§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned-Debate on Main Question [21st March],"That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
I think both the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary to the Navy deserve great credit for their courage in asking the Boilers Committee for a Report which would enable them to guide the policy of the Navy upon the important question of boilers in the immediate future, but at the same time I consider that in the comprehensive statement which he made to the House the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty omitted any reference to several important matters. In dealing with the question of construction he omitted to tell the House what the result of our construction was in comparison with the navies of the world. What the country really desires to know is, is our Navy strong enough, and how does it compare with the navies of other great Powers? The country has had an awakening with regard to Army reform. We have seen the decay of a great soldier who was sadly unwilling, and in some degree unable, to perform his duties. The War Office had concealed deficiencies which did not become known until recently, but which have had a disheartening effect upon the country, and people are now asking themselves whether similar weakness exists in the Navy, or whether the Navy is really equal to all the demands which could be made upon it. By comparison this country can really afford to play with the Army, because the Navy is of far more vital interest than the Army can be said to be. We talk of the Navy as being the first line of defence, because if it were not possible to patrol the seas and keep 931 them open for our commerce, for the carrying of our food, we should be starved into submission without a shot being fired. The Government have now been in charge of the Navy for six years, and they ought to know whether the comparison between the British and, foreign navies is such as to enable them to pledge themselves that the Navy is sufficient for all purposes.
The hon. Member for Devonport said that the programme of construction was only a programme after all and then he went on to speak of the five submarine vessels, and mentioned that they were ordered in 1900, even before the House sanctioned the building of submarine boats at all. But what were the Government to do 2 If they bring in a programme they are attacked, and if they take time by the forelock they are criticised for giving orders which were not sanctioned by Parliament. It seems to me that in this particular the Admiralty were completely justified in the action they took. Everybody remembers the outcry made as to the Admiralty getting behindhand in connection with submarine boats, which was so great and so general that the Admiralty had no alternative but to resort to their own experiments. Personally I do not think that submarine vessels would have any appreciable effect in naval warfare, but information as to their likelihood of being valuable had to be obtained, and such information should be obtained first hand. Contrasts have been drawn between the naval expenditure of this country at this time and the Naval expenditure of years ago. Seven years ago this country spent £14,000,000 on the Navy: the Estimates now amount to £.33.000,000, and the question has been asked where is this expenditure to stop—is there to be no limit? If there is one truth which ought to be accepted by the House, it is that the Navy is above all parties and above polities, and if £33,000,000 is too great an expenditure I trust that before the debate draws to a conclusion some statement will be made as to what the Government consider to be reasonable and sufficient provision for naval defence. There is a limit, and I think that limit is what 932 is sufficient for the defence of the country without any doubt whatever. This matter of naval defence is vital, and that is the only limit which the country-will recognise as in any way reasonable.
In 1889 the noble Lord the present Secretary of State for India stated that the Navy should be at least equal to any two other navies, and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition used these memorable words, which I hope are binding on his follower the late Civil Lord of the Admiralty—I accept the doctrine of the standard of supremacy, that our Fleet should equal any two other fleets in the world.There you have a binding agreement made in 1889 between both sides of the House, which has been accepted as the standard ever since. Now, is it a fact that our Fleet is equal to any two other fleets in the world? At the present time we have battleships in number sixty-six, built or building, and within measurable distance of completion. France has forty battleships under similar circumstances; Russia has twenty-nine; and Germany has also twenty-nine. Thus, you see, if you take the two nations which together would produce the largest number of battleships, you have sixty-nine which may be arrayed against us, and we have sixty-six to compete with them. That is at least, not an equality in our Navy. When one remembers the special character of the duty of our Fleet—the necessity for blockading the enemy's ports, and the necessity for keeping the sea clear for our food supply and our commerce—we see clearly enough that there is not an equality as yet, even supposing the three battleships my right hon. friend has promised to be added to the programme were completed, which they cannot be within at least three years. It seems to me that the programme of battleships is not sufficient. It seems to me that instead of proposing three battleships the hon. Gentleman would have been wiser, and would have been more in proportion to the comparison with other fleets on the basis of this agreed standard between both sides of the House eleven years ago, if he had proposed ten additional battleships. It is true that there-are twenty cruisers under construction, 933 and that the Admiralty propose to add eight in the new programme, but the cruisers can never take the place of battleships. We know that both in the Mediterranean squadron and elsewhere there is even at the present time a deficiency of cruisers. It is a matter of great satisfaction to the House to believe that there is no longer the difficulty as regards new construction and proceeding with the ships sanctioned in this House which until recently existed. It is a satisfaction also to know that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Hallam Division as to armourplate has been fully justified. That statement was that if a reasonable continuity of orders were promised by the Admiralty there would be a great increase in the appliances for producing armourplate in Sheffield. We are told in the printed statement of the First Lord that five makers have laid down appliances, and that there should be in the near future no difficulty in regard to the production of armour plate. Another point of great importance in relation to this question of pushing on ships and saving delay in naval construction is the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the causes of the delay in carrying out the contracts. That Committee, I believe, is an exceedingly wise step. My hon. friend the! Member for Devonport, whom I am glad to see in his place, objected, I think, to that Committee on the ground, if I recollect rightly, that the Admiralty was devolving much of its responsibility on the Committee. Well, it seems to me that if you have the possibility of getting the services of men like Sir Thomas Sutherland and the hon. Member for Maidstone, who have had experience in J the ordering of ships and of their delivery in good time, the Admiralty are wise to take advantage of their knowledge and of their experience in the mercantile marine.
§ MR. KEARLEY
I objected on the ground that the Admiralty have plenty of experience. They have a body of men of great experience, and they ought not to call upon outsiders to help them.
§ SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY
Unfortunately it is the case that some outsiders are better informed. 934 If the Admiralty are wise enough to accept teaching in this instance, as they have not done in regard to the Belleville boilers, then the House should approve and applaud and not condemn them. May I venture to make a suggestion to my hon. friend the Secretary to the Admiralty, and that is that the overseers whose duty it is, on behalf of the Admiralty, to superintend the building of ships have not had a sufficient amount of responsibility and freedom left to them. Let me explain this to my hon. friend. An overseer is always a practical shipbuilder. He is taken out of a dockyard and sent by the Admiralty to reside day by day and hour by hour at the shipyard where the ships are being built by contract. He has not only to examine the work as it proceeds, but he has also to report to the Admiralty and get letters back. The result is that every little detail in the ship has to be dealt with, not as it might be, and not as it is in the mercantile service, on the spot by a responsible officer, but by Whitehall through the medium of the higher officials. The aggregate result is that a vessel built by contract under this system costs more and occupies much longer time than would be necessary under a wiser system. We have heard much of decentralisation as regards the Army. Let me appeal to my hon. friend to initiate, as one reform in his administration of the Admiralty, the decentralisation of the overseeing staff, so as to facilitate the quick and economical execution of contracts for the building of ships.
There are several features in the statement of the First Lord and in the speech of my hon. friend to which I should like to refer. The Fleet Reserve, as my hon. friend the Member for Devonport said, is likely to prosper because of the bounty, pension, and other attractions. It is a leaf taken, if I may say so, out of the book of the recent Army reform proposals—that is to say, the time-expired men or the veterans are to be utilised and secured for the future service by enrolling them in a new section of the Navy List, which will enable them to have the advantages of civil life, and at the same time be under the knowledge, and in a large degree under the care, of the Admiralty. Therefore I think that this Fleet Reserve is a matter of congratula- 935 tion to the country, and that it will, as the hon. Member the Secretary to the Admiralty anticipates, be a success in raising the 15,000 men he hopes to obtain. On the question of the Naval Reserve there is a matter which I think calls for some explanation on the part of my hon. friend. It is as regards the number of executive officers that have been enrolled in the Naval Reserve. There are 1,500 executive officers in the Naval Reserve and 330 qualified candidates who are applicants for appointments. There are 400 engineer officers in the Reserve and only fifteen candidates who are stated to be seeking appointments. What do these figures prove? As a matter of fact, and in this I believe the hon. Member for Gateshead will bear me out, there are more engineers in the mercantile marine than deck officers. Notwithstanding that there is a large field from which to draw supplies here, we have this dearth of applicants in the Navy when there are more engineers to draw from than there are deck officers. That is something I will speak about on another occasion—the unfortunate position of and the injustice done to the engineers of the Navy. I would make as one small suggestion, in the first instance, to my hon. friend that he should secure every superintending engineer in the mercantile service as a recruiting officer for his reserve engineers by re-establishing the abolished rank of honorary chief engineer, which was mainly for the purpose of giving commissions to the engineers of the great steamship companies. It was unfortunately abolished, for no reason that I can explain. I believe it will be of considerable assistance to my hon. friend in increasing this beggarly supply of fifteen aspirants for commissions in the engineer rank of the Naval Reserve.
I come now to the matter referred to by the hon. Member for Dundee—the Royal Naval Reserve on merchant cruisers. My hon. friend referred to the fact that the Vote for the expenses of these cruisers has disappeared. The explanation given in the statement of the First Lord is one which no one can deny is a satisfactory explanation so far as it goes. There are forty-eight of the finest ships in the mercantile marine secured to the Admiralty at a comparatively small cost—that is to say, the call 936 of these ships is secured. But is that all the organisation we could have? Is there not something more complete than that? Not long ago I was in a foreign dockyard —I dare not say which dockyard—and I saw something that showed me the extremity of organisation and preparation that these foreign navies have established. There was a row of houses and over the front door of each house, was the name of a ship. Anyone who had permission to enter that front door would find in the house all the fittings down to the smallest details required for the ship whose name was painted up outside, so that in the event of an emergency they had only to summon the particular vessel, and, without any fuss or bother, or risk, the fittings would be brought out from the house. In a few hours the vessel might be sailing away a fully armed cruiser. Has any such arrangement been made or attempted in regard to these forty-eight steamers of the mercantile marine which my hon. friend referred to in his speech? I hope he will tell us when he comes to reply.
I come now to the question my hon. friend the late Civil Lord referred to in the commencement of his speech, which I regard, and which I think this House regards, as the most sensational question relating to the Navy that has arisen for many years. The situation has with all its difficulties some compensating advantages, because it has served to arouse the attention of the country to the Navy and its needs—a matter which has not been easy, having regard to the sense of security on the part of the people generally. I refer to the question which is deservedly associated with the name of my hon friend the Member for Gateshead—the boiler question. The boilers of a ship are apt to be forgotten by the ordinary observer. They are as concealed from observation as the heart and the lungs of a strong man, but they have exactly the same relation to the power, mobility, and usefulness, to the very life of the ship, as the heart and lungs have to the strength of the man. What is the use of a muscular arm if there be no power behind it? What is the use of the strongest ship with the best armour and the most powerful guns if she has not absolutely reliable motive power? There- 937 fore the boilers, though unseen, though until recently almost a bye-word, are, after all, more essential to the well-being and efficiency of a ship of war than any other part which is not associated with her propulsion and her mobility.
Let me say a few words on the history of this question from my own standpoint. It is quite twenty years ago that a Boiler Committee was appointed for the purpose of inquiring into the possibility of the improvement of the boilers in Her Majesty's ships, and that Committee advised that two small ships should be fitted with boilers of this new type—a type which had been tried and found wanting, which was despised and rejected in the Mercantile Service, not in one line of steamers, but in many. At that time my hon. friend the Member for Dundee was in office as Civil Lord of the Admiralty, and he accepted the suggestion of the then Boiler Committee. At that time also there was a very powerful cruiser which had aroused an enormous amount of attention in this country because she had been prepared by Russia, and because it was said sin-was capable of steaming all round the world without the necessity of coaling at any coaling station—a most terrible power if it could be obtained. Our Admiralty set to work to give an answer in a friendly way to this enormous cruiser, and the answer was to be found in two vessels—the "Powerful" and the "Terrible," the largest cruisers which, up to that date, had ever been attempted. The suggestion of the Boiler Committee was that two little steamers should be fitted for experiment, but that was enlarged by the Admiralty to the fitting of these large cruisers with these new experimental boilers. The hon. Member last night challenged my hon. friend the Secretary to the Admiralty to say what was the opinion of the technical advisers of the Admiralty now upon this question. I do not believe my hon. friend thought of sheltering himself behind the technical advisers, but it would have been more chivalrous and more fair if he had boldly said the experiment made by him was made after full determination by the then Board of Admiralty, and was not made on mere technical advice. But what happened after the boilers were fitted into these large cruisers? Was there a 938 trial? Yes, there was a trial of six hours. Was there another trial? Yes, there was one of twelve hours. Finally there was a long trial of thirty hours. After thirty hours steaming these vessels were pronounced so successful as regards their boilers that the whole of the Navy afterwards was to be fitted with this new type of boiler. Could folly ever go further? Could the desire for scientific experiment over more thoroughly carry the people away than was the case in this instance? What did we find afterwards? The hon Member for Dundee in his speech last night referred to the fact that the hon. Member for Gateshead was not supported five years ago in the pressure which he brought on the Admiralty to at least try these boilers in any one of their ships for endurance by a voyage at full speed before they committed the Navy to the enormous expenditure of fitting the ships with boilers which might not be reliable. Refusal after refusal was made. Questions were answered at the time, and it was denied that there was any necessity for sending any one of the ships on a single passage across the Atlantic at full power for the purpose of testing the endurance of the boilers. Then came all that humiliating series of breakdowns which my hon. friend has already referred to. We had the "Europa" going out to Australia for the purpose of bringing troops from that country to South Africa. We found that she had to come home at, I do not know how slow a speed, because she was unfit to perform the duty. We had the "Hermes" towed into Esquimault like a derelict ship on her first voyage. We had other cases, and it was only after a threat to divide this House that the Admiralty allowed the Committee, of whose Report we have recently heard so much, to be formed. The Report reflects credit on the Members of the Committee, on the First Lord of the Admiralty, and on my hon. friend for their boldness in admitting all the mistakes. This Committee consisted of mercantile engineers. At its head was Mr. Bain, the superintending engineer of the Cunard Company, whose steamers pass with the regularity of clockwork from Liverpool to New York. This Committee, with all these men of capacity upon it, has given a Report within six months of a definite charater 939 in some respects, although naturally it does not in other respects. The recommendation of the Committee is precise in one regard, and that is that the Belleville boilers should not continue to be fitted in any vessels on which too much progress has not been made. It means the condemnation of a very large amount of property besides boilers, representing more than a million of money; and it means the condemnation of the boilers themselves, which may reasonably be estimated to have cost at least £3,000,000 more. Therefore we have this fact, that an amount of money corresponding to the cost of three battleships has been lost over this experiment. But that is nothing compared with the fact that vessels already fitted, costing many, many more millions than the cost of the boilers themselves, are crippled and rendered useless, by comparison, for the defence of the country.
Why am I railing against the Admiralty in this way? Is it to congratulate myself after the manner of the prophet of evil who rejoices in saying, "I told you so"? No, Sir, it is not. I desire to bring home to the House and the country the fact that some action should be taken immediately to restore to these ships the mobility and perfection of which they have been robbed, and in that view I venture to offer a suggestion which I hope will receive the earnest consideration of the new Board of Admiralty—namely, that the vessels which are already fitted with these condemned boilers should, at the earliest possible date, be fitted with boilers of the old cylindrical type, pending the completion by the Boiler Committee of the investigations they are making, and which must necessarily occupy a considerable amount of time. Let me for a moment refer to two quotations from the Interim Report. On page six, these words occur—The Committee are of opinion that the advantages. …are so great.…that, provided a satisfactory type of water tube boiler be adopted—but I search in vain throughout the Report for any statement as to what is a satisfactory type. The fact is the Committee do not know, and no engineer knows, what is a satisfactory type of water-tube boiler. In the course of my professional experience I have had opportunities of 940 examining all of them, and I respectfully agree with the Committee that no one knows at the present time what is a satisfactory type, notwithstanding the great military advantages which they undoubtedly possess. The Committee recommend that two vessels of a comparatively small size should be fitted with water-tube boilers for the purpose of experiments, and no doubt that is a wise recommendation. But until those experiments are made and the Committee have arrived at what they regard as a satisfactory water-tube boiler, the Admiralty are in the position of not knowing what to do—at least, they ought not to know what to do if they are going to act upon the suggestions of the Committee—and they dare not pause in naval construction, as we are already too far behindhand. What, therefore, is the course they will adopt? Will they go on fitting vessels with these water-tube boilers? Or will they reconcile themselves to the admitted loss of speed consequent upon the increased weight of the old type of boilers, by gaining, at any rate, their safety and security? I venture to say that the difficulty is much less than at first sight may seem to be the case. There are many people who are able to take orders for cylindrical boilers at the present time, and if the Admiralty will go about the matter in a systematic businesslike way, as any large steamship company would do, the hon. Gentleman will find the difficulty not nearly so great as might be anticipated, and he will have the satisfaction within a year or a little over of having restored to many of the vessels now under condemnation the proper mobility and completeness of high speed which was intended in their original design.
I shall make reference, only for a moment, to a question which has already had sympathetic treatment in a general way by my hon. friend—namely, the question of engineers in the Navy. The main question in a sentence is this: The engineer, whilst having the duty of maintaining discipline and order in one-third of the ship's company, has no authority over his men. He has as much and as little authority as the doctor, the paymaster, or the chaplain. Yet that officer, with authority over executive rank, has done good service both ashore and afloat. At Ladysmith an engineer officer did good 941 work, and in the expedition for the relief of the Embassies at Peking an engineer officer, when the marine artillery officer was killed, took charge of the men and acted so well that his name was mentioned in despatches. I venture to claim that the time has now come when, as a matter not merely of justice, but of wisdom and prudence in the interests of the Navy, engineers should have the proper rank and authority of Engineer Officers. I see the right hon. Member for South Antrim in his place. Among the great services he rendered at the Admiralty there is one which stands out very prominently in my mind. He was a member of a Committee which consisted of himself, Prince Louis of Battenberg, and, I think, Admiral Douglas, which inquired into the question of the proper pay of engineers in the Fleet, and one of the recommendations of the Committee was that engineers should have the executive rank.
§ MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
I do not like to interrupt my hon. friend, but there is no foundation whatever for raying that the Committee made any recommendation in the direction he has just stated.
§ SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY
Perhaps my right hon. friend before this deflate closes will state, as far as official limitations will allow, what he regards as a wise course in this matter. At all events, it is generally understood throughout the engineering service in the country that that recommendation was made by the Committee. I thank the House for having listened to me, and my only excuse for trespassing upon its indulgence at such length is that the subject is of vast and vital interest to the country.
§ *MR. BLACK (Banffshire)
One of the features which the present war has brought out prominently is the importance in the Army of what is known as the human element. It appears from our experience in the South African War that we shall in future warfare have to rely more on the initiative of the rank and file. That this feature is not confined to the Army alone has been shown by the prominence given in this debate to the same element in the Navy. The hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth 942 frequently made reference to the necessity of paying particular attention to the human element.
The next matter which has been brought very largely under our notice in these debates, more particularly by the right hon. Member for Dundee, is the necessity, before very long, of increasing the personnel of the Navy as regards numbers. The large shipbuilding programme now being undertaken implies that before many years are over we shall have to look forward to a very large increase in the manning of the Navy. This brings one to the consideration as to whether it is not time that the Admiralty should begin to look for fresh recruiting grounds for the Navy. It is a matter of common knowledge that as things at present stand the Navy is recruited almost entirely from one portion of these islands—namely, the southern or south-western portion. Now, that recruiting ground is limited both as regards numbers and quality, and it is of the utmost importance, in view of this human element, that the Navy should present a microcosm of the nation in the sense of having in its ranks men recruited from all parts of the country. This impels me to call attention to the magnificent recruiting ground in the north-west and north-east of Scotland. I believe that not more than 3 or 4 per cent. of the men in the Navy come from Scotland, and this is all the more remarkable when one considers that in Scotland and certain parts of Ireland we are face to face with a state of things which calls for the Congested Districts Board to deal with. How much better would it be if, instead of introducing doubtful emigration schemes, we were able to induce the admirable material which exists there to enter the Navy. I suppose the hon. Gentleman opposite will be ready to admit that it is desirable that men from all parts of the country should, if possible, be induced to enter the Navy. I think that in itself is an object worthy of being pursued. Not only have we to deal with the people of these islands, but the question has been ventilated more than once in the course of this debate that we shall probably have to look to the colonies in the future for some contribution to our Navy in the shape of money, and I 943 think we may look forward also to their contributing in the shape of men. It is desirable that in this manner also the colonies should also contribute.
If that be an object desirable in itself, the question arises, How is it to be attained? We are frequently directed to the Navy as an example for the Army, but here I would venture to direct the attention of the Admiralty to the Army as presenting them, to some extent, with a model by which they might proceed to attract recruits for the Navy. What would the Army have been to-day if it had been recruited upon the same principle as the Navy? Suppose the Army had been recruited almost solely, as is the case with the Navy, from within districts of England. We should then have found that in Scotland and Ireland there would have been some reluctance to join the Army, and we should not have had those magnificent Scotch and Irish regiments who have distinguished themselves so much both in the present and past campaigns. May I suggest to the Admiralty that they might apply their minds to the idea of having Scotch, Irish, and colonial ships? I do not suppose that this idea is a new one. The Admiralty has already endeavoured so far to carry it into effect by stationing training ships all over these islands, but these do not serve the same purpose, because it is well known that as soon as men have passed through the training ships they will be scattered over all the other ships in the Navy, and they will not have the opportunity of consorting with their compatriots. In many of those recruiting districts to which I have referred the national or clan feeling is very strong, and it will be a long time before it dies out. This view may not commend itself to hon. Members representing other parts of these islands, but it is a fact, and it is a factor to be dealt with. Surely it would be possible to have in the Channel Fleet one Scotch ship and perhaps another Scotch ship in the Mediterranean. On the Pacific Station we might have one colonial ship, recruited from Australia and Canada, and in that way we might encourage recruiting from those places.
An incidental advantage that would accrue from this is the one which was alluded to from the Benches below the 944 gangway in the discussion upon the first Amendment yesterday —namely, that it would in large measure solve the religious difficulty, which no doubt is a pressing one. I think the Secretary to the Admiralty felt that the Irish Catholics had a grievance which he was willing to endeavour to redress as far as he could. This scheme of territorialising would very soon redress this grievance. I believe it is the fact, and it is in accordance with the common experience of humanity that clergymen, not only in Ireland, but in Scotland, do not encourage the young men of their districts to join the Navy. I believe that is a fact, and it is in a, manner justified, because the clergymen are there to preserve the youth under then-charge in that religion in which they are brought up. So that the clergymen in doing this are only doing their duty. The clergy in Scotland and Ireland do not encourage recruiting for the Navy, but if we had this territorial scheme we should get rid of that difficulty, and I do not doubt that recruits would flow freely both from Scotland and Ireland. The Secretary to the Admiralty and the Admiralty officials, I know, have some red-tape objections to this scheme. They advert, I believe, to the great variety of ratings in the Navy as distinguished from the Army, and not being able to get the proper proportions of men for national ships to fill each rating. But surely, without arriving at exactitude in the way of having all the men on one ship of one nationality, it might be possible to arrive approximately and broadly at this result., even although men of other nationalities were in measure drafted in to fill ratings in which the nationality to which the ship belonged was deficient. In any event, it is the duty of the officials not to be bound by red tape, but to burst asunder such bonds, and find some way of meeting the point with which I have been dealing. I commend to the most serious attention of the Admiralty this suggestion of territorialising, some ships. I would like to call attention to, another point, affecting the officers. The training of our naval officers must be lamentably deficient in the matter of naval history. We owe it to America that she has 945 produced the only officer who has been capable of awakening the mind, not only of Americans, but of Europe, upon the importance of the great question of sea power. There are many officers in His Majesty's Navy who have not undertaken, with all the diligence that is necessary, the study of works in naval history like that produced by Captain Mahan and others, and this is a point I should venture to commend to the attention of the Admiralty.
§ MR. MAJENDIE (Portsmouth)
said he very much regretted that the hon. Member for Dundee was not present, for he had a very considerable amount of fault to find with one statement of the hon. Member. He practically stated that he objected to the amount of money provided for in the Naval Estimates this year. As one of the strongest supporters of His Majesty's Government, he (Mr. Majendie) rejoiced to think that in no way had there been any retrenchment as regards expenditure on the Navy. In other words, knowing as they did that there must be a considerable sum voted for the Army Estimates, they found that in no way had the Navy suffered in the sum to he voted for the Navy Estimates.
Passing to another subject, he listened with great interest last night to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth, in which he spoke of the personnel of the Navy, but he would like to touch upon that subject in a different manner altogether. He would like to bring up the question of the food supplied to the lower deck. Probably not many Members of this House understood fully what the food of the lower deck was. To begin with, he would give the number of meals provided. The hours of meals were: six o'clock, breakfast; dinner, twelve o'clock; tea, from four to five. Of course, this varied in many ships, but he wished to go into the subject of the food provided. The breakfast of the seaman consisted of a piece of dry bread and a pint of tea. His dinner might consist of one pound of beef with half a pound of vegetables, or a variation of one pound of salt pork, three-quarters of a pound of salt beef with preserved potatoes, or three-quarters of a pound of mutton with 946 rice. He maintained that was not sufficient food for the British seaman. The Navy was supposed to be thoroughly fed in every way, but he would compare it with the Army in this respect. The Army were given free clothing, free food, and free everything at the same time. Taking a rough estimate, he would say that a man in the Navy had to pay at least 15s. a month out of his pay towards these things.
He would pass from the ordinary seaman to the chief petty officers, which he thought was a question standing out in a glaring manner before everyone. There were three classes of petty officers, and every one of them were leading men on the lower deck. The chief petty officer was the man whom everybody on the lower deck looked up to, for he was responsible practically for the discipline and the carrying on of the whole of the work on the lower deck. Again, when the chief petty officer retired from the Service he was only eligible for a first-class petty officer's pension. Why should he not get due compensation for the work he had done, and why should he be reduced at the moment of his retirement? What he wanted was that the pension should be is a day. He sincerely hoped that something would be done to create in the Navy a rank corresponding to that of quartermaster in the Army. What inducement was there for a good man to enter the Navy when he could rise no higher than a warrant officer? In the Army commissions were given over and over again from the ranks. Why should not the senior Service have an equal privilege extended to them? Three commissions only had been given in the Navy—one to Mr. Creely, one to Mr. Webber, and one to Mr. Sims, the two former in respect of service in Egypt, and the latter during the present war. He noticed that the Secretary to the Admiralty had stated that certain rank was to be given to 100 electricians, but where did the chief armourer come in? He had practically charge of all the electrical appliances in the ship. Then, at present the chief stoker could not rise above the rank of chief petty officer. He suggested that the chief stokers should be granted the rank of warrant officers. 947 He had himself been down in the engine-room, and had seen the tremendous responsibility that lay on these men. Coming now to the officers on the quarter deck—an officer when abroad was granted a fortnight's leave, but if he was on a permanent station he had a right to claim six weeks leave. All the leave which the seven or nine officers on board the "Centurion," the flagship on the China station, and which was recommissioned on 1st April, 1897, would have would be eight weeks. On the other hand, there was not an officer in the Army who could not claim two or three months leave in the year, and if not they could have indulgences and could get many a forty-eight hours leave to go on urgent private affairs; whereas in the Navy an officer who had been abroad for many years could only get six weeks leave, and perhaps only two or three, to visit his friends.
He would like to say something as regarded the ships of the Navy, He maintained that the Mediterranean squadron had been materially reduced by sending the "Ocean" to China. He was not saying that that was not just It was necessary to have the strongest possible fleet in China; but the Mediterranean Fleet should not be so materially reduced, and we had not a single battleship to send in place of the "Ocean." Then the "Centurion" and the "Barfleur," in the China Squadron, ought to have been relieved long ago, but we had not the battleships to spare for the purpose. It was hoped that the "Albion" and the "Implacable" would be shortly ready for sea, but the gun-mountings had been taken out of the "Implacable" and put into the "Irresistible." He felt that he was making a speech against the Government, but he hoped that every effort would be made to get more battleships. As regarded the first-class cruisers, he had nothing to say against them. With the programme we now had we should have the finest set of first-class armoured cruisers in the world. [An HON. MEMBER: When?] He maintained that at this moment we were not short of first-class cruisers. As to the second-class cruisers, he had nothing to complain of but their speed. Ten years ago we were content with a speed of twentyknots; 948 but he contended that that was not sufficient now. Quite recently eighteen second-class cruisers had been built, mostly in private yards in England, with a speed of over twenty-two knots. Two ships had been built for China and one for Russia—the latter not built in an English yard—with a speed of twenty-four knots. Home people said that there was no use for second-class cruisers; but he maintained that they were useful for watching our enemy's ports. If we were at war with a foreign nation the most useful ships would be the second and third class cruisers. He had not the slightest idea of what the speed of the new cruisers to be built would be, but he did urge on the Admiralty that they should improve the speed of those already built. They had heard something about submarine boats, and he must confess that it pleased him that France was a little scared that we were building five submarine ships, the policy of which he entirely endorsed. Everybody had listened with great attention and admiration to the speech of the Secretary for War in regard to Army reform. One sentence in that speech had struck him particularly, and that was that further inducements would be held out to men to join the Army, such as the reduction of barrack square drill. He could not in any way advocate this in regard to the Navy, but many reforms might be introduced in the training of the men on the lower deck. It was said that had it not been for the present war the unsatisfactory management of the Army might have gone on long enough. He did not wish for a moment to speak against the Army; but he said, Clod forbid that we should have to have a naval war before it was necessary to introduce that needed reform in our Navy.
§ *MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
said that the dispute as to whether the old style of boilers or the Belleville boilers should be adopted in the Navy was not a matter which interested him or his constituents. It had been alleged by hon. Members opposite that Ireland had as much interest as other parts of the Empire in increasing the effective naval forces of the Empire. That he 949 denied. The English Government had not dared to ask Canada, Australia, or the other self-governing colonies to contribute towards the maintenance of the Navy in the same measure as they had asked the poorer country Ireland. He observed in these huge Navy Votes £300,000 was to be spent in new works at Gibraltar, £30,260 on the dockyard at Bermuda, and £60,000 on a coaling station at the Falkland Islands. Now, he maintained that these works were of as much if not more advantage to Canada and to the Australian colonies as to the people of Ireland. That was putting the case of Ireland on a very low ground indeed; but right hon. Gentlemen who sat on the Treasury Bench had not dared to ask Canada and Australia to contribute a single penny towards the expense of these works. It was a mere playing with words to say that Ireland was as much interested as other parts of the Empire in this expenditure. There was no expenditure from which Ireland got so little benefit as that on the Navy What interest had Ireland in maintaining the supremacy of the seas for England? Ireland existed on the produce of Ireland, and, indeed, she sent a great deal of her produce, in addition, to England, Scotland and Wales. Therefore, he protested against the theory that Ireland was as much interested as Great Britain in this enormous Naval expenditure. Ireland should be placed in the same position, so far as the Naval expenditure was concerned, as Australia and Canada occupied to-day.
He had another objection to this Vote, and that was, that Ireland received little or nothing at all from the actual expenditure of the many millions asked from the House. He asked the hon. Gentleman who represented the Admiralty why Ireland was not considered in allocating the contracts for the building and repair of war vessels for the Navy. A most extraordinary thing to his mind, as a business man, was that the south of England was chosen for the expenditure of many millions of money on dockyards and the equipments of dockyards. It was a singular fact that not a single site in the neighbourhood of these dockyards had been chosen by commercial firms for the erection of great manufacturing works. Contrast with that the great shipbuilding 950 centres of Scotland and Ireland—the Clyde, Belfast and Londonderry. He ventured to assert that there was not a single dockyard or shipbuilding centre in England the establishment of which could be defended on commercial principles by any member on the Government Benches. Their policy in this, as in every other case, was that the English Government had been more anti-Irish than commercial. In no part of the three kingdoms could cheaper or more efficient labour be obtained than in the city of Londonderry. The establishment of dockyards and other great Admiralty works at Londonderry and Belfast had been raised time and again from these Benches, but not a single penny of Government money had been spent in building or repairing warships at these ports. He remembered that on the eve of the General Election of 1805 the right hon. Member for South Antrim, who then represented the Admiralty in the House, came to Londonderry and addressed a Unionist meeting there, and the burden of his speech was that Derry would get, not the building or repairing of one warship, but the building of dozens of warships; at least that was the purport of his remarks, and that was why he was brought down as a decoy duck for the electors of Derry to address an election meeting.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I deny the correctness of what the hon. Member has stated, and I ask him to quote any portion of my speech which bears out the assertion he has made.
§ *MR. O'DOHERTY
Although I was election agent for the Nationalist candidate, I went to the Guildhall, where the right hon. Gentleman addressed a meeting. It was a reason put forward by the Unionists as to why Derry men should support the candidate favoured by the hon. Member.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
No, Sir, I must ask the hon. Member to quote my exact words. I have denied the correctness of his statement, and I must ask him to withdraw it—[Cries of "Oh" from the Irish Benches]—unless he quotes the speech bearing the construction he has placed upon it.
§ *MR. O'DOHERTY
In the law courts in which I practise if personal and direct testimony can be given quotations or secondary evidence are not admitted. I am now giving my personal recollection.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I really must insist on the hon. Gentleman—[Cries of "Order, order!" and "Who are you to insist?" from the Irish Benches.] I am entitled, according to the practice of the House, to ask the hon. Gentleman to quote the speech upon which he relies for the statement he has now made in the House. I have denied that there is any foundation for the statement, and I must ask him either to withdraw that statement or to produce the speech. [Cries of "Order!" from the Irish Benches.]
§ *MR. O'DOHERTY
I ask the right hon. Member if he did not come to Londonderry at that election to support the candidature of Mr. Herdman and address a meeting in the Guildhall.
§ *MR. O'DOHERTY
It has something to do, Sir, with the building of ships and the spending of some of this vast Naval expenditure in our country.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
It has nothing to do with the building of ships in the sense in which shipbuilding is provided for in the Estimates.
§ *MR. O'DOHERTY
said he would bow to the ruling of the Chair and not further refer to the matter. But when the right hon. Member and other hon. Gentlemen on the other side asked the Irish people at election times to return their party to power on these promises he thought it was only fair that he should refresh their memories now across the floor of the House. In 1887, Mr. Justin McCarthy, who was then Member for Deny City, raised the question in this House, and was told by the present Secretary of State for India that the Derry shipbuilding yards would be examined to find out whether they were fit for Government work. In 1889 Mr. McCarthy was 952 further told that this shipbuilding yard had been examined by an expert, and that this expert had certified that the yard was fit for Government work. Though that was thirteen years ago, not a single penny of Government money had been spent in the city by the Boyle, either in the repair or the building of warships. When the Channel Squadron visited the waters of the Foyle or Lough Swilly the slightest repair that had to be made on any vessel of that squadron was executed in an English dockyard. The Derry shipbuilders were not allowed to do any repairing work, although the ships were actually in their port. He ventured to say that out of all the millions spent on the Navy not £50 were spent in Ireland. It struck him that if the cities of Londonderry and Belfast had not been Irish cities dockyards would have been established there long ago. And in this respect he might add that the orange tint of the sky in these cities had no more attraction for the Admiralty than had the green tint in Cork. This question had been discussed at the General Election, not only in Londonderry, but in the city of Galway and elsewhere, and Unionist candidates had assured the Irish voters that if they only elected them the Government which they supported would have dockyards and shipbuilding yards growing up like mushrooms in their bays and rivers. Months had passed, and not a single ship, or even row boat, had been constructed, and, as in the past, the electors in these cities had been duped. One point more. When questions had been raised as to the expenditure of these huge sums of money for the Navy, it had never been raised by hon. Gentlemen from Ireland who sat on the opposite side of the House, but invariably by the Irish Members on these benches. It was they who protested that more money was not spent by the Government in Ireland. Where were those hon. Members to-day who were so flippant with their promises as to the building of warships in Ireland in October last, and why was this question left to hon. Members like himself, who were not particularly interested in the shipbuilding towns of Ireland, but who were only concerned with the general material progress and prosperity of every part of their country? He 953 would appeal to the hon. Gentleman who represented the Admiralty in the House and who represented a constituency whose well-being was bound up with the shipbuilding in Ireland, to see that when contracts for the building and repair of warships were given out by the Admiralty, a, fair amount, all things being equal, should be given to the Irish shipbuilding yards. Ho had no doubt that if the hon. Gentleman did that a new industry would grow up and flourish in many of the seaport cities of Ireland, as the shipbuilding industry had sprung up and flourished in Belfast.
§ *MR. MACARTNEY
said that the concluding observation of the hon. Gentleman deserved a good deal of attention. He, however, wished to draw attention to the criticism on Naval expenditure made the previous night by the hon. Member for Dundee, which must be regarded with a certain amount of anxiety seeing that the hon. Gentleman represented, in Naval matters, the party opposite. The hon. Member had emphasised very strongly his views in regard to the expenditure on the Navy in this country, and had expressed the greatest anxiety as to the magnitude of the proposals of the First Lord of the Admiralty. The hon. Gentleman had taken up a position which he was bound to admit he was justified in doing, of requiring full explanations of these gigantic proposals, and no doubt before these debates were over the hon. Gentleman would hear a justification from the Front Bench for the proposals which he hoped would enable him to acquiesce in them. If, however, the hon. Gentleman was not fully satisfied he is bound to move an Amendment which would give definite expression to the feelings he enunciated the previous afternoon. The hon. Gentleman laid before the House certain figures which, so far as the position of this country was concerned, in respect to construction, were liable to misconstruction, and to give a misleading view as to the relative position of England and other countries. He compared the gross expenditure of the United Kingdom in 189.3 with the gross expenditure of France and Russia in that year, and then he pointed out that in the interval our gross expenditure 954 in naval matters had overlapped that of these two countries by something like fourteen millions. That was a comparison which was excessively misleading, if it were accepted as a true criterion of the relative position of Great Britain and its foreign competitors. What they had to look to was the position of the new construction abroad, and the new construction in this country. He thought if they did so that the House would agree that the proposals made by the First Lord of the Admiralty were far from being excessive, and, in-reality, only met the natural requirements and the necessities of the moment. In 1899 the expenditure of France and Russia was a little over £8,000,000, and during the same period our expenditure was £7,500,000. France and Russia were £500,000 ahead of us in expenditure for now construction in 1899. hi the present year their expenditure was estimated at £7,600,000, and ours was estimated at, and he hoped it would approach, £8,460,000, so that only in the present year had we recovered the position we had lost in 1899, in new construction. Upon these grounds he submitted that the proposal made by the Government was not excessive, and only adequate to the responsibilities of the country. It was entirely beside the question to compare the gross expenditure, which in recent years had been swollen by claims which other countries had not to bear, with that of foreign Powers.
He had heard with great pleasure the admission of the hon. Gentleman that the delay in new construction was due to natural causes, which the Admiralty could not control. The hon. Gentleman said that the paralysis of new construction was the result of difficulty in procuring machinery, not only for putting into the ships, but also the machinery necessary for manufacturing for all purposes required in Admiralty construction. He had no criticism to offer in regard to the Committee which had been appointed to inquire into the delay, because he believed that the conclusions arrived at by that Committee would sustain the statements which had been made by his hon. friend the Secretary to the Admiralty. The Com- 955 mittee would be forced to the conclusion that the delay in construction had not been the fault of the Admiralty, but had been due to circumstances over which they had no control, and which the contractors had been unable to combat It had been suggested that the delay in new construction had been accentuated by the omission of the Admiralty to enforce penalties, but having regard to the fact that that delay had been caused largely by strikes, he did not believe the House would accept the proposition that the enforcing of penalties by the Admiralty against the contractors, would have in any way prevented it. The contractors had conclusively shown that they had done everything in their power to facilitate construction, and penalties were never enforced by the Admiralty unless they were perfectly convinced that the contractors had failed to do their best to carry out the work which they had in hand. He did not think that the Admiralty would depart from this rule, and at the same time he could assure the House that the penalties were always inflicted when there was just cause for their infliction. With regard to the rate of shipbuilding, the hon. Member for Devonport, speaking on the previous day, had said that the country had entirely lost that rapidity of shipbuilding which was in existence in 1894.
§ *MR. MACARTNEY
said the hon. Member for Devonport had stated that the rapidity of shipbuilding had entirely disappeared, and the inference which was deduced was that it was entirely the fault of the administration. Shipbuilding had decreased in rapidity, but the Admiralty in this regard was still ahead of foreign Powers. The rate of shipbuilding by the Admiralty in the Government dockyards was three years or a little over. The rate in the Government yards of France was three and a half years, in Russia five years, in Germany between three and four years; and the only country which could approach us in this matter, and who built their ships in this country, was Japan, whose average was a little under three years. So 956 that if the rates of shipbuilding were compared there was not after all much difference. One advantage which foreign countries building in Great Britain had over the Admiralty arose from the fact that the persons responsible for the building of the ships were also responsible for the designs upon which those ships were built; but though this gave them an advantage, he did not think it would be wise for the Admiralty to alter the procedure which they adopted, because in all new classes of vessels which were being built there were questions arising which could only be solved from experience gained afloat, and which of a necessity could not be dealt with by the contractors, and could only be dealt with successfully by the Admiralty after they had consulted their experts. It was upon the period within which the "Majestic" and "Magnificent" were built that the exaggerated feeling in this country about the increased time of Admiralty ship construction was based. These two ships, which were built one at Chatham and one at Portsmouth, were built in two years and two months. How was it that in these two dockyards they were able to turn out these two ships in that period? The whole strength of the yards was turned on to them, and of the whole of the new construction money for 1894–95, amounting to £4,427,000, one-fourth was spent absolutely on these two ships. The "Renown," which was laid down one year before either of these two ships, was put on one side.
The hon. Member continued: I am not blaming the Admiralty of the day for the course they took, but it is the fact that the exceptional rate of construction arrived at in the case of these two ships was arrived at principally by turning on to them the whole strength of the yards, and by certainly not expediting any other new ship under construction, and by putting on one side the power of the yards to carry out the reconstruction and repair of other ships. That is admitted, and therefore I say it is an unfair standard to set up, for all the other ships of the "Majestic" class took two years and nine months, and, practically speaking, the average period was not much less than it is now. I feel confident that the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite will' agree with me that, taking one year with 957 another, and taking the conditions in private yards and the conditions in the Government dockyards, it would be impossible for the Admiralty to contend that a battleship could be built in a less period than three years. Therefore I submit that the delay in construction to which the public mind has been so much directed in the last few years has been the result entirely of natural causes: but the rate of construction has not materially diminished, and as compared with our great European competitors we are still practically ahead of them in the rate of our shipbuilding progress.
I wish to allude to other two questions referred to in the statement of the First Lord. One is the supply of shells and the other is the question of submarine boats. My hon. friend the Secretary to the Admiralty. I am sure quite unwittingly, used an expression in alluding to armour-piercing shells which has been taken up by some newspapers in the country in order to level an attack upon the late First Lord. Lord Goschen. One paper drew attention to it by saving that the Secretary to the Admiralty had referred to the great services Lord Goschen rendered to the Navy, and at the same time twitted him by saying that now for the first time the Admiralty had a supply of armour-piercing shells in the Navy. This question was under the consideration of the late administration and the Admiralty for some years, and it was Lord Goschen who first took money for the supply of these shells. Undoubtedly the late administration would have taken money for the supply of these shells if they had been in a position to place orders with contractors for their manufacture. But as hon. Gentlemen in the House who have taken an interest in the matter know, it was some time before the Admiralty succeeded in reaching a design which combined all the qualifications necessary for an effective armour-piercing shell. With regard to submarine boats, that was a matter which was dealt with by the late administration, and the contract for submarine boats was carried out by the administration of which Lord Goschen was at the head, but it is not quite clear from the statement of the First Lords. Practically, I may say, nine-tenths of what appears in the First Lord's statement is a statement of the policy 958 carried out by Lord Goschen. A very important question, raised by the hon. Member for the Brightside Division, was that of Treasury control. I entirely disagree with the views he brought before the House, and I think it right to say a few words about it. I suppose the Secretary to the Admiralty has more to do with the Treasury than almost any other individual. I entirely deny that the Treasury in any way impedes the proper exercise of the responsibility of the Admiralty in expenditure it is a delusion that exists in the public mind that the Treasury in some way or other has the power of preventing the Admiralty spending the money Parliament votes for naval purposes. The Treasury has no power whatever to interfere in the expenditure of the Admiralty. But above and beyond that, the Treasury invariably permit the Admiralty to apply, if they show proper reasons, any unexpended surplus which may accrue on one Vote to the necessities of another. Above all, should any sudden emergency arise, or should the Lords of the Admiralty consider it expedient from the point of view of public necessity, or in the interest of the Admiralty, to incur an expenditure for which they have not Parliamentary sanction, if the Lords of the Admiralty assume the responsibility of showing that this expenditure is necessary in the public interest and cannot be deferred without detriment to the public service, the Treasury invariably give way The hon. Member for the Brightside Division naturally has not had the opportunity of studying those valuable Reports known as the Appropriation Account and the Dockyard Expenditure Account. If he had, he would have seen that there are in almost every page letters written by the Admiralty to the Treasury proposing expenditure, to which the Treasury give their sanction on the ground that the Admiralty have stated that to withhold sanction would be detrimental to the public interest. Over and over again in the last five years the Admiralty have received the sanction of the Treasury, unhesitatingly given, for the expenditure of public money for which the Admiralty have obtained no previous Parliamentary sanction; but the First Lord and his administration must 959 take upon themselves the responsibility of justifying to the Treasury and the country the necessity for the exceptional demand which they make. I am bound to say, from the experience I had at the Admiralty of the numerous communications I had to make to the Treasury, that it is an absolute delusion or misrepresentation of the facts to suppose that the officials of the Treasury connected with Admiralty administration show any indisposition whatever to give just recognition to the claims of the Admiralty.
I wish to call the attention of the Secretary to the Admiralty to a most important question, which I can only raise on the general debate, but I do not ask an answer now. It is the question where the Army and Navy have interests which adjoin each other, and which very often become conflicting interests. At Chatham, Portsmouth, and Devonport, and in some foreign ports, the Army and Navy have establishments. The Admiralty ground and the War Office ground are mixed up in a positive jumble. Over and over again questions arise in which one Department or the other requires to give way. In many cases mutual concessions are arrived at without great difficulty. But the question which I wish to raise is one which docs not rest upon small details. I shall choose Chatham as an illustration. If a question arises affecting the amount of ground which the naval authorities have there, and if they have established the necessity for expansion to the satisfaction of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, or the Cabinet itself, there ought to be no question as to whether their demand should be conceded. The Army can go anywhere. They are not tied to Chatham, but the Navy are bound to that port. What I wish to impress on my hon. friend is the fact that we are spending enormous sums on expansion at Chatham, and the principle I have raised must be decided unless the naval service at Chatham is to be confined within limits which will be disastrous to the health of the men stationed there. I hope that the First Lord will realise that this is a matter of vital importance for the naval service, and that he will press it upon the Defence Committee of the Cabinet or the Cabinet 960 itself. I do not profess to be competent as a scientific critic to discuss the Report of the Committee on water-tube boilers, but I do hope that the House will not be carried away by panic with regard to this matter. I hope the House will not press the Admiralty to come to some sudden conclusion which might not be altogether justified by the Report of the Committee. I feel bound to make this appeal to the House on account of the speeches which have been made by the hon. Members for Gateshead and the Shipley Division. They have to my mind put the case too strongly before the House. They have insisted that the vessels in which there are water-tube boilers are crippled in comparison with all the other vessels. I say, with all respect to my hon. friend the Member for the Shipley Division, whose professional knowledge I do not desire to dispute, that is a statement that cannot be supported. It is perfectly true that there are four or five of these vessels. [An HON. MEMBER: More.] The cruisers in which there are water-tube boilers have exhibited most serious defects. They have practically broken down. I admit all that, but that is not the whole case. There are in Chinese waters, and in the Mediterranean, battleships and cruisers which are doing the ordinary work of the Fleet with complete satisfaction. In Chinese waters the "Glory," "Goliath," and "Ocean," three battleships, are, for anything I know, doing the ordinary work which all the other ships in the squadron are doing with complete satisfaction. The "Canopus" is the fastest ship in the Mediterranean Fleet. The "Andromeda," Vindictive," and "Gladiator" are all carrying out the work of the Fleet. These facts do not justify those who are urging that water-tube boilers should be taken out of all these ships. It would deprive the country of valuable ships which are doing their work admirably. It would diminish our naval strength without any adequate reason. I do not say anything about the proposition that the Belleville boilers should be put on one side. I am only deprecating the position taken up by the hon. Member for Gateshead, supported by the hon. Member for the Shipley Division—namely, that every ship with 961 Belleville boilers should have others substituted.
§ *MR. MACARTNEY
I am not arguing that. I am arguing the statement superimposed on it. They are not crippled by comparison when you take the whole of them. You have these battleships doing the work of the squadrons without any complaint. I know that the hon. Member for Gateshead is perfectly in earnest in his views, but I say that he is pressing the matter too far on the House when he appeals to the Admiralty to take out of these ships water-tube boilers which have succeeded admirably. I have not the slightest doubt that the Admiralty and their advisers will consider this most serious matter, but I am sure the House and the country may rely upon them to do nothing to injure the present strength of His Majesty's Fleet.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
The Secretary to the Admiralty thought it necessary to make the request that we should keep back anything that could be kept back, and speak only on matters of first-class importance arising in the course of the present debate. There are two or three matters of importance which have arisen in the course of the present debate on which I have a few words to say, and I think those words should be said now rather than at a later stage. The hon. Member who has just sat down has made an admirable speech, and I hope that his criticisms may not always bear so official a tinge as they do at the present moment, when he is naturally defending his administration. The hon. Member began his speech by alluding to the speeches which had been made apparently against large expenditure. The hon. Member for North Donegal and the Irish Members generally, of course, view the matter from a different point of view from the other Members of the House. The Nationalist Members have their own point of view, which we understand and appreciate, but it is not necessary to argue things with them from exactly the same point of view as that from which 962 we argue among ourselves. I turn to the remarks of the right hon. Member for South Antrim, and the other speakers to-night. The late Leader of the Liberal party, the Member for West Monmouth-shire, a few days ago made a speech in this House upon the naval and military expenditure of the country. In that speech while attacking, and announcing for this session further attacks on military expenditure, he went out of his way to say that he would cheerfully grant any money the Admiralty thought necessary for the Navy, in order to provide for the safety of the country. I think my hon. and learned friend the Member for Dundee, although he guarded himself in a way, left on the minds of many hon. Members the impression that he did not take the same view, and that he was not prepared to accept so willingly the statement of the Government as to what was necessary in the way of Naval expenditure during the present year. In the statements of my hon. friend the Member for Dundee to which I allude he said—He wished to place before the House the view taken by those who sat on that Bench and on that side of the House on the very important proposals of the Admiralty this year…He wanted to call the serious attention of an indifferent House and an indifferent country to the magnitude of the proposals contained in the Estimates. Some years ago Mr. Goschen apologised for the Estimates of the day, and admitted they were colossal. They were colossal as compared with previous records, but they were pygmies as compared to the Estimates now before the House… These Estimates were so vast and went so far beyond the standard it had hitherto been the object to attain, that they ought not to be made to the House without a full declaration of what they were wanted for.If that is all he means, I am with him in thinking that Estimates so large as these ought not to be made without the fullest explanation of exactly what they are wanted for. I admit that the speech of the Secretary to the Admiralty was not so full a statement on many points as it might have been, but it was made under difficult circumstances, and was probably shortened by a long discussion which had preceded it. I hope therefore that the statement will be supplemented in the course of the later stages of this debate. I agree that we need much information to justify Estimates so large, but I hope my hon. and learned friend has been misunderstood 963 when he is supposed to have said that these Estimates were too large, and that for reasons which I will very briefly give. My hon. and learned friend is reported as saying that—the provision for new construction was £9,000,000, the largest total for new construction ever proposed in this country.I fear that those words, if not explained, will be misunderstood outside this House, because "new construction" to us here has a technical meaning. It is not what the country understands by new construction. Probably the great majority of the electorate when they read about that £9,000,000 for new construction will think it has to do with the new shipbuilding programme, whereas it is almost entirely for ships the building of which has been fully agreed to in past years. Our shipbuilding has fallen very heavily into arrear, and this so-called new construction programme is enormous because of the rapid efforts which have to be made to make up for the arrear of the past. The actual new construction in the ordinary service of the year is the very small programme which will be commenced, under the bad habit we have got into of recent times, at the end of the financial year. It is a very small programme—three battleships. There are many Members who believe, in spite of the remarks of the hon. Member for South Antrim, that these programmes are occasionally reduced through Treasury influences. It is a curious thing that although that statement is always denied in the House, Mr. Childers, who had a unique experience, having been First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for War, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, has in his Memoirs left it on record that he agreed with Sir John Briggs, an Admiralty clerk, in that famous book which made such a great sensation, in thinking that the truth is not always told in this matter, and that the Treasury does sometimes produce a prejudicial effect.
The hon. Member for Dundee suggested that we were in some degree exceeding the standard of which we have heard so much, and which in past years has been laid down as the standard for shipbuilding in this country. I have often said that that standard was a very-useful one. A war between this country and the two Powers of Russia and France, 964 which is contemplated in this standard, is a most unlikely one, but the advantage of the standard has always, been that it has given you a margin by the efficiency of your Fleet to fight single-handed against possible allied operations which was sufficient to make even a more formidable group of Powers pause before attacking you at sea. That standard, in spite of occasional scares on the one hand, and, on the other hand, statements as to exaggerated Estimates, has not in practice greatly varied for a great number of years. In 1883 it was possible to argue, as Mr. Childers argued, that we had a practical superiority over four fleets. Even before the scare of 1884– 1885 the standard was substantially that which we have since maintained, and I believe that at no time have we fallen very greatly short of it. But there have been, no doubt, within the last year or two a number of delays.
Of course the expenditure involved is very great. The Secretary for the Colonies a few years ago made a speech in favour of an alliance with a military Power. He said that the alternative was to build up so as to make ourselves safe against a combination of three Powers, and that that would entail an addition of 50 per cent. to the Estimates. Since that time we have added more than 50 per cent. to our Estimates. Of course the expenditure is very great; but is there a man in this House—I am not speaking of the Irish Nationalists, who have their own point of view, which we perfectly appreciate—who believes that it is not necessary for us to continue to maintain that practical standard which would lead even three Powers to hesitate before attacking During the last year we have, happily had friendship between ourselves and Germany; I believe that that friendship may long continue, and I hope it will. But it is impossible to shut our eyes to the fact that there have been distinctly proposed to the German Houses, by Admiral Tirpitz, Estimates which are based on the possibility of an outbreak of war with England. Von der Golz, who is the highest literary authority on this subject, has said the same thing. We have seen also that remarkable preparation of strategic cables on the part of Germany, in which they have combined with Holland to 965 have their own system of cables—Dutch and German—throughout the world, in order to be entirely independent of British cables in the event of a possible Naval war. In face of facts of that kind, which can be infinitely multiplied, it seems to rue it would be monstrous on our part to fail to maintain that Standard, and that it is our bounden duty both to make up for the delays which have occurred and to vote programmes in the future which should be sufficient to keep up that standard.
With regard to the delays, they are admitted. There is no suggestion now that the delays have not been very serious. The right hon. Member for South Antrim has, to some extent, officially explained them to night, upon grounds which I think will not bear very serious examination, He has alluded, for example, to the Japanese battleships. Now, what is the reason given by the suppliers of those battleships for the great difference of pace at which we can build, in this country, battleships for foreign Powers as compared with vessels built for ourselves? Mr. Hills gives it in the papers of to-day in his speech at a launch, and it strengthens our ease against the Admiralty. I thank the Secretary to the Admiralty for the step he has taken in consulting on this subject great specialists like Sir Thomas Sutherland and the hon. Member for Maidstone, by appointing a Committee on this matter. With regard to these delays, there is also the extraordinary case recalled by a question of the hon. Member for Devonport in this House the other day. The resuscitation of the dockyard strike by the right hon. Member for South Antrim as a reason for the delays is greatly affected by the extraordinary difference between ship and ship in our own dockyards. There were four ships of the "Bulwark" class built in the same dockyard—Devonport—and the difference between them was simply extraordinary. It was suggested that the dates of launching mean nothing, because of the different quantity of tons built in before the ships are launched. But an examination of the figures shows that even allowing for the difference in tons built in, the difference between ship and ship is something like two to one. The right hon. Member has said that in cruisers we have shown that we can 966 build as fast as anybody else. Here are the facts with regard to the four vessels of the "Cressy" class. They were announced to us beforehand, as it were, in February, 1897; they were proposed in a Supplementary Estimate, accompanied by the strongest possible language as to their instant necessity by the administration, of which the hon. right Member for South Antrim was a Member, in July, 1897. These ships were launched between July and November, 1898; yet only one of those ships is ready now, and we do not know when the other three will be ready at all. Just contrast with that the cruiser "Gromoboi" to which the right hon. Member for South Antrim alluded, built at St. Petersburg. He maintained that we can still build cruisers as fast as they can in Russia. What would have been thought four or five years ago of such a statement as that? It was always said that the Russian Navy did not count, as they could not build the ships; and yet now, all that we can claim, and that very doubtfully, is that on the average we can, build cruisers as fast as they can. In this particular case the cruiser was laid down in May, 1898, that is to say, almost a year after the Supplementary Programme of Mr. Goschen concerning the four cruisers to which I have referred. That ship is actually in commission now.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
Put is it not a marvellous thing that they should have made such progress, and that that which seemed incredible a few years ago, should now be so easy of accomplishment? There is one matter in connection with the Belleville boilers to which I should like to allude, because it has not been mentioned in this debate, and it appears to me to have an essential bearing on the subject. I do not profess, and I have never professed, to have an opinion worth giving to the House upon technical subjects of this kind, but what the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Yarmouth last night called the "human element" has played a part, I am quite certain, in connection with this boiler question, which is insufficiently appreciated by those who have strong opinions on either side. It perhaps does not 967 suit particular specialists on either side to admit the enormous part which the human element undoubtedly plays in this matter. I have consulted the very highest Naval authorities in this country, and they all say most strongly that it is the training of the stokers which, after all, lies at the root of this question. These water-tube boilers are highly delicate instruments; they are like watches in their construction, and it is most dangerous to put these instruments in the hands of untrained men. The Admiralty made a great advance during Mr. Goschen's administration in the training of stokers, but they have not yet reached the point which should be reached. In regard to these matters the Admiralty are improving rapidly They have even decided this year, I believe, that strategy should be taught. It is about three years ago that such a proposal was scoffed at and ridiculed in this House, but they are now making a small beginning in that direction by throwing the teaching of strategy upon an already overworked, but very-good man. In regard to the training of stokers they have done a great deal, but there is much more they must do. At the present moment they are still short of superior engine-room ratings and of sufficiently trained stokers; they are able now to pass only one-half of their engine-room artificers and stokers through the instructional ships. A new ship going to sea for a first command has from one-half to one-third of her engine-room complement consisting of raw hands. I believe, from the inquiries I have made, that the mischief is done on these first voyages; the boilers are really half destroyed on the first voyage out. A great deal has been quoted from the Belleville Report, but what both sides say with regard to the human element has not been quoted. Upon that both sides are agreed. The majority say that—more than ordinary experience and skill are required on the part of the engine-room staff. It appears, however, from the evidence placed before the Committee, that the engineer officers in charge of Belleville boilers have not been made acquainted with the best method of working the boilers.That is what the majority say, while the distinguished member of the Committee who supports the Belleville boiler says—From the evidence of engineer officers who have had charge of boilers of this type in 968 commissioned ships… it is a good steam generator, which will give satisfactory results when it is kept in good order and worked with the required care and skill.I am convinced that there lies the secret My hon. friend the Secretary to the Admiralty in his excellent statement rather suggested that the Admiralty had a boiler up their sleeve, as it were, which they would be able to produce in new ships. Unless they are going to take the retrograde step of going back to the old cylindrical boilers I believe they must attach a rapidly growing importance to this human element, and that it is in the training of the stokers that success will be found.
As my hon. friend perhaps suggested a little too easily that there was a boiler which could be adopted for future use, so too, perhaps, he suggested rather too easily another matter. He spoke of our new middle-sized guns, and said, with regard to the great erosion by cordite, that he hoped to produce a new powder which would give good results. I very much fear there may be a difficulty as regards the guns themselves in that new powder. If, as is foreshadowed in the Report which came out yesterday, we are to adopt a nitro-cellulose powder instead of our present cordite, the bulk of the powder will be much greater, and the result may be that we shall have to rearm all our ships. That is a very dangerous point, and if the hon. Gentleman can reassure us on that point we should be glad.
I will only add one word of con gratulation to my hon. friend on the excellent statement he made the other day and express once more the hopes of all naval reformers in this House that he may continue to rouse that keen interest in the Navy in the future which he has hitherto displayed.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
May I venture to urge the House now to allow the Speaker to leave the Chair and to get on to Vote A and Vote 1? We can then continue the discussion which has been going on. The opportunity for discussion will be quite as great with the Chairman of Committees in the Chair as it is at present, and the same topics will be discussed without the rigid limitation which obtains when the House is sitting There is one other argument I would urge in the same direction, which I am 969 sure will have weight, and that is that my hon. friend who has this Vote in charge cannot reply to the many questions, comments and criticisms which have been passed upon his statement until the Speaker leaves the Chair, as he is precluded from again addressing the House.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Of course they will have their opportunities like the rest of the House upon Vote A and Vote I.
§ MR. DALY (Monaghan, S.)
pointed out that of the £32,000,000 involved in these Estimates Ireland would have to Day £3,000,000, and yet she received not one penny of benefit in return. The protection of the Mercantile Marine had been spoken of, but if there was no Mercantile Marine there would he less food-stuffs coming into this country, with the result that a larger quantity would have to be obtained from Ireland, and market prices there would be enhanced. Another reason why Irishmen should protest against these Estimates was that while £21,700 were to be expended upon public buildings in Great Britain, only a few hundreds were to be expended in the same direction in Ireland. The hon. Member complained that none of the money for shipbuilding was expended in Ireland, and urged that the Admiralty should ascertain whether the work could not be done as efficiently, as well, and as cheaply, in Irish dockyards as elsewhere.
§ MR. NANNETTI (Dublin, College Green),
dealing with the question of Belleville boilers, said he was prepared to pin his faith in this matter to the opinion of such experts as the hon. Member for Gateshead. The lives of the seamen manning these ships should be a matter for the House to consider, and if such experts as the hon. Member for Gateshead said that such boilers as the Belleville boiler were likely to prove a danger to the lives of the sailors, no time should be lost in get- 970 ting them out of the ships and removing the peril to the sailors which the use of these boilers entailed. One point he wished to call attention to was that although a large portion of the money which was now being asked for would fall upon Ireland, she had never been allowed to have the ships which she had asked for to protect her fisheries, nor had she any part of the shipbuilding. Shipbuilding yards ought to be established in Ireland by the Government, if not to build, at least to repair, His Majesty's ships. He believed that if some of the contracts for building ships had been placed in Ireland, a large amount of the congestion on construction would have been avoided. There was also the question of clothing for the sailors. He thought that some of the factories in Ireland ought to be requisitioned to make a portion of that clothing. The whole policy of this country seemed to be to rob Ireland as much as possible and to make no return whatsoever.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
If hon. Members tell me that there is a prospect of the discussion coming to a, speedy conclusion, I shall not accept the motion, but if hon. Members tell me that they intend to continue at length, then I am afraid I must accept it.
§ MR. NANNETTI
I represent a very important maritime constituency, and I much regret that the closure should have been put upon me.
§ *MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
said it had always been his practice to support whatever Government might be in power in their efforts to maintain the efficiency of the Fleet, but he desired to call attention to the fact that many of the ships on which large sums of money had been expended were lying idle at Portsmouth, and Chatham, and other naval ports, and it was only fair that such ships as were lying idle should be utilised for patrolling the fishing grounds around our coasts. The only extra cost entailed would be for coal, and these ships would be doing useful work instead of lying idle in port. The grievance of the fishermen was very great 971 all the inshore fishing grounds were being rained by trawlers. The Admiralty said it was not the work of the navy to catch trawlers, but police duty. That was an absurd idea, which he hoped would disappear. In his opinion it was of the utmost importance that the fishermen, not only on the coasts of Scotland, but also of England and Ireland, should be taken care of. Some of these days men who followed this occupation might be, required for the Navy, and if through the neglect to conserve the fisheries they were driven into the towns they would be far less adapted for naval service it was, therefore, highly desirable to preserve the fisheries, and so keep these men on our coasts. He appealed to the Secretary to the Admiralty to send some of these idle boats to patrol the fisheries. He also desired to draw attention to the importance of sending training ships round the coast, so that opportunities might be given to the sons of fishermen, already used to a sea-faring life, who would make far better recruits than boys taken from the towns. He also urged that the reserve station at Stornoway should be mounted with modern guns and not the, old muzzle-loaders, which had been there for years.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
said there could be no question that the matter under discussion had now been fully discussed. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House had made an appeal to the House to go into Committee. Some of the Irish Members desired to draw attention to a great many matter's in connection with the Vote which, in his opinion, might be discussed more freely in Committee than in the House; therefore if those who were responsible for the Votes would undertake to give some consideration to the remarks of his hon. friends in Committee, and would endeavour to answer the questions put, he thought it would be desirable that this discussion should end. There was to be a sitting next day, the business of which was to be confined to getting these two Votes and another formal matter' to enable the Government to proceed with the Appropriation Bill; therefore, if the Government would come to an understanding that the sitting would not be prolonged to a late hour, and would 972 give that assurance to the House, he on his part would advise his friends to reserve any remarks they desired to make until the House went into Committee.
§ MR. A.J. BALFOUR
I think the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman is a very reasonable one. I do not propose that there shall be a late sitting to-night, and if that is understood on my part, I hope it will be also understood on the part of hon. Members that there will not be an inordinately late sitting to-morrow.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
said he could not give any undertaking as to the length of time which the Saturday sitting would take. Many of his friends had specific, matters to refer to, and he was unable to give any undertaking, but he thought if a, conciliatory disposition was shown by the Government upon these Estimates there would be no reason for the sitting on Saturday to be inordinately prolonged.
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)
I understand that if the Speaker leaves the Chair and we go into Committee there is no intention on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to take the Reports after he has succeeded in getting the Votes.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No; I propose that the whole of Monday shall be devoted to Reports. No Reports are to be taken to-morrow.
§ MR. E. J. C. MORTON (Devonport)
Do I understand that in these circumstances the right hon. Gentleman will try and get the two Votes to-night?
§ AN HON. MEMBER rising to continue the debate—
§ Question put, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 232; Noes, 52. (Division List No. 90.)