time or not, or whether we are to have a series of terminable annuities expiring at different periods. This does not appear to me to be clearly expressed in the Act. I will say just one word about the delay. My right hon. friend has expatiated on that subject, and it has been a matter of a great deal of discussion in former years. I do not know whether hon. Members have seen the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General for the year 1897–98. for certainly that shows a most extraordinary and comprehensive shortage as compared with the works for that year. The Comptroller and Auditor-General points out that there was in that year a shortage of no less than £2,032,000 out of the amount authorised in the year 1897–98. I think now the Admiralty have 295 spent about £700,000, instead of the £3,000,000 which was provided for. The Comptroller and Auditor-General makes this observation. He says there may be specific causes for the remarkable difference shown between the expenditure authorised and incurred, more especially under the items included for the first time in 1897–98. I think he made a mistake, but the other explanation is one with which the Admiralty ought to deal. He points out that not only is there a shortage of £2,750,000, but I think he says there is a shortage on every single item in the schedule. As far as I know, I do not think that has been adequately explained. I urge upon the present Admiralty that this delay is very far from being conducive to economy. Instead of spending only £1,500,000 as was proposed last year, I should have been glad to have seen a much larger expenditure incurred on these works. I do hope that any cause of complaint on that score will be entirely removed. There is only one other point to which I will allude. The main interest of this Bill is always in the schedule containing the new works. When we come to the Committee stage we shall have an opportunity of discussing in detail the new works contained in this Bill in furtherance of the dockyard policy. This is a policy which has my entire sympathy, and I shall ask for fuller information at the proper time in regard to it.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe have both spoken upon the question of the delays which have taken place. I will not say that their complaint is otherwise than the natural complaint which is made from year to year, but there is this peculiarity about it—that they never take the slightest notice of the causes of those delays which were put forward by the Civil Lord. I should have thought hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they agree with us, would have done their best to push these works on more than they do. What reason have they for thinking that we are slack in promoting these works? If the right hon. Gentleman sees, as perhaps he may one day see, the urgency which has been displayed on the part of the Admiralty, our vexation at the failures of contractors, the difficulties of acquiring land, and the heart-breaking incidents 296 which have occurred, I am sure he would not blame, but would rather sympathise with us. But the point is still put forward that we have failed to grasp the situation. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and all the other hon. Members who have criticised us that I am not conscious of the slightest shortcomings on the part of our officials, who must have had a good deal of experience in regard to the delays of contractors. The Admiralty are required to expend money, but if the contractor does not send in his certificate we cannot compel him to do so. We have been longing to pay, but we have not been able to make the payments we desired. All these works produce unforeseen difficulties, and no Comptroller and Auditor-General has got such knowledge of the administration of this part of the business as would really entitle him to lay any blame on the Admiralty in this respect. Complaints have been made as to the lateness of the introduction of this Bill; but is it not evident that the later the Bill is introduced the better the forecast we can make as to the effect of the proposals we introduce, for the earlier we introduce such a measure the more difficult it will be to estimate the amount likely to be spent within the year. With all these estimates, whatever pains we may take, they are always more or less, in their first stages, speculative; but we hope now that we have reduced them to a point at which they have a real basis in the figures placed before the House. The next point with which I will very briefly deal is the question of the biennial Bill to which the right hon. Gentleman objects, and to which especially the hon. gentleman the Member for East Aberdeenshire objects. He objects to it because he desires to maintain the control of Parliament. For my own part, if I were in the position of hon. Gentlemen opposite, I should prefer a biennial Bill or a triennial Bill to an annual Bill, because I think it is clear that there are more works likely to be introduced in an annual than in a biennial Bill. Therefore I do not think hon. Gentlemen opposite should press this point too heavily against the Government. In order to show how anxious we are not to deprive the House of information in regard to the progress of this expenditure which the House is entitled to have, I will undertake that a Return shall be presented showing precisely what has been spent, 297 and comparing it with the estimates. That may not satisfy the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but he will see in that suggestion the spirit which moves us. I am not quite clear about the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe towards this Bill. At all events, if he did not look askance at the increased expenditure, he did not look straight at it, and he did not give the Committee any indication whether he approved of the Bill or whether he did not. I should like to know which of these proposals the right hon. Gentleman thinks not necessary. He suggested that private dockyards might be utilised, but he did not state where. Certainly not at Gibraltar; not at Malta, I presume, and certainly not at Bermuda. He could only have referred to one place, though he threw a kind of shadow over all the others. His remarks could only have applied to Hong Kong. My honourable friend gave an illustration of the risk of having to employ private docks. Where we have no establishment, and where the dock company have all the machinery, it might be a great advantage to us on occasion to be able to utilise their docks; but that cannot apply to all places.
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWOKTH
I do not want it to be supposed that I expressed any hostility to these proposals. I asked the question rather in the sense to which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded, viz., that this principle is applicable in some places but not in others.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
If that is the view of the right hon. Gentleman, what I have said will satisfy him. With regard to the floating dock at Bermuda, that will probably last for thirty years. Of course it stands on a totally different footing from a ship which has to run several risks, but if a dock lasts for thirty years I think it is a perfectly fit object to form the subject of an annuity. My hon. and gallant friend the Member for the Eastbourne Division of Sussex, while very complimentary on some matters, said that we ought to be impeached for not undertaking these works before.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Yes, and the previous Government also. But if the late Government had laid down these docks, or if we had laid them down when we came into office, they would be too short and too narrow for the ships now being built. The developments in shipbuilding which have taken place wore not foreseen ten years ago, and I think, therefore, that my hon. and gallant friend will see that something has been gained by the delay. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said this was practically a dock programme. So it is. It is a dock programme forced upon us by the necessities of the case, not only by the increase in the number of ships, but by the increase in the requirements of those ships and by their greater length and breadth; and whatever may be thought of the particular ports selected, I defy anyone who is thoroughly acquainted with the position of affairs to point to any work which is unnecessary and which might be safely put off having regard to the requirements of the service. A great many detailed points have been mentioned, but I think they can be dealt with in Committee. The hon. Member for King's Lynn referred to the rapid tide which would be caused at Portsmouth, and which he estimated at 8 knots. I think that is very exaggerated. The Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth and those responsible for the harbour have not made any remonstrance on the point.
Yes, but not from the cause suggested by my hon. friend. The hon. and learned Member opposite asked me whether this programme was approximately final. Nothing is final in this world, but this programme is more final than if there were to be another next year. At all events we are prohibited for two years from increasing our present liabilities in respect to naval works. After two years other influences may be at the Admiralty, and may take even a wider view of the necessities of Imperial defence, but I may say that in existing circumstances, and in looking carefully on all the conditions, I should not press for any further large works. I 299 use the words "in existing circumstances" because I can see possible developments which may render it necessary for us or our successors to undertake other works. I think the House will see that I have gone as far as it is possible or right for me to go in answering the questions which have been put to me.
§ MR. LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
I should like to ask the First Lord one or two questions. In his able and interesting speech he referred to the proposed works at St. Simon's Bay. I wish to ask whether the property acquired has been absolutely acquired for the Imperial Government, and whether not only the docks but the approaches have been acquired. With regard to Gibraltar, I observe from a note on page 2 of this Bill that Gibraltar itself is to pay £14,000 a year for fifty-seven years as its share of the expenditure. The question I wish to ask is whether any dock dues are to be charged, and if so, whether they are to be received by the colony or by the Imperial Government. There is another question in which I have considerable interest, and with regard to which I should be glad to be supplied with some information. I refer to the question of the Pembroke Dockyard. Hon. Gentlemen who were members of the last Parliament will remember that a short time before the General Election an Amendment was moved by the noble Lord who is now the Secretary of State for India, demanding that there should be considerable expenditure on Pembroke Dockyard. That was refused at the time by those responsible at the Admiralty.
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
It was not refused, but we considered it should be included in the Naval Estimates, and not in the Naval Works Bill as the noble Lord wanted.
§ MR. LEWIS
Of course I accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation, but my point is that unquestionably Pembroke Dock was then used as a moans of obtaining an electoral advantage when the present Government came into power, and when we found that nothing had been done to fulfil the obligations to which they were practically committed 300 we raised the question in the House. At first our request was denied, but it was ultimately complied with. I myself believe that the works at Pembroke are of a very necessary character, but I wish to ask why the expenditure on them has been put off. A very small amount of money has been expended, and I wish to know whether the £90,000 which forms the greater part of the balance is to be expended next year and the following, year. I only allude to the matter because electoral advantage has been taken of the matter before, and I want to be assured that nothing of the kind is contemplated again.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The whole sum is now taken because the completion of the works falls within the period covered by this Bill. We are anxious to get on with the work, and it will be finished before this Bill runs out.
§ MR. LEWIS
Then, with regard to Dover Harbour, I do not pretend to be an expert, but, as far as I am able to judge, we are plunging into an enormous waste of money at Dover. There is one matter connected with this Bill on which I think the House ought to congratulate itself, and that is the practical abandonment of the Wei-hai-wei policy.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The hon. Gentleman should not draw any conclusion from the. fact that Wei-hai-wei is not included in. the Naval Works Bill.
§ MR. LEWIS
The remarks of the right hon. Gentleman fill me with great alarm. I thought we had seen the last of these great sums being spent on that illstarred adventure. The Civil Lord gave us some very interesting figures as to the growth of the Navy; it is that growth which has made this Bill absolutely necessary from the Admiralty point of view. He told us that the Channel Fleet had quadrupled, that the China Fleet had trebled, and that the Mediterranean Fleet had more than doubled during the last ten years. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe said, those are figures which certainly ought to give us pause. As he said, the construction of 301 these docks means new establishments and a large addition to the permanent charge on the revenues of this country. I think it is time that one plain word of objection and protest should be uttered against this enormous expenditure, which was denounced by the late Mr. Gladstone long before it reached its present proportions. The resources of this country are being frittered away unnecessarily in the enormous increase of our Navy and in the increase of our naval works. The fact of the matter is that we are the most easily frightened people in the whole world. When we look at our naval position, as compared with other nations, when we consider the advantages we have in our magnificent fleet of volunteer cruisers, and in our ability to build ships more rapidly than other nations, and in the great purity of our naval administration, I think we should pause. With regard to the last-mentioned advantage, I have sat as a member of the Public Accounts' Committee of this House, and I am bound to say that in my opinion it would be very difficult indeed to improve on our naval administration. This country may rightly claim to take the first place in the world in that respect, while other foreign administrations are honeycombed with corruption. Yet, notwithstanding all these advantages, we insist on increasing our Navy to an inordinate degree. This Bill asks for an additional expenditure of £6,000,000. It deserves a little examination at our hands, and we have a right to say a few words upon it as representatives of the taxpayers. We have had the opinion of naval experts and of hon. Members interested in the Navy above all things. It is only proper that we should have such men in this House who have the necessary information to guide us on many important matters connected with the Navy. But nobody is more dangerous in an assembly of this kind than the expert, and I am glad to think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has exercised a restraining influence upon the experts who, from time to time, have pressed their particular schemes upon him. I only wish he had been firmer with regard to this particular demand for additional expenditure. It is time that we should put a stop to this enormous increase of expenditure; if we do not the time will come when, with declining trade, hundreds and thousands of men will be unemployed, and the Exchequer 302 will be unable to provide money for the relief of taxation and for the improvement of the condition of the poor. We have thrown our millions away largely without cause or justification. We have, it is true, bad alarms and panics, but I do hope we shall behave with more level heads, and that we shall confide not only in the adequacy of our naval preparations, but also on the spirit of those who have fought for this country in the past, and who—though I trust in the far distant future—may be called on to fight for it again. I believe that the British people will be able to rise to any emergency. I believe in being thoroughly and adequately prepared for every eventuality, but I hold that, with regard to the Navy, we have spent far too much on it without any reasonable justification, and unless naval experts, who certainly have had a great deal of their own way, are checked, this country will have cause to rue the extravagant expenditure in which it is indulging.
§ * MR. WYLIE (Dumbartonshire)
I wish to say a few words with regard to the docks scheme. I do not wish to see one of these docks abandoned, but I think the programme should be supplemented by the construction of a dock on the Clyde. This scheme seems to presuppose that all naval battles will be fought south of the English Channel. Under modern conditions of warfare, I think it is very probable that a great naval action may have to be fought very far north of the English Channel, possibly off the Clyde, and the ships which would be disabled would be required to be taken round to the south of England for repairs. I think it would be very good policy to have a dock as far north as the Clyde, which is the principal centre of shipbuilding and repairing, not only in the United Kingdom, but in the world, and ships could be there built and repaired more cheaply and expeditiously than in any other place. I therefore am of opinion that this scheme should not be omitted from any comprehensive dock programme, and I would commend it to the First Lord of the Admiralty and his able juniors.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvonshire)
I would wish to ask the First Lord a question with regard to Wei-hai-wei.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
That is the very point I am making. We have been given an indication that no money is be spent on Wei-hai-wei. What becomes of the point made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, if we are liable next year for expenditure on Wei-hai-wei or other works? The fact is that we have always heard these things when Naval Works were being discussed, and the suggestion of finality, at any rate during the period covered by the Bill, has always been illusory.
§ Question put, and passed.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.