§ MR. YERBURGH (Chester)
I bog to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that Messrs. Armstrong, Whitworth, and Company have state I that they could, if required, lay down three battleships and two large cruisers, giving delivery of the same within three years of receiving the order; and whether, seeing that in the last three years ending 1900 the sum of £3,500,000, or thereabouts, voted for naval construction has not been spent, and in view of his statement of 9th March, 1899, that his estimates were the lowest by which we can secure the objects which the people expect of the Navy, he will take advantage of the opportunity which now 726 offers to make up the ground which has been lost in naval construction.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. GOSCHEN, St. George's, Hanover Square)
The statement in the hon. Gentleman's question that £3,500,000 voted for naval construction has not been spent is completely misleading and incorrect in the sense in which it is used. The hon. Member has apparently added together the amounts unspent in succeeding years, not reflecting that a great part was simply a revote of the provision made in the previous year. What we could not spend we asked for again, and it was revoted. Amounts voted for particular ships with which less progress was made than estimated, or for armour and machinery not delivered, were included again in the next year's vote, and it is an error to add up votes and re-votes together. As to the statement attributed to Messrs. Armstrong and Co., I have only seen it since the hon. Gentleman's question appeared on the paper. It had not been made to the Admiralty. This firm is, of course, always invited to tender with others for ships to be ordered by contract. Four armoured cruisers are about to be put out to contract, and I shall be glad if some of them find their way to Elswick. It should be understood that Messrs. Armstrong do not construct machinery, nor, at present, make armour plates, and for their supply in this respect, they are dependent upon the same manufacturers as the Admiralty and other shipbuilders. It would be incorrect to gauge the power of firms to construct ships simply by the number of slips which may be vacant. There is comparatively little difficulty in getting the hulls built. The difficulty lies, in the main, in the provision of armour and machinery, often the deliveries of which must pro-coed pari passu with the work on the hull if the ships are to be completed within a given time.
§ MR. YERBURGH
I regret if I have put the question down in a misleading form. I had no intention of doing so. I wanted to ask whether any of the money which has been voted by the House for naval construction has not been spent, or is not in course of being spent.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I will put all analogous case to my hon. friend. Suppose the House voted £1,000 for a 727 picture which was to be delivered at the end of the year; if the picture was not delivered, that £1,000 would be revoted in the next year; and, if the painter did not finish it, it might be revoted in the third year also. Surely it would in that case be incorrect to say that £3,000 had been voted for that picture by the House of Commons, and that the Government were responsible for not having spent the whole of the £3,000. That is a case exactly analogous to this.
§ MR. YERBURGH
Arising out of the answer, may I ask whether, as the right hon. Gentleman stated on 26th February, in introducing the. Naval Estimates,✶ the output of ships is limited by what the naval authorities believe to be the shipbuilding capacity of the country, and whether, if he can satisfy himself that Messrs. Armstrong are in a position to supply these extra battleships and cruisers, the right hon. Gentleman will put himself into communication with them.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
In the first place there are four cruisers for which tenders are asked in the general contract, and it will rest with Messrs. Armstrong whether they tender for those ships or not. I shall be very glad if that firm, for which I have the highest respect, are able to secure a large proportion of the ships that are being put out; but the hon. Member seems to have forgotten that we have a large number of ships building. It does not depend only on whether armour and machinery can be supplied to Messrs. Armstrong, for if the delivery of machinery and armour to Messrs. Armstrong interferes with the delivery of armour and machinery for our ships now under construction nothing will be gained. We have to look at the whole situation together, and to consider whether armour, machinery, and hulls can all be built pari passu.