§ Order for Committee read.
Motion made. and Question proposed—
That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.
*SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH (Lancashire, Clitheroe)
I think I shall—
§ *MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)
I rise to a point of order, and I desire to ask whether a Member who secures priority by ballot, and who puts his notice on the Paper, is not entitled to priority.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I could not give the honourable Member priority over other Amendments, because all he has done is to put a notice on the Paper that he will call attention to a particular matter. In a general discussion I call upon the honourable Member who catches my eye first.
MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
I have also an Amendment down on the Paper, which I intend to move. So far as the practice in this matter is concerned, it seems to me that we are in the position of "Alice in Wonderland."
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I must ask the honourable Member to address himself at once to the point of order, if he has one.
I should like to ask whether, on going into Committee of Supply, we are to have only set Debates between the Front Benches?
My point is that I wish to ask permission to move a Resolution if I have the right to move it, and I wish to know if I have any priority?
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The honourable Member is in error in supposing he has given notice of any Amendment. He has only given notice that he will put down a Resolution, and that he has not done.
*SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
I think I shall be expressing the general feeling of the House when I say how much we regret to observe the absence of the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, and especially when we are informed of its cause. I am the more sorry that the right honourable Gentleman is absent, because I shall naturally have to refer several times to the speech which he addressed to us on Thursday last. In moving the Navy Estimates last year the First Lord of the Admiralty said that he was asking the House to grant a colossal sum, and the sum which he then referred to, including certain expenditure under the Naval Works Act, amounted to 25½ millions. Making a similar addition for the money to be expended this year under the Naval Works Act, the sum which the right honourable Gentleman is proposing that the Admiralty should administer within the year which is about to open is no less than 28 millions of money. That is almost double the sum with which the Admiralty had to deal at the time when the late Government entered office in 1892. The Estimates then were 14¼ millions. To that, in fairness, ought to be added, £1,150,000 issued under the Naval Defence Act, and therefore the actual Naval expenditure for that year was about 15½ millions. Perhaps I ought not to leave out of the account the other parts of our naval and military expenditure in order to show how vastly the whole of our naval and military expenditure has grown. Going 576 back for seven years, in the year 1892 the amount spent, as a charge against the revenue, for the Navy and the Army was not quite 33½ millions. To that an addition of two millions has to be made on account of money spent under various Acts of Parliament from various loan funds, giving a total of under 35½ millions, and I calculate from such information as we have now before us that the corresponding sum for the year which is now about to open will be no less than 50 millions of money. Under the circumstances, I do not think that the epithet "colossal" seems to be exaggerated. Last year the right honourable Gentleman evidently thought that his large proposals were likely to be popular. I am not quite sure that I did not observe somewhat of a difference of tone in the right honourable Gentleman's speech on introducing the Estimates this year. When the Government have before them a prospective deficit, naturally the tone which they assume in announcing any large proposals of expenditure to the House will be somewhat different. They further realise that the British public are now under the influence of the hopes aroused by the Rescript of the Emperor of Russia, and that also I think had a proper and natural effect upon the spirit in which the right honourable Gentleman presented his proposals to the House. But in view of this enormous expenditure of 50 millions, I venture to express an opinion that the question of how much more the British public will calmly stand is becoming acute, and the question arises whether we cannot find means either in our policy or in our administration, or by an agreement with the other Powers of Europe—who have to endure a still heavier burden than this country, especially on account of a ruthless system of conscription—to check this expenditure, or at least to put a limit to its further growth, and prepare the way for reducing this great military and naval outlay in the future. It is not for me in this Debate to enter upon the discussion of the hopes raised by the proposal of the Tsar and the Conference which is to take place, but it has aroused hopes in this country of which 577 the Government should take note. There may be a cynical scepticism as to its practical results in certain quarters in London, but if Her Majesty's Government should fail to offer every assistance in promoting the object of the Tsar of Russia the country will be of opinion that a great opportunity has been lost. I think our hopes would have been much brighter but for these gigantic Estimates, and this increase of nearly three millions. However, we must fasten upon the words in which the First Lord expressed the readiness of the Government to modify their programme of shipbuilding if the other great Naval Powers are prepared to diminish their programmes also. I pass from this topic to the opening statement of the First Lord's speech on Thursday in which he expressed legitimate satisfaction at the striking confidence shown by the country last autumn, and at the fact that there was no need to ask for a Vote of Credit. I warmly share that feeling of satisfaction. There has been nothing more unsatisfactory in our expenditure in past years than the great waste which has taken place under various Votes of Credit, not for the purpose of really increasing the naval and military strength of this country but for the purpose of a mere demonstration. I have had before me in years past a good many details of the mode in which one, at least, of these Votes of Credit was expended, and I am perfectly prepared to admit with the right honourable Gentleman that it is much more economical to spend money by means of the Estimates on a real addition to the naval strength of the country than, on a sudden spurt in a moment of alarm, to waste a quantity of money upon some mere demonstration, and upon purchases in a hurry which turn out to have no permanent value at all. The First Lord of the Admiralty went on to make some very sarcastic remarks about the exaggerated ideas of the public as to the expenditure in the dockyards last autumn. He referred to the impression that officers' leave had been stopped; he referred to the head-lines in the newspapers, and to their sensational statements. Well. Sir, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to speak a little later in the autumn, he told us, as the right honourable Gentleman told us on 578 Thursday last, that, after all, the expenditure had only been a few thousands. But why did not the First Lord of the Admiralty allay all this excitement and neutralise all these head-lines in the newspapers? Why did he not promptly allay the perturbation of the public mind and correct the evil effects of all these rumours by a statement of an official character? I will go further when asking that question, and remind the House and the Government of a certain letter from the First Lord himself, excusing himself from attending the Cutlers' Feast at Sheffield—a letter that must have delighted the honourable Member for the Ecclesall Division of Sheffield, but which did more than all these headlines to disturb the public mind, and to give currency to the rumours to which he has referred. Well, Sir, in referring to the satisfaction which we must-feel at the comparative calmness of public feeling in the country last autumn, and to the fact that there was no need to come before Parliament and ask for a Vote of Credit, I think I may justly say that more than one or two Hoards of Admiralty may take some credit for that state of the public mind. The advance of our naval strength, the arrangements for mobilisation, our readiness to victual the Fleet, to clothe our men, to coal our ships, and supply them with the necessary ammunition, and to equip them with officers and men, have not been the work of only one Board of Admiralty, but have been the work of two or three successive Boards at least. Another point which is extremely satisfactory now as compared with a good many years ago, is the efficient condition of our ships in the Reserve, of which we have had ample demonstration on more than one occasion in the last two or three years. And what has been the consequence of this? First, we have had tranquillity amongst the best-informed portion of the public; secondly, it has not been necessary to have recourse to those methods to which I have already referred, to remedy the omissions of Admiralty administration by sudden and hasty steps and a scrambling outlay of millions. Now, Sir, before I leave that subject, perhaps I may be allowed, though I shall do it, I hope, with due modesty and diffidence, to utter a note of warning. It is nearly seven years since 579 I became intimately acquainted with Admiralty administration, and at that time the Dockyards and certain Departments of the Admiralty seemed to me to be very heavily weighted with work and responsibility, and I would refer especially to two officers, members of the Board of Admiralty, who seemed to me to be burdened with an enormous amount of work—I mean the First Sea Lord and the Controller. Consider how that work has increased. If you compare the number of men of all kinds, officers, blue-jackets, boys, marines, in the Navy at that time and those which are proposed in these Estimates, you will find that now there are half as many again. If you take the Controller's Vote, Vote A, the figures for new construction, including all the Naval Defence Act expenditure in 1893, were £4,400,000. Now they are close upon £8,900,000. Therefore, the figures for new construction which have to be administered from the Controller's Department have more than doubled. If you take the Armaments Vote for guns and ammunition, torpedoes, and the like, it has increased by 77 per cent. The net Estimates plus the expenditure of the year under the Naval Defence Act and the Works Acts has not very far from doubled. Nov.', Sir, the burdens of administration are not the only oh jection, nor the most serious objection, to be put in the balance and weighed against the arguments for these huge Estimates. When we pride ourselves on the admirable state of preparation last autumn, we may reflect that we have put so greatly increased a burden on our administrators that the time may have come when, on the one hand, the brake should be applied to further increase, and on the other, some attention should be paid to internal organisation, in order that we may guard against any break-down of administrative machinery, any over-weighting of the individual officers who have presided with such great success over these growing and now almost unwieldy Departments. I do not propose to deal at the present moment with the question of manning; but there was one omission from the speech of the right honourable Gentleman in introducing these Estimates which I hope will be supplied by and by. Turning to the explanation of Vote A, we see that the whole of the additional 580 numbers proposed for the year are 4,250. But while the increases proposed this year for the seaman class of men, engineroom ratings, and so on, boys, and Royal Marines are considerably less than they were last year, there is a very considerable increase in the number of officers. This year, an addition of 173 commissioned officers is proposed instead of 111, and an increase of 119 subordinate officers instead of 39 increase, and an increase of 171 warrant officers in place of an increase of 50 last year. I hope also that some explanation more than is given on page 4 of the First Lord's Memorandum will be afforded to the House as to the proposed permanent increases in the several lists of officers, and that we shall be told how this large increase in the officers will affect the results of the inquiry which was conducted by an Inter Departmental Committee, in which Admiral Sir A. Hoskins, Lord Welby, Captain Bourke, and others took part some four or five years ago. I would rather deal with that subject after the explanations have been offered, and therefore I pass from it to the question of new construction. Sir, there is an omission this year in the Memorandum of the First Lord of a paragraph which for many years has regularly appeared, showing, on page 10, for example, of the Memorandum of each of the last two years, the number of ships actually under construction of each class. Well, now, I have done my best to supply this omission for myself, and I will give the results to the House. During the year which is now coming to an end, a very large number of ships were to be under construction, according to the statement of the First Lord in March last. I will give in each case the figures as I make them out now. There were 12 battleships under construction during the current year, 18 in the next year. First-class cruisers, 16 this year, 22 next year. Other cruisers, 16 this year, and 19 next year. Torpedo boat destroyers, 41 increased to 58. Thus we shall have six more battleships and nine more cruisers under construction apparently in the coming year' than have been under construction during the present year, and we shall have 17 more torpedo-boat destroyers also under construction than in 1898–99. This, Sir, is a larger number of battle- 581 ships and of first-class cruisers and of torpedo-boat destroyers than has been under construction in any former year. And I need not dwell upon the enormous size or the enormous cost of them, for the House is probably already aware of it. The battleships range from 13,000 tons to 15,000 tons, whilst the cruisers range from 9,800 tons up to 14,000 tons—that is, first-class cruisers. As to the cost, we have not got the figures before us, but we may infer what it is if we bear in mind that the "Royal Sovereign" class cost from £840,000 to £900,000 apiece; "Majesties" from £850,000 to £900,000 a piece; and that "Formidables" are calculated to cost £997,000 to a million a piece. And coming to first-class cruisers, the "Powerful" and "Terrible" cost £700,000 each, and the Cressy" class about £720,000. Sir, I stated that in seven years our expenditure on new construction has more than doubled, and that our expenditure on naval armaments has increased by 77 per cent. I may be told—"Look abroad and see the expenditure which is going on there." Well, Sir, it is very difficult to compare with some foreign countries, because the information is not available, at all events to an independent Member. But there is one country with which we can compare—that is France. I will therefore take France. France is usually the first referred to in these comparisons, because it has the second largest fleet and naval expenditure, coming after ourselves. I find, on referring to the Report of the Reporter of the Budget Committee of the French Chamber, M. De la Porte, that the new construction in 1892 amounted to 70½ millions of francs. In 1899 it is 92½, millions of francs. It has not doubled like ours, but has increased by about 31½ per cent. French armaments in 1892 cost 32½ millions of francs; in 1899 the cost is 28¾ millions of francs—that is, the Armament Vote has not increased by 77 per cent., but diminished by nearly one-eighth. I am bound to admit that there seems to be an extraordinary fluctuation in the French expenditure upon armaments from year to year. But still the increase, if increase there has been in recent years, has not been at all the same as in our case. The cost of the navy to France altogether seems to have increased in these 582 seven years by about 20 per cent. Well, it may fairly be argued—Why cannot we afford to wait and watch a little under these circumstances of France's expenditure? There are great advantages in waiting. It is astonishing in naval constructive science what great strides and advances have been made within recent years: sometimes even in a few months immense strides in advance are taken, no! only with respect to guns and other instruments of attack, but also with respect to protective armour, in which we have seen enormous changes within a few years, and with respect to the speed which can be attained by vessels of each size and each description. Moreover, this country has still, comparatively. an immense advantage in the speed of naval construction and completion of our ships. No doubt last year we grumbled at the delays which took place in consequence of a great trade dispute, and there were serious failures to expend the money which Parliament had voted. But those delays are relatively unimportant if you make a comparison between the delays in this country and the delays which occur in France. Let us look for a moment at what are the results obtained by shipbuilding in this country I will take two instances of which we have evidence in this day's newspapers. The "Implacable," which was launched on Saturday at one of the dockyards, was commenced in July 1898. The "Glory," which was commenced in December 189G, was floated out on Saturday. and is to be delivered in August or September 1899, because she has been floated out in a very advanced condition, with a great deal of her structure completed. I need not remind the House of the records obtained in the building of the "Majestic" and "Magnificent," one of which was finished and put in commission within 22 months after the laying of the keel, and the other within 24 months. Let us turn from that to the facts about France. I have here the statement of the Reporter of the French Budget Committee, M. De la Porte, and referring to the facts which he sets forth, I will briefly summarise them to the House. I will take first the cruisers, as he does. These are the results both at arsenals and private yards. The "Jeanne d'Arc" is a first-class cruiser of over 11,000 tons. She 583 was talked of in 1895 or sooner; she was not put on the slip until October 1896; she is not to be completed until the end of 1901. So that she will have been more than five years under construction. Take the "Dupleix" next; she was ordered in December 1897, in January 1899 she was not yet laid down; she is not likely to be finished by the beginning of 1902 at the earliest. These are official facts stated in this Report. For the "Desaix," the "Kleber," and the "Chateau-renault," three years and four months, three years and six months, and three years and nine months respectively, are asked by the contractors—the "Chateau-renault" being one of the commerce-destroyers of which we hear so much. For the "d'Entrecasteaux," four years were asked, and it is found that five years will be needed before she will go through her trials. Now, I come to the battleships. The "Charlemagne" was begun on the 30th September 1893. Her gunnery trials took place on the 15th October 1897, but the vessel will not be complete for some months; while the "Gaulois" is not yet complete, though begun on the 22nd of January 1895. And then there is the case of the "Saint Louis." The "Saint Louis" was laid down in 1894; she will begin her trials in April of this year, but she must wait for the delivery of her turrets until June 1900. It seems that in respect to turrets, not only this ship, but at least one, perhaps two, other battleships of the French Navy have been greatly delayed because of a discussion which has gone on as to the nature of the turrets to be placed on these battleships. That discussion ultimately resulted in the original design being adhered to, but the result is that the ships are delayed for those long periods that I have mentioned to the House. The Reporter of the Budget Committee calls these "afflicting statements." He devotes four quarto pages to a lament over "the excessive slowness of shipbuilding" in France. I venture to ask the House again whether we should not be gainers by waiting and watching a little. We can overtake new foreign ships that are being constructed with more modern designs and with the latest improvements. And then there is another fact which I have kept for the end, because, after all, 584 it is perhaps the one we ought to consider most seriously; and that is, that France is slackening in building battleships. No doubt this is the effect of the policy which has been pursued by, as I have said, not only one Board of Admiralty, but by two or three successive Boards of Admiralty. France has come to the conclusion that this is a race in which she cannot profitably persevere. I do not propose to trouble the House with more than two quotations, but if they will permit me I will read a few passages from this Report of M. De la Porte, because I think it is important that the House and the country should know what is the present feeling of the French with regard to battleships, and what has been the effect of the policy which we have pursued in recent years. This is what he says—Thanks to the vigorous and costly effort made during these last years, our Fleet will have been augmented by 12 battleships in the decennial period from 1890 to 1899 inclusive.The House will remember that: 12 battleships in 10 years—Can we flatter ourselves that by continuing that effort we shall some day see our battleships rival in number those of England? It is enough to consult a table showing the composition of the English squadrons…to convince oneself that they comprise in point of fact 21 battleships launched between 1891 and 1896.Well, Sir, I do not think M. De la Porte is quite accurate in his facts with respect to England. If he had stated 20 battleships completed between 1891 and 1897 I think he would have been correct; so we may compare 20 battleships within eight years to 12 battleships within a period of 10 years. He enumerates the stations of our ships, and then goes on to say—If our battleships are, and must remain, whatever we do, inferior in number to those of England, she distances us even more in the matter of cruisers.And then he points out that the tonnage of English cruisers is 528,415 tons, and the tonnage of French cruisers 136,690 tons, giving a difference in favour of England of 391,725 tons. He adds—Our inferiority in battleships is 287,815 tons. We are therefore short, as compared with England, of 100,000 tons more in cruisers than in battleships.585 Well, Sir, perhaps I may there interject one remark. I think M. De la Porte overlooks in that argument the fact that we have immensely greater duties to perform in time of peace all over the world in respect of out commerce, and in respect of our Colonies, than any other nation in the world, and I do not think our preponderance of cruisers must be only on the two-nation basis, as undoubtedly, even in time of peace, we require far more cruisers than any other nation. Interjecting that remark, lest I should be accused of overlooking an important point, I will again refer to M. De la Porte, who says—"We are not on the eve of regaining the lost time." And he ends by approvingwithout reserve the decision of the Minister of Marine to suspend for 1899 the ordering of a new battleship, so as to concentrate all available resources on cruisers, torpedo boats, and submarine vessels.I think I am not mistaken in saying that a similar course was adopted in the previous year: so there is to be a reduction of from two battleships projected, to one started in the present year, and there has been a reduction from three to one in the past year. Well, Sir, I do not think I need detain the House in pointing out our strength in battleships. We have a total of 29 first-class battleships built and at this moment in commission, and in addition to that we are building six of the "Canopus" class, six "Formidables," and four "Duncans," making a total of 45, without the addition of two which are proposed in the Estimates now before us, which will make a total of 47 in all. Then there is the question raised by a great naval authority—Admiral Colonib. In an article which he published lately he referred to the "Cressy" class of cruisers, with their powerful armour, and he maintained that these cruisers could be counted as battleships. Under all these circumstances, I think we may be very easy on the subject of our strength in battleships. I turn for a moment to the question of cruisers. We hear a great deal outside, and we heard something in the speech of the right honourable Gentleman on the subject of cruisers as' commerce destroyers, and of the hopes of some foreign nations which 586 seem to be based on the idea that if they cannot beat us in line of battle or destroy our squadrons, at least they can destroy our commerce. Well, that must be taken into account no doubt; but if any honourable Member of this House, or any person who reads these Debates, is disposed to regard that system of naval warfare that system of commerce destruction, as one that is likely to do us fatal harm I would advise him to look at the treatment of that subject—and the very thorough treatment of it—in the great historical works of Captain Mahan. I am sure the House will forgive me if I read a sentence or two from that distinguished naval authority. He deals with the question in a scientific and complete fashion in his great works, "The Influence of Sea Power in History," and the other specially dealing with the period of the French Revolution. At page 137 of the former book Captain Mahan, dealing with this very question of commerce destroyers, says—"We need not expect to see the feats of these ships" (the "Alabama," the "Sumter," and their consorts, to which he had been referring)"repeated in the face of a great sea Power. "Again, on page 138, he says—"Such injuries, unaccompanied by others, are more irritating than weakening." Sir, unless the command of the sea is acquired by an enemy by the defeat of our Fleets in battle, little more than temporary annoyance would be caused to this country by commerce destroyers. The temporary annoyance to commerce might be serious if we had no fast cruisers, or had an insufficient number of them, but if our Fleets were undefeated our sea power and our national safety would remain. Returning to the question of battleships, I do not think that the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord gave us sufficient grounds or sufficient argument to justify the building of two more battleships in the face of the strength of this country in battleships to which I have alluded, and also in the face of the change of policy which is being pursued in France. But, at the same time, I think it would be most unwise if anyone speaking on this side of the House were to dogmatise on a subject of this sort. The Government may be in possession of information which is not accessible to us; but that 587 information needs to be more fully communicated to the House. The right honourable Gentleman the First Lord admitted as regards France that the increase on the French Estimates was very small. He has not given us sufficient facts in regard to Russia, and these we cannot obtain for ourselves. But I think before the House is asked to vote these enormous sums of money, augmented as they will be this year and in future years by the addition of two more battleships to the great strength which we already possess, we are entitled to more exact information as to the grounds upon which the Government bases this increase. We, on this side of the House, at any rate, advocate a policy of good understanding between England and Russia, and that good understanding may affect what we may have to do in the way of building ships. It is not my province to dwell fully on the subject, but I do venture to suggest that, unless the case is very overwhelming and is far stronger than was stated by the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord, we should pause before we agree to the necessity of building these two battleships. I once more, in conclusion, express the hope that the Peace Conference will prepare the way for the abatement of this enormous outlay and a relief to the burdens weighing not only on the rich and prosperous, but on the poor and struggling masses of the people, on whom taxation falls with crushing effect.
§ *SIR J. COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
The right honourable Gentleman who has just sat down stated that he was arguing from past experience; but I think that it is very unsafe to dogmatise as to what would be the effect of operations against commerce under modern conditions, which have so wholly changed during the past few years. It is not the actual damage that would be done by an enemy of inferior power to our commerce, but the moral effect on those manifold and delicate transactions of commerce which would result from any interference with it. No man is entitled to dogmatise as to what the effect would be. I am not going to enter into questions relating to the personnel or the material of the Navy, because I think that time will be saved by de- 588 ferring observations on any of these points until we get into Committee. But there are two main points connected with the broad Question of the Naval policy of this country on which I wish to offer a few observations. One is a statement contained in the First Lord's admirable and statesmanlike speech, the other is an omission from that speech. In regard to the speech of the First Lord, he stated on behalf of Her Majesty's Government—That similarly if the other great naval Powers should be prepared to diminish their programmes of shipbuilding we should be prepared, on our side, to meet such a procedure by modifying ours.Then the First Lord went on to say—But if Europe conies to no agreement the programme must stand.No one will deny that that is a statement of immense gravity; and I think I need not apologise to the House for examining it for a few minutes. I venture to think that an official intimation of readiness to determine the extent of our naval force by reference to the wishes of a selected number of European maritime nations is a regrettably new departure in British policy. I object to allowing our naval policy to be saddled with any conditions laid down at any conference, only representing certain maritime powers, and not all. My reason for that is that there is no parallel at all in the British position and in the position of any other nation in the world. Geographically we are absolutely distinct from these other nations. Russia, for example, is a self-contained Power. And if you take France, which is the nearest neighbour to us, she has a Colonial Empire next in importance to ours. But if you look at the French position and at our position, you at once see that there is no parallel between them. The geographical facts are that the outlying areas of France are nothing to the outlying areas of Great Britain. From an economic point of view the two nations cannot be compared in any shape whatever. Why, the aggregate trade of the outlying portions of the British Empire alone, from year to year, exceed in annual value the aggregate imports and exports of France, Russia, Germany, and Italy all put together. And that shows 589 this, that the main difference between us and any other Powers I have mentioned, is, that the internal communications of our world-wide Empire are our sea communications, and that is not the case with any other Powers. Then, I come to the next point—the point of the standard of measurement. The only standard that can be relied on of the required naval strength is the standard based on a careful review not merely of the forces of the other Powers, but on a survey of the whole position and of the geographical distribution of their ports. We are told that the standard we are now acting upon is that if we have a Fleet equal to a combination of the fleets of any other two nations which could be brought against our Fleet, we are perfectly safe. I do not know where that standard came from, Sir. I agree that it is a very useful standard, but it is a rule-of-thumb standard and mainly political. It is not a scientific standard, and you cannot base comparisons of naval strength simply on the abstract number of ships. The standard now adopted and acted upon is a wholly theoretical standard, an entirely untested standard. Even If it is based on the fact that in war our Fleet will be equal to the two most powerful fleets of other Powers, it means that you allow no margin whatever for the accidents of maritime war, no margin for a combination against us of more than two Powers. And you allow no margin for the result of errors of judgment in a commander. In these days these are very important factors. At most it leaves this Empire with its vast communications at the mercy of a third Power. While agreeing, therefore, that that standard, from a political point of view, is a reasonable rule of thumb standard, it is not, in my opinion, a standard to pin ourselves to abide by in judging of our relative superiority over other nations. The conditions and requirements our Fleet has to fulfil must vary with the quarter from which war comes. The question is one of the geographical distribution of the enemy's ports. That is the main factor in the problem. The further these ports are from this island the greater will be our difficulties, and the greater must be the numerical preponderance which we require to produce 590 equality. Certain people, of whom I believe the noble Lord the Member for York is one, think that in war we must abandon the Mediterranean; and one reason for that is the distribution of foreign war ports in one sea. I wholly disagree with that programme, but it is the natural corrollary of the fallacy of a rule of thumb standard of abstract equality of one Fleet to two. Our standard must be, I think, to provide and to maintain equality at least in every sea and off every coast and under all circumstances, and not equality of numbers merely on paper. Our numbers must be sufficient to do that. For these reasons, Sir. I object to our going into a Conference with the assumption that the standard, that the rule of thumb standard, is a thoroughly reliable one, and that if certain other European Powers reduce their Fleets, then we are to reduce ours. I protest against that. I think the idea is dangerous. My right honourable Friend says that if Europe comes to no agreement, our programme must stand. So we are to understand that if Europe, in the Peace Conference, does come to an agreement we will modify our rule of thumb standard. I venture to ask: What about the United States, and what about Japan We cannot deal with this question of our relative strength of our Fleet, and of European Fleets, and be bound by a proposal for a reduction of our Fleet, if any portion of the great maritime Powers is left out of account. Therefore, I must say, I look on the statement which, the First Lord deliberately made on behalf of the Government as containing elements of great danger. Who can say, for example, that circumstances may not arise at no very distant period which may bring about in the North Pacific a combination between the United States and Japan and Russia? All of them are North Pacific Powers, and have local ports. Their aims may be similar, and the objects of their policy may be similar, and these aims and these objects it will be their interest and their duty to enforce. In such an event, and in view of the naval developments of these Powers in the North Pacific which is now plainly visible, the difficulties of our two islands in the north-east corner of the Atlantic to assert supremacy in the North Pacific are too obvious to need my enlarging upon them. They strike 591 one at once. My belief is it could not be done except by so weakening our Fleet in European waters, in order to produce equality in the North Pacific, as to imperil our own maritime position in this hemisphere. In my humble judgment, therefore, I submit that all the maritime Powers in the world must agree to modify their naval armaments before we can seriously consider any suggestion to modify ours. We are an Oceanic Power, and not a European Power pure and simple. And we cannot tie up our hands because, not all the Oceanic Powers, but a certain select number of European nations, think we ought to do so. Now, every sensible man wishes that the Conference at the Hague will make for peace; but no sensible man can really believe that the reduction of British naval power, which would make British supremacy at sea doubtful, would make for peace at all. All history is against that idea. It was not until the supremacy of the seas fell into our hands, 94 years ago, that there was any prolonged peace at all. And if I read history aright, that is because the undoubted supremacy of the sea has been for 94 years in the hands of the greatest traders in the world, who have the greatest interest in maintaining peace. British naval supremacy of the seas is, therefore, the best guarantee of peace. It is because I desire to see peace that I do not wish to see tampering with the Navy whatever. That brings me to the next point I want to make, and that is, the omission from the speech of my right honourable Friend the First Lord, to which I have referred. It is, to my mind, a very remarkable omission, and I am puzzled to understand it. In the Queen's Speech we had a paragraph pronouncing satisfaction that the Cape Parliament had recognised the principle of a common responsibility of the Colon}', and had made a contribution to the British Navy. The First Lord, in a long speech he delivered the other night, never touched upon that important fact once. I do not think that, looking at the facts of the British position with regard to the great Colonies, that great event—for great it is—should be passed over practically in silence by the First Lord. Here you have a new departure, a recognition on the part of an outlying portion of the Empire, of the duties and responsibilities attaching 592 to it for the naval defence of the Empire, passed over in silence by the First Lord, and hardly alluded to by any other honourable Member in the Debates in the House. Now, I regard this as an unfortunate omission. Looking at the thing fairly in the face, you are trying to carry on the maintenance and the defence of the Empire, spread over the whole world, out of the resources of two overcrowded islands in the northeast of the Atlantic. That is what you are trying to do. It appears to me that that is a programme which the British people cannot regard with satisfaction. I will endeavour to make one or two points, which will establish my position. We are paying no heed to the broad fact that the potentialities of British strength are shifting; the centre of gravity of the sources of British power is changing, and the time is at hand when a recognition of that fact cannot be ignored. It is somewhat strange that the practical recognition of that fact does not come from Her Majesty's Government or from the Leaders of the Opposition, but comes from the Cape Colony, which spontaneously makes a permanent annual contribution to our Fleet, and Members in the House, and indeed the House itself, takes it quite as a matter of course. Surely this is a melancholy proof of the apathetic disregard of the problem that lies before the British people. The problem lying before us is this: How to combine the resources of all parts of the Empire for the defence of common interests and the security of common rights. The common interest and the common right is the security of the sea. I would like to justify that statement of the shifting of the potentialities of British strength during the Queen's reign. For example, at the Accession of the Queen the population of the whole British Empire was 126 millions; it is now over 100 millions—more than treble. The aggregate revenue was 78 millions; now over 400 millions—more than treble. The sea trade, which was at the Queen's Accession only 210 millions, is now nearly 1,400 millions—about sevenfold. Now, let us look at the relative growth of the United Kingdom and of our Empire over sea since 1837. The population of the United Kingdom has only increased by 15 millions; the over-sea population has increased by 260 millions. The aggregate revenue of the United 593 Kingdom has not doubled; the aggregate revenue of British possessions over sea has increased sixfold. The sea trade of the United Kingdom has not quadrupled; the sea trade of the over-sea portion of the Empire has increased by 500 millions, or sixfold, and that is going on more rapidly every year. Such facts as these cannot be ignored. With an Empire with a revenue of 257 millions and with common interest, surely it cannot be expected that only a small part of that revenue should bear for ever the whole charge of its defence. When you come to face the problem of how you are going to combine these forces, you are met with this fact, that you cannot force your self-governing Colonies to contribute to the common defence. You gave them self-government without any reservation, and you must abide in honour by that. But the question is: Are we quite right in ignoring these growths, and not paying a little more attention to what lies before us? It strikes me as very remarkable that the First Lord, with his vast knowledge and his statesmanlike grasp o this question, did not sec the opportunity and seize it to draw the attention of the public in this country and in our Colonies to the fact of the Cape contribution, and to the fact that that is the beginning of a policy which must be pursued if the Empire is to survive. The growth of the self-governing Colonies has been very rapid, and is really astonishing. These self-governing states beyond the sea. have now an aggregate sea trade nearly double what the sea trade of the United States was at the time of the "Alabama." The aggregate revenue of the self-governing Colonies is now five times the revenue of the United States when the Queen came to the Throne; and the population of the Colonies is now about equal to that of the United States at the time of the Queen's Accession. You have one outlying province, British North America, owning a mercantile marine equal to the mercantile marine of the United States, and yet you have to protect that trade alone. Surely the time must come for drawing the attention of Canada to the fact that were circumstances to change in the United Kingdom, their trade might be imperilled, simply because the people of the United Kingdom had got a cold fit about the Navy. I think, therefore, I 594 am not unreasonable in expressing my regret that my right honourable Friend the First Lord did not take so fitting an opportunity of looking at this question from a proper statesmanlike point of view, and did not seize the opportunity of bringing the broad facts of the case before the people at home and abroad. My belief is that if you go on as you are going, the time is not far distant when you will have to choose between imperilling the Empire by reducing the Navy or increasing the taxation on the people of this country only to a very serious extent. If then it is discovered, and it will be discovered before long, by the people of this country that they alone are paying for the protection of a trade exceeding in value the total sea trade of France—a trade that never comes to nor goes from the United Kingdom, you will have this question raised in a hostile spirit which will be disastrous to the Colonies and to ourselves. But by degrees we are getting to recognise the actual state of the case, viz., that these armaments are necessary for the defence of the Empire, the whole weight of which has to be supported by the hundred millions of revenue raised by the public in this Kingdom.
§ *MR. KEARLEY
Mr. Speaker, during the last ten years we have been increasing the personnel of the Navy at the average rate of 4,000 per annum. In 1800 the total personnel amounted to 65,000, whereas last year it was 106,000, and for the coming financial year we are voting over 110,000 men. I presume the personnel will go on increasing for some considerable time, but the moment must arrive when it will be almost impossible for it to increase to a greater extent, because a. limit will be reached when it will be impossible to keep employed a larger number of men, and we know the effect on the personnel if it is not always kept employed: it tends to deteriorate, and that difficulty will occur if we go on largely augmenting our Navy. All those in favour of the extension of the Navy will admit that it is impossible to keep the personnel of the Navy up to war requirements. That is not the habit or practice of any country. All countries without exception have to fall back in war time on a substantial Navy Reserve. Already the expenses in connection with 595 the personnel amount to nine millions a year, and if we continue largely increasing the personnel, the burthen will, I think, become much greater than the country will be prepared to bear. It is, therefore, of importance that we should consider our position in regard to our reserve of seamen in time of war. I think it is a sound proposition that our Naval Reserve, to be reliable, must be well organised, well equipped and well drilled, which means it should be built up now, so that when the day arrives when we want it, it will not be found lacking. That brings me to consider what is our present position as regards the strength of the Royal Naval Reserve. In the last nine years we have increased the personnel of the Navy by 40,000 men, and during that period we have only increased the personnel of the Royal Naval Reserve from 19,000 to something less than 27,000. But the number at the present moment in no way represents the probable requirements of the Naval Reserve when it is called upon to make up the waste and loss which happen in time of war, and if we judge from previous experience as to the probable requirement of the Reserve, we find that in all our great wars in the last 150 years the number in many cases required was four times the number borne on the Navy. Of course the number that would be required would very much depend on the duration of the war. There is a prevalent idea that a naval war, whenever it comes, will be a short war. That was the idea held by many in the autumn. I, myself, happened to be in Gibraltar during the time the Channel Fleet was there awaiting the outcome of the Fashoda incident, and I had considerable conversation with naval men, and they all seemed to be under the impression that if war broke out it would be rapidly brought to a termination. That is really a matter of opinion. But I think all are agreed on one point; that whether the war be short or long the present number of the Royal Naval Reserve is altogether inadequate. There are naval experts of repute, notably the noble Lord the Member for York, who have stated the minimum number that should be borne on the Naval Reserve. The noble Lord has fixed the figure at 75,000, and accepting that as a basis, we find we have 596 a shortage of no less than 50,000. The question I want to discuss is, how are these men to be obtained? There are two schemes that are considered with a view to bringing about an increase in the Reserve. The first scheme has many supporters, especially among naval men. It is that the Navy should create and train its own Reserve. That would, of course, necessitate a system of short service, a system at variance with that which has proved effective in building up the admirable body of men now manning the Fleet. There are many distinguished advocates of that system, including the noble Lord the Member for York. I remember some time ago reading a speech he delivered at the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce on the subject. He went fully into details as to how the proposed short service should be established for the purpose of building up the Reserve. That system would, of course, have many advantages over the existing system, such as prolonged training afloat, and it would turn out a more finished article and a more trained man than is possible under the present system. The First Lord pointed out to us the other night that a large body of men have been serving six months afloat, but that is not to be compared to the benefits derived by a man who is permanently in the Navy for five years. I am not an advocate of the short-service system. I think a serious objection to it is that it would tend to jeopardise the long-service system, which has done so much for the Navy. In my judgment it would be altogether impossible to have the two systems running side by side. There would be an option open to every boy entering the Navy to adopt either term of service, and he would probably go in for short service, because if he liked the Navy there would be no difficulty in serving a longer term. That, I think, would be a tremendous danger, because it would prevent men definitely committing themselves as at present to a minimum of 12 years' service. Under the present long-service system, as far as blue-jackets are concerned, when a boy enters, he enters the Service definitely for about 14 or 15 years. There would be another difficulty—namely, to find an opportunity for training these short-service men. We are gradually approaching the point when, with the regu- 597 lar requirements of the Navy, it will be difficult to train larger numbers, Now come to the other proposal, that we should develop the Royal Naval Reserve from the Mercantile Marine on more improved lines than at present. I think that the step taken in 1897 has proved advantageous and the re-organisation of the trainingand regulations under which Royal Naval Reserve men are engaged has, no doubt, had a beneficial effect, and has brought them into closer touch with the Navy. Rut the great difficulty when we propose to increase the Royal Naval Reserve, is the decline of British seamen in the British Mercantile Marine. That decline is rapid, and the fact remains, that owing to it we are not producing material requisite for the Naval Reserve. Indeed, the must serious aspect of this question is that the greatest falling off has taken place among young men. In the Return published in 1897 the greatest falling off took place between the ages of 15 and 25, and, of course, that decrease is being supplied by foreign seamen. To give an idea, I will quote a few figures: We find that the number of British seamen in 1890 was 168,722 and that the number of foreign seamen and Lascars was 49,961. In 1897 the number of British seamen had fallen to 160,120. and the number of foreign seamen and Lascars had increased to 65,387. That shows that in seven years British seamen had decreased by nearly 9,000, and foreign seamen and Lascars had increased by 15,000. And during that time British tonnage had largely augmented. Prior to 1850, when the Navigation Laws were repealed, we were able to regulate the supply of seamen in this country by compulsory legislation. There was a time in the thirties when the supply of British seamen showed a falling off. Legislation was at once undertaken, with the result that in 1848 the total of indentured apprentices was no less than 28,000.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The honourable Member appears to be entering on a subject rather remote from the Estimates. He cannot go into the full question of the Navigation Laws.
§ *MR. KEARLEY
I had no intention of doing that, Mr. Speaker, and I accept your ruling. I must content myself 598 by pointing out what the remedy is to be if, in view of this decline, we are to secure for the Royal Naval Reserve a sufficient supply of men. In the first place. it will be necessary to interest the shipowners of this country, and that can be done no doubt by a Conference. I believe last year a suggestion was thrown out in this House when the question of building up the Reserve was discussed by shipowners in connection with Light Dues remission that they would be pleased to meet the Admiralty to consider what steps should be taken by them to assist in this matter. But apart from that altogether, there is something to be done by the Government itself. The Government might establish around the coast a number of depot ships, into which a number of boys should be received every year. There are now what are called stationary training ships, but the majority of the boys in them are reformatory boys, and everyone knows-that the Navy will not take boys except they are of respectable parentage. If we could get hold of these boys for the "Reserve it would be necessary to bind them down, for, say. four years. The first year should be spent on the depot ship, and then, by a satisfactory arrangement with the shipowners, they should be drafted into the Mercantile Marine on agreement that they would join the Naval Reserve. That is a system which, I believe, the shipowners are open to consider. It resolves itself into a question whether the Government is prepared to come to such terms as would be considered satisfactory. There is one other point, which has already been raised in this House by the First Lord of the Admiralty, to which I wish to refer. That is the question of enlisting into the Royal Naval Reserve men in the Colonies. It was stated last year by a prominent Member of the Canadian Government that there were as many as 76,000 eligible men in Canada well suited to join the Reserve. A deputation was received by the First Lord on this question last year, and he very properly insisted that if entries were to be received from the Colonies for the Reserve that the men should be as well trained as ours, and that they should undertake to go through the same training, put in the same drill, and go afloat for six months. He also offered that if the Canadian Government would pay the 599 expenses of trnining these men that this country would pay their retainer. I understand that instructions have been sent to commanders of all naval stations abroad, asking them to put before the Governments of the Colonies our regulations with regard to the Naval Reserve, and I should be glad if the honourable Gentleman who replies to this discussion would tell us what has been the effect, and whether the Colorial Governments are inclined to entertain the idea, because it has an important bearing on this question. I hope that no step will be left untried that will bring about an increase in the number of the Naval Reserve. We believe that it is at present inadequate, and that we want 50,000 more men. It would be cheaper and to the national advantage if we could build up from our Mercantile Marine the Reserve to an adequate number, and train them properly; and in support of this ideal I hope we shall hear something to-night as to what steps are being taken by the Admiralty to induce men in the Colonies to join the Reserve.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES: The honourable Member who has just sat down has, I think, overlooked the fact that only a small proportion of Reserve men could be employed in a man-of-war. I think also, that he overstated the number required, or that could be usefully employed. We cannot have an equal number of Reserve men and Navy men. We must have a larger proportion of the latter. Now, Sir, I was much interested in the speech of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for North-East Lancashire, especially that part of it with reference to the French Navy, regarding which I will have a. word to say later on. It is very much to the credit of the First Lord that no Member has been found to move an Amendment to the Motion before the House. Even the honourable Member who spoke last sat clown without moving any Amendment at all. These are large Estimates. They amount to 28 millions, and include an increase of three millions. They propose to spend two millions more on ships and a half million more on men. Is this large increase necessary? I think it has been clearly shown that the Great Powers are increasing their armaments. Even the Tsar, as we have been reminded by the 600 First Lord of the Admiralty, has allocated nine millions of money for his Navy, in addition to which it is impossible to overlook the fact that he has an, army double the British Army, and that he is adding to it 60 new regiments of Cavalry. All the Powers of Europe are really increasing their strength, and, to my mind, that which the right honourable the First Lord seems to regard as a promise of peace—the Disarmament Conference—is the most menacing sign of all. What are you to suppose when a man comes to you with words of peace on his lips while he is engaged in putting on all the panoply of war? No increase in our Navy can really be regarded as aggressive. We are not going to invade France or Russia or Germany with our Navy, not that a Navy cannot be used with effect on land, but our Navy in its nature, is not aggressive, and, therefore, I cannot conceive how any increase could be, or would be, construed by any Power in Europe as a menace. Well then, Sir, the importance of these Estimates, and the very large increase which arises from them, is undoubtedly that they must be the result of the deliberations and consultations of that most important body of the Cabinet—the Defence Committee. Looking at the matter from the point of view of the state of Europe at the present moment, and the possibilities of the near future, why the increase is so large, coming as it does on the increases of previous years, I do not know, but I cannot but suppose that the Cabinet Defence Committee conceive that there is at least a possibility of war. Perhaps it has another opinion, which I will touch upon later. But the justification, after all, for these Estimates is to be found in the fact that they are approved, not only in this country, but also by some foreign Powers. Everyone has expressed approval of the great increase in our naval Estimates. No doubt an increase of some sort was necessary. But what are the conditions upon which you settle the amount of your naval force. I think it is quite clear that some considerations may be put forward which are not always apparent in a discussion of this sort. There is, for instance, the two other European Powers combined. Then there is the All Europe theory, which assumes that our Navy should be equal 601 to the whole of the navies of Europe. But how is strength to be measured, and how is a common denominator to be obtained? How are we to judge of the relative strength of the navies? This is far more difficult than most people suppose. You cannot take tonnage, for that would be no guide at all, and still less can you take the number of ships, for the basis of comparison. unless they are equal in speed, armament, and crews. Then, again, the number of men and guns will not do, as in these days so much depends, not merely on speed, but on the handling of the vessels and the practice and traditions of the Navy. The first and foremost advantage that England has over all other countries is that for over 100 years we have gone on adding to our naval traditions, until at last we have an absolutely complete Service code. and what are called rules of the Service, which cover almost everything affecting the welfare of the Navy. I will give an instance which shows the value of these traditions. It will be in the memory of honourable Members how Her Majesty's ship "Calliope" was the only vessel which escaped from foundering in a hurricane off Samoa. She? was not a better ship, nor were her crew and engines superior to those of the German vessel which foundered, but her escape was undoubtedly due to the traditions of the British Navy. Then. again, take the case of Crete There a Russian vessel joined in the bombardment, and a terrible accident happened in consequence of a tremendous explosion through the breach of one of her guns. Her armament was not worse than ours, and her crew were equally brave with ours, but it was the long-experience which we had gained which has taught our men how little matters, unless carefully watched, may lead to serious disasters. I could mention other instances to show the real importance to the Navy of these traditions. You cannot compare the English Navy with any foreign navy. nor can you compare foreign navies with one another, because their traditions vary so much. But I am certain of this, that the British Navy is superior in its rules and traditions to any of them. Another advantage which we POSSESS., and it is a tremendous one. is in our geographical position. We are sometimes told by honourable Gen- 602 tlemen that we run the risk of being blockaded, and of having our food supplies cut off. But I venture to say that the whole of the navies of the world could not blockade these islands, which, especially on the western side, are so open, while if we were at war with enemies in the North and South of Europe, we are so situated as to be able to prevent their fleets joining hands. We have a station at Gibraltar which practically enables us to divide the Mediterranean from the West of Europe and to prevent the junction of any Mediterranean force with any Atlantic force. Take the case of a naval war between England and France and Russia. The fleets of those countries could be kept so divided that instead of one large force, there would be three scattered forces. I should like in this connection to quote some observations by Captain Mahan in his book, "The Influence of Sea Power upon History." He says—The geographical position may be such as of itself to promote a concentration, or to necessitate a dispersion, of the naval forces. Here, again, the British Islands have an advantage over France. The position of the latter, touching the Mediterranean as well as the ocean, while it has its advantages, is on the whole a source of military weakness at sea. The Eastern and Western French fleets have only been able to unite after passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, in attempting which they have often risked, and sometimes suffered loss.And here is another quotation, showing how we do really divide the North and South of Europe. Captain Mahan writes—The geographical position of a country may not only favour the concentration of its forces, but give the further strategic advantage of a central position, and a. good base for hostile operations against its probable enemies. This, again, is the case with England; on the one hand, she faces Holland and the Northern Powers, on the other, France and the Atlantic. When threatened with a coalition between France and the Naval Powers of the North Sea and the Baltic, as she at times was, her Fleets in the Downs and in the Channel, and even that of Brest, occupied interior positions, and thus were readily able to interpose their united forces against either one of the enemies which should seek to pass through the Channel to effect a junction with its ally.I think that that shows that in the opinion of a most eminent authority on the naval strategy of the present day we have an extraordinary advantage in 603 our geographical position. This, therefore, must also be taken into account in estimating the naval strength of England, and in comparing that strength, you must allow a good many ships and a good many men for that geographical advantage. There is another thing to be taken into account. Every possible naval adversary of England has formally given up the idea of meeting England in line of battle on the high sens. France has expressly and absolutely renounced the idea of so competing with us, and no other country in Europe is likely now to entertain it. But what does France propose to substitute for it? She intends to carry on a war of commerce destroying, and as to that, Captain Mahan has well pointed out that a war carried on by cruisers against commerce means that the cruisers must always remain near their own coast. Therefore, if it should so happen that we should be at war with France, which God forbid, her commerce destroyers could never go far from her own coast, and consequently their action would not affect the final result of the war. When I think of all these advantages, I confess that I am not only satisfied with the amount and extent of the Naval Estimates, but I am more than satisfied, and I indeed feel some misgiving as to whether we are not exaggerating the naval panic, and pushing our expenditure a little too far. As to that, however, I must accept what the Government say, and, above all, I must take into account what they know and do not say. If it be as I suppose, that the Defence Committee of the Cabinet have reason to believe that there is an approximate possibility of war, I, for one, cannot quarrel with the amount of the Estimates. Still, I have some special misgiving with regard to new construction. We can build a battleship in from 20 to 24 months, and send her to sea. The French take twice as long, and, therefore, you can give them two years start, and still be even with them before the battleships go to sea. That is an enormous advantage, and, therefore, our object should be not to build as soon as we can, but rather as late as we can, as by doing that we shall be able to introduce into our ships all the latest improvements. Assuming, then that you begin two years later than France, you will be able to gain the 604 advantage of all naval improvements which may arise during that period. That is a tremendous advantage, and that is the reason why I have some misgivings with regard to new construction. I am glad of one thing. This increase in the naval Estimates, as compared with those of the Army, much more truly represents the proper relative position in this country of the Army and Navy. It more truly recognises the undoubted fact that this country's battles in the future will be fought by the sailor rather than by the soldier. In 189:3, Lord Playfair said in the other House that Great Britain needs no supremacy at sea. We do not agree with him. That was said at the time when the naval Estimates amounted to 14½ millions, as compared with 18 millions asked for the Army. Now the Army Estimates have gone up to 28 millions. That is something stupendous. In little more than five years we have nearly doubled the Navy Estimates, and now they have reached a sum which was not in 1893 even dreamed of. We are now considering how we are to provide an extra three millions for the Navy. I do not know where it is to come from, but it certainty must come out of new resources, and that is one of the main features of these Estimates. The most remarkable point about them is the absolute and complete conversion of the Treasury from its old theories and practices. It has departed from its practices of former days, and has adopted what I may call the most modern, up-to-date theories of finance. The Chancellor of the Exchequer used to be considered a sort of hard-fisted personage, whose only object was to reduce debt and diminish taxation, and he sat upon his money bags refusing the Departments the common necessaries of life. That is all changed now, and we see the Chancellor of the Exchequer is no longer a curmudgeon, but a debonnair, open-handed gentleman. He goes to the relief of the agricultural taxpayer and the tobacco manufacturer; nobody appeals to him in vain, and he is an ideal Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is, indeed, an encouraging feature of the Estimates that the right honourable Gentleman has at last been converted to the importance of finding money for these purposes. It must be regarded with intense satisfaction, and I think 605 we may congratulate the First Lord of the Admiralty that at last he has been able to find a Chancellor of the Exchequer so generously disposed. The Estimates have very greatly increased, and I must believe the Government have such knowledge as to justify them in making the increase. I believe they will commond the acquiescence of all. both at home and abroad, and it only remains for us to go through the important function of finding the money to pay for them.
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval—
§ SIR J. BAKER (Portsmouth)
Mr. Speaker, I think it must be very satisfactory to the Government that their scheme has met with such genera satisfaction. Speaking on behalf of a large number of men and officers of the Service, I feel bound to tender to the Government a meed of praise for then programme. There are, however, one or two details and omissions to which I should like to call attention. I, with other honourable Members, who sit for naval ports, have for some years pas represented to the Admiralty the necessities of the Navy as viewed by the representatives of those ports. I desire to acknowledge the fact that the First Lord of the Admiralty very kindly received the representatives of the Dockyards and the Navy, and, with great patience and pains, went through with them the claims they presented for consideration. There has, however been practically no reference to the sub jeet in the statement of the First Lord except the comparatively small one to which I shall presently refer. The House will remember that the First Lord gave that conference consequent upon the procedure of the House no enabling the representatives to fairly put their representations before the Admiralty in the House of Commons Of course, these men. being under martial law, must have some method of means of presenting claims they think reasonable and just, The fact is incontestable that, whilst almost every clase in the Army has been dealt with in a spirit of generosity which no one be grudges, there has practically been for many years no change whatever in re gard to the great body of men in the 606 Navy. They remain year after year, both as to pay, as to rations, and as to pensions, practically in the same position that they were in 10 or 20 years ago. The Admiralty, however, have made one change, affecting about 10,000 men. It was decided to increase the pay of the Marines on shore about 2d. a day. That is a very fair and reasonable change, but it is justifiable. Whilst, however, the Admiralty, year after year, made these several changes in the increase of pay, they kept the payment of seamen the same, with slight alteration, and this is a question which I hope the Admiralty will not omit to give some consideration to. Then the question arises, what is the cause of the dearth in naval shipwrights? The simple cause is that the Admiralty has refused to give them, either in pay, conditions, or rank, sufficient temptation or inducement to enter the Service. Even now the Admiralty does not offer to apprentices sufficient inducements to enter, and at Portsmouth the number of those who enter for competition every year is infinitesimally small. I think five will be found to be the average number. The shipwrights, both in the Dockyards and on Her Majesty's ships, are alike in opinion as to the inadequacy of the present arrangements. The Admiralty have reduced the period of apprenticeship to four years, but practical men all say that that is not sufficient, and that six years should be the shortest period of sendee, having regard to the highly responsible duties the shipwright has to perform. Then, on the other hand, not the slightest reference has been made to the claims of the chief class of men which have been made from time to time. Again, the Government want a large number of additional stokers. It is a matter of common knowledge in the Service that, though the Admiralty cast their net all over the land to get stokers, they do not get hold of trained and efficient men. They get men who have helped anywhere and everywhere, who are accustomed to fire, and who have had, perhaps, two or three months' training on board ship. The position, however, is one of great responsibility, and the duties connected with it should be properly paid for. There is, however, no stimulus whatever afforded to this particular class of men, and in civil ser- 607 vice the same class get nearly double the amount the Admiralty offers to induce them to enter the Navy. In factories and gasworks stokers receive from 37s. to 42s. a week. In face of this condition of things, what temptation is offered to a man to pass the miserable existence the stoker passes on board a battleship? Now, I think that is a sufficient reason why the Admiralty should give special attention to this department of labour. With regard to other positions in the Service, again and again have promises been held out—they have not, perhaps, been absolutely given in a way that would bind the Admiralty—that some claim was about to be recognised in a way which would satisfy par tially, if not wholly, the demands of the men. Unless, however, the First Lord of the Admiralty can give some information that some response will be made to the continuous claims presented by the men on whose behalf I speak i1 will be a matter of bitter disappointment to them, because it must always be remembered that if the chief and petty officers are discontented, that discontent goes down to every boy in the Service, since all look forward, not unnaturally, to some day occupying these positions. I wish most strongly to impress upon the Admiralty the fact that the best men in the Service are bitterly disappointed at the prolongation of the delay in responding to the claims with which the Admiralty is as familiar as I am, and which relate to every class-in the Service. I have only typified three or four of the grievances which have been presented from time to time but I do think it is of vast importance, since we are increasing the strength of the Navy by leaps and bounds that the men in this Service should be treated relatively on the same conditions as the men in the Army. We do not ask for any more. The Army have succeeded in obtaining it, but this grievance has been going on for some 10 or 12 years with no response whatever being made by the Admiralty. I know of no instance in which a response has been made, except on one occasion when some slight improvement was made in the case of the engine-room artificers, and some 50 of them were promoted in rank; but that is all. It does seem hard that these men should be in the 608 same position now, when the wealth of the country is so prodigious that millions are being scattered like snow flakes, as they were in times past. And I certainly do think it is time that the Admiralty should consider this matter, and not ignore it as it has done for so long.
*ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
I could have wished, Sir, that the House could have gone into Committee upon these Estimates before this, but there are certain reasons why we should go on with the discussion here, otherwise we should be shut out, by reason of the unfortunate Amendment which has gone down upon the Paper from all discussion. Now, I desire, in the first place, to thank the honourable Member for Portsmouth for the appeals which he has made on behalf of the rank and file in the Service. I know perfectly well that there are long standing grievances on the part of the rank and file, and so do my brother officers, and we have brought the matter before the Admiralty constantly for the last 10 or 12 years. The case is well nigh hopeless, professional men are not listened to by Lords of the Admiralty, but I certainly hope the honourable Members representing important dockyard boroughs may be more successful in their attempts to redress those grievances than we have been. But though I desire to thank the honourable Gentleman for the efforts that he has made, I do not quite agree with all that he has said, and I will deal with one or two points upon which I do not agree with him. He appeals for the reconsideration of the whole of the claims of the rank and file of the Service. Now, all naval men are in favour of giving extra pay for extra qualifications, and the seamen class have very advantageous openings offered to all of them in the way of obtaining higher pay for extra qualifications, in the shape of trained men, torpedo men, and gunnery men, and other classes, and men with good conduct badges. So that the case really is not so bad as the honourable Member might have been led to believe by those who have waited upon him in this matter. With regard to the stokers, I certainly agree with what he said about their case being a hard one, but we have represented their case before this House 609 for the last 10 years. We did at last appeal to the Admiralty, through the First Lord, to make a second class rate for the leading stokers; that was something, and we obtained that nearly five years ago. We quite agree with what has been said by the honourable Member upon this point. We quite agree that the stokers have grievances; and we know perfectly well that the Admiralty is aware of it, and have been for years. and there is not a man amongst us who would not like to see them remedied. But the unfortunate part of the whole business is that the Secretary to the Admiralty is the finance minister, the connecting link—I should like to break it—not him—with the Treasury. It is an unfortunate state of things. When money is voted to the Navy the Admiralty ought to be allowed to administer it, but we are not, and thus it is that the expenses are cut down. We are very glad to see the honourable Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty in his place, and we much regret the circumstance which necessitates the absence of the First Lord upon an occasion like this. The re-engagement money for stokers for 10 or 12 years is a very great grievance that ought to be remedied. The seaman class have an extra 2d. a clay at the end of 12 years, because it is recognised that at that time they are better men, and I cerainly think that the stokers should be put on the same level. I am perfectly well aware of the cold-blooded argument that so far as the stokers are concerned, the market is full, and that you can always get men when you want them. I can only say I do not like that argument, and I would direct the attention of the honourable Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth to his own side of the House, who art also responsible in this matter, and if ever that Party comes into power again. though God forbid that it ever should, I would ask him to appeal to the First Lord of the Admiralty of that Government and urge upon him the same arguments that we have urged upon him from time to time for the remedy of these grievances. We may talk about these grievances for 10 or 20 years, but there is no remedy, whatever Government may be in power. I hold in my hand a copy of the petition which the coastguard men sent to me, and which I pre- 610 sented to Lord Spencer, the First Lord of the Admiralty of that time. I not only did that, but I got it backed up by over 50 Members of this House—Members of both sides—and was particular to obtain as many as I could from that side. There is the cruel sinner sitting there who would not allow any attention to be paid to these poor men, and so the sin goes on from Government to Government, and I suppose it will be a very long time before Parliament gives absolution to either one side or the other. We almost had a promise from the Gentleman who was Secretary to the Admiralty, but who is now Secretary of State for India, to redress these grievances, and it would have been done, I believe, by giving another step in rank to warrant officers, but for certain circumstances. We have Fleet Paymasters and Fleet Surgeons; and there is no reason, except the stubborn opinion of the Admiralty, why these officers should not have this step. But the fact is that here it is the Treasury steps in. The Secretary to the Treasury knows it quite well. I believe the Admiralty of the day, when the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary of State for India was First Lord, offered a scheme, but it was blocked by the finance minister, the Secretary to the Admiralty, the connecting link with the Treasury. I hope the honourable Member for Portsmouth will do his best to obtain redress for these grievances. Now I pass away from that subject, and come to the First Lord's Memorandum, and I would ask the House to allow me to refer to that as I think it would be much more convenient to deal with the First Lord's Memorandum and discuss it as we go along than to make a long general speech upon the subject. Now, first of all, I am thankful to see that the Admiralty realises the necessity of largely increasing the officer class, the executive class, and, in fact, all the classes. I rejoice to see the increase of warrant rank; the chief boatswains and gunners are to be increased by 20, whilst boatswains and gunners are to be increased by 230. There will be two chief carpenters and 36 carpenters. Now, all these ranks will be highly valued, and it is a step which is thoroughly deserved, but which, in my opinion, has been much too 611 long delayed. Now, the honourable Member for Portsmouth seems to challenge the Admiralty for not giving sufficient wages for the shipwright class. He says, what are you doing? You are training up a lot of boys to do this work, and not paying the wages which you are entitled to do. Now, I think the expedient that has been hit upon by the Admiralty is one of the best schemes that were ever invented; it delivers us from the absolute tyranny of the trades unions, which have too long vised their power and have prevented good men coming to us. In my opinion it is time that the Admiralty emancipated themselves from this system of constructive tyranny. We train our forces in this way; then why on earth should we not train artificers, and so render the Admiralty independent of the tyranny of the trades unions? Now, as to the Royal Marines, I am very glad to see that they are to be increased by 500. And now I come to the class which, in my opinion, have been very hardly treated. The Admiralty gives them an extra twopence a day. I do not thank the Admiralty for that at all. It is only a tardy recognition that there was some claim to be satisfied. No one will convince me, when their Lordships have been aware, year after year, for the last 20 years, of these grievances, which were pressing and of long standing and ought to have been redressed time after time, that they could not have been redressed before. Ex-Sea Lords acknowledged the grievance and sought to redress it, but did not, owing to the pressure of work. This grievance ought to have been redressed in 1873, when the free ration was given to the Army. Deferred pay was given to them in 1876, and when the First Lord of the Admiralty sitting on that side of the House, and Mr. Shaw Lefevre, challenged the Admiralty to give similar treatment to the Marines Mr. Cardwell said that the want of free rations in the Army was a serious want. There was a similar want so far as the Marines were concerned. The Marines, when they are afloat, are taken care of by us, but when they come ashore they are under military rules and regular tions, and we thought it was only right that when the Army got free rations that they should get them too; but they did not. Now, Sir, my honourable Friend knows perfectly well that I am 612 thoroughly satisfied that the Naval Lords have never of themselves been parties to the making of a proposition of this kind—unless, of course, the honourable Gentleman in reply tells me that this was formulated by them. I do not think he will tell me so. The remedy for this grievance ought to be a free ration of fourpence halfpenny a day. The beer money ought to have been given up, which would have left the men threepence halfpenny a day. The beer money was given up, but the men only got twopence a day. Now, I thank the Admiralty for that very little indeed, and I do not thank it for dealing with these matters in such a flimsy and, if I may say so without offence, such a mean manner. Then, with regard to the Marines, I notice further down—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, Order! The honourable Gentleman appears to me to be dealing with matters which would be more properly dealt with upon the Votes themselves.
It was with great diffidence that I have ventured to point out to the House that I should have been only too glad to assist the Speaker out of the Chair by moving; but after your remarks, Sir, I will not trouble the House further now, and will not say another word until we get into Committee.
§ *SIR C. DILKE
Before I come to the interesting speech of the honourable Gentleman the Member for Devonport, and the important speech of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe, there are two matters of policy arising on the Estimates to which I should like to make a very brief reference. The first one is in regard to the great delay in the supply of armour, a matter to which in the three previous years several of us upon both sides of the House have called the attention of the Admiralty, notably the Member for York. Previously, as we have said, the supply of armour was not in a very satisfactory condition. The Government depend upon private firms for the supply of armour, and we pointed out last year that some of the firms supplying Government were supplying armour more rapidly for ships being built for a foreign Government—the Japanese Government—than they 613 were supplying it to Her Majesty's Government. The question of remedy was discussed at some length, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, in his speech last year, though he considered it of value, on the whole rejected the idea that it would be well for the Government to have plant of its own and manufacture armour to some extent. But he considered the alternative suggestion more favourably that the Government should guarantee work at a scale of payment and at certain times to four firms which he named. But there has been a considerable delay, a considerable retardation, of naval programme because of the retardation in the supply of armour. That is a matter in which the remedy is more difficult than the remedy for the other evil, to which I shall shortly allude. Last year I ventured to call the attention of the First Lord of the Admiralty to the question of slips, and there can be no doubt that we have got into a very curious position in the last three years with regard to our Naval Programme. We have got into the curious position of beginning our programme each year at the extreme end of the financial year. The programme of the year before last was begun at the extreme end of the financial year; and last year it was the same, and only to-day at the earliest can one of the last-year ships be laid down, owing to the fact of the slip not being free before. Now, that is a very curious state of things, and during the last three years it appears to have become permanent; the two battleships, as to the building of which objection is to be taken by the Opposition, would only be begun, if at all, if the Peace Conference does not stop them, at the extreme end of this financial year. The promises as to the exact time when the ships will be laid down have not been always kept. We are told precisely the same thing each year. We were told the programme of this year would be begun in December or January, which is not the case, because, as I have already said, one battleship is not laid down to-day; the ship has been waiting for the slip to be freed by the launch of a battleship which only took place on Saturday. Having mentioned the matter of slips, it is not a very difficult matter to suggest to the Admiralty a remedy. I have to admit 614 that we have to-day heard that there is to be some increase in slip accommodation. There is, however, no mention of the new slip at Devonport in the Statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and it is only by an answer to a Question asked to-day that we have become officially aware that there is to be a new slip at Devonport. There is now to be this increase of slip accommodation in the dockyards, and some of us think that the armour difficulty might have been dealt with in the past as this slip difficulty might have been dealt with, in the same way; and we might have got into a more businesslike way of beginning to build our ships in the beginning or the middle of the financial year, and not putting them off until the extreme end. For all practical purposes it does not matter whether the two battleships of this year's programme are begun in this year at all; but there is some trifling amount of money to be expended on those ships in the present year, the promise of which has not been kept with regard to other ships in the last year and the year before. The speech of the right honourable Member for the Clitheroe division about the two battleships of this year's programme was rather a declaration as to a policy of 1900–1901, than a present menace. My honourable Friend the Member for Devonport was called to order when he got into the discussion of the details of the Board of Trade scheme for manning. Now, it is a very difficult thing to discuss the Navy without going into the Board of Trade Votes, or to discuss the Board of Trade Votes without drifting into the Navy. But what my honourable Friend did show in that portion of his speech which was in order was that there was a stationary character about the number of the Naval Reserve, as compared with the great increase in the number of active Service men in the Fleet, and that if the proportion selected some years ago was a fair one, that proportion was a declining proportion. Now, presumably, when this matter was looked into some years ago, a fair proportion was arrived at. Anybody, who knows anything about it, knows that whilst there is diminution in the proportion of Reserve men, that is not the question: the question is whether in the case 615 of rapid mobilisation in the case of war, it will be possible to satisfactorily get the Reserve men, in their right proportion, into the various ships. It is a very difficult thing to properly apportion the Reserve men to the various ships, so as not to be left with an undue number of Reserve men in this country for the ships that would be fitted out after a declaration of war. But my honourable Friend pointed out that there was a decline in the number of those who could be taken for a Reserve. The honourable Member for King's Lynn denies that statement. But my honourable Friend is right in saying that there is a marked decline in the number of boys, and he put forward a remedy to meet that state of things. The honourable Member for Devonport also told the House that upon the sudden breaking out of the war and consequent rapid mobilisation, you could not count upon rapidly getting anything like the total number of Reserve men; the men who are now in the Reserve at the Present moment. What is the view of the Government now as to the number of the Reserve men which they would be able to embark in the ships if necessary; last year they thought it was 12,000 men? That was the number which the First Lord of the Admiralty thought he could draw from the Reserve at the beginning of a war for immediate embarkation. I notice from the Estimates that precautions have been taken to keep ready at hand 10,000 kits, and that with the 2,000 men who are now on active service would bring up the figure to 12,000 which the First Lord of the Admiralty expects to be able to embark in the event of an outbreak of war. It shows the Administration count upon obtaining very rapidly from the Reserve 12,000 men, but it does seem to me to be a very small proportion, compared with 110,600 men, which are now to be taken on Vote A. The time, in my opinion, has come when you ought to look to all possible sources of supply, with the view of increasing the number of the Reserves. Now, my honourable Friend and another honourable Member who spoke to-night mentioned the reserve of officers, and the increase of officers was also mentioned by the right honourable Baronet. Now, that is a matter which also ought to be taken into consideration in connection with the Naval Reserve. We have been informed that 616 there is to be a very great increase in the number of officers, and the Government have issued documents, by which they show that they expect to make an increase of 500 lieutenants in the course of time. But no statement has been made to show how the rapid increase taking place this year in the lieutenants' list is to be accomplished. This increase, when completed, will still leave us very short of the number of the lieutenants which we require, as compared with the proportion of lieutenants of the French navy. The French navy is a smaller navy than ours; it is only half the size, but it has the same number of lieutenants as we have at the present moment. Of course, unless you go into the respective duties of the lieutenants in the two services, you cannot make an exhaustive examination of the facts. There may be duties in the French service which are performed by commissioned officers, which in our Service are carried out by officers of warrant rank. But I confess I am as little satisfied with regard to the number of Reserve officers as I am with regard to the number of men. There can be no doubt whatever that in the event of an outbreak of war you would require a much greater number of lieutenants than you actually possess, and though you are increasing the number of the lieutenants you are not showing us how they are going to be rapidly obtained. And you will have either to fall back on the Reserve lieutenants, or adopt the alternative suggestion put forward by the honourable Member for York, and draw upon a certain class of the warrant officers in the Navy for promotion. Now, Sir, for a minute or two I turn to the speech of the right honourable Baronet, the Member for Clitheroe, who has made a speech which, unless explained, is likely to be misinterpreted, and in as few words as I can I should like to put the view which occurs to] me before the House. The right honourable Baronet has used words which I say are likely to be misinterpreted. He spoke of the enormous, gigantic, and huge expenditure, and he used those words as leading up to a declaration, as I understood it, that he did not see his way to support the building of the two battleships which are in the programme of the present year. He has spoken of it as a question of how much the public will stand, and he has 617 asked whether the time has not come to apply the brake. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe has also indulged, at some length, in a comparison of our Navy with that of France, and I could not help thinking that in doing so he was giving very great and practical support to the Motion which is going to be made to-night by my honourable Friend the Member for Northampton, who intends proposing a resolution for the reduction of the number of men and the amount of money. Now my honourable Friend the Member for Northampton is logical and consistent, but if we supported him on this side of the House many of us would not be either logical or consistent. The speech of the honourable Member for Dundee last year was entirely different in tone to the speech made by the right honourable Gentleman to-night. The Estimates of this year are merely a carrying out of the second programme of last year, and every single figure this year might have been anticipated and foreseen. It is a programme nearly to the end of the year, and these battleships will make no difference at all in the present year. But from the manner in which this statement has been made I am afraid that his words, unless they are explained, will be misunderstood, and we shall find the honourable Member for Northampton taunting those who vote against him with supplying him with arguments in favour of his Motion and then voting against him in the Lobby. The right honourable Gentleman said it was impossible to take Russia into account, because we did not sufficiently know the facts. But the case put forward by these large Estimates is not put forward now, but was put forward in July last. The Estimates of this year are simply the programme of last year—that is, the second programme. That programme involved the whole of these Estimate;, and if we agreed to the policy of last July we ought to agree to pay the money now. The grounds put forward for the programme of last year were the Russian grounds, and this year they consist of a repetition of what we were told in July last. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe says that we should watch and wait. I am quite aware of all that can be said in favour of watching and waiting for the construction of ships abroad, because with 618 the rapidity of construction in this country we can catch them up. That argument has always been put forward against those who advocated a larger programme, but as I understood the First Lord of the Admiralty, he has taken this view that they have watched and waited, and only at the last moment, noticing the increasing strength of the navies of other Powers, have they decided to strengthen our own Navy. I understand that the defence of the Board of Admiralty is that they have watched, and that they have now put forward a programme which is not, perhaps, quite sufficient to keep up our strength to the standard generally adopted, but which is, nevertheless, sufficient, taking into consideration the rapidity of construction in this country. I cannot help thinking that when the right honourable Gentleman spoke at the beginning of his speech of this enormous, gigantic and huge expenditure he was lumping together, to some extent, military and naval expenditure. I do not think that he distinctly committed himself to the view that the naval expenditure of this country of itself was too large, but I cannot help thinking that his speech somewhat smacked of the old heresy that it is possible to separate the expenditure of the Army and Navy, and to make increases in both when the country is prosperous, and reductions when the country is less prosperous. No one realises more than I do the enormous weight of our military expenditure, and I have pointed it out time after time. Some of us have always argued that you cannot separate the two questions of Army and Navy expenditure, and you must take into account the relative importance of those two Services. If the time has come when, to use the right honourable Gentleman's words, we must apply the brake, you must apply that brake not necessarily to both Services equally, but to the more costly Service, and the branch of the Service which is less vital to our interests. This Empire is an Empire of the seas, and the Navy is vital to our existence, but our Army is not. Our Indian Army is vital to our possession of India, but India pays the full cost of it, and perhaps rather more. But although our Army at home is of immense value, because with it you can rapidly bring a war to an end, yet it is an immensely costly Army as compared with the Navy, and it is not so absolutely 619 vital to our existence as our Navy is. Now, when my right honourable Friend talks about the time having come to apply the brake, I will submit this view to the House: if the constituencies of this country will not stand the present enormous expenditure, and if you cannot induce the Colonies to contribute—as my honourable Friend opposite has argued with theoretical skill that they ought to contribute—towards the cost of the Navy, must you not then first make up your mind whether or not your naval expenditure is a necessity and a vital policy of the country? Now I have said that this is an Empire of the seas. It is a certain fact that it is our Navy which makes us feared, and which is likely to secure for us peace, for our Army is not thought much of by foreign Powers. It is to the Navy that we owe our military power in the world, and yet we spend vastly more upon our Army than upon our Naval Service. Our military standing in the world is produced by our Navy, and yet our Navy does not cost anything like half of our total military expenditure. I calculate that our military and naval expenditure in the Empire will be 71 millions sterling in the coming financial year. Now out of that 71 millions sterling the expenditure on the Navy will be 29 millions, and upon the Army and fixed defences the expenditure will be 42 millions. Of course, I know that some of the expenditure of the Army is really naval expenditure, and that must be admitted. There is the expenditure to which the Leader of the Opposition pointed in his speech last year on the Army Estimates. There is a portion of that expenditure for naval bases, and for coaling stations, which falls upon the Army Estimates; but if you take a large amount for that, and take off two millions sterling—which is my computation—you will find that even then only 31 millions out of 71 millions is utilised for the Navy or for naval bases, and 40 millions is spent upon the Army and fixed defences. Now, I do confess that it does seem to me that if the time has come to take a review of the whole financial situation in connection with your military and naval expenditure—if it is true that the people will not stand a further increase in that expenditure—the line of wisdom is not to attack both the Army and Navy together, for that is the old Treasury heresy; it is 620 not wise to say that we must knock so much off the Army and so much off the Navy, but we must consider both of them together and see which is most vital to our position. We must see whether the Army cannot be altered in its nature and maintained more efficiently, or just as efficiently, for less expenditure of money rather than fall upon these unfortunate Naval Estimates and say that something must come off these as well. Now I return for one moment to the general position which I ventured to take up. I believe that the most optimist writer on the Navy who writes with a real knowledge of the subject is Mr. Brassey, of the "Navy Annual." Mr. Brassey has always supported the policy of the Board of Admiralty, but in the 1898 "Naval Annual" he declares, for the first time without hesitation, that the number of men for the Navy is insufficient. With that view I agree, and I urge it in support of my honourable Friend the Member for Devonport. I believe our numbers are insufficient in this respect for our present purpose, and I believe the programme of ships, as proposed, is as necessary for the defence of our country as the First Lord of the Admiralty believes, for the Navy is vital to our position in the world. If it is true that the time has come when the constituencies cannot any longer support our enormous military expenditure; and if it is true that we are hopeless of obtaining that relief from the Colonies which the honourable and gallant Gentleman has pointed out, I would once more urge that we should not make up our minds to reduce our naval expenditure, but support the Government in regard to their naval expenditure, and if it is necessary, make a reduction in the expenditure of the Army.
In rising to say a few words in regard to the Naval Estimates, I will not follow the ground covered by the right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, whose observations I entirely re-echo. I would rather try to point out to the House that I most cordially and heartily support the proposals which fell from the honourable Member who spoke earlier in this Debate—I allude to the honourable Member for Devonport. He advocated —and I think the House should very carefully consider what he put before us —an increase in the personnel of the 621 reserves of the Fleet. Now we must consider the facts. We are building year by year, and the House cordially votes from time to time, a great increase in the ships, and we equally increase the number of men serving in the Fleet. I believe I am stating the facts accurately when I say that a few years back—only about eight or ten years back—we had only 65,000 men. Now we are going to vote for an increase of men to be on the ships, I believe, to 110,000 men. This is a very important fact, and we must recollect that, whilst increasing the personnel of the fleet, we should seriously consider if we ever have to go to war whether we have an adequate and sufficient Naval Reserve to go behind that Fleet. Now, Sir, the honourable Member for Devonport. in a very excellent speech, points out to the House a very grave fact in reference to the decrease in our Mercantile Marine. Why I refer to the Mercantile Marine in this connection is because the Royal Naval Reserve must be recruited, and ought to be recruited, from the Mercantile Marine, and I do not believe you can recruit from any other source. The honourable Member points out, and I again emphasise it, that whilst in 1851 there were only 6,000 foreigners in our Fleet who did not belong to the British nation, yet at the present moment there are no less than 55,000. Now our present Mercantile Marine, roughly speaking, consists of 220,000 men, and in that connection—although there are only about 160,000 of them who are British subjects—if you could get those men to serve it would be a very great advantage to this country to have them as a reserve to our Fleet. Now, what are they? In the fist place, on our ocean lines of steamers they are handy men; they are accustomed to machinery, and to all kinds of work in that respect. Therefore, I venture to say that if we are to have a really efficient Naval Reserve we ought to do everything in our power to secure the assistance of the Mercantile Marine. I think I shall be in order if I mention the fact that we passed a Bill in this House which the shipowners did not seem to care very much about, and which comes into operation on a very remarkable and rather an ominous day for a new Measure—namely, the 1st of April. Now I have letters from shipowners in Hull and Newcastle, and from all over the country, and they 622 state that they are quite willing and desirous of employing a larger number of British sailors on their ships if sufficient inducements can be given for them to have those men. We acknowledge the fact that probably when many of these men come on board they come from these crimps' houses, and I am sorry to say that the English Mercantile Marine sailors are not quite as steady as some of the foreigners are. It has been stated that these foreigners are not reliable.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The honourable Member will not be in order in discussing the manning of the Mercantile Marine.
Then I will leave that question in accordance with your ruling. I want to advocate a stronger Naval Reserve. The honourable and gallant Member for York unfortunately is not in his place, but he could do that with greater force than I can, for he told us in this House, and he has stated to me and many other Members, that he advocates an addition to the Naval Reserve of at least 40,000 men, but we do not find this addition in this Vote. I would point out to the House that upon all the Reserve in the Navy you only spend annually £271,000, and I would especially point this out to the Secretary to the Admiralty, whom I see in his place, whilst on the Reserve of the Army you spend nearly two millions per annum. Therefore, I would advocate very strongly that you should do everything in your power to encourage boys to enter the Navy, but that they should first enter the Mercantile Marine. At the present time these are the real recruits of the Reserve of the Navy, and therefore you must have sufficient boys enter the Mercantile Marine if you desire to keep an efficient Naval Reserve. I am afraid that I am right in stating that many of the boys who enter the Mercantile Marine either come from workhouses or reformatories, and that, I venture to state in this House, is a wrong system: and a large proportion of them are trained for the sea, but never make it a profession—that is a waste of money. There are vast numbers of boys all over the country, who would be very glad and very willing to enter the Mercantile Marine who are most respectable and honourable boys, and, therefore, I think that we should do everything in our 623 power as has been pointed out by the honourable Member for Devonport, to have more training ships to assist us in training boys for our ships, and I would advocate that we have more training ships at the various ports, and re-name for that purpose some of the old cruisers that are out of date by the names of various towns, not necessarily all seaport towns, such as H.M.S. "Sheffield," H.M.S. "Birmingham," H.M.S "York," and of course others named after the various ports—Liverpool, Glasgow, Portsmouth, Cardiff, Hull, Bristol, Plymouth, Belfast, Cork, &c, and that the boys from those places should go on board these vessels and thus create a local interest in the future welfare of the British Navy and also the Mercantile Marine. Well, Sir, I will not weary the House by emphasising the figures which have been pointed out by my honourable Friend the Member for Devonport. In the past, in times of difficulty and danger, we have been able to draw largely upon our Mercantile Marine. The French Naval Reserves number no less than 135,000 men, but we have only 25,000 in our Naval Reserve. I do not deny that you have also 7,000 or 8,000 naval pensioners, but I have never been able to get from my honourable Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty, who has forwarded me figures, with which I will not trouble the House, the fact that a sufficient number of men, after they leave the Service, join the ranks of the Naval Pensioners Reserve. My honourable Friend told me that every sailor who leaves the Fleet after 21 years' service is liable for active service, but that is not. in my mind, enough. He would have an occasional training at sea. We are told that it is necessary for the men who join the Reserve to have had a short experience. I would strenuously point out to the Admiralty that it is no use building ships, and having a first-rate line of defence consisting of 110,000 men if you do not look to the question of increasing your Naval Reserve, either by recruiting or offering inducements to honourable boys from the various towns in the country to join training ships, or give inducements to your sailors after serving in the Mercantile Marine to go into the Reserve, and thus become useful to the country.
§ *MR. ALLAN (Gateshead)
Ever since I had the honour of sitting in this House I have always consistently voted for the Navy Estimates, whatever they are. I have voted for the increases that have been put down both by the late Government and by the present Government, and I must say that it pained me very much indeed to-night to hear the late Secretary to the Admiralty speak in the manner he did in relation to the two battleships which it is proposed to build, and when he used the phrase that it was "time to put on the brake," and that this country would not stand any further increase in our military expenditure. Now, I am at a loss to understand such sentiments and such phrases coming from that quarter. Does the right honourable Gentleman know that I supported him in reference to the increases proposed by him? I think it is only fair to the Party with which I am identified that the right honourable Gentleman should take a Vote on his sentiments, and then we shall know where we are. I have listened with a great deal of pleasure to the speeches made on the general question of the Navy. So far as the programme of the First Lord is concerned I have no fault to find with it personally. To my way of thinking it is modest—and when I use the word modest I may be asked, "Why do you say so?" Well, I have never yet had a clear definition of what ought to be the magnitude or the extent of a nation's Fleet. The general concensus of opinion in all commercial circles with which I am acquainted is that the Fleet ought to be commensurate with the Mercantile Marine. Now the Mercantile Marine under the British flag amounts to somewhere about thirteen-and-a-half million tons, whereas the mercantile marine under the French flag is about one-and-a-half million tons. If, therefore, the proportion of fleets or the number of ships is to be in accordance with the mercantile marine, it naturally follows that our Fleet is too small in proportion to the fleets of other nations in comparison to their mercantile marine. The mercantile marine of Russia is practically nil, and yet she has a very powerful fleet. Therefore, I am not opposed at all, in any shape or form, to the modest increase which the First Lord has put down in his Statement. There are some points in connection with the general question of the Navy which I think demand—and 625 ought to command—attention. They have been alluded to to-night by the various speakers who have taken part in this Debate, and I will not take up the time of the House long by expressing my views on certain points. The other day I received an answer to a Question which I put to the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty, and he told me that a much larger amount of coal has been used, accounting for no less an increase in the present Estimates than the sum of £316,000. Now, I would like to draw the right honourable Gentleman's attention to one fact. which would save the nation a great deal of money, and that is the condition of the coals which you have stored in the various harbours. Go to Portsmouth, or any of our great coaling stations abroad, and there you will find the coals stored in the open, and they decrease in value through being exposed to the weather, and the result is that they lose a great deal of their carboniferous value, and consequently more has to be consumed to produce the same quantity of steam. I saw thousands of tons of coal at Portsmouth stored when I was there.
§ *MR. ALLAN
Oh. don't shake your head, Sir. The honourable Member for Yarmouth spoke about the First Lord omitting to mention the action of the Colonies.
§ *MR. ALLAN
Then I will take the case of the Cape. I think the authorities there would be well advised if they abandoned this idea and substituted for their war-ship large floating docks capable of letting in for repairs any of our ships of the Fleet which may arrive damaged into the station, instead of building a war-ship. At present the dock accommodation there is practically nil, and I would therefore suggest to the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty that he might put that suggestion before the Cape authorities, and they might contribute the money as a warranty of their good faith, and then they might erect a grand floating dock there which would take any of our ships which may be damaged. The honourable Member for Devonport spoke about the want of Reserves. I am 626 entirely at one with him in his speech. I am afraid he did not go far enough. It is a well-known fact—and there is no use in blinking the matter—and there is no use in the First Lord of the Admiralty trying to throw dust in our eyes—that we have not sufficient Reserves, I would ask the Secretary to the Admiralty how many Reserve firemen, engineers, and stokers have we got? You have not as many engineers as would practically man a couple of men-of-war. Take the case of stokers. What are the words used in the advertisements of the provincial newspapers? That "no previous experience is necessary." Now, do you mean to tell me that you can take a man from the plough-tail and make him into a stoker with two, three, or even six months' training? You have not the men and you cannot get them; you have not enough of artificers either. That is a patent fact. I shall tell the right honourable Gentleman why he cannot get the men. It is simply from the fact that the accommodation provided for them in the ships is very poor, and that the treatment of the men is anything but right. And now, when you are driven into a corner in order to get artificers you are going to lower the common standard of examination—a standard which was low enough before. That is your true, position, so far as the Reserve is concerned. I would impress in as friendly a way as possible upon the right honourable Gentleman that it is time to take this question of the Reserve in the spirit it ought to be taken, and which ought to be in conformity with the wishes of the nation as to the efficiency of the Fleet. I come to the cause why you do not obtain Reserves. It is entirely a question of money. You do not give the money and you will not get the men. There is no getting out of that. You do not pay them well enough, and you do not treat them well enough—either sailor-men, stokers, or artificers. I do not think I would be trespassing too much on the time of the House if I read an extract from a letter which I received here the other day from a man in one of the first-class cruisers, which have been so much lauded in the House. It shows the necessity of firemen being required. I shall not read the whole of the letter, for it contains other information which I 627 shall have the opportunity to give to the House on another occasion. My correspondent says—The first-class stokers are not men who have the necessary experience in looking after the engines, and if they had, there is not enough of them. Another point I have not mentioned is that there were fifty bluejackets acting below as stokers during over two hours last trial trip. They had not the men, and the trial trip was a failure, and the ship had to put back to Portsmouth to repair the damage caused during our last run. And we were detained for a month for the purpose.I am giving perfectly true information to the House because it is a national question. The reason why we have so many abject failures in our trial trips is that the ships are insufficiently manned, and not by the right class of men. I challenge every official in the Admiralty to deny it or to disprove it. I say you would get the right class of men if you paid them better. Why don't you add £50,000 on the Estimates to improve the pay of these men? The country would give it at once,
§ *MR. ALLAN
All the honourable Members round about me and on both sides of the House are cheering that except the late Secretary to the Admiralty. I listened to the honourable Member for King's Lynn with a great degree of pleasure. I always do so—he is so interesting and so patriotic upon the Navy. He said that we should delay ship building for two years. That is to say, that after designing the vessels, and making many arrangements and fixing up the details, we are to stop for two years. I may tell the honourable Member that the building of a man-of-war is totally different from the building of a yacht. The work is not to be gone on with, the edrawings are to be pigeon-holed and we are to wait for two years! Why, we would never get the work done in that way. The way to do our work is to make the drawings and then go on with the building. The right honourable Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean spoke of the delay in obtaining the armour. Now, I happen to know something of the manufacture of armour, and I would like to inform the right honourable Gentleman that the manufacture of modern armour is one of the most difficult and ticklish operations that you can perform in the rolling mill. The 628 armour takes a long time to prepare; it has to be Harveyised and to be nickelised, and to be tested properly, and all these processes take a long time. It is different altogether from the protective armour shield for the three-inch guns, which would not suit our battleships. There must be allowances for delay m the manufacture of this armour. Something has been said about slips. I have spoken in this House many times on the necessity for more slips. The reason why we do not lay our ships down when the House votes the money for them is that we have not the room for them. The Governments are all alike, and will not put the slips down on which to build the ships, and the consequence is that the money is voted for certain vessels from one year to another before a start is made with building them, and all because there is no room for them on the existing slips. I say, therefore, that all these matters ought to be very carefully looked after by the Admiralty officials. Well, Mr. Speaker, I do think that when the Naval Estimates come before the House they ought to receive the thorough support, the patriotic support, of every Member of this House.
§ *MR. ALLAN
The right honourable Gentleman says, "No, no!" I will allow him to differ; but I am a patriot before I am a partisan.
§ *MR. ALLAN
And I say again that it pained me very much indeed to hear the late Secretary to the Admiralty practically condemning this Programme, seeing I supported him when he was in office whenever he wanted money for ships. I would challenge him to take a vote on his remarks and we should see who would win.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
Some of us have been engaged in criticising not unfrequently during the past few years the administration of the Admiralty. We were most anxious to see some improvement introduced into that administration, and we spared no pains in enforcing our opinions. I feel that it would be ungracious for us 629 who were so engaged to appear to be absolutely indifferent to the enormous advance that has been made of late years. Feeling, as I do now, that the present is in some sense a critical moment—a moment when the Government will require in this day of large expenditure, the full support of the public—I think it is permissible for those who have worked as I have worked to pay a tribute to the work which has been done, and is being done, by the present Admiralty, and of which an example is given in the Estimates now on the Table of the House. The commendations that come from the outside also are simply inevitable. I do not say this because I attach importance to what is in the Estimates but because I have seen perhaps more of Her Majesty's ships in and out of dock than is generally the case with Members of this House. I know that these Estimates represent actual facts: and that what they represent as having been done, has been done, and that what is contemplated as about to be done, will be done. There is hardly a mouth passes when I do not revive my recollections of the Royal Navy, and when I do not strive to acquaint myself with what is being done in the Dockyards. I can inform the House that the progress that is being made is almost miraculous to anyone who remembers the condition of the yards and the ships 12yearsi'go. I say that the House and the country does owe an enormous debt to the present First Lord in regard to the Navy Estimates, and I wish that the example which he has set had been more frequently followed. I believe that there is no Minister who has ever presided at the Admiralty who has done more for, or who has identified himself more with the spirit of the Navy—which is the most important thing after all—than the present First Lord. I happened to be in Gibraltar last year when the First Lord came out in a man-of-war to inspect the fortress, and I must say—in the first place—that I believe that the precedent he set by embarking alone on a man-of-war and seeing for himself the interior economy or the ship was a precedent which might be followed with great advantage. Having gone over the fortress of Gibraltar step 630 by step after the right honourable Gentleman, was made the recipient of opinions which had been formed in regard to that visit. The opinions were absolutely uniform—that the interest the First Lord had shown in every detail, and in what was taking place there—the intelligent and active interest—delighted all. They became aware of the fact that he had passed over nothing, and that in spite of his advanced age he had spared no effort to acquaint himself with what was going on, and to encourage those who were at work. I do think that it is permissible, and that it is almost obligatory, on those who have for many years criticised the way in which the Admiralty was administered, to state now how differently things are managed Probably there will be a certain amount of feeling in the country in regard to the large amount of money asked for in these Estimates; but I think it will be the opinion of everyone who has studied year after year the development of the programme of the Admiralty that these Estimates are hut the normal outcome of a definite plan—not exaggerated, not overstated; and that they represent, in fact, the minimum rather than the maximum programme which is necessary from the movement of opinion in the House and the country. That being so, I am glad that the Estimates have met on the whole with a very cordial reception from the House. I am glad they have the support of the honourable Members opposite. I entirely associate myself with the honourable Member for Gateshead in his regret that an official representative of the Opposition should have taken exception to any portion of the Estimates, and, with him. I agree that if a vote of the House were taken a majority would be found in favour of the Estimates, because anyone who knows anything at all about the Navy and its past administration must acknowledge that these Estimates are the necessary outcome of the programme approved by the House and the country.
§ MR. HARWOOD (Bolton)
I do not intend to engage in a discussion in regard to the programme before us. So far as I can see, I have no fault to 631 find with it. But it seems to mc that these naval questions are too much treated in this House as the property of the admirals and the captains and the Members for seaport towns, and that the Navy is regarded too much as a preserve of the seaport towns. I would suggest to the Admiralty that it would be wise, as well as fair, to take systematic means to popularise the Navy among the population of the large manufacturing towns in the north of England. I think the Admiralty cannot be aware how extremely ignorant the population of these towns are as to the means by which they or their sons can enter the Royal Navy. I am frequently consulted by boys and the parents of boys as to how they can get into the Navy. If youths want to go into the Army proper and useful means are taken to afford the information as to how they can go about it. But there arc no such means taken in regard to the Navy. The consequence is that these youths arc discouraged, and they have not a fair chance of entering on a career which ought to be open to the whole nation. I am quite aware that there is much advantage in habit, in family association, and in inherited liking for the sea. I quite allow that the population of the seaboard towns arc more likely to make good sailors than the population of the manufacturing towns. But there arc other considerations that ought to weigh in the matter. The love of the sea is not a mere matter of habit, not a mere tradition, but a matter of temperament. In; the great manufacturing: towns many youths are moved by the thirst for the salt sea, which is a saving grace of our nation: and this love of the sea runs not only in the blood of boys bred by the sea, but runs in the blood of the youths in our manufacturing towns. It is part of the burden of our naval supremacy. Therefore, it would be wise if our naval authorities were to give an opening to those young men who are inspired by a passion for the sea. and who we ought to encourage to join the Navy. Another matter of importance is this: We all know that the conditions of the naval occupation have changed much within the last 50 years. Our ships have become more and more huge masses of machinery, and 632 less and less merely white-winged galleons, on board which opportunities are afforded for the display of heroism and the inherited qualities of seamanship. On that ground I beg to call the attention of the authorities to the fact that in the town which I represent there are thousands of the most skilled engineers in the world, and if their sons have not inherited the capacity for seamanship, they have inherited a capacity for workmanship; and it is that capacity which is more and more required in the. Navy If you offered an opening in the Navy to these young men, you would have, as a consequence, a much larger selection from which to pick your engineers and artificers. You may think that you get enough at present, but I hold there is a question of right and of fairness in filling up the Navy. I suggest that the Admiralty should take more systematic methods to make known in all the large centres of population the means which should be employed in securing an entrance into the Navy. It should be as easy for men to ascertain how they can get their sons into the Navy as 'to get their sons into the Army. It may seem a vulgar suggestion, but you might make use of a, naval visit to the manufacturing towns. To increase the recruiting, you send the ships to the seaports, and the sight of the Fleet stirs the patriotism of the young men. We have a canal up to Manchester, but I do not suppose you would send a fleet of men-of-war up that Ship Canal. But you might take the opportunity of sending a company of sailors to inarch through the streets of the manufacturing towns. There is no more stirring sight in the world than a company of British bluejackets marching in their picturesque uniforms. You must learn to teach the people not merely by written language, but also by appealing to their sense of the dramatic. There is a French saying that a career should be open to all the talents. In the manufacturing towns in the North of England we pay a fair share—indeed, a large proportion—of the expense of the Navy, and we have a right that our sons should have as free access to the Navy as anyone else. And I say that that is not so now, and that it is quite unusual for the sons of manu- 633 facturers to go into the Navy. I have been the means of introducing a few, but I found it extremely difficult, because I did not know how to go about it. I hope the authorities will take my suggestion seriously into consideration, and I do so from another motive than that I have alluded to. I believe that you would be wise to encourage more heartily the feeling of attachment to the Navy in the nation. We may want that feeling soon. My own grandfather was press-ganged into the Fleet, and the time may come when you may want to appeal to the national enthusiasm for the Fleet again. It is, therefore, wise and truly patriotic to do everything you can to strengthen the attachment of the nation to the Fleet.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. MACARTNEY, Antrim, S.)
My honourable and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne has alluded to two or three things of detail which would be more germane to discussion in Committee than in a discussion of this description. My honourable and gallant Friend will pardon me if, without any disrespect to him, I postpone my reply to him on one or two points to a future occasion. The House will agree with me that any cold-blooded arguments may not correspond to his rather vehement rhetoric. The question just alluded to by the honourable Gentleman who preceded me is one, I admit, of great importance. The methods by which the Navy may be popularised in the large manufacturing districts are constantly before the Admiralty. They are at the present moment being examined by a Committee, and I trust that the experiences we are collecting from the Northern districts of the country will be of benefit in securing additions to the Services, especially of artisans and of the higher mechanical ratings, which are so desirable. Of course, it is impossible, as he admits, to make a naval demonstration on land to attract the inland population by the same means as we can secure recruits along the sea coast, but every effort that can be made will be made by the Admiralty and by the present administration to enlarge the methods by which we disseminate the information as to the means of joining the Navy. Now, Mr. Speaker, the De- 634 bates so far have been unanimous in approval of the programme that has been laid before the House, that it would have been hardly necessary for me to intervene at this stage if it had not been for some questions put by right honouraide and honourable Gentlemen opposite. The right honourable Gentleman in his interesting speech, lamented, as I understand, the increase in the Estimates for this year. I understand him to admit the necessity for them to a greater degree than some other honourable Gentlemen in the House, and I do not know that he desired to question that necessity underlay the dimensions of the Estimates. Rut he asked for some information as to the reasons upon which our shipbuilding programme was founded. I trust that before I sit down I shall be able to show him that this programme, large though it is, even in comparison with last year—and the expenditure involved by the programme, though greater than that of last year— is one justified by necessity, and by necessity only. And it is because it is necessary that it is presented to the House. Before I come to the question of the programme, I will refer to a question the right honourable Gentleman put as to whether I could give some further explanation than was contained in the First Lord's printed statement as to the reasons for the. large increase in the number of officers we are providing for. Sir, that increase is caused. first of all, by the increased number of ships now in commission: and secondly, by the fact that the ships in the Reserve, being older ships, are gradually being replaced by modern ships, with more elaborate machinery and more scientific armaments. This necessitates that in the event of mobilisation we should have at disposal a sufficient number of officers from the active Services to command those ships, and for those reasons we deem it advisable to have the numbers indicated in the First Lord's statement, which will be reached gradually in a certain number of years. The right honourable Baronet asks me how we propose to arrive at the increase in the list of lieutenants. Sir, we propose to reach the numbers indicated in the First Lord's statement with regard to lieu- 635 tenants by an annual entry three times a year of 65 cadets. This annual entry will supply 195 every year, and entries to that number will be kept up until the year 1904. It will then be possible to reduce the entries to the figure of 126, either by three small annual entries or two annual entries of 63. That number will suffice to give us the total number of lieutenants that it is proposed to get into the Service. Now, Sir, the right honourable Gentleman has asked us whether, in framing our programme for the total new construction for 1899–1900 we nave before our view the fact of the slackening off of the French in the construction of battleships, the fact that the rate of building in France is somewhat lower than our own, and the fact that there has been put before Europe the Tsar's proposal with regard to peace. It is hardly necessary for me to assure the House that these facts have been under the consideration of the Admiralty, and that they have materially affected the programme that has been laid before the House; but I would point out to the right honourable Gentleman that it is not possible for us to regard France and the rate of French contribution only. We have to deal with the condition of things in other countries, with the progress in construction made by them, and we feel ourselves more or less bound—in fact, entirely bound—by the principle of naval construction and the development of naval affairs which was accepted, I believe, by the Administration of which he was a Member, and which has been accepted by the Administration which is now at the Admiralty, and which has been accepted by the House, and, I may say, consistently acted upon in various naval programmes which have been lately placed before the country. Therefore, with regard to the battleship portion of our programme, that has been based upon our knowledge of what has been proposed by other countries. We are perfectly aware of the fact to which he has made allusion, that the French have slackened their building, but, as I have said, consideration of the facts relating to the building of battleships in other countries, and the general feeling which has actuated, not only this Administration, but 636 previous Administrations, have led us to consider it necessary for maintaining that position of comparative security, as against the combined strength of two other Powers, to make the proposals with regard to battleships which are contained in the First Lord's statement. The right honourable Gentleman has said, Can we not pause?—a sentiment, a principle of action, which has been objected to by the right honourable Baronet below the gangway. He has pointed out to the right honourable Gentleman that, in fact, we have paused, not once, but twice, in the proposals that we have made with regard to construction. We have adopted the attitude which, I understand, the right honourable Gentleman desired, and pressed upon us: we have waited, not upon one occasion, but twice, until we had the fullest information with regard to the proposals of other countries, and we have shaped our constructive programme according to the designs which they had laid clown. Now, Sir, my honourable and gallant Friend the Member for Yarmouth complained of a passage in the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty, in which he seemed to think that my right honourable Friend had committed himself to a statement which involved the reduction of the naval power of this country in the event of an agreement of the European Powers without regard to the responsibilities of the Empire at large. My honourable and gallant Friend, I think, misunderstood the words of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and certainly he has attempted to deduce from what my right honourable Friend said an inference which I do not think it properly bears. My right honourable Friend said, "If Europe does not agree, the programme must stand." The honourable and gallant Member for Yarmouth attempted to infer from that that the converse followed, and that the converse of that proportion was contained in the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty. Sir, I myself do not believe that my right honourable Friend meant for one moment that such a converse should be deducted from his statement. In fact, if my honourable 637 and gallant Friend will carefully re-read the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty, he will see that while he attributed great importance to the decision of the European Conference, at the same time he took great pains to point out that the conditions which the Naval Service of this country has to meet, and the responsibilities which fall upon that Service, are totally distinct, and must be considered distinct, from the responsibilities and the conditions which the naval services of other countries are designed to meet. Now, the right honourable Baronet drew attention to the conditions of our armour supply. We pointed out that that supply was not so unsatisfactory this year as it was last year, but still it cannot be considered to be in a satisfactory condition. I regret that I have to agree with him upon that point. The output of the manufacturers Has not come up to what is expected from their reputation, but we hope, and we have considerable reason for believing, that in the financial year which is coming on, the result may be much more satisfactory. The armour manufacturers have been able to make considerable strides in the laying down of their plant. I understand that they believe that the output of armour plates will be very largely increased in the early portions of the next financial year. The right honourable Gentleman has alluded to the question of slips, and has hinted that, perhaps the fact that there were no slips vacant in the early part of the financial year has had some effect upon our programme for new construction for 1899–1900. I do not think that suspicion of the right honourable Gentleman is justified. The retardation in the laying down of two battleships was another example of that desire to pause to see what had been done, what definite action would be taken in the future, by foreign countries before we took any steps ourselves: it is in accordance with our uniform action to maintain an equality without any desire to out ship the fleets of other countries. The right honourable Gentleman also drew attention to the progress made in the Naval Reserves, and he has assumed that the number of 12,000 men is the number of the Naval Reserve 638 available for early mobilisation. That is true to this extent, that we believe that number will be available within 48 hours, and we have made this new provision in order to meet the requirements that may come up within 48 hours, and to relieve the pressure which otherwise would undoubtedly take place in the various ports. He must not take it to mean that that number terminates or concludes the numbers of the Royal Naval Reserve who, we believe, are available for very early service. It is no indication of those whom we are confident are available for service within a week or 10 days. The honourable Member for Gateshead drew attention to one or two other minor points, which, I think, may be dealt with more effectively in Supply, and I have only to assure the House that the Admiralty is as much alive as he is to the necessity for the protection of our coal, and the necessity for constructing docks in other parts of the world than the home waters. These questions are being dealt with now, and in the Estimates which are now before the House he will find that very considerable sums of money are taken both for the establishment of protection for our coal depots and also for the improvement of the docks that are in existence, and preparations for other docks we have need of. I hope the House will not think that I am making an undue demand upon their generosity if I would ask them now to desire you, Sir, to leave the Chair. All those who are interested in these matters well know that this does not terminate the opportunity of honourable Members for a general discussion, and I think that this afternoon honourable Gentlemen who are interested in the Estimates have had an ample opportunity of bringing forward those questions which are germane to this portion of the Debate, and it would be for the convenience of Naval experts in the House and of the House generally if we were now permitted to go into Committee, and to deal there with other questions, not, perhaps, of the same importance, but which deserve attention.
§ *MR. CHANNING
I do not mean to stand for more than a few minutes between the House and 639 the Committee of Supply, but I do think that the statement which has fallen from the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty is of sufficient importance to be noted at once from this side of the House. The interpretation, apparently, which has been placed upon the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty, that this enormous increase of the Estimates of practically £3,000,000 was, to a certain extent, conditional on the action which the European Powers might arrive at in consequence of the Conference initiated by the Tsar—that inference from his speech is apparently disowned by his present representative in this Debate. We were told that if Europe does not agree the programme must stand, but we are not to infer the converse of that proposition, that if Europe does agree to disarmament there shall be a reduction of these enormous Estimates. Now, I submit. Mr. Speaker, that that is a very serious modification of the important and very weighty speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty, which created so deep an impression on the Press and on the country the other day. It is so important that I think honourable Members on this side of the House are justified in protesting against the attitude of Her Majesty's Government as formulated by the Secretary to the Admiralty in his present speech. It practically amounts to this, that we are committed to go ahead full steam in this principle of expansion of the Navy, that this policy has practically no limits whatsoever. Now, Sir, I was reminded this afternoon of the history of this question of the expansion of the Estimates. It will be familiar to many of those who have followed these proposals, that in the years 1887 and 1888 the noble Lord who now is Secretary for India, and whose administration of the Admiralty I always look back to with great admiration, for it was under his administration that the shortening of the time of shipbuilding and the cheapening of production of our great ships was developed, and therefore a net sum saved to the country, and the efficiency of the Navy greatly increased—I say that though I admire these features of his administration in 640 those, years, I have always thought that the policy which he was led into, perhaps by others, in 1889, of displaying an enormous programme—21 millions of money and 70 or 80 ships suddenly thrown in the face of every Power in the world—that was a serious blunder in the tactics of dealing with this great question. Now, Sir, the policy of this country with regard to naval shipbuilding, the policy of this country with regard to maintaining the supremacy of England upon the seas, and guarding the seas all over, and enabling trade and commerce and food to reach this country in any quantity—that is a policy which will always receive the warmest support on this side of the House. But it is a policy which can be most effectively carried out, not by these vast programmes and by these enormous sums of money thrown in the face of other Powers, not by provocative proposals which only result in enormous programmes and immense outlay by other Powers—the principle of our policy should he wise self-control in these matters. Well, these matters should be considered seriously and prudently, and the man who suddenly flaunts enormous programmes in the face of those with whom he wishes to be at peace, programmes provocative and aggressive against those Powers, is not adopting the surest and most certain way of achieving his result with the lowest expenditure in men and resources, and of placing himself in a stronger position than his opponents. Sir Robert Peel, whose "Letters" are now in the Library, in reply to the alarmist suggestions which were made to him in the time of his great Administration, deprecated this policy of enormous and constant preparations in the face of the enemy; he thought that it was likely to provoke similar aggressions on the other side. "It appears to me," he replied to the Duke of Wellington, "that the properway of maintaining our relative ascendency over other Powers is to be quietly and unostentatiously doing what is necessary" instead of making a display of all these vast and gigantic preparations. Ever since the great blunder which was committed in 1889 of that gigantic programme which was then instituted, in every country throughout the world this tendency to 641 these enormous schemes of armaments has been developed, copying the fatal example of this country. On account of the rapidity with which ships can be turned out, and the effectiveness of the designs of this country, we have the whip hand of every country in the world with regard to the building of ships, and with regard to the types of fighting ships; and therefore the true policy would be not to fill out these bad and these gigantic and preposterous Estimates, but to quietly, year after year, go on building such ships as are necessary without these programmes. I am not sure that this aspect of the question has been discussed on the floor of the House, but I have often wished that this duty might be committed to half a dozen Members of both Front Benches of the House who are thoroughly versed in this subject, and who might be given carte blanche to build ships that are necessary, without this flaunting of our strength in the face of Europe and these discussions on the floor of the House. The speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty the other day seemed to foreshadow that we were not only to keep up an equality with two Powers—France and Russia—but in his calculations were introduced for the first time the forces which six Powers could place upon the seas, and apparently that is to be the new standard or measure of honourable Members opposite with regard to the responsibilities of this country. The honourable Member who spoke from this side of the House spoke about popularising the Navy, and I am sure I heartily agree with him. I think the Navy cannot be too popular in this country. I represent an inland Division, and I venture to say the Navy is as popular there as in any seaport town. But, at the same time, I do not think the Navy is likely to be popularised if it is carried on in this extravagant and over-lavish manner, and I think the wisest plan would be not to carry such extravagant Estimates as we have this year, but slowly and quietly to just keep ahead, as we easily can with our shipbuilding plant, of other Powers, and not to go on with these foolish and provocative programmes any more.
That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.
§ Agreed to.