§ Order for Committee read.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That Mr. Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Goschen.)
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. G. J. GOSCHEN, St. George's,) Hanover Square
The Navy Estimates have never, perhaps, been introduced under more singular circumstances in some respects than to-day. Before us we have the proposed Conference on International Disarmament. Behind us we have the troubled months of October and November last, when comparisons as to the relative strength of the naval forces were in everyone's mouth. Memories are short, but I think that everyone will be able to recall the striking confidence which the people of this country showed at those critical moments in the naval forces of this country and in their preparedness to meet any emergency. That confidence, I humbly submit to the House, is the reward and the result of past expenditure. It was the result and the reward of the liberality of the House of Commons and of the nation as regards the Navy Estimates. We were ready. We had to make no feverish purchases, no sudden enrolments; we had not to come down to the House for a Vote from the Treasury. It was possible to conduct everthing with calmness and quietude. Now, I know that a different opinion prevailed in some quarters. The public rather likes headlines in newspapers, and it likes sensational statements, and many sensational statements were made at that time. It was said that we were spending millions. If we had spent such a large sum we should have had a large Supplementary Estimate to propose. On one occasion it was said we had made a gigantic purchase of coal. We had purchased 200,000 tons of coal, it is true, but the occasion of that purchase was not our prepara- 307 tions, but the fact that the strike had come to a conclusion, and that we had to replenish our stores in the ordinary course. Then it was said that officers were being recalled from leave in haste. It was entirely a mistake. One officer at one dockyard had left a ship on leave, and was wanted back for some particular duty. That was the whole of the ground for that particular statement. We had some small expenditure, and I can reply now to the honourable Member for Northampton. I made inquiry into the amount of money spent in the dockyards during the months of October and November, at the time when headlines in the Press were largest. The approximate total addition to the sum for wages in the dockyards during the eight weeks in question, including overtime, the cost of docking and cleaning the bottoms of many of the Fleet reserve ships, repairing and refitting the Fleet, and repairing ships in commission and reserve, was £13, 600. That is all that we spent in labour on ships in order to produce mobilisation. Of course, we took steps at once to examine any weakness in our joints. We took the opportunity of seeing where we could improve our defences. There were constant conferences with the War Office, but only to adjust particular points. One weakness we found and remedied. That was, that in the mobilisation scheme in general, kits had not been prepared for the Naval Reserve men, if they should be suddenly called out. We asked for kits for 10,000 men, and they were produced at once. That is the main expenditure connected with the so-called mobilisation, and it is an expenditure that ought to have been made before. It was not made in order to strengthen us at that moment, but because we ought at all times to be in a position to put our reserve men into fighting condition if they are required. The result of our past expenditure has been this, for instance, that we have had to purchase no ammunition, we have given no new orders. There is an item in the Supplementary Estimates of £100,000 under Vote 9. That is not in respect of mobili-sation; it represents the commencement of the guns to arm the ships to be built under the supplementary programme which* was sanctioned by the 308 House in August last. This was not taken to increase our resources at the moment. It was no menace of any kind; it was simply providing guns in advance for ships which will not be ready for two or three years to come. I think the Estimates of last year were justified by the tranquillity of the country. Under the conditions which then existed, if we had not had a-Navy ready and prepared, should wo not have lost many more millions than have been spent on the increase of the Navy, in the fall of securities, in the general disorganisation of trade, and in the general feeling of disquietude which would have taken place, besides the eredit which we might have lost by timid counsels prevailing in place of the attitude which the country took, and was entitled to take, during those troubled months? The Continental Powers were somewhat disturbed by the allegation that we were arming so greatly. I am glad to have had the opportunity of making this statement, because I do not know that it has been made before, in order to remove the impression that we were either arming unnecessarily, or were arming for any particular purpose, or for any aggressive action. It was the belief in many Continental countries; in fact, we had reports from almost every capital in Europe to that effect. There was a deeply ingrained idea in the Chancelleries of Europe that England had some plan of attack for which she thought her opportunity had come, and that, having regard to the greatness of her naval forces, she would take care to seize that favourable opportunity. I need not assure this House—it would be absurd almost to do so—that such an idea never entered into the mind of the Government of this country. I know that people abroad are incredulous, but they ought to know that such a war undertaken in such a spirit would have been against the whole traditions of this country, and would have been against the whole moral sense of this country. [Laughter from the IRISH MEMBERS.] Both sides of the House are agreed on that subject, and I do not see the point of honourable 309 Members' merriment. That being so, foreign countries may be assured that while we have the country behind us in maintaining our rights and in the justice of our cause which affects our honour or our interests, I do not believe that we should have the country behind us in the case of what I may call an Opportunist War. I have spoken, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, of the slight preparations which were made in consequence of the incidents of last autumn. I now pass to the ordinary work of the present financial year before I deal with the Estimates for the future year. The shipbuilding work has been more satisfactory than in the preceding year, but there are still short deliveries of armour and machinery. In the year before, the course of business, the course of construction, was interrupted by the strike, but the effects of that strike did not cease with the cessation of the labour troubles. The effects were felt during the present year, and they were felt in this way: there was a boom generally in mercantile shipbuilding. All the ships the construction of which had been arrested, and the machinery of which could not be completed, had to be taken in hand, and the consequence was that the contractors found very great difficulty in keeping up to their dates. And indeed they had not the matter entirely in their own hands, for their sub-contractors were dilatory in their deliveries of many of the materials which they require for construction. The House may recollect the controversy as to the output of armour. In the course of the present financial year the output of armour has increased, but the Admiralty were so far justified by the provision they had made, that the output has not been, in fact, what it was expected to be, and which was hoped by the manufacturers to be possible. There was a short delivery of armour and machinery of £800,000 on Vote 8. The "Cressy" class of cruisers has been delayed in consequence, and there has been some delay in the completion of the"Canopus" class, but in the dockyards new con-construction has proceeded most satisfactorily. The dates for laying down the new battleships have been anticipated. We have been able to begin these battleships before we expected when I made my statement to the House last year. Let me recapitulate the new 310 programme of construction of the present year. There were three battleships under the original programme, and four battleships under the supplementary programme. There were four cruisers under the original programme, and four cruisers under the supplementary programme. The House will remember the cause of that supplementary programme. It was due to the celebrated ukase of the Emperor of Russia, when 90 millions of roubles—that is to say, £9,000,000 sterling—were assigned to the Minister of Marine out of a special fund. The Government held, and the country supported them in their view, that an effort like that must be met by some corresponding effort on our part; and the consequence was, much against the grain, and regretting as much as anyone could regret the increased burden thus put upon this country, we were nevertheless compelled to commit ourselves to the construction of four battleships and four cruisers. Of the three battleships, two were of the "Canopus" and "Formidable" class, and each of these two classes now forms a complete and homogenous group of six ships. The chief features of the new battleships I am able to submit to the House. They do not differ greatly from the ships which have been already designed. The following are the principal features of the battleships: I may say that we propose to name the four ships the "Duncan" class, i.e., the "Duncan," "Exmouth," "Cornwallis," and "Russell"—all great historical naval names. The following are the measurements of these vessels: Length 405ft., breadth 75ft., mean draught 26ft., displacement 14,000 tons, indicated horse power 18,000. Their chief armament will be four 12-inch breech-loading guns in barbettes, 12 6-inch quick-firing guns in casemates, and 12 12-pounders. Stability and buoyancy will be secured by vertical side armour 7 inches thick, extending over a considerable portion of the length, and continued in a gradually reduced thickness to the bow. The barbettes for the 12-inch guns will have 11-inch armour, and the casemates for the 6-inch guns 6-inch armour. The speed of 19 knots with natural draught exceeds that of the preceding battleships in the Royal Navy, and is to be obtained on an eight-hours' trial with natural draught in the 311 stoke-holes. I may say that these battleships are of a similar class to the "Formidable." With reference to the four cruisers on the original programme, two, as stated by me last year, are of the "Cressy" class, and two are of a type equal to that of the "Powerful" class, so far as armour protection is concerned. We propose to name these the "Francis Drake" class. The principal features of these ships are: Length between perpendiculars 500ft., extreme breadth 71ft., mean draught 26ft., displacement 14,100 tons, indicated horse power 30,000, speed with natural draught 23 knots. The armament is two 9.2-inch guns with armour shields, 16 6-inch quick-firing guns in casemates, 14 12-pounder quick-firing guns, three 3-pounders. The 9.2-inch and the 6-inch guns will be of the latest and most powerful types, with armour protection equal to that of the "Powerful" class. Buoyancy and stability will be secured by vertical side armour about six inches thick, associated with strong steel decks, as in the Canopus" and "Cressy" classes, and the bows of the new vessels will be most strongly protected. I may say generally that these ships will be the most powerful cruisers afloat in any Navy in the world. It is a necessity for us. I do not want to make any special comparison with foreign ships, but I may say we have been driven to construct these ships after a careful review of the new designs of the ships of various other Powers; and we hope that these designs will secure to us that we shall have four ships stronger than any cruisers which are now building by any other country.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
Yes certainly. The draught is 26ft., and the speed 23 knots. I may say generally that what we aim at now in these new ships and in all our cruisers is speed. That is the governing factor in all the cruisers which we are building. Besides these new cruisers, there are two which are of a smaller class, and will be built with special reference to a great rate of speed. Sir William White has endeavoured, in his designs, to solve the 312 problem of armoured cruisers of a very high rate of speed and of moderate dimensions. Again I say that this design has been carefully considered with reference to the ships which they may have to meet. Their length is 240ft., extreme breadth 66ft., mean draught 24½ft., displacement 9,800 tons. Their speed with natural draught will be 23 knots, and the indicated horse power 22,000. They are to have 14 6-inch quick-firing guns, four in turrets and 10 in casemates, 10 12-pounder quick-firing guns, and three 3-pounder, and two torpedo tubes. The 6-inch guns will be of the latest type, and will be protected by armour about four inches thick. Vertical side armour of the same thickness will be carried over a considerable portion of the length, with thinner armour on their bows. In laying down these ships we have been simply following a plan, which I have indicated throughout, of not exceeding the standard which I consider we ought to maintain to meet what is being done by the other Powers. I am still dealing with the programme of the present year, and am not speaking of the coming financial year. The two cruisers I have-last mentioned are not yet ordered, although the tenders for them have been issued, and they do not belong to the programme of the coming year; they belong to the supplementary programme. If there has been some delay it has been in order to see how this problem can be met—i.e., the combination of armour, of high speed, and of small displacement—and the delay has-been well worth the result which we hope to attain. I have said that under Vote 9 there is an increase of £100,000, but it is in respect of guns which have been ordered for these new ships. I now turn to inform the House how we have fared as regards the personnel in the present year. The number of men and boys voted will be secured without any difficulty by the 1st April. The recruiting, of course, is spread over 12 months, and for the 10 months past we have secured the full proportion. There has been no difficulty in obtaining the necessary number of recruits. With regard to the Reserve, I may say that the experiment which has been tried of insisting that all Reserve men within a certain time should go to sea, has been completely successful. Many Members of the House 313 will remember the object we had in view —that the Reserve should not be a paper Reserve, that they should not simply be trained at our batteries, but that we should have the security that a large number of men had actually been trained in a man-o-war at sea. Well, we have made that experiment, and I am glad to say that in the present financial year 1,800 Reserve men will have been embarked on Her Majesty's ships, many of them in the Channel Squadron, some of them in the Mediterranean Squadron, and some of them in the guard-ships; and in all respects we have heard a satisfactory account of them. They take great interest in their work, and the officers take great interest in them. There has been perfect good feeling between these Reserve men and the ordinary crews of the ships, and I am very glad that such a link has been established—a very valuable link, I think I may say—between the Mercantile Marine and Her Majesty's Navy. Now, if I may sum up briefly the results of the last financial year. We shall have secured all the men we wanted; we shall have succeeded in our Reserve scheme; we shall have perfected our mobilisation arrangements; we shall have strengthened the stores in our naval bases: and we shall have secured all the guns and all the ammunition for the guns which was necessary. I may say that every ship has not only got its guns and ammunition ready, but that the reserve of guns for the ships and the reserve of ammunition for these guns were all ready on the 1st January last. We have commenced seven battleships; we have anticipated the programme in the dockyards in the dates of laying down three of these new ships; we have commenced six new first class armoured cruisers, besides two the tenders for which have been invited. The only drawback I see in the year's work has been the short deliveries of armour and machinery by the contractors. The total cost of all this is enormous, but if we have enrolled the men, if we have got the ships ready, if our bases have been strengthened—if in all these respects we have been able to place the Navy in a position of preparedness, I think that the taxpayer has his reward in the serene tranquillity with which the nation is able to face any dangerous crisis that 314 may arise. Before I pass to the Estimates of the coming financial year there are two topics upon which the House would probably like me to touch. One is Wei-Hai-Wei, and the other is the Naval Works Bill. With reference to Wei-Hai-Wei there has been some expenditure on account of some purchase of land in the island in the present financial year, and some money has been taken for Wei-Hai-Wei in the coming financial year. What we propose to do is to make it what I may call a secondary naval base, to fortify it sufficiently against a raid, to have coal stores and small repairing shops, and, above all, to secure a good anchorage by dredging. A dredger has been sent out for the purpose, and if honourable Members thought that the anchorage at Wei-Hai-Wei was an unsatisfactory anchorage generally, I can assure them that the captains of our ships, after considerable experience during the past year, have come to the conclusion that it is one of the most valuable anchorages that we have in the East, and that it will be of great importance to us in any operations we may engage in in the China seas. The climate is good, and in every respect we are able to give a good account of the place. The other point is the Naval Works Bill. I shall leave that this year, as I have left it in past years, to be expounded to the House by my honourable Friend the Civil Lord, but in order that the total expenditure may be gauged by the House, which I know they are all anxious to do, I may say that the expenditure of the present financial year under the Naval Works Act will reach about £1,300,000, and that in the coming financial year we expect that the expenditure will be a little over 1½ millions. I pass now to the coming financial year, and I will deal briefly in the first instance with the other Votes, leaving the shipbuilding Vote, which is the-most important, to the last. As regards the personnel, we propose an increase of 4,250 men and boys, which will bring up the personnel to 110,640, including 6,500 boys under training. Here again we see, and we cannot but feel, the result of the necessity for our supplemental programme. I had hoped to have been able to have stopped at the 315 point which we reached last year. I indicated such a possibility in my statement last year, but our hopes have been falsified, not by any desire that we should expand our armaments, but simply because we had to take corresponding action to that taken by other Powers. Let me remind the House of the drawback under which we are in any comparison of international expenditure by the fact that we have a recruited Navy as we have a recruited Army, and that the cost of that Navy is, of course, naturally very largely in excess, in proportion, of that of any other country. Again, we have to give heavy retainers to our Reserve, and our system of pension, gratuities, and retired pay, necessary as it is, and fitting in with the whole system of our recruited Navy, also adds to the vast proportions of the total cost of the Navy. Perhaps it would be wise for me to say that this increase of men was settled in August last before the Fashoda incident. It was settled then in the ordinary way, by the study of the Manning Committee as to the number of men necessary for the Fleet, and it had no reference whatever to any subsequent difficulties which we may have had. It is the extension which we considered necessary in ordinary times. Honourable Members of the House who do not care for the study of the Estimates may not know the great proportion which the pay of the men and officers of the entire personnel bears to the whole. It amounts to £5,242,000 in this coming Estimate, besides half-pay and gratuities to the amount of. £2,232,000. The total pay for the personnel which goes into their pocket, apart from victualling and clothing and all that appertains to the general fitting out of the Fleet—the actual pay, pensions and gratuities amounts to £7,474,000. France pays £3,000,000 under that item, and as to Russia—I cannot understand how it can be—but a study of their estimates only reveals an item of £445,000 for the pay of the entire Russian navy. I say again, that in any international examination of the Estimates, the different position which we occupy would have most seriously to be taken into account. The increase in the amount for the personnel, taking all the Votes together is £46,000. Then, of course, when there are more men they need more clothing, more 316 rifles, more guns, generally more ammunition, more hospital accommodation, and more barrack accommodation. Many increases are hidden away in other Votes, and, therefore, not taken into account generally, although due exclusively to the personnel, when the cost of the personnel is being discussed. Here I would ask, is there any Party in the country, is there any body of men in the country who would wish to see the personnel decreased, or are they prepared to pay, and to pay cheerfully, for that large personnel? These great numbers which we have successfully enrolled during past years were enrolled not spasmodically, but by a steady calculation of what was necessary; and in that way we have added 27,000 men to the Fleet since 1894–95. I doubt whether there are many people in the country who would condemn that portion of these large Estimates which I have to submit to the House. Under Vote 9 for Armaments, I have to ask for an increase of £161,000, chiefly due to the construction of guns, but partly due also to the increased need of ammunition for firing practice. The House knows the enormous importance which has been really attached to gunnery. That is a matter which has commanded our special attention. All the events which have taken place of late show that the firing of guns and the practice of the gunners are matters to which too much attention cannot possibly be given. We have increased the number of guns and ammunition, but we are also anxious to provide for sufficient ammunition at all events, to give them the necessary practice with their guns in time of peace. I have to add £161,600 increase on Vote 9 to the increase which we have before for personnel of £462,000. That gives an increase on personnel and gunnery of £623,600. There remain outside Vote 8, Vote 10, and miscellaneous Votes. Vote 10 is for works, and we have had to increase the accommodation of hospitals, to improve the accommodation of hospitals in order to meet the modern necessities of hospital treatment. It has been for some years difficult to secure sufficient money for the development of our hospitals, but it has been absolutely necessary; and we have not considered it possible, even in a year of such great expenditure as this, to refrain from a certain addition to the Vote in respect 317 of hospital accommodation. There are other items which go to swell the total. The increase of Vote 10 is £145,000, and there is an increase in miscellaneous Votes of £31,500. Adding to that the previous sum of £623,600 for the personnel and for the gunnery we get a total excess over this year's Estimates of £800,100. This excess is exclusive of the Ship Building Vote. In what respect can we diminish these Estimates? I can see none. They are the natural corrollary of what has been done as regards personnel, the natural corrollary of the position which both sides of the House have always desired their respective Governments to take up. I now come to the Ship Building Vote, the most important Vote of all. We propose to provide for about the same number of men who are now in the dockyards, which is a slightly larger number of men than those taken for the Labour Vote last year. The increased cost of £199.000 for labour over the original Vote of last year is distributed over the various headings of the Vote with which I shall presently have to deal. Now, let me remind the House that the amount of this Vote is determined by four factors —first, the liabilities which are carried over from the previous year, that is to say, the necessary provision for the continuance of the building of the ships under construction on 1st April: secondly, the necessary provision for the commencement of such further ships as it may be necessary to lay down; thirdly, the necessary provision for such repairs and reconstruction as may have to be undertaken—work on ships already built, work for the maintenance of the Fleet; and, fourthly, the necessary provision for coal, sea stores, yard services, and a number of miscellaneous items. In order that I may deal undisturbed by any parentheses with the ship building proper part of this Vote, that part with which naval policy is mostly concerned, let me clear off the minor but still very considerable remaining items grouped under this Vote. I am met in the forefront by a formidable item for coal. Last year we asked for £660,000 for coal: practically, we spent £920,000. £200,000 of that sum was due to the enhanced prices caused by the strike: the remainder was due to increased use, the necessity of further steaming, and 318 purposes of that kind. We propose to take in the coming year £135,000 more than we asked for in the present year, that is to say, £765,000, which is less than the cost of the coal for this year, but which has been burdened by the excessive cost due, I am sorry to say, to the strike. I am also sorry to say that the present prices still remain higher than the normal prices, and we have been obliged to include in our Estimate for coal, consequently, an allowance for a somewhat higher price. I am not going to detain you with any details about stores or matters of that kind, but I will say at once that we ask £78,000 more for stores, and £75,000 for yard machinery. The construction of the new ships, the constant necessity of repairs on old ships, and the greater amount of work thrown on the dockyards, makes it absolutely necessary, and, of course, economical, to keep up the machinery in the yard to the best condition of efficiency that is possible. It would be false economy to strike out from these Estimates such necessary improvements in the yards as are required for the purposes of the work to be turned out. Then, we are unfortunate in this coming year in that we do not secure the benefit of £100,000 which the Vote has had in the present year. The present financial year was relieved to the extent of £100,000 by purchases made in anticipation in the previous year. We have no similar benefit, and consequently the Vote appears to that extent to be £100,000 more than that of last year. Putting these items together I get a total of £438,000. Well then, as regards repairs, we ask for £411,000 more than in the present year—more than was asked for, but not very much more than we spent last year. A portion of the short earnings by contractors for armour and machinery has been with the consent of the Treasury applied to other work in the dockyard, work that otherwise would have probably involved a Supplementary Estimate. We wish in this coming year, if possible, to avoid a Supplementary Estimate. I think my right honourable Friend opposite knows that scarcely any First Lord has ever succeeded in keeping below his estimate for repairs in the dockyards. It is an item that is habitually under-estimated. I wish on the occasion of these vast Estimates to be en- 319 tirely frank with the taxpayers, and that is why I have gone perhaps more fully into the details of this Vote than has been usual in a statement of this kind. I do not wish to gloss over items and muddle up totals; I am anxious that the country should thoroughly understand these Estimates. £438,000 more is asked for machinery, sea stores, coal, yard services, and purposes of that kind, and £411,000 more for repairs. I am afraid than in my anxiety to make everything as clear as possible I have taken the House through a considerable number of details.
§ HONOURABLE MEMBERS: No, no.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I now approach the question of new construction, and that is under two heads, namely, the continuance of the ships under construction, and the new Programme of such ships as we may think the occasion may require us to lay down. We are faced, in the first instance, by the inexorable claims of the work begun. There are the liabilities of the Original Programme and the liabilities of the Supplementary Programme, which altogether form an item of £8,255,000. Of that. two millions is represented by the liabilities of the Supplementary Programme. The liabilities of the original Programme would have been £6,225,000, but it has been raised by two millions through the action we were forced to take in August last year. Then the liabilities of the Original Programme are somewhat swollen by the short deliveries during the past two years of armour and machinery. These have not been so great as we anticipated in the present financial year, and a certain portion of that will fall on the coming financial year. This is included in the £6,225,000. Let me recall the facts of the Supplemental Programme. We must remember that 90 million roubles, or nine millions sterling were to be spent by Russia over a course of years, and if I take it that that course of years is five years, which is a moderate estimate, it means an additional expenditure of two millions a year. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer had had a windfall like the fortunate Minister of Marine in Russia, and had been able to place a corresponding sum of eight or nine millions at the disposal of the Admiralty, 320 our liabilities this year would have been less by two millions, and we could have shown no increase on Vote 8 at all. I hope I have made myself clear. If our liabilities have been swollen to the extent of two millions in the present year— I need not enumerate all the ships that will be under construction—these liabilities represent a formidable amount of work. And now the question arises, that being the situation, what ought to be our course as regards the laying down of new ships? I have to survey the position from three points of view. I have had to frame a Programme on the examination of the Estimates and Programmes of other nations; on the examination of how these Programmes bear on the distinct mandate of the British people, as I understand it to be, as to the relative position in Naval strength which this country ought to hold; and lastly, I have examined the position from the point of view of the near approach of a Conference for International Disarmament. Thus far I have seen no reference to the approaching Conference in the Naval or Military Estimates or Programme of any of the great Powers of Europe. But that is no reason why, representing a Government which has accepted the invitation of the Tsar, I should refrain from considering the position which has been created by means of that Conference. I have stated that I have examined the Programmes of other countries as they stand. It would be affectation to pretend that it would be possible to frame cur Programme- without examining those of other countries. I have studied the Programmes of other nations, and that study has not been very reassuring. It is not only the Powers who may be our possible opponents, but there has been an immense increase in shipbuilding on the part of other nations, which of late years have only begun to enter into what I may call the naval competition. I have caused to be added up the amount of warships under construction by the six chief Naval Powers, and I find there are 685,000 tons of men-of-war under construction besides 225.000 tons which are projected.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
France, Russia, the United States, Japan, Italy, and Germany. Well now, looking at the ships building all over the world, and looking, on the other hand, at our position, I want to call the attention of the House to this question. Is it fair to say our increased Estimates—an increase which we are compelled to propose—are the result of the aggressive policy of any particular Government of this country? Are these Estimates framed in any aggressive spirit? Does not the House see that they are forced upon us by the action of other countries? We have not taken the lead in any excessive steps. We have not endeavoured to raise the standard of the number of ships on which we are working. We have gone forward steadily, keeping that standard in view. I believe that it is going to be said in certain quarters that these Estimates are the Estimates of extravagance. [Some Opposition cheers]. I am glad to hear that that cheer comes from a very small Party in the House. I make the remark not for any political purpose; not to draw any contrast between one Government and another. What I want to do is to point out to the public, and, if possible, to Europe, that these Estimates cannot in any way be considered the Estimates of aggression. For that reason I was anxious that these Estimates should not be published before I made my statement.
§ MR. DILLON
Will the right honourable Gentleman tell us at the same time whether he can give us any explanation why the figures appeared in the "Times" this morning?
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I do not know what the honourable Member means. I have already said that the Admiralty have no knowledge of the matter. It must have been some breach of trust in some quarter or other. I think the honourable Gentleman ought not to have interrupted me at this important stage of my statement. Why I was anxious to make this statement before the Estimates were in the hands of honourable Members was because I did not wish the amounts of these Estimates to go forth to the world without the explanation which I was able to give of the motives which 322 underlie them and the circumstances in which they are framed. It is perfectly possible that if these Estimates had been in the hands of the public it might have been telegraphed all over Europe that we had made an immense increase in our Estimates, indicative of aggressive purposes, and of some design hostile to the general peace which we know the country desires, and which no Government ever desired more than we desire ourselves. I have spoken of the general increase in shipbuilding all over the world, but I must look to one case in particular. I look to the Estimates of the two most powerful nations—France and Russia. The increase in the French Estimate for naval construction is very small. In the case of Russia it is very different. They have increased their ordinary Estimate for ship construction by £1,500,000, and if you add to that a proportion of the £9,000,000 which was placed at their disposal they would be able to spend this year between £-1,000,000 and £3,500,000 more than they have been able to spend in former years. If, therefore, on Vote 8 there should be an increase of £2,000.000, let it not be thought that we have gone one jot beyond the circumstances as they stand now before the Conference is held. Looking at the Estimates and Programmes of other countries now before us—looking, I say, at the general situation and the known Programmes of other nations—I have come to the conclusion to lay down the following new ships: —Two ironclads, the construction of which will be in strict accordance with the principle we have followed throughout; two armoured cruisers of the displacement of 0.800 tons; and three smaller cruisers of a design not yet settled, which are to be very fast, and much smaller than the others in order to meet a special purpose. I want to call the attention of the House very briefly to the fact that some of our rivals are practically giving up the idea that they would be able to meet us in the open sea, or, if they were able to meet us in the open sea, that at all events the better policy would be to endeavour to wear out the patience of this country by prolonged attacks upon our commerce, our food supply, and our sources of production. They think that while our battleships would be lying opposite their ports, they would be able to 323 sweep down upon our commerce, until this country tired of the uncertainty and the injury inflicted upon us, and of the flag being transferred to other nations. It has been avowed in the most distinct terms. Scientific and professional writers and politicians and statesmen have all commended this plan, and, what is more, they have acted upon it. The plan now is to build very fast cruisers which shall prey upon our commerce and which shall inflict that damage upon us which I have attempted to describe. We cannot sit still in the face of the construction of cruisers intended for that purpose. We know that purpose, and it is our bounden duty to defeat it. It is in consequence of this that our Programme for the present year has been proposed. It is in pursuance of this policy, which I am sure honourable Members opposite would pursue if they were in the place of the present Government, that we have made our plans, and it is for that purpose we lay down in the coming year these five cruisers which I have described. It is scarcely necessary to speak of a couple of sloops which are to take the place of older ships. The money required for this new Programme in the coming financial year will be £550,000. The two large cruisers are to be commenced late in the year. The money we have taken is £550,000, besides the sum of £80,000 for some smaller craft and steamboats. Adding this sum of £630,000 to the £8,225,000 at which the liabilities of new construction from former years stood, you get a total of £8,855,000, an increase of £1,167,000 for the coming year. Adding the other items under Vote 8, the total Vote rises to £12,817,000, being an increase of £2,016,000 over the Vote for the present year. Those are the Estimates as they stand, looking to the present situation. But an International Conference is to be assembled. Will the deliberations of that Conference—will the actions of other nations resulting from that Conference—make it possible for us to diminish or modify our Programme for new construction, while, of course maintaining our standard and not altering our relative position? We have been compelled to increase our expenditure as other nations have increased theirs, not taking the lead, not pressing on more than they. As they have in- 324 creased, so we have increased. I have now to state on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that similarly, if the other great Naval Powers should be prepared to diminish their Programme of shipbuilding, we should be prepared on our side to meet such a procedure by modifying ours. The difficulties of adjustment are no doubt immense, but our desire that the Conference should succeed in lightening the tremendous burdens which now weigh down all European nations is sincere. But. if Europe comes to no agreement, and if the hopes entertained by the Tsar should not be realised, the Programme which I have submitted to the House must stand. It is constructed on the basis on which the House itself has always expected us to rest it. It is the lowest which can be justified by the existing expenditure on shipbuilding of other countries; it is the lowest by which we can secure the object which the people expect of the Navy. The increase in Vote 8 is £2,016,000. I have arrived at £850,000 as the increase in the personnel and other Votes, and thus we arrive at an increase of £2,866,000. The total estimates will be £26,594,000. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Mr. Morley) said the other day that our expenditure at that time of £24,000,000 was an expenditure in a time of profound peace. I do not know whether the House, bearing in mind the agitating time of the autumn, will think that the state of Europe was a state of profound peace. I should rather say it was at that time a state of precarious peace. I see now that the expenditure of the country is about to be attacked. I shall wish to know how far under the general cover of the reduction of expenditure those who embark in that campaign intend to attack the figures of the Navy Estimates. I do not care whether they denounce the Government, but do not let them attempt to dissuade the people from bearing such taxation and bearing such burdens as may be necessary to carry on the duties of Empire. If they wish to reduce, let us know in what they wish to reduce. Let them come out into the open; let us know where we are. The moment has come, perhaps, when the nation may be put to the test as to paying for this great expenditure. I believe the nation will be prepared to 325 bear it. I do not believe that the nation, which was satisfied with its position last year, I do not believe that honourable Members who last year went from platform to platform sincerely and patriotically, as we believe, speaking of our naval predominance—I do not think they, under the guise of denouncing expenditure in general and resisting the imposition of taxation, would wish that the result of their action should be in the slightest degree to diminish the efforts which we must make if we intend to hold our own. It depends on how you look at it. If you think that a war is simply an absurd impossibility, if you think you can have peace without power, if you believe in the sweet reasonableness of Europe in arms, then I admit that these Estimates are a crime. If, on the other hand, it is not so, then these Estimates are a necessity, and they are simply the embodiment of the will of a peace-loving, but a determined people.
§ On the Question that the Motion to go into a Committee of Supply be withdrawn,
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
I think that the peculiar position in which we are placed should not be allowed to pass in silence. The right honourable Gentleman has made, as he always does, a lucid and powerful statement, but in listening to that statement the House has been deprived of the advantage which, until the present Administration came into power, it uniformly enjoyed of having had before it the Estimates in print. Owing, however, to the position in which we are placed, it is impossible intelligently to follow the statement of the right honourable Gentleman, and to adequately appreciate the situation. I am bound to say, speaking for myself, and speaking, I believe, the opinion of a very large number of Members on both sides of the House, that the reason which the right honourable Gentleman has given for a departure from the usual practice is wholly inadequate. The only reason he has stated is that if he circulated these Estimates in advance foreign nations might have been so alarmed at the apparently extravagant figures that they would have imputed to this country aggressive designs. Is that an adequate or satisfactory reason for depriving the 326 House of Commons of its constitutional right to know beforehand exactly what the Ministers of the Crown have to submit? For my part, I do not think we should be justified in allowing this opportunity to pass without a strong and emphatic protest against the course adopted, which is an entire departure from the uniform practice of the past, and which, if persisted in, will to a large extent, in these introductory statements which are so important, deprive the House of a privilege and indeed disable it from performing the duty of effective criticism. I wish to ask the First Lord of the Treasury when he proposes that this Debate should be resumed. In the circumstances in which we are placed I would suggest that at any rate a reasonable delay should take place in order that we may have the opportunity of comparing the right honourable Gentleman's statement with the figures which we have seen for the first time in print.
ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
Are we to be favoured with a Memorandum, or are we to depend on the First Lord's speech?
§ MR. DILLON
When I previously directed the attention of the right honourable Gentleman to this subject, the only reason which he gave for withholding the Estimates and the Memorandum until the close of Questions was that, if he had allowed the figures to become public property without being accompanied with his explanations, the facts might have been telegraphed all over Europe; and, having heard the figures, I am not surprised that he believed Europe would interpret them as a menace and a threat. But, Sir, how could such an argument for a moment justify the withholding of the Estimates or the Memorandum during this forenoon? Does the right honourable Gentleman imagine that if the Estimates and Memorandum had been placed in the Vote Office this morning, or at two or three o'clock this afternoon—as we were led to expect they would be from the answer of the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House—or even yesterday, that they would have been immediately communicated to Europe and produced the international results feared? Now, Sir, I think I am entitled to draw the attention of the 327 House to one of the inevitable evils which always spring from such attempts to keep the House in darkness. The newspapers are active, and some of them unscrupulous in endeavouring to get information that is interesting. And what is the result? "The Times" this morning gives a résumé of the right honourable Gentleman's figures which were denied to the House of Commons. When I asked the right honourable Gentleman to explain the fact that these formidable and startling figures were published in "The Times," to the exclusion of the other papers—because it is generally understood that the words "We understand" are used by such papers as "The Times" to introduce a semi-official communiqué—he said that the utmost secrecy had been maintained. How is it that the newspapers fail to get hold of the Budget figures? Why cannot the Admiralty maintain the secrecy of their office as well as the Chancellor of the Exchequer? When I pressed the question, the right honourable Gentleman said all he could say was that there must have been a very great breach of official duty and a betrayal of trust. Well, Sir, this is only another example of the rule which I think has a universal application— namely, that unless, as in the case of the Budget, there is an overwhelming and overmastering public necessity for maintaining secrecy, all these attempts to keep the House in the dark are always productive of great evil and ought to be avoided. The general result is to- be seen in the scandalous publication, as I do not hesitate to call it, in "The Times." As a private Member, I must say that I think the practice of the present Government of introducing the Navy Estimates in this way, without previously giving the Opposition an opportunity of seeing them, is a very bad one. I do not see why the introduction of the Navy Estimates should not be preceded with the same publicity as the Army Estimates.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I tell the honourable Member that no one can regret more than the Admiralty do that by some means or other, which I have called a gross breach of trust, or some piece of carelessness, those figures should have become known. I would apologise to the House if it 328 were necessary, or if it thought it had been treated by a want of courtesy through the non-circulation of the Estimates. I must remind the House, however, that the same practice as is now condemned was followed two years ago by common consent of the House, and I understand that it was considered to be a convenient method. ["No."] It was at that time. If serious remonstrances had been made at that time the practice would not have been followed now. I regret now that I have taken the course which I have taken. I wish to be entirely frank with the House, and to give honourable Members every possible convenience in studying the Estimates. The present method was adopted in the full belief that the House would find it to be as convenient now as I believe it found it to be convenient in 1896.
§ *MR. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)
After the statement and expression of regret made by the right honourable Gentleman, I think it would be invidious to persist in the complaints we have been making during the past few days. I should, however, like to point out that our complaint is not of any want of courtesy on the pare of the right honourable Gentleman, but that the Government have deprived the House of its constitutional opportunity of seeing the Estimates before the speech and Motion made by the right honourable Gentleman. Since the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury made a statement in answer to the Question Which I put to him on Tuesday, I have made investigations, and desire to take this opportunity of pointing out the course pursued in 1896 and 1897. I find that in 1897 the Motion for the Speaker leaving the chair was taken on Friday, 5th March, and the Estimates were circulated on Wednesday 3rd March. In 1899 a Motion was made on the Speaker leaving the Chair on the 2nd March. The Estimates were not circulated to Members until the morning of the 3rd March, but I am informed in the Vote Office that to Members who inquired for them the Estimates and the Memorandum of the First Lord of the Admiralty were in the Vote Office for the use of Members at the moment that the First Lord of the Admiralty made 329 his speech. So I venture to say that the course of proceedings to-night by the First Lord of the Admiralty has been a distinct departure from all former precedents, or, at any rate, a very largo extension of the bad precedent of two years ago. Now, I appeal to the First Lord that he should go back to the old practice of the House, and that Members of the House of Commons should be safeguarded in the maintenance of their privilege in having an opportunity of seeing these Estimates in detail, and the Memorandum of the Minister responsible for them, before they are called upon to hear his elaborate and detailed statement, which otherwise they cannot fully comprehend. And I venture to submit, Sir, that in so doing he would be returning to a good practice, which has proved acceptable and useful, at any rate, until two years ago, and which apparently, by the proceedings of to-night, there is no sound or substantial reason for departing from to-day.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I wish to ask, Sir, whether if any Member continues the Debate now, he will be debarred from joining in the Debate when it is resumed?
§ *THE DEPUTY SPEAKER
If the House now grants permission to withdraw the Motion, he would not be debarred. Of course, if the House does not do so, discussion will have to go on, and then every Member who has already taken part in the Debate would be debarred from taking further part in the Debate upon the Motion.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
I take my chance of being debarred and I have got up now to ask a simple question, for which I desire an answer from someone in a responsible position on the Treasury Bench. I wish to know whether there will be an inquiry in the Admiralty Office as to how this special information was furnished to "The Times?" Now, there is a precedent for that. In 1878, when the Sehouvalofi-Salisbury Memorandum was published, I believe in the "Globe" newspaper, an inquiry was held—but the "Globe" is not "The Times": it is not the more-favoured journal. When that Sehouvalofi- Salisbury Memorandum was 330 published two days before Lord Salisbury denied all about it, there was an inquiry at the Foreign Office, and then three or four officials were dismissed. It can be easily found out who gave this information if it is wished to do so. If the Government refuse an inquiry, we will still believe that this information reached "The Times" through some authorised source.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
No doubt it may be by a little technical irregularity that we should not have had the Estimates, but it does seem to me somewhat strange that those honourable Members who are making so much about the increasing desire for peace throughout the world should forget that the reason the Government has given us is that they thought that this might tend to aggravate the feeling of Europe, and that the Estimates have been withdrawn until this very reasonable Statement could be put forward. It seems to me that those of us who really wish to promote peace ought to support the Government in this, because the reason given by the First Lord of the Admiralty seems to me to be a most pacific one, and one likely to tend rather to the welfare of the world than the reverse.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.