HC Deb 05 August 1902 vol 112 cc695-701

1. "That a sum, not exceeding £4,812,700, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the expense of the material for shipbuilding, repairs, maintenance, &c., including the cost of establishments of dockyards and Naval yards at home and abroad, which will come in course of payment daring the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1903."

(4.58.) MR. DALZIEL

said a great deal of dissatisfaction existed with regard to the giving out of the contract for the supply of linoleum for the use of the Navy. The fact was that for some reason or another one firm always got the, contract for the supply of linoleum to the Navy, and with the exception of one year that had been the case for many years. There was no rivalry in the linoleum trade, and all they wanted was a fair field and no favour. They could obtain contracts in all parts of the world, but could not succeed in getting a contract to supply the British Navy, and asked if the Secretary of the Admiralty would receive a representative deputation of linoleum manufacturers.


consented to receive a deputation.

2. "That a sum, not exceeding £7,665,800, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the expense of the contract work for shipbuilding, repairs, &c.r which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1903."


drew attention to the question of merchant cruisers, as affected by the Atlantic shipping combine. When the subject was last before the House they were told that the Admiralty had renewed its three years contract with the White Star Line, subject to certain modifications not yet known, although it was known that the White Star lane, while nominally owned by a British company, was, in point of fact, owned by a foreign corporation. But since that statement was made a new development had apparently taken place, for he understood that not the White Star Company, but a foreign financier, Mr. Pierpont Morgan, had offered to supply the British Navy with ships for fifty years as merchant cruisers, and that the Admiralty actually had that proposal under consideration. He now gathered further from the President of the Board of Trade that a special Departmental Committee was now sitting to consider this and other allied questions with the shipping combine. In the circumstances it was not likely that the Secretary to the Admiralty would be in a position to give any additional information at the moment; but he would venture once again to press the point that, in a matter so serious as this, neither the Admiralty nor the Government should make a conclusive bargain without first giving the House an opportunity of considering it. For the first time in our history the authorities responsible for the British Navy were actually considering the propriety of contracting with a foreigner for the supply of merchant cruisers. He hoped the House would take up seriously the whole question of the utility of what were called merchant cruisers, whether they belonged to British or to foreign companies. He was inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Yarmouth that the objection to the present cruiser system was that in time of war it would take these ships away from their proper occupation, and he did not know that we ought not to face the music squarely, and build for ourselves at our own cost all the cruisers we might want. There was another subject to which he wished to call attention, and which he believed he would be in order in referring to on this Vote, and one which they were now in a position to discuss because they had all the material they were likely to have for some time to come at their disposal—the Report of the Boiler Committee. He did not consider that that Report condemned the water-tube principle entirely, but it did supply the House with materials which enabled them to ask for some final statement of the deliberate policy of the Admiralty on this much controverted question. He thought that most erroneous views as to the conclusions of the Committee had been circulated in the Press. This was a most laborious Committee. They had examined thirty six types of water-tube boilers, of which they had selected four as being suitable for war ships. In the first place, he took it that they approved of the principle of the water-tube boiler, chiefly from the military point of view and provided that a satisfactory type were adopted. Although that was a qualified verdict, it was still in favour of the water-tube principle. Secondly, the Belleville type was on the whole condemned, but even this condemnation was not altogether unqualified. Thirdly, the Committee seemed to recommend the Admiralty to search for the ideal water-tube boiler; and, fourthly, they recommended for the larger ships a combination of cylindrical and water-tube boilers until the ideal water-tube boiler was found.


For one ship.


said there was a variety. There were four different types of water-tubes which were to be combined for one purpose.


interpolated a remark which was inaudible in the Press Gallery.


said that at any rate he understood that this particular combination was to be tried as an experiment, and that the Committee recommended practically the same. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would tell them to what extent, if at all, the Committee was to be kept in existence for the purposes of experiment and advice, and what, in the end, was to be the boiler policy of the Admiralty?


said that he was not in a position to deal with the very broad and important question of policy to which the hon. Member had referred, and which was now under the consideration of the Government as a whole, in conjunction with the representatives of the great self governing colonies. It would have been a pleasure to him to be able to report the successful conclusion of those negotiations; but he could not do so. With regard to the question of mercantile cruisers, he was practically in the same position. But he could say that the Admiralty was certainly not relying upon any mere pledge of any foreigner such as that to which the hon. Member had referred. The subsidies which the Admiralty were now committed to pay were to be paid in respect of ships over which we had absolute control during the continuance of those subsidies. We were not dependent in any way upon so unsatisfactory a security as the hon. Member had referred to. As to what might be the ultimate decision of the Government as to the subsidising of ships in the future, and in regard to contributions towards the establishment of new lines of shipping between this country and the colonies, he was not in a position to make any statement which would be of value to the House. With regard to the boiler question, the hon. Member seemed to have summed up very accurately the general effect of the final Report of the Boiler Committee. The Admiralty did not propose to retain the Committee, which would be discharged from its functions, and which deserved the gratitude of the Admiralty for the very painstaking work which had been accomplished by the distinguished engineers who sat upon it. The Admiralty would have a small consultative body who would maintain a constant watch over the experiments which were being made as a result of the recommendations of the Committee. It was possible that at some future day the Admiralty might make permanent some advisory body of that kind; but there was no intention of retaining the Boiler Committee as such now that it had completed its work. The upshot of the whole business was that the Admiralty was still without that certainty as to the best form of water-tube boiler which they hoped some day to attain; but they were sufficiently sure of their ground to feel justified in going forward on the lines indicated by the Committee. They were going to try four different kinds of boilers, of which the Belleville boiler was not one. These four boilers were to be used in the six new cruisers under various conditions, and in all cases they were to be combined with a certain proportion of cylindrical boilers, which would alone be able to give a speed of twelve knots, the ordinary cruising speed of the Navy. He could add nothing further, as the hon. Member had clearly and correctly dealt with the recommendation of the Committee.


said he had never attacked the water-tube boiler principle; what he had attacked was the Belleville boiler, which without doubt was most incomplete and unsatisfactory in itself. Not a single maritime Power had looked with favour on the Belleville type of boiler, although many of them had adopted other forms of water-tube boilers. He must say, however, that it had never had fair treatment from the Admiralty. The first instructions with regard to this entirely new form of boiler were issued by the Admiralty in 1900, or five years after the boiler had been adopted in the Navy. He had constantly gone to Lord Goschen privately to beg him to have some stokers instructed by the Belleville firm; but the late First Lord was obdurate, and replied in effect that he was not going to learn stoking from a Frenchman. He had no doubt that the Report of the Committee represented the true facts of the case, and that although the water-tube principle was the right principle, the Belleville was one of the least successful types embodying that principle. There was no doubt that it was a complicated box of tricks, and very difficult to handle, but still we must have it. There were, however, serious objections to the proposal to fix up two kinds of boilers in the same ship. The Admiralty should make up its mind between the water-tube and the tubular principles, as there were serious dangers and disadvantages in having in the same ship two kinds of boilers which had not been adequately considered. As to the subsidies to merchant cruisers, he strongly protested against the action of the Admiralty in paying large subsidies to merchant cruisers which had practically ceased to be British vessels by being handed over lock, stock and barrel to, and which were controlled by, a foreign trust. Under such circumstances, it was folly to make a new agreement and continue paying the subsidies. Moreover, it was putting upon Parliament an undeserved slight, and one to which it would be dangerous to agree. The matter ought to have been submitted to the House, and an unconstitutional act had been committed in not taking the opinion of Parliament upon the new contract. To bring in the Estimate in the ordinary form, without giving any account-of the new bargain, was not securing the assent of Parliament; it was almost like obtaining money under false pretences. But this was not the end of the matter. They were told that the Government were still engaged in trying to come to an agreement with this foreign trust. What that agreement was they knew not, and it was little less than outrageous that with matters in their present condition the Government should begin paying the subsidies. The House was entitled to know under what conditions and for what purposes the money was being paid. He was surprised that the House, and especially that part of it which called itself the Opposition, should have endured so tamely this slight.